Shauna Lynn is a lettering artist and illustrator with a passion for cold brew, wine, and figure skating, located in the Chicago area where she works out of her home studio with her studio pup, Teddy Bear. She’s been working professionally since 2010 and has worked with clients such as Dear Evan Hansen, Adobe, Facebook, and many others. In her free time, you can find her skating at the local ice rink, drinking chai lattes in the local coffee shop, snuggling her dog, or obsessively playing her switch (animal crossing and Splatoon 2 are her go-tos).
Shauna Lynn has been drawing since she could hold a pencil and created her first mural on her parents' condo wall at the age of 3. Through the years her parents helped foster her love of illustration, and after a short detour where she went to the University of North Florida to study Opera, she switched over to graphic design, and then, post-graduation, she finally settled into illustration.
By reading this inspiring interview with Shauna, you will learn what a typical workday for a book illustrator looks like, how to deal with deadline pressure, where to look for inspiration and how to develop your own unique artist style to increase your chances of working in the digital art industry.
Magma: You are an illustrator represented by The Cat Agency under Chad W. Beckerman. Your illustrations are so vivid and evocative that they immerse even adults in the world of cheery childhood. How long have you been an illustrator? And how did it happen that you got into the art of creating characters for children’s books?
Shauna Lynn: I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but professionally since 2010. I did a lot of illustration in college but didn’t consider it as a career path until around 2013 when I jumped into full time freelance. Up to that point, my plan was to be a graphic designer.
I’ve always enjoyed creating work with kids in mind. Things that would make kids and adults smile upon looking at it. Over the last few years I realized that I wanted to pursue children’s books and when the pandemic hit, I suddenly had a lot of time to really explore what that would look like and if it was something I truly wanted to do.
Magma: Can you describe how your typical working day looks like? What does an example order start with and what does it end with?
Shauna Lynn: It changes a bit day to day, especially if I have big deadlines. However, a “normal” non-deadline day starts with me getting up around 7-7:30am, having some coffee and sitting down at my desk by 8:30 at the latest. I will work from around 8:30 to noon, and then take a break and drive over to the ice rink to practice elements that I have been working on (preparing for skating tests), and then I will come back home around 2-2:30pm, shower, and then get back to work until around 5-6pm. At that point I will go have dinner with mom, feed the dogs, and then if I am still working, I will move from my desk to the couch and work from my iPad with some Netflix.
Magma: Please tell me, are your illustrations approved by someone before publication, or do you have unlimited creative freedom? Is teamwork also part of your work? Do you have an Art Director or another person over you who accepts your ideas?
Shauna Lynn: Anything that I do for a client is approved beforehand. I often have a lot of creative freedom, but within the specs of the project. I almost always work directly with the client depending on the project, which in most instances, the client is the Art Director for the project I’m getting hired for and then their client is the brand I’m working on.
For example, if an Art Director from Random Fake Agency has a project with Big Fake Brand and they require lettering or illustration and want to hire me, then Art Director will reach out to me directly and get an estimate, run that by Big Fake Brand, and if approved I will be hired. I will then work directly with the Art Director and run all approvals through them. In an instance like that, I do work for Big Fake Brand but it’s done through Random Fake Agency.
Magma: How do you keep from losing inspiration for work as an artist when you are attached to deadlines?
Shauna Lynn: This is a hard one for sure. If I’m on a tight deadline and I find I’m fighting creativity, I will try to step away for an hour or so if time allows and either just work on something else or go for a walk with my dog. If I’m able to, I will stop working on that project for the day and open it with fresh eyes the next day. Oftentimes though, you have to pull inspiration even if you’re not inspired, so sometimes just a little break to sketch for myself can make all the difference or change up my environment, like going over to a coffee shop to work.
Magma: How do you feel about teamwork? Have you ever participated in any creative projects that were aimed at collective creativity? If so, what did you like the most, and what presented a certain difficulty?
Shauna Lynn: I had an opportunity in 2019 to collaborate with three other women illustrators for a project for Prudential Insurance. We each were to create a mural that would be displayed at their booth at a conference, and then we would all be there live drawing at the event. While each of the murals features the artist’s own flair, everyone had to work within the same color palette for consistency and at the event itself, be ready to draw in each other’s styles to some degree. Drawing the lettering of other artists was hard since I’m so set in my style, but it worked because it still had my own flair. The best part is these ladies are all friends of mine, so we were able to hang out and cheer each other on throughout the event.
Magma: What tools and software do you use in the process of creating your works? Do you have, for example, your favorite pencils, digital brushes, or the color palette you use? What are your favorite tools and why?
Shauna Lynn: I work 100% digitally. Years ago I used to do sketches on paper but once I got a Cintiq, I began doing sketches more in Photoshop, and then when I eventually got an iPad, I went completely paperless in my work.
My current setup is:
I switch between each of these depending on the project and whether or not I need to work larger, or if I can do the whole project on the iPad. I will more often than not use Fresco instead of Procreate, simply because with Fresco, your work saves to the cloud and I can switch over to my computer and pick it back up there.
I also use a mix of brushes, most of which I’ve made myself and I have for sale on Creative Market. :)
Pencil sketchers for Photoshop/Fresco: https://creativemarket.com/shaunaparmesan/6495121-Sketcher-Brushes-Sample-Pack-for-PS
Pencil sketchers for Procreate: https://creativemarket.com/shaunaparmesan/6495185-Sketcher-Brushes-Pack-Procreate
Storybook brushes for Procreate: https://creativemarket.com/shaunaparmesan/4725476-Storybook-Brushes-for-Procreate
Magma: In your illustrations, you pay a lot of attention to designing letters. You have designed a few fonts and even created postcards and other illustrations for charities. In your posts, you often mention that you really like doing it. Interestingly, your letters are very different each time. Where are you looking for inspiration, and why do you like this form of creativity so much?
Shauna Lynn: I actually wouldn’t say my lettering is that much different piece to piece. But there are a few illustrations I’ve done where I do use a different style and it’s mostly just picking based on what suits the art. I got my start in lettering, so that was my focus for many years, but it’s also taken several years for me to truly find my style and get very comfortable with it. Generally, for inspiration, I’m looking at vintage lettering books that I’ve found through loc.gov as well as reference books from my own collections. Truthfully though, at this point, unless I’m doing a style that’s different from the normal one I work in, I don’t often reference these books anymore. I did very early in my career before my style settled into what it is today. Early on, there was a lot of variety in my lettering styles, but now it’s mostly pretty consistent from illustration to illustration. The hard thing now is adapting it for children’s books, which require even more legibility and there’s less room to get wacky with the layouts.
Magma: More and more industries such as game dev, education, or animation uses Magma in everyday work. When we met during LBX, you mentioned that you also had the opportunity to use our application. What, from your point of view, is particularly interesting about Magma? Do you think that a tool like Magma could also be helpful in your industry and everyday work as a professional artist?
Shauna Lynn: I really enjoy the ability to collaborate with other artists in real time. Participating in the drawing jams was so much fun because we all had our own styles, but as a whole it all worked nicely together.
In terms of using it professionally with clients, I’m not sure I would use it with a client simply because I don’t show the client anything that’s not ready to be seen, and if they were watching me work live, there’s too much opportunity for them to micromanage the project.
That said, there are some great uses I have found that aren’t really in my day-to-day working realm, like using it for drink n’ draws and other virtual events I will set up with my friends.
Magma: What advice can you give to aspiring book illustrators who want to find their own style? How did you create your recognizable drawing style? Can you share some tips for artists who want to work in this industry?
Shauna Lynn: A lot of this will stem from practice, but ultimately it’s about taking time to explore styles and play. Don’t look to just one artist for inspiration, instead vary your sources so that you don’t end up looking like a copy of any one person. Find things you like about these artists’ works and see if there’s a common thread. Is it how they use color? Texture? Their layouts? Focus on what that common thread is and play with trying to do just that.
If you see a style you like and you want to figure out how they did it, do studies. Studies are a great way to learn but don’t post what you’re creating studies of. Keep that in your own personal world. Not everything needs to be shared.
If you see an artist who works with color in a way you love, try recreating how they put those colors together. Try to pick the color from your palette instead of using a color picker on the piece, train your eye and train your brain.
And finally, don’t let your ego get in the way of your creativity. There’s always room to learn and there’s a big difference between being confident in your work and being egotistical about your work. Be open to constructive criticism and continued learning, and experimentation.