Illustrator Spotlight: Colleen Muske

© Colleen Muske

Aug. 1, 2020

We are excited to feature illustrator Colleen Muske for her August banner design for Kidlit411. Illustrators: be sure to check out the Kidlit411 Website Banner Contest 2020 for cash prizes plus your chance to be featured in a spotlight and have your banner on our website.

© Colleen Muske

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

I’ve always been an artist. I was a painfully shy, quiet child, and drawing was my way of expressing what I was interested in and thinking about. Most people would describe me as self-taught, because I don’t have an art degree. I have taken many classes, been to many lectures, conferences, retreats, and workshops, which have provided me with a good foundation. But my greatest education has been with friends, fellow artists and writers who all share their skills and experiences with me. They push me to look beyond my own experiences, and my art and writing have grown because of it. So I like to say I’m community educated. 

© Colleen Muske

I signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2006, searching for a way to share my art with other people. That class was all I needed! I KNEW that this was what I meant to do!

Congrats on your design of our Kidlit411 website banner. Tell us how you approached this illustration.

Thank you for having ongoing opportunities for artists to show our work!

The brief for the contest specifically requested something with birds. I love to draw birds! You will often find a bird somewhere in my illustrations. Banners can be difficult because of the format, so I was trying to do something graphic with a lot of contrast. I limited the small details I love to do and went a litter bolder than normal. Birds are very curious and smart, so I tried to play off that with my illustration. Bright colors and pattern were the finishing touches. 

You have a lovely and distinctive style. Who or what are your influences?

© Colleen Muske
I love to study other artists. It’s been a long journey to figure out my “style” of art. At first I would just copy artists I admired. Some of my favorites are Barbara Cooney, Jeanette Winter, Grandma Moses, Matisse, Clementine Hunter, Erin Stead, Vanessa Brantley Newton, and Judy Schachner. Over time I figured out how to absorb at little bit of everything I loved and apply it to what I wanted to do. It has really taken a long time to get to where my art is today. The last few years I feel like I have finally found my voice as an artist and writer. But I love learning, so that is always evolving and growing! I LOVE patterns and like to add them everywhere.

What is your illustration process?

Process…Yikes! I am so interested in seeing other artist’s processes because I always feel like I am doing it wrong. I work traditionally, but I have started sketching on an Ipad. Everything always gets transferred to paper eventually. 

I usually work at about 125% for finished art. I transfer my drawings to either Arches or Fabriano watercolor paper (cold press) with graphite paper. I paint with watercolor paint or gouache. Sometimes I use both! I prefer traditional gouache because you can use it like a watercolor paint, but I also use acrylic gouache. While I use Photoshop/Procreate for the drawing stage, and finishing touches, I like my paintings to be one big final piece. I always question this strategy when I have to start something over.

For the banner, I did a quick sketch on my iPad for the basic idea and then transferred it to tracing paper to get it onto my watercolor paper. I use graphite paper for the transfer:

 I lay down the basic image. Details come later:

A quick messy wash of blue gouache for the background:

The I start adding some details:

This is how I left it for the day. Background completed:

 I returned the next day to this:

Returning to the scene of the crime:

Ingenuity is the key when being an artist. . .and Photoshop!

Painting is complete. It's ready to scan into Photoshop, where I touch up the patch below the first bird and add the text:

Finished piece:

What projects are you working on now (and can you concentrate)?

Recently I have been creating dummy books for a few of my manuscripts. I currently don’t have an agent, so submitting on my own again has been scary! Without my writing group and a few close friends, I don’t know if I would have the capacity to stay focused and keep putting my work out there. Some days are harder than others. My writing group meets once a week and it really forces me to make time for my art and writing.

© Colleen Muske

What is something most people don't know about you?

Outside of my writing group and close friends, most people don’t know that I am a healthcare worker. On social media, I try and maintain my “life as an artist” image, but I need health insurance and regular paycheck! So from someone on the inside…wear a mask!!!

© Colleen Muske

Where can people find you online?

You can find me online at
Facebook: Colleen Muske
Instagram: colleenmuske
Twitter: @colleenmuske

© Colleen Muske

Colleen Muske studied at the Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Carrie Hartman Studio, EB Lewis Visual Mentorship, Minneapolis Community College and the Highlights Foundation. She illustrated three books with a local press in Minnesota. She works in pencil, watercolor, gouache and acrylics. She also loves to write picture books and middle grade novels. She lives in a 137 year old house in Stillwater, Minnesota, with her husband, 3 dogs and 2 kittens.


  1. Such a wonderful banner! Love it! I also enjoy your other pieces. Best wishes! (I wear my mask!)

  2. Gorgeous work, Colleen! I love your use of texture and patterns.


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