Illustrator Spotlight: Danielle Heitmuller

© Danielle Heitmuller

Nov. 1, 2022

We are excited to feature illustrator Danielle Heitmuller and her website banner design for Kidlit411 for November. Welcome!

© Danielle Heitmuller

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

Hi thanks for having me! I'm really excited to be here! I've always loved books and drawing. I remember being utterly fascinated with the Gnomes books as a little kid and had a strong belief that there were gnomes living in my backyard. Picture books have long been a favorite, even though I didn’t have many in my life because I was considered an “advanced” reader. When I was in middle school, I remember winning some sort of summer reading contest. I selected a picture book for my prize because I was excited about the illustrations. The teacher running the contest was like, “Are you sure you want THAT?” 

© Danielle Heitmuller

Fast forward to college and I studied animation as an undergraduate. I went on to work in animation and visual effects for advertising. After many years, I got to the point where I was burning out, and I thought back to what I originally wanted to do. I remembered how much I loved books and decided to go back to the drawing board.

© Danielle Heitmuller


Congrats on your banner design for Kidlit411! Tell us how you approached the project.

Thank you! I have wanted to enter the contest every time I’ve seen it, but I never got my act together because it is due at the beginning of the school year. I teach at a university, and I was using this contest as an example for my level one illustration class to showcase the ideation process and keep myself on track for the deadline. We all know the muses are fickle and don't really keep regular working hours. So, when you need to generate ideas and they just aren’t around, having a process is super helpful. 

© Danielle Heitmuller


What is your preferred medium and illustration process?  

My preferred media are pencil, ink, and watercolor. Then I take all that into the computer and do a bunch of compositing and tweaking. I have plenty of information on the process since this was a class example! I start by mind mapping. I take the central concept and I spider off ideas that come to mind whenever I'm thinking about a particular identity or concept. 

Luckily the Kidlit411 identity is really rich! I had a lot of ideas that I could springboard from. I take the ideas on the outer edges of that spider map and create free-association lists. I jot down whatever comes to mind from a particular word (no judgement, just write!) I do this to make sure I'm getting the most creative ideas out of myself. My initial concept before I did this was fine, but it wasn't very original. I went through the process and surprised myself with how many good ideas I had! I selected the most interesting ones, filled three or four pages in my sketchbook with thumbnails, and I found my two favorite ideas. 

I take the thumbnails into the computer and blow them up, then I either print them and draw over them to get a rough drawing, or I do the rough digitally and print that. The clean drawing is done in pencil with a lightbox (old school animator here!). I took two ideas all the way through clean drawing, digital value study, and color study before I landed on one to paint in watercolor and ink. 

© Danielle Heitmuller
©Danielle Heitmuller

© Danielle Heitmuller

© Danielle Heitmuller

I paint my characters separate from my background and composite them in Photoshop. It usually takes a few tries to get the best painting for each layer. The concept I went with was written down as “ice cream umbrella planet”. I would NOT have come up with that if I hadn’t used this process.


What projects are you working on now?

In the kid lit sphere, I have one dummy that I recently revised, and I feel is finally ready to send out to agents. I have another dummy in-process. I'm working on cleaning up the drawings for that one. I have two chapter-book-aged graphic novel proposals I am working on, a few manuscripts that I am still trying to figure out, and I need to make portfolio pieces too. Then I have an experiential project on the horizon. I worked on something called Arboreal,, with some friends from my commercial days. It’s an interactive installation for Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in England, and that inspired me to come up with my own project.


© Danielle Heitmuller

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

I am disabled. I have an autoimmune condition, which is an invisible disability, so people would not know it to look at me. Also, I am an avid gluten-free baker and cook, but some people do know that one!

© Danielle Heitmuller


Where can people find you online?

@dheitmuller on Instagram and Twitter, though I haven’t been very active on social media lately. I’ve been so busy that I keep forgetting to post! 


 Danielle Heitmuller is an animator, illustrator, and professor who is fascinated by the intersection of digital and traditional technologies. She is usually found somewhere between an easel and a computer. She has 20 years of professional experience in Motion Graphics and Visual Effects for film and advertising. Danielle is the creator of three original animated shorts that have screened in festivals nationwide and in a dozen countries around the world. Originally from Connecticut, Danielle earned her BFA in Animation from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. Later, because one animation degree is not enough, she earned her MFA in Animation from UCLA. She loves cats, hats, and tea. Danielle lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. 




  1. Great interview! Love the banner, Danielle! Thanks for sharing with us. Cats, hats, and tea! Love it! (she says as she sits here sipping tea and wondering where her cat is...)


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