Guest Post-Mary Reaves Uhles-How To Catch a Ladybug

This week we have a guest post from Children’s Illustrator Mary Reaves Uhles. Mary has been a Children’s Illustrator for well over a decade. She’s been featured in numerous periodicals, magazines and books around the world!

So join us this post as she goes over the process she went through in completing an illustration for Ladybug Magazine. Enjoy!

Find the original post here.

Ladybug Magazine, published by Carus Publications, is one of the most prestigious literary magazines for kids. This is the story of how I got my first illustration with them. Without a doubt, the first step was the hardest one: work very hard for a loooong time to be good enough to catch the attention of the editors and art directors. I mentioned in this post about how long that took for me.

Step Two was just like any other project. It starts with the assignment on my drawing table and a blank sketchbook.

The assignment was for a silly illustration involving a May Day picnic with all kinds of fairy tale characters. Some of the characters would be doing traditional fairy-tale-y things others would be doing zany, silly things for the kids to find and laugh at.

Right away I decided I would knock it out of the park on the silliness. My goal was to put no less than twenty silly things into this 10 x 18 spread.

Here’s what the first sketch I sent looked like:

“Whoa nelly” was the response from Ladybug.

Apparently twenty silly things is a little bit of overkill.

They explained, and this made all the sense in the world, that too much crazy stuff made it hard for young readers to figure out where the punch line is. So I de-sillyed.

Here’s the second sketch I sent:

With just a couple more tweaks this sketch was approved. As I mentioned, I was swamped with work right about this time but I was determined to give 110% of my attention to this piece so everything went on hold. I estimated it would take me three uninterrupted days to get the final done. I started by transferring the sketch to watercolor paper via my light table and penciling in the tonal values. I think of this process as a pencil “underpainting.” It helps me map out – in an editable medium – where the lights and darks will go:

Finally I could procrastinate no longer. I was going to have start painting it and keep my fingers crossed that I didn’t spend the next three days completely messing it up.

Obviously, since it’s a giant scene of an outdoor picnic, there was going to be a lot of green involved. Let me tell you something about green…. it has a way of being a bad influence on every other color in a palette. It makes reds look brown and blues look washed out. Since I knew that the background color would have a huge effect on the rest of the painting, I did it first. That sure is a lot of green:

Then little by little I started to fill in the rest of the characters:

Finally it was finished on the drawing table. Time to bring it into Photoshop and work out some of the details as well as increase the saturation on certain colors. But here I ran into a problem… my scanner was only 8.5 x 14, too small to fit the whole painting on the bed. Two awesome illustrator buddies Susan Eaddy and Wendy Lawrence had offered to let me use their large format scanners but at the last minute Susan came down with a stomach bug and Wendy was out of town. So two days before the piece was due I sat down at my scanner and scanned it in four sections. Doing it in that many sections allowed plenty of overlap so I was able to piece it together seamlessly in Photoshop.

Then I worked on the colors, including the sky and the details on the tea cup. I made the queen’s skin tones a little more creamy, and darkened the leaves around the cup. I paid extra special attention to the right side because I plan to use it as a promo mailer later this year, the composition on that side is strong enough by itself.

At last, the finished piece:

Off it went to Ladybug and a few days later I got back the best response I think I have ever gotten on a project

I always wanted to be funny. And yes I really did pin it to my bulletin board. Frankly a key step in an artist’s career is keeping inspiration and encouragement close at hand.

That was the first of February. Last week I got the contributor copies in the mail. The color reproduction was stunningly good and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Then Baby Sprout got her subscription copy in the mail. Possibly the best part of the whole process was sitting with her to look at the magazine. Sprout’s copy showed up just a few days shy of my “freelance anniversary.” The issue is currently in bookstores and libraries and the original piece is on display at Nashville’s Public Library (I’ll tell that story next.) All in all not a bad way to celebrate 15 years as a children’s artist.



maryreaves Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade creating art for children. Her pieces have been included in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.

To find her work and connect with her on social media check out the links below.


For past articles we have featured from her check here.

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1 Comment

  1. Peta-Ann Smith

    Thanks for sharing! I love learning about other illustrator’s processes.


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