Saturday, September 23, 2017

Color Commander Shawna Tenney and a PRIZE!

My first visit to Shawna Tenney's website was amazing. I never thought there could be so much color in one little webpage. (I know I've said before that I love bright colors.) Shawna packs so much color and whimsy in her illustrations that you may think that she's magic. To set the record straight: Shawna Tenney is magic. As are all the wonderful professionals that join Smart Dummies (it's a requirement). Shawna is here today to share some of her magic wisdom with all of us!

Of course you could get Shawna's book Brunhilda's Backward's Day from any bookstore, but why not get a signed copy! You can also get "Rosie the Reindeer" written by Chantell Taylor before Christmas! 

I’m excited to be part of the Smart Dummies line up this year! Good luck to you all in your dummy book making endeavors this month!


Dani: What are some of the things you do in the planning stages to create a good composition?

Shawna: I spend a lot of time thinking about the story first, and where I want the main focus of the illustration to be. Then I gather some reference and start making thumbnail drawings.

When I create my thumbnail drawings, I think a lot about how I can use lines, values, color, “camera angles” and texture to draw attention to the main focus of the story in the illustration.

If I am creating a whole dummy book, I have to think about how the whole book will work together. The best way to do this is to lay out the entire book in thumbnail drawings and create a storyboard. I try to vary my illustrations using spots, full pages and full spread illustrations. I need to make sure that the illustrations work in harmony with each other and that they are not fighting against each other.

Dani: The color in your images are quite striking. How did you learn so much about how to use color?

Shawna: Thank you so much! I have always loved color.

My knowledge of color comes from many different sources- my college color theory and oil painting classes, an online color theory class, reading books such as Color and Light by James Gurney and by simply observing other artist’s work. I still feel like there is so much more to learn! But I think it really helped me to learn how to mix colors with traditional paint before learning to paint digitally.

Dani:  You use a lot of digital illustration for your illustrations. What's something that illustrators should keep in mind when using (or first trying) this medium?

Black and White
Shawna: I think it’s important for people to learn how to paint with traditional paint, such as watercolors, gouache, acrylics and/or oil paints first before learning digital painting. Painting traditionally teaches you so much about brush strokes, textures, mixing paints, and how traditional paints vary in hue. This knowledge will help you make better decisions when painting digitally.

Another thing that I think is important for a digital beginners to remember is to be patient with yourself. There is so much to learn about digital painting. If you feel like you don’t know very much, just start anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I started painting digitally after I asked my friend to teach me a few tricks. But it took me many years to learn all the tricks I know now.

Dani: I saw your Maquette Process on your website. How important is this to your illustration process?

Color Study 1
Color Study 2
Shawna: I use a maquette sometimes if I want to see a character or an object all the way around. It really helped me in my book Brunhilda’s Backwards Day when I needed to see my characters in different angles. It also made a little model of Brunhilda’s house, and that helped me draw it from above. This same sort of thing can be done on Google SketchUp. I don’t use maquettes a lot in my process, but when I take the time to make one, it is very helpful.

Dani: What's one thing you would have wanted to know when you first started creating dummies?

Shawna: It’s a great feeling when you work through all those sketches and finish your dummy book. But just because all the sketches are done, it doesn’t mean your dummy book is ready to send to an editor. You are probably still going to have to make many revisions, and maybe even make several dummy books before you are ready to show your dummy book to an editors. It will be hard, and it will be a long process. But it’s important to enjoy the process, and be patient, and keep working until you get it right. It’s also important to try and work out things in the writing/revising and storyboard stages first if you can. It could save you a lot of time and trouble.

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One lucky winner will win a copy of "Brunhilda's Backwards Day"! 

In order to win this prize you must:

Comment on this post and tell Shawna how much you liked her interview.



  1. Thanks for taking the time to share your process with us. It really helps to read that artists of your caliber, work and rework your dummy books and illustrations until they work together and not stand alone pieces... Sound advice, "have patience and enjoy the process!"

  2. Shawna, Thanks for sharing your illustration tips. I like your advice on learning to paint traditionally before painting digitally and have enrolled in a free art course at technical college (Community College in the USA). Brunhilda's Backwards Day is in the local library here in Australia. It's fabulous.

    1. Thank Lynette! That's fun to hear that Brunhilda is in your library in Australia!

  3. Your illustrations are magical and your use of light is superb, Shawna! Thanks for sharing your tips and advice.

  4. Thank you so much for a great post Shawna and giving us an inside look into your process. I'm also a huge fan of Stories Unbound - keep doing what you're doing!!! 😊❤

  5. Thank you for sharing your process of creating, especially the Marquette process (I had to go Google that to see what it was about!) That would be so helpful for "seeing" an angle and drawing a character's point of view!

  6. Thank you for the encouragement! My favourite line is ..."if you feel like you don't know very much, just start anyway." Perfect life advice!��

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  8. Awesome interview, thank you so much for this. You're work is fantastic and always an inspiration. ❤️

  9. I agree with you that it's important to work with traditional materials first and then go into digital. I started with painting in acrylics and oils before I went to digital and I think the traditional actually gave my digital some voice, if that makes any sense! Thank you for the interview and great work!

  10. Thanks for the tip on making a markette, I enjoyed viewing your video on making one on your website, Fun!!!

  11. Thank you for the inspiration and advice Shawna. Your illustrations are amazing and I loved hearing about your creative process. :)