Introducing the Cuddlefish Academy!

What happens when you get four college professors/children’s book illustrators together who believe in education but worry about the future of higher ed accessibility? Well, you get an online school for kidlitart and childrens book illustration!!

Check out The Cuddlefish Academy on Teachable where we have officially launched with lectures and classes… with more on the horizon!

All four of us are working professional authors and illustrators with time spent teaching at a higher ed level. We know what its like to be a working professional creative AND we know what its like to hands-on teach in the classroom and get students ready to launch their illustration careers. We also have combined experience in sales, the animation industry, fine arts, and more. This dynamic combination will help you get your portfolio ready and help your professional development to get you working!

Something else that I find exciting about our shared experience is that we all live and work out of Colorado. We aren’t working in big coastal cities… and yet we are here with experience to show you how you can do this too.

We are really excited about what we are doing and what’s to come. Kaz Windness, Heather Brockman Lee, Stan Yan, and I are all passionate about education and access to information. This is just the start of more to come!

Check out more of our posts and work at @cuddlefishacademy on Instagram. Sign up for emails on our website so you can stay in the loop for the future!

Kidlit Portfolio Bingo!

A couple of weeks back, I shared my Kidlit Career Bingo sheet as a way of celebrating milestones in my kidlit illustration career, but another bingo sheet I created before was my Kidlit Portfolio Bingo sheet, which was built based largely on advice of Kelly Sonnack, literary agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, at the 2018 RMC-SCBWI Big Sur Agent Workshop for Illustrators — things she considered to be timeless in picture books — with a sprinkling of things I wanted to make sure not to miss having in my portfolio that I considered strengths or interests.

Each cell included an element or setting, and on a trip to the Las Vegas Licensing Expo, and with the time I had in my hotel room, instead of trying to connect rows, I proceeded to try doing a blackout, and this ended up being the start of my kidlit art portfolio. Certainly, it’s evolved from here as I’ve discovered my artistic voice more clearly, and figured out what kinds of books I want to write and illustrate. You can see where it is now here.

If you’d like a blank template to create your own, feel free to use this one:

Enjoy playing, and good luck on your journey!

Stan Yan

Twitter: @zombicatures

Instagram: @zombicatures


Kidlit Career Bingo

A long time ago when I started this long publishing journey, a bunch of my Cuddlefish Gang critique partners and I decided to make these Kidlit Career Bingo sheets to set goals and track our progress as a motivational device as seen here on this TikTok video:


Publishing is a long journey. How do you celebrate milestones and set goals? This is how professor @Stan Yan does it! #kidlitart #kidlitillustrator #kidlitartist #childrensbookart #querying

♬ Celebration – Kool & The Gang

Per request, I’m posting my complete visible bingo sheet here so you can see what each of my squares says:

Also, if you’d like to make your own customizable bingo sheet, here’s a blank one you can use as a template:

Enjoy playing, and good luck on your journey!

Stan Yan

Twitter: @zombicatures

Instagram: @zombicatures


Making a Picture Book – A Poem Grows Inside You

A Poem Grows Inside You, written by Katey Howes, Published by The Innovation Press and illustrated by me!

Hello friends! It has been a while since my last post, mostly because I spent the last year saying “Yes!” to every opportunity that came my way, and while it was a fantastic year of learning and growing, one of the most important lessons I learned is that I actually can’t do everything… who knew? (Ok lots of people knew that) But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. In this post I want to share my experience illustrating this beautiful manuscript by Katey Howes!

Every book has a story, the story that happens before the story. Actually several stories because everyone involved in making a book has their own story for how they came to be part of it. My story for this book begins with— it was the first time a traditional publisher offered me a picture book to illustrate. This was HUGE! Something I had been working towards for a few years, and the theme and manuscript and publisher were all so appealing to me, I could not have been happier. Some of you might notice that this is actually the second book I have illustrated, and that is because publishing can be like that but also largely because of the pandemic. I got the offer for A Poem Grows Inside You in March of 2020… yup. I remember standing outside the elementary school while my dog and I waited to walk my daughter home from school, I had just gotten off the phone with my agent, and looking forward to spring break with my kids…. which ended up lasting a year and a half. Because of those Uncertain Times, (remember when every sentence started with “In these uncertain times”?) The Innovation Press decided to delay the book for a year, which made perfect sense as absolutely no one knew what was coming at us.

It was hard to wait, but also everything was hard and I was very busy doing things like buying too much spaghetti squash because what if the stores ran out of spaghetti squash. And it gave me a long time to think, and to experiment with different mediums. And without that time I doubt I would have discovered the process I used for this book.

This is an early style guide I made once I decided on a medium, to show the publisher the technique I had in mind and the character design. We made a few tweaks, including the color of the raincoat.

For me, everything starts with thumbnails. This is probably the hardest part of the process for me- lots of talking to myself and tugging on my hair and making cups of tea I never finish. But once they are done, I feel like I have a roadmap to follow. I get lost really easily so I love maps.

Now for that technique I mentioned. I really don’t know if I would have discovered this without the pandemic keeping us all at home and giving me so much time to experiment. I would trade not knowing this for COVID never having happened but, here we are. It starts with sanded paper- the kind usually used for pastels. I am not a pastel artist so I can’t even remember where I got it. It’s literally sand paper, very fine white sand glued to a paper backing. When I painted on it with acrylic gouache, it would behave like watercolor or gouache depending on how much water I added, and going over that with colored pencils created a rich, bold line and a texture I fell in love with.

Some books start with the cover, and with others the cover comes last. It all depends on the publisher and their marketing schedules. This book came cover first, and I decided to paint the background and character separately so things could be tweaked and nudged in photoshop. I have done this for all my book covers so far- you really get the benefit and security of working in layers while still using traditional media.

Here are a few more process images. I really loved painting this book, Katey’s words are just wonderful and I would find her phrases repeating in my head as I painted various spreads. And the Innovation Press has been such a fantastic publisher to work with, with great taste in books I might add! I hope you will all enjoy reading and sharing it with children as much as I did illustrating it!

If you have any other comments or questions feel free to drop a comment below! Thanks for hanging out with me 🙂

Heather Brockman Lee


Twitter: @heatherbl

Instagram: @heatherbrockmanlee

Good News: October 2022

Larry Day:

Congratulations to Larry Day on getting two paintings into the Plein Air Artists of Colorado 25th Annual National juried exhibition at the Mary Williams Fine Arts Gallery in Boulder and one into the 2022 Colorado People, Places, and Things juried exhibition to be hosted by the Gilpin Art Gallery in Central City, CO.

Lily Williams:

Congratulations to Lily Williams on signing with Susan Hawk at Upstart Crow Literary!

Gerald Kelley / E.G. Keller:

Congratulations to Gerald Kelley on getting a starred review for MURRAY CHRISTMAS from the School Library Journal!

Happy book birthday to WHEN YOUR DADDY’S A SOLDIER by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan, illustrated by Gerald!

Kaz Windness:

Congratulations to Kaz Windness on SWIM JIM being accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show, showcasing the best in this year’s children’s book illustration.

And congratulations to Kaz on CAT VS. VAC being acquired by Simon Spotlight!

Congratulations to Kaz on her upcoming early graphic novel WORM AND CATERPILLAR ARE FRIENDS being named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection!

Speaking of WORM AND CATERPILLAR ARE FRIENDS… Kirkus Star Review!!!

Kaz also did her cover reveal for BITSY BAT SCHOOL STAR!

Jessica Lanan:

Congratulations to Jessica Lanan on signing a deal to illustrate EVERYWHERE by Scott Westerfeld for Roaring Brook!

And, congratulations to Jessica who illustrated THE LOST PACKAGE which was nominated for the 2022-23 Red Clover Book Award!

Anden Wilder:

Congratulations to Anden Wilder on being the grand prize winner of the juried portfolio contest at the RMC-SCBWI’s 2022 Letters and Lines Conference!

And, congratulations to Anden on her picture book, TULIP’S MESS being acquired by Knopf.

Dow Phumiruk:

Happy Book Birthday to Dow Phumiruk, who illustrated A LIFE OF SERVICE: THE STORY OF SENATOR TAMMY DUCKWORTH by Christina Soontornvat!

Dow also revealed the cover art for LAST FLIGHT by Kristen Mai Giang.

Jane Maday:

Congratulations to Jane Maday who is now an Ambassador for the Archer and Olive company!

Good News: July 2022

Bringing you good news from the last quarter from our Cuddlefish Gang members!

Lily Williams:

Kaz Windness:

Dow Phumiruk:

Happy Book Birthday to New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang’s debut picture book, YES WE WILL!! A great book to learn about accomplished Asian Americans in our country, illustrated by 15 different Asian American artists, including Dow! See her art in this book at the 1:36 mark of Kelly’s Good Morning America segment!

Heather Brockman Lee:

Stan Yan:

Congratulations to Stan on winning the SCBWI Florida Conference’s Portfolio Excellence Award grand prize!

Jessica Lanan:

Congratulations to Jessica for winning Best in Show for the Boulder Plein Air Festival!

Anden Wilder:

Don’t miss Anden Wilder’s art hanging at the Wandering Jellyfish through July.

Cuddlefish Academy on TikTok

In case you weren’t already aware, the Cuddlefish Gang has an educational presence on TikTok via our Cuddlefish Academy account. Here are some highlight posts from our various participating faculty so far:

Kaz Windness

How do I pick an art school if I want to be a professional artist? Cuddlefish Professor @Lily Williams here to answer the basics for you! 🎨#artschool #artistsoftiktok #illustrator

♬ original sound – The Cuddlefish Academy
Lily Williams
Dustin Resch
Stan Yan

Is this a hint of something to come? Perhaps! Stay tuned to find out!

Good News: April 2022

Lots of great news by our members to share from this past quarter!

Congratulations to our own Brizida Magro on winning the SCBWI portfolio showcase!

And congratulations to Brizida for signing with HarperCollins to illustrate POCKETS FOR TWO: A COLLECTION OF GIRLHOOD by Lindsay Ward.

Speaking of winning the SCBWI portfolio showcase, check out last Summer’s winner, Heather Brockman Lee‘s art, gracing the cover of the 2022 SCBWI The Book!

Also happy book birthday to Heather for HATTIE HATES HUGS! You can watch her book trailer here.

Meanwhile, Heather’s next book, A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU by Hatey Howes has unveiled its beautiful cover and is officially available for preorder.

Finally, our congratulations to Heather for signing with Little Simon to illustrate SHE IS MAMA by Mackensie Porter.

Well, the Cuddlefish Gang has officially been banned. GO WITH THE FLOW by Lily Williams and Karen Shneemann was banned. Read about out how Lily feels about that.

Join Lily for her upcoming book release party at Second Star to the Right books on June 28th for IF TIGERS DISAPPEARED.

And behold Lily’s latest cover reveal for the upcoming book, IS IT OKAY TO PEE IN THE OCEAN by Ella Schwartz.

Congratulations to Kaz Windness for signing with Page Street Kids to illustrate OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA by Andrew Hacket.

See Kaz’s read along book trailer for her upcoming debut, SWIM JIM! and check out her first review in Publisher’s Weekly:

and listen to Kaz’s interview in the You May Contribute a Verse podcast

Congratulations to our own Gerald Kelley / EG Keller for winning the Northern Lights Award for the Environmental Category for LOBSTAH GARDEN!

And Gerald’s latest books, MURRAY CHRISTMAS, and WHEN YOUR DADDY’S A SOLDIER, is now available for preorder!

Congratulations to THE LOST PACKAGE, by Richard Ho, illustrated by Jessica Lanan for being named an ALA Notable Book of 2022, and its nomination for the Red Clover Award!

Also, congratulations to Jessica for signing with Knopf to illustrate THANK YOU, MOON by Melissa Stewart!

AN EQUAL SHOT, by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk was chosen as a 2022 Notable Social Studies Trade Books List, a joint project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council.

Also, congratulations to Dow for HUGSBY being named a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards!

Happy book birthday to HER NAME WAS MARY KATHERINE by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Dow!

Dow’s illustrations can also be seen in the upcoming book by Kelly Yang, YES WE WILL: ASIAN AMERICANS WHO SHAPED THIS COUNTRY.

Listen to Dow on Grace Lin’s Kids Ask Author’s Podcast.

And see the cover reveal for A LIFE OF SERVICE: THE STORY OF SENATOR TAMMY DUCKWORTH by Christina Soontornvat, Illustrated by Dow.

Check out this interview of Stan Yan on CanvasRebel! and see Stan in Episode 77 of Legit Kidlit’s Draw Off.

My painting process using digital and traditional media by Heather Brockman Lee

I often hear illustrators asked if they work traditionally or digitally, and there is certainly no wrong answer to this. I adore many illustrations that were made either completely digitally or with traditional methods. In the end, the principles of good illustration are the same. But my personal answer to that question is WHY NOT BOTH? I love using digital tools to streamline my process, correct mistakes and elevate the image in general- but when it comes time to sit down and paint, I much prefer to work on paper. There are a lot of reasons for that- my background in fine art, my wrist and eye health, and maybe most of all my love for experimenting with different papers and supplies. I will talk a lot more about paper specifically in future blog posts because I think it is the unsung hero of art making. But for now, I want to lay out my basic process for creating a painting (including the ones in my upcoming picture books)- I hope you enjoy!

Running into Spring

Everything starts in my sketchbook, whether it’s scribbled thumbnails or something more finished like this piece, which was inspired by the way Colorado has many more than four seasons, often in the same week. (Like around 20?) I think better on paper so most of my brainstorming happens with a pencil.

Next, I like to refine the sketch on my iPad. Procreate is great for this- you can select and resize, flip the image to check the composition and figure out your palette. Once I’m happy with the line drawing, I’ll often block in color. It’s an extra step, but it helps me to figure out the palette and values beforehand so I’m not guessing once I go to paint.

This is also a great way to check that the values are working.

Then, I print out the sketch to the size I want to paint. If I am working on a picture book, I might need to print out several sheets and tile them together to get the correct size. Here, I’m just using what fits on an 11”x17” piece of recycled printer paper.

Speaking of paper… now I get to choose what kind to paint on! I obviously have lots of options, and for this painting I decided on a cream colored printmaking paper. It’s soft and absorbent with no sizing, and I really like using watercolor and colored pencil on it.

I have a big light box my husband bought me from an architecture firm a few years ago for Christmas (he found me some great flat files too!) and I use it constantly for tracing sketches onto the paper.

This is my favorite part, the painting process. It never looks great at this stage, but I love the way the brush, paint and paper all interact. It’s very soothing.

For this method, I do a lot of details in colored pencil. I try not to overwork or hide the interesting variations in the paint.

Once I feel like it’s finished, it’s time to scan! I have a good scanner but it’s pretty small, so I have to scan in sections and end up with something like this:

Then I use the MAGIC of Photoshop’s photomerge feature to stitch it all together while I make a cup of tea!

Okay so, at this point I was going to tell you all that I use the clone stamp to clean up dust specks and the levels adjustment layer to tweak the values but… I realized I had a bigger problem. That shadow I had so much fun painting is shortening the distance between the girl and the snowy hills behind her. It kind of looks like a wall? If this were for a book, I would repaint the whole thing (or hopefully would have caught it much sooner in the sketch phase!) But since this is just a personal piece, I’ll use some more photoshop magic to select the shadow and tweak it so it looks like there is more distance.

There! Smack my logo on it and it’s ready to post on instagram or a blog! Thanks for sticking with me this far. I hope you all enjoyed this sneak-peek into my studio and if you are a creative person too, I’d love to hear something about your process in the comments!

Heather Brockman Lee

Twitter: @heathertbl

Instagram: @heatherbrockmanlee


Good News: January 2022

Firstly, we would like to welcome our newest member, Annie Herzig!

After departing the corporate foodie world as an art director in 2014, Annie Herzig returned to her first loves of illustration and storytelling. She works using a combination of traditional and digital media, often utilizing watercolor, gouache, graphite, and colored pencil on the page.

Delighting in awkward, funny, and heartwarming interactions, Annie incorporates relatability and humor into her work, while developing lovable characters and getting to know them as close friends. Having experienced loss, she also explores themes revolving around grief and shared human experience, seeking to both offer and find connection with others.

You’ll often find Annie drawing for hours in her studio with John Denver records on repeat, pausing for tea and cookies, then getting outside before the sun sets to breathe some fresh air on a mountain trail. Come visit her at

Annie is represented by Charlotte Wenger at Prospect Agency.

Instagram: @annieherzig
Twitter: @annieherzig

Congratulations to Dow Phumiruk who illustrated Titan and the Wild Boars, which won the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award for 2021!

Also, congratulations to Dow for getting her art from Hello, Tree into the Original Art Show NYC!

Not to mention being named A Mighty Girl’s 2021 Book of the Year!

In addition, Hello, Tree, also illustrated by Dow is now being translated into other languages!

Read her interview in Picture Book Builders by our good friend Andrea Wang with author Ana Crespo about Hello, Tree.

The Madison Reading Project recognizes Counting on Katherine, illustrated by Dow in honor of Women’s History

Congratulations to Dow on a new book deal to illustrate The Boys of Koh Pantene!

Dow will be one of the amazing artists featured in Yes We Will by Kelly Yang.

Congratulations to Jessica Lanan who illustrated The Lost Package, which received many more accolades since our last good news:

Photo by Stan Yan

Congratulations to Kaz Windness for getting recognition for her October art show at the Wandering Jellyfish in the Westword!

In case you missed Kaz‘s previous blog post, Swim Jim is officially available for preorder!

Bud’s Art Books gave Mother Goth Rhymes by Kaz Windness a pretty nice review!

Congratulations to Stan Yan for signing for representation with Ann Rose at Prospect Literary!

Congratulations to our own Lily Williams, whose Picture Book, If Bees Disappeared was named Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2022 (Books published in 2021).

Hot on the heels of that news, it’s exciting to do a cover reveal for the next book in Lily‘s series, If Tigers Disappeared.

Dow isn’t the only one whose books are being translated into different languages. Lily Williams‘s Go With the Flow is getting translated too!

Speaking of Go With the Flow we’re excited to announce that a sequel Look on the Bright Side to this book has been announced!

Congratulations to our own Anden Wilder, Patricia Clock, Brizida Magro, Annie Herzig, and Heather Brockman Lee on getting pieces into the 2022 RMC-SCBWI Calendar!