Illustrator Spotlight: Kendra Shedenhelm

© Kendra Shedenhelm

Feb. 20, 2015

Today we feature the talented PB illustrator, Kendra Shedenhelm.

Also, as a special bonus event, Kendra is doing a Google Hangout with Mark Mitchell on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 12 noon EST, doing Q&As on "Illustrating for Publishing Start-Ups, Self Publishing Authors and Tomie de Paola"

Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate for children.

As with many kids, I didn’t think twice about being creative. I entered art contests fearlessly. I created calendars, cards, comic strips and posters. I directed plays in my basement. I cooked, baked, knitted and made jewelry. My parents always encouraged me, and after high school, I received an art scholarship and left Omaha, Nebraska to pursue my BFA.

Shortly after I graduated from Chicago, a friend arranged a job interview for me at a design & print production agency in NYC. I knew little about working on a computer, but it seemed creative and interesting, so I took the position. That job provided me many of the skills that are invaluable to my work now, but with long hours and tight deadlines, I left my sketchbook at home most of the time, and soon wasn’t making art for myself at all.
© Kendra Shedenhelm

After my son was born, things changed. I was now immersed in children’s books and a young child’s mind. Eric Carle’s DRAW ME A STAR and Leo Lionni’s CORNELIUS had a tremendous effect on me, and I knew I wanted to create art like that too. Finally, I enrolled in Mark Mitchell’s onlineillustration course, and I feel I’ve been growing as an artist since.

What medium do you work in?

I like a variety of mediums — pen, pencil, watercolor, but I feel most at home right now collaging in InDesign.

You made it to the semi-finalist round in last year’s Tomie de Paola’s competition. Can you tell us about your piece and what it was like to find out you made it that far?

When I submitted my initial illustration this past Spring, I kept two written reminders up for myself. The first was “Don’t give up.” The second was, “Keep it simple.”

After a few days of pencil-sketching my main character, I created a simple collage of a boy who sets a caged bird free. My son wept at the story, so I thought it was good to go. (:

Kendra's entry that made it to the semi-final round  @ Kendra Shedenhelm

Several weeks later, I was glancing at my email, and I saw Tomie’s name. I thought it was strange that someone would use his name in the subject line, but when I looked more closely, I realized it was the sender’s name! It was an email from Tomie himself! My son, who had spent all of his 5 years reading Tomie’s books with me, gave me about 20 high fives as I cried and jumped around. I’ll never forget it.

You have illustrated a few books. Can you tell us about them?

I illustrated my first book in 2013 with a start-up digital children’s book publisher, It was a wonderful experience, and I went on to illustrate two more with them that year. All three books were created using digital collage.

© Kendra Shedenhelm

In 2014, I illustrated a book with two debut authors, called YOU, THE MAGICIAN (, which they self-published this past November. For this book, I drew all the elements with my Pigma Micron pen, scanned the drawings in and collaged them onto the page in InDesign.

What projects are you working on now?

After finishing YOU, THE MAGICIAN in November, I spent the next two months preparing for the NY SCBWI Conference. I hadn’t created a printed portfolio in about 25 years, so I had a lot of work to do.

Now that the conference is over, I’m looking for my next book and/or magazine project. I’m working on my portfolio and promotional materials in the meantime.

©  Kendra Shedenhelm

You went to the NY SCBWI conference. Was it your first conference? What were some things you learned or that stuck in your mind?

It was my first conference, and I learned a TON.

Two things that are really sticking with me:

1) In Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s presentation, she emphasized trusting your first instinct, and working through the “I don’t know. This idea isn’t working” phase. Stick with that initial “this IS a cool idea” and see where it takes you. I love that, and it’s already helped me with my latest collage.

© Kendra Shedenhelm

2) For the portfolio viewing session, next time I’ll make sure my portfolio lies flat when opened. There was such a crush of people that I felt viewers were opting to look at whatever portfolio caught their eye. My portfolio had a screw post binding and thick pages, so it kept closing. Without an eye-grabbing image on the front, it really risked being passed by.

Who or what inspires you?

Beethoven, Paul Klee, Lotte Reiniger, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Tomie dePaola, Ezra Jack Keats, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin, Nina Simone, rusty metal, creepy folktales, magical realism and fantasy.

We share a lot of the same inspiration. What is something most people don’t know about you?

I love to two-step.

Where can people find you on the internet?

You can find me at, Twitter (@bigbridgestudio) and Instagram (Kendrasred).

Kendra spent her childhood in Nebraska, illustrating short stories, entering poster contests and creating “sellable” wares out of paper placemats.

She has studied with a variety of artists, including potters in Iowa, painters in New York City and installation artists in Chicago. She’s worked as a printmaker in New York and Colorado and has been working as a graphic artist and designer at agencies in NYC and LA for over 15 years.

In 2008, when she began reading children’s books to her new son, Kendra’s interest in illustration was revived. In 2012 she took her first illustration course, and in 2013, she was hired to illustrate Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Alphabet,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” ( The fourth book she illustrated, “You, the Magician,” was released in November 2014, and can be viewed at

Kendra is a member of the SCBWI and is a semi-finalist in this year’s 2014 Tomie dePaola Award.


  1. I am fascinated by collage/paper art. Kendra does such beautiful pieces. Congratulations on being a semi-finalist for the Tomie dePoala Award!

    1. I really appreciate that, Teresa! Thank you so much!

  2. Kendra is incredibly talented! Great interview.

  3. Really pretty style! Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

    1. Thank you so much, Dow! I am very grateful for the interview opportunity with KidLit411. (:


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