Renee Kurilla talks Illustration

Renee Kurilla

I first saw Renee on Twitter and was blown away by her illustrations. But then ‘bumped’ into her again on the Oatley Podcast where it was so strange to hear her voice! I knew I had to chat to her about her unique style.


Celeste: Hi Renee! Thanks so much for taking time out to talk to me. I’ve been following/stalking you on Twitter for a while now and I really love your work. The original illustration of your that caught my eye was the one of the artist, twirling her paintbrush like a wand. I remember you saying you used pen and watercolour for it? How do you manage to keep the colours so clean when bringing to digital?

Renee: Haha, thanks Celeste! Firstly, I wish it was acceptable for me to use an “ou” in the word color – it looks so much more appealing (and fancier) than the American way of spelling it!

Thanks so much for your kind words. The piece you mentioned was actually quite a breakthrough piece for me. I’ve been trying for years to mimic a watercolor style on the computer and I think I finally hit it with this one. The line is done with a Prismacolor colored pencil, scanned and colored in Photoshop. This explains why it looks so clean.

I have yet to master the fine art of scanning, my watercolors always look so muddy and boring when I scan them in, so I was able to transition it almost entirely to digital.

Celeste: Another one of my favourites of yours are the sheep on the road trip. How long does a piece like this normally take you? And how do you create those circle textures of yours?

Renee: Thanks! That one was SO much fun. It was done as a sample for a manuscript that will hopefully one day be picked up by a publisher. So I can’t take complete credit for the idea, I had a really fun manuscript to work from!

On a good day – meaning, I’ve had my morning coffee, I am in a great mood, my lines are coming out exactly as I imagine them – I can finish an illustration like this in one day. It’s all about the initial sketch.

Sheep Sketch
Sheep Sketch by Renee Kurilla

I have to hit the nail on the head from the start or the rest of the process will make me miserable. Sometimes I do a full on black and white rendering just to make sure I get the foreground, middle-ground, background thing just right.

Black and White Sheep by Renee Kurilla
Black and White Sheep by Renee Kurilla

The texture is just the Photoshop brushes I’m using. I use a combination of Kyle Webster’s brushes and Grut brushes. Now you have all my secrets!

A fun piece like this has the ability to literally draw my entire focus. I won’t eat until it’s done! For others, I will at least break for lunch.

Sheep by Renee Kurilla
Sheep by Renee Kurilla

Celeste: Your sketchbook Kickstarter looks amazing! I am so sad our South African currency exchange is so bad else I would have bought one! But tell me a little about the kickstarter and how you found your experience with it. I’ve spoken to some who say it worked for them and others not.

Renee's Book
Renee’s Sketch Book

Renee: Kickstarter is a lot of work, and I had a pretty modest goal compared to some. I was so shocked it worked out, but thankful to everyone who helped support the project because I was able to put my favorite sketches into a book. I now have a keepsake that spans a year of my creative life.

By ‘a lot of work’ I mean, I had to make sure everyone who backed the project got the rewards they signed up for…I was really attentive to that and hand wrote all the envelopes that went out. It took longer to do that than to put the book together! I also did some original sketches and prints as a reward tier, so those took some time as well!

Truthfully, I’d been thinking about doing it again for another book but I ended up starting a Society6 shop instead (much more friendly for international shipping)!

Celeste: I see you also sell your illustrations on products – I’ve had some illustrators say these takes up too much time.  What are your feelings on the matter?

Renee KurillaRenee: What a great segue to this question! I wasn’t even planning that, honest. 😉

I have tried using Etsy, which let me print and ship things on my own. I prefer to do that, honestly, because you can leave a personal touch on everything that goes out. You can sign prints, include note-cards and extras… but I was getting a bit overwhelmed with orders and I didn’t feel I was timely enough with my shipping.

Society6 prints and ships everything for me on paper, canvas, tote bags, cell phone cases, throw pillows, etc. and it looks great. I’ve been ordering their products for years with artwork from other illustrators I admire…so I already knew I trusted their quality!

I don’t make a whole lot of profit, but it feels nice to know I don’t need to worry about missing someone’s order in time for a holiday or special occasion. Everyone will get their orders in a timely matter and they often have free worldwide shipping sales!

Celeste: Your list of books you’ve done last year is impressive – do you manage to fit in any personal projects? Anything at the moment that you would like to share?

Renee: I have been writing and sketching up picture book dummies for years. I have about 3-4 in the works at different stages of completion. I wish I could share them right now, but I’d much rather share them when they’re available to the world in book form!

It takes a long time to finesse a book. I’ve heard for some it has taken up to 20 years! I want to make sure that for my debut author/illustrator title (and any books I release afterwards) that I am making books that matter and that I can be proud of for years to come.

Black and White IllustrationCeleste: I was listening to the podcast by Oatley about illustrations, and I heard you were a guest speaker! Are you planning to get more involved with podcasts – will we hear you again soon?

Renee: Yes! I was a guest host on the first episode of the new Oatley Academy podcast, Stories Unbound. Along with co-host, Shawna JC Tenney, we interviewed Giuseppe Castellano, Art Director at Penguin Random House.

He was amazing to chat with. I was floating on a cloud of inspiration after our interview with him. I hope everyone else who listens does too!

For Chris Oatley’s podcast, I was asked by host Shawna JC Tenney to co-host. There were plans of potentially joining her for every episode, but I had 13 books lined up to illustrate at the time and I had just left my full time job of ten years- the timing was just a little off. I was so happy to be able to join her for the first interview, though! And what an interview!

I will get involved in as many podcasts as I am asked to be involved in (I was also a guest on Matthew Winner’s Let’s Get Busy podcast last year), but I currently don’t have any future plans to grace the airwaves, haha.

Artist StudioCeleste: Your husband’s style is very different to yours – he is a lot more ‘grungy.’ Do you guys collaborate on any projects or hope to in the future?

Renee: Heehee, Keith is master of monsters. His characters are SO unique, but while his style differs from mine I think if you look closely you can see how we inspire each other! He sees everything I draw and, if necessary, offers advice. It’s so nice to have that.

We used to work together at FableVision, an animation studio in Boston, so you can say we have collaborated before. In the graphic novel, Zebrafish, his art is the work of the character, Walt, who is an artist in the story.

But, as far as our own projects, we haven’t yet collaborated though sometimes we discuss it. We’ll see!

Celeste: Thanks so much Renee for taking time out to answer my questions. I am really a big fan of yours. Where can people find you online if they would like to see more of your work?

Renee: Thanks so much for asking! It’s always an honor to be interviewed. J

My work is all over the place online:

My website:


Twitter: @reneekurilla


Instagram: @reneekurilla