Illustrator Spotlight: Sidne Teske

© Sidne Teske

Oct. 17, 2014

Today we interview painter and children's illustrator Sidne Teske, known for her vibrant pastels (which are even more breathtaking when seen in person).

You are a fine artist. Tell us about your art career and how you came to children’s illustration.

‘Art career’ sounds so grand. I spent most of my life working in other occupations to make money for my family, making art on the side. All of those things, being a reporter for a newspaper, a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL), a teacher of art, working in wildland fire… have been instrumental in my going in the direction of illustration. I have never considered illustrators as NOT being ‘fine artists.’ All the skill sets artists use are present in both sides of that weird distinction. Illustrators tend to make art that is narrative. ‘Fine’ artists tend to make art that is not so narrative.

Taylor Canyon Drainage soft pastel 55' x 30"
collection of Tim & Stacey Crowley © Sidne Teske

I am a painter working primarily in soft pastel. I am largely self-taught. I love to be outside so I make landscapes en plein aire (on location). When the weather is really awful and I can’t get outside I work in my studio on a variety of things, including illustration.

I have always loved children’s books. When I was a child I studied the illustrations in everything I read, looking at line quality, composition, trying to figure out how the artist was able to show that space between actions. The images fascinated me. I was always asking myself ‘how did they do that?’ And so of course I started illustrating my own little stories. How could I not?

Winter at the Stone House, soft pastel, 15" x 23" © Sidne Teske

I am pretty new to the business and have not been published. I have a lot to learn about the whole process.

Children’s illustrators sometimes work in pastels. How does your work or work process differ from others?

Hmm. I struggle with the planning involved with illustrating. As a plein aire painter, I am much more comfortable with responding to my environment, rather than controlling my product from the outset. As a painter I work on a sanded support that I prepare with some vibrant color before I block in my composition. I work standing up, on a vertical support.

Step 1. Newsprint sketch,  thinking on paper… sketch of main ideas, subject to change at all times.

 © Sidne Teske

I block in the general image with vine charcoal and then paint. While working on an illustration I use the same approach but in a much more specific manner. 

Step 2. Blocked in with vine charcoal onto textured prepared paper. Note changes in image © Sidne Teske
As I said earlier, planning is really hard for me, so I make a dummy (or a lot of dummies), then sketch out the composition in the actual working size for each page on newsprint. I am able to refine many problems on the newsprint that I may still have to adjust once I start working on my support, but taking care of those at this point saves a lot of headaches later on.

Step 3: Main characters brought to finish, middle and background
still only blocked in
I work in an over-large format because of the nature of pastels. I don’t particularly care for a soft smudgy mark and can control that and have details that will reduce well for the final product when I work large. 

Step 4: The page in progress after the main characters are developed  © Sidne Teske

Step 5: Final finished illustration HUG © Sidne Teske

What projects are you working on these days?

One of my projects is a wordless book about a young girl who lives on a ranch. She has  chores to do that get sabotaged by her pets. It is a pretty simple story; one of the issues that I am paying attention to right now is my desire to make the images more complicated than they need to be. I tend to want to have more than one story line running through the illustrations.

You participated in the Nevada SCBWI mentorship program. How did that affect your work? What’s the best thing that came of it?

The Nevada SCBWI mentorship program has been of huge value to me. My mentor, David Diaz, is amazing at zeroing in on what needs improvement in my work in a very constructive and positive way.

I feel so fortunate to have been selected to be a part of the mentorship program, and doubly fortunate to have David as my mentor. He has helped me see the value of working the main characters first, finding backstory, developing my knowledge of the character before any drawing occurs. His comments have helped me understand much better the complexity of illustration.

© Sidne Teske

How has it affected my work? Well I now know that I need to plan better, that’s for sure! There are many wonderful things that have come of the program: getting to know a group of people who struggle with the same things I do; feeling confident that I will finish this book eventually (and that I will like it); and gaining some of the know-how to get where I want to go with the books I am working on.

Who or what inspires you?

Inspiration. Sunshine, birds singing, light creeping over the next ridge, the colors in shadows, kids laughing, good jokes. Lightning. Georgia O’Keefe, Aubrey Beardsley, Picasso, Matisse, Joaquin Sarolla, Johnny Gruelle, Rackham, L. Frank Baum, Calder, Schiele… so much inspiration wherever I look. I can’t name it all.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Most people don’t know that I spoke Japanese when I was a child.

Where can people find you on the internet?

I have a webpage,, and can also be found at and

SIDNE TESKE has been making art professionally for over 35 years. Primarily working with soft pastels, Teske works on location (en plein aire), depicting landscape with vibrant, energetic originality. When weather makes it difficult to explore the outdoors, Teske turns to her studio easel to create large expressive works that feature the human figure, illustrations for children’s books, and reduction cut prints. Although she has taken a few workshops over the span of her career, Teske is largely self-taught.


  1. What gorgeous, vibrant art! I sometimes work in pastels too (chalk, not oil) so I'm grateful for the tips on handling an illustration in that medium. I love finding out about the varied backgrounds of illustrators and am pleased to note that Sidne is also mostly self-taught.

    Thanks for an extra cool interview, Sidne and Sylvia!

    1. Thank you Teresa for your lovely comments. I also use the dry pastels, not oils... there is just something about them that is compelling. :)

  2. Absolutely gorgeous work, Sidne! Love seeing some of the steps you follow. I can sure identify with the planning issues! I'm rooting for you to get published soon. Thank you for the interview, Syvia!

  3. Your work shines, Sidne. It shimmers with life. I'm so enjoying seeing your work take another shape with your children's illustrations.

  4. Absolutely beautiful work, it's breathtaking! Thanks for sharing your process with us, Sidne- and thanks for the interview, Sylvia!


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