Interview with Author/Illustrator Shawna JC Tenney and Book Giveaway

* Giveaway Ends October 25th 2016 *

I’m so excited to have children’s book author and illustrator Shawna JC Tenney visiting my blog today to talk about her illustration process and to share with us her adorable new picture book, Brunhilda’s Backwards Day published by Sky Pony Press. After the interview keep reading to find out how to enter and win your own copy of Brunhilda’s Backwards Day!

Welcome Shawna. The illustrations for Brunhilda are fantastic. I love the mad scientist cat. 

Thank you, Jennifer! I’m happy to visit your blog today!

You have illustrated books for other authors, is this the first book you wrote as well as illustrated?

Yes… at least the first one that has been published!

When you are doing both the writing and illustrating where do you begin? Do you start with an image or do you start with the words? 

I actually start with the writing, but I always have images in my mind. I like to write illustration notes for myself as I write the story. I like to get the story whittled down and revised many times before I start designing my characters and drawing thumbnails.

How do you approach an illustration? Can you walk us through your illustration process? 

After my story is written, I design the characters.

Cat Character Designs for Brunhilda’s Backwards Day

After the characters are designed for my story, I always start with thumbnails. I thumbnail out the entire book to make a storyboard. With a storyboard, I can make sure the whole story is flowing well. I like to make sure I have a good variety of spot illustrations, full page illustrations and full spread illustrations.

When I feel happy with my storyboard, I sketch out the entire book to make the dummy book. I revise these illustrations until I feel like the sketches are doing their part to tell the story well.

Then I move on to color. I usually do a color study to make sure the colors and values are working out well.

If the color study is working well, I often use the color study for my under painting in my digital painting. Then I move on to the final painting and details.

Have you always worked digitally?

No, I haven’t always worked digitally. When I graduated from school, I was afraid of digital art. (haha!) I painted all in acrylics. I used acrylics for the first several years of my career. Since I had little kids during that time, there were several disasters where I found a child had painted all over my half-finished painting for a client. Other times I found children had painted all over their clothes or the carpet. Something like this could happen in a matter of seconds.

After several years of working in acrylics, I went in search of something less messy and less time consuming. I asked a few of my illustrator friends to help me learn some tips and tricks for digital painting in Photoshop. I had learned the basics in school. At first, I was very slow and painted just as I would with acrylics. But over time I have learned some great time saving techniques. Now I could never go back to acrylics!

Why did you decide to make Photoshop your medium of choice?

Like I mentioned, there are a lot of time saving techniques I have learned in Photoshop. I like the look and feel I can obtain with Photoshop, and I want to learn even more cool techniques in the medium. There is also no mess (which is a huge plus), and I don’t have to buy a bunch of art supplies every few months.

I love the rich colors in your illustrations. Do you have any tips you can share for selecting a color palette?

Thank you! I have learned over the years to focus my colors. When I painted in acrylics, I used to use any and every bright color I could. Now I have learned the power of using some saturated colors in the places I want my audience to focus, and then pulling back the colors and using more neutrals in the places to which I want to give less attention.

Brunhilda is a very interesting character. How did you go about developing her look? 

I had fun designing Brunhilda! Here are some of my character sketches.

I drew many character design sketches before deciding on the final character. I was inspired by the character design of Carter Goodrich. I love how he always varies the shape and sizes in his characters. Brunhilda’s design uses some sharp points and angles because she has a bad side. But she is also big and round to make her lovable. I thought it would be extra funny to give her very tiny hand and feet but very large arms and legs. I think the end product makes Brunhida a very funny, lovable witch character with evil intentions but redeeming qualities. At least, that is what I was going for!

You have a fun YouTube video where you show how you created a 3D model or maquette of Brunhilda. How do you use 3D models when creating your illustrations?

I was able to use the maquettes of Brunhilda, the cat, and her house to turn and look at different angles for my drawing, and even in getting reference for lighting.

What is the one piece of advice you wished someone had given you when you were starting out as an illustrator? 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Editors and Art directors are friendly people who are willing to answer your questions. The most important thing is to have good communication with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fair price on a job. Don’t be afraid to let editors and art directors know that you might need a little more time. It’s better to communicate everything than to be silent and scared. That can result in miscommunication, which is never a good thing. We are all in this together, so it’s best to be clear with our goals and ask plenty of questions!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at

= Brunhilda’s Backwards Day Book Giveaway =

Contest Ends October 25th, 2016

Enter to win your very own signed copy of Brunhilda’s Backwards Day.  When you enter, don’t forget to send out a tweet and you will get a second entry in the giveaway.

(Contest open to US residents only.)