Illustrator Spotlight: S.J. Winkler

© S.J. Winkler


Oct. 1, 2023 vol. 40

We are pleased to feature illustrator S.J. Winkler and her banner design for Kidlit411, and her picture book, Sister, written by Leia M. Johnson (Phoenix Media and Books 2023). Enter to win a copy via the Rafflecopter below!

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

I started as a near-sighted military kid. We moved to a new state every 3 years or so, and — being an only child — books, sketchbooks, and television kept me company. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in publishing by my early 20s. I joined the SCBWI in 2010, and relied heavily on the guidance offered through their conferences and critique groups. After graduating university with a BA in English Language & Literature, and a BA in Art Studio, I worked on projects and process improvement until doors started opening for me. 

My first illustration gig was for Sky Pony Press on the picture book Every Other Christmas, by Katie Otey, released September of 2022. My second picture book, Sister, by Leia M. Johnson premiered via Phoenix Media & Books in spring of 2023, and as of September 2023, I’m finishing up the final artwork for two more picture books: Sasquatch. Ninja. Clown. by John Bowen and I Am a Giant, by P.G. Rutledge. 

© S.J. Winkler

Congrats on your banner design for Kidlit411. Can you tell us how you approached this design and project? 

My thought for the Kidlit411 banner was to just celebrate my favorite time of year. The warm eeriness of autumn, the fun of wearing masks with friends on Halloween, and the possibility of bumping into a magical creature made illustrating this banner for Kidlit411 fun and exciting. I may have treated myself to pumpkin cheesecake afterwards. 

© S.J. Winkler

Congrats on your recent book, Sister!  Tell us about it and what inspired you. 

Sister by Leia M. Johnson is the most recent book I have out through Phoenix Media & Books. “When a young girl’s parents choose to pursue a foster care license, she experiences both the joy and grief of building a family through fostering and adoption.” Illustrating Leia’s book for Phoenix Media & Books was a labor of love. The authenticity and beauty of Leia’s story made me cry the first ten times I read it, so I did my best to make the setting and characters an immersive and emotional experience. I believe it’s the kind of story readers will want to read more than once, so I wanted to give the audience easter eggs in the setting to recognize along the way. 

For inspiration, I looked at Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, early Disney films like The Sword in the Stone and Sleeping Beauty, and Thomas Kinkade’s various cottage paintings. In each I found that color and light is used to heighten emotions, and each had immersive setting details, ensuring the audience finds something new with each viewing. 

© S.J. Winkler

What projects are you working on now? 

I’m finishing the artwork for 2 picture books: Sasquatch. Ninja. Clown. by John Bowen, and I Am a Giant by P.G. Rutledge. Both books are published by the great people at Phoenix Media & Books. I’m also building content for Soul Sushi Magazine and Arcane Rabbit Books. 

© S.J. Winkler

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators? 

Listen to your gut. It knows what it’s talking about. I spent years trying to force my illustrations to match the digital style everyone around me claimed the publishing world wants. The moment I relaxed and allowed myself to simply do the mixed media style that makes me happiest, things started moving fast for me. Also, be open to allowing doors to open for you in unexpected ways. 

© S.J. Winkler

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

I’m directly descended from two passengers on the Mayflower. 7. Where can people find you online? My website is, and my social media is @sjwinklerart. More of my writing and illustration work is free to explore at Soul Sushi Magazine.  

© S.J. Winkler

SJ Winkler is a writer, illustrator, and mixed media artist in love with nature, fantasy, absurdist humor, and all things unexplained. When she's not creating books, she's creating content for Soul Sushi Magazine, painting murals, reading, studying film, or finding any excuse to visit a hiking trail or zoo.  

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