Illustrator Spotlight: Mary Toth


© Mary Toth

April 1, 2021

It's the first of the month, so we have a new website banner and an illustrator spotlight on Mary Toth, who placed in our recent Kidlit411 Banner Contest.

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

I’ve always loved creative hobbies growing up. Drawing and painting were a couple of my favorite things to do in my free time. I actually almost majored in art in college but ultimately decided it would be an impractical career choice (oh the irony!). So I majored in English education instead. After graduating I went through a difficult time in my life and art was something I frequently turned to because it brought me so much joy and peace. At a certain point something just clicked and I decided this is what I want to do. I love illustration, I love writing and reading, I love kids books. It just made sense. And that’s what really set me on the path of illustration, just making up my mind that this was something I wanted to pursue - whether I succeeded or failed, you never truly fail until you stop trying. And I knew I would never stop illustrating.

© Mary Toth

After overcoming my fear of failing as an artist I started taking my art more seriously and began working on my technical skills, learning digital illustration software, and learning more about the kids book industry in general. The first illustration job I received was creating the book cover for The Cracking of Monday Egg by B.T. Higgins. I was still working mainly in traditional media at this time. It was challenging and I definitely scrapped a couple attempts before getting it right. But this first project really helped me learn some of the ins and outs of freelance work and it helped build my confidence. I will always be grateful for that first commission.


Congrats on your Kidlit411 banner design! How did you approach the assignment?


© Mary Toth

Animals are my absolute favorite subjects to draw so I knew right away I wanted to paint a version of the birds on a wire. I also wanted to create them in traditional media (watercolor and colored pencil) because even though much of my current work is digital, I love to paint with tactile materials whenever I get the chance. No tablet can ever replace the experience of pencils and paints in my opinion. I basically just had fun with it! I thought of the fun, whimsical, carefree feelings you have as a child when flipping through the pages and stories of a picture book. I wanted to capture that feeling in my painting. 


Who or what inspires you?


I’m very much inspired by animals, plants, and nature in general. I find animals offer wonderful expressions and antics, plants naturally provide beautiful color palettes to follow as well as unique patterns to test out. I also have fun searching for faces in inanimate objects. You can find some really funny faces on trees if you look for them. If I ever have creative block all I have to do is stare at the clouds for a while to see what strange and unique characters appear. It sounds corny, I know, but just a simple walk in the park is often all I need for loads of inspiration.

© Mary Toth


I’m inspired by other artists as well. A couple of my favorite illustrators currently are Adilson Farias and Ira Van Sluyterman. They just do watercolor illustrations so well. It’s captivating to view their work. Or even just scrolling through instagram, It’s amazing the talent and variation that’s out there. I also enjoy going to the library and checking out the kids book section for ideas and inspiration. I often find it useful to flip through kids books to see how other illustrators tackled different challenges such as character design, color choices, and layout.


What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a book project that I can’t talk much about, along with a small sticker project, and then I always have my own personal book project which often gets put on the back burner (it’s getting there though!).

© Mary Toth


What is your illustration process?


© Mary Toth
My process is pretty much the same for my traditional and digital illustration. First I sketch, then I choose some base colors that work well together, then I add in shading and highlights (I might repeat this step a couple times), then I refine the line work and tweak the overall contrast and vibrancy. It’s taken me a while to simplify my process but now that I have, I find my work process to be much smoother.

© Mary Toth

© Mary Toth


What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I would say most people probably don’t know that I also hold down a full time job and am taking graduate classes.

© Mary Toth


Where can people find you online?


I’m most active on instagram @marytothillustration


But I also have a portfolio website at


I was born and raised in Chesapeake Virginia until I was 14 years old. Growing up I enjoyed exploring the forest and marshy areas where I lived. My sister and I loved finding animals to observe or care for (whether they needed it or not). We rarely spent our days indoors. After moving to Florida in 2008 I attended the IB program for  high school, choosing art as my main elective. My classes focused on self guided study and experimentation which opened up my imagination and peaked my interest in many different art forms and art history studies. I still have my sketchbooks from those years. After high school I attended Florida State University where I initially had a hard time deciding on a major but eventually landed on English education.  Currently I freelance as an illustrator while also working and attending graduate courses in instructional design. I’m not sure exactly what the future holds but I know it’s bright and I look forward to continuing to illustrate for children whether it be for publishing or even perhaps e-learning.




  1. Very cute illustrations! Love the banners! Thanks for sharing with us. :)


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