Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Illustrator Spotlight: Doris Ettlinger

Taking a Break with Doris

Doris_headshotDoris Ettlinger has illustrated many books for children, including the award-winning A Book for Black-eyed Susan and The Orange Shoes. Her latest title – S is for Sea Glass – has just been released by Sleeping Bear Press. Her illustrations feature a sensitive drawing style and skillful watercolor technique. A native of Staten Island, she earned degrees at RISD and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Doris also teaches watercolor in her 19th century gristmill in Hampton, NJ. NJSCBWI Illustrator Co-ordinator Karen Romagna catches up with Doris to find out a little more about her …


Karen Romagna: Why do you want to be a children's illustrator?
Doris Ettlinger: The pictures I create in children’s books can be looked at again and again.  I started my career as an editorial illustrator.  Creating images to accompany a newspaper article involved a flash of insight.  It was very exciting.  But once the art appeared, its public life was over. After I had children I shifted my focus to the children’s market.  The assignments fit the family schedule. Instead of illustrating ideas I was illustrating narrative, which I find to be a richer experience.


KR:  Can you explain your illustration process?  Preferred medium?
DE: Research, thumbnail sketches, review by editor and art director, revise, photograph models (if there is a recurring character or I can’t visualize a pose), lightly trace enlarged sketch to watercolor paper, refine drawing, scan drawing in case I have a bad day with the paint, stretch watercolor paper, print a small version on wc paper, DON’T SKIP THIS STEP: color sketch on printed drawing – this is where I PLAN my palette and technique for each painting, paint large washes, develop tone, recapture line and add accents with colored pencils. 

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KR: What inspires you? 
DE: NATURE; new art supplies; the illustrations of Trina Schart Hyman, Lizbeth Zwerger, Frederick Richardson, Arthur Rackham, Carl Larsson, Rockwell Kent, Hokusai; Pieter Breughal and Vincent Van Gogh; Samuel Palmer and William Blake; the watercolors of John Singer Sargent, Charles Reid and my mother, Minnie Ettlinger; the fashions of Alexander McQueen and books on costume; listening to my iPod on shuffle; I’m forgetting a few favorites. 



KR: When life gets in the way, what helps you get through or keep going? 
DE: I need to work with my hands. Moving a pencil over a piece of paper calms me.  The computer has the opposite effect.  Make every moment as pleasurable as possible.  That could mean choosing the right music, burning some incense or having another cup of coffee.  Have several things going on.  If one thing isn’t panning out, another activity will sustain my optimism.  When I finished my last book, I focused on stocking my Etsy shop and planning demos for my watercolor classes.  When illustrating was my only source of income, my self-esteem would plummet when the work dried up.  Now I don’t worry about it. 




KR: What advice can you give an illustrator new to our field?

DE: My advice is based on years of not following this advice.  Don’t be a hermit.  Get out of your studio and get to know other illustrators and professionals in the children’s book world.   I’ve learned SO much and met SO many friendly and supportive people since I joined my first critique group at the Hunterdon County Writers and Illustrators Group and attended my first NJSCBWI conference. It’s changed my life.  Also, if three people give you the same feedback: LISTEN TO THEM.  You’ll save yourself lots of time. 




For more about Doris Ettlinger, check out these links:


COMING UP, JANUARY 2014: Lorraine Dey
Pop back on the last Wednesday of next month for an interview with NJ SCBWI Illustrator Lorraine Dey.