Kali Ciesemier

Kali Ciesemier is a (living and working!) illustrator based in Los Angeles. She graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art. Since graduating, she has taught at Maryland Institute College of Art from 2009 – 2013, University of Arts in Philadelphia in 2015, and the School of Visual Arts from 2015 – 2016.

Her impressive client list includes Amtrak, Boston Globe, Cartoon Network, New Yorker, Google, Harper Collins, LA Times, New York Times, Scholastic, and United Way. She consistently does editorial illustrations for magazine articles, which she posts on her blog along with commentary about her process. Ciesemier also published a graphic novel titled I Am Princess X, about two young best friends whose imaginary princess creation goes viral years after one of the friends is killed in a car accident. Another work by Ciesemier is her contribution to the first issue of the Steven Universe Comic series, entitled, “Steven Chewniverse.” Right now, Ciesemier is working as a freelance illustrator, and is also the color designer for the show OK KO: Let’s Be Heroes!, at Cartoon Network.

I was personally drawn to Ciesemier’s work because of the color and beautiful use of digital mediums. She has an amazing handle on color theory and uses a variety of colors successfully in all her pieces. This is due to her process, she says that she completes a greyscale sketch first, in order to make sure the tones are correct, before going in with color. Her work feels loose, yet very finished, and is well suited to editorial illustration. I love the intentional amount of texture that she manages to fit into all her pieces, without them ever feeling over-worked. I would love to see a video of her drawing process! I love how she doesn’t use outlines in her drawings, they feel alive, and full of movement, yet very polished.

She also hashes out some serious tax and saving advice for illustrators on her blog – pretty cool.

Professional illustrators need references too!





Chris Ware

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Chris Ware was born on December 29, 1967, in Omaha, Nebraska. His illustration career began in the early 1980’s, when his first comics were published in The Daily Texan, the University of Texas’s student publication. His career really took off in his second year of university, when Art Spiegelman noticed his work and asked him to contribute to his magazine, Raw. The expose and confidence Ware gained from this helped give him momentum moving forward into his career.

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After graduating, Ware moved to Chicago, where he began contributing to The Chicago Reader and New City. He published a weekly science fiction serial in the paper Floyd Farland: Citizen of the Future. Eventually, all these comics were compiled and printed in a book. The book brought him much attention and acclaim, but today, he finds it severely embarrassing and tries to destroy all the copies he can find.

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Ware has been a regular contributor to the New Yorker. Since 1999, he has illustrated over 25 covers and and made many other contributions to the contents of the magazine. He has published many award winning graphic novels, which form the bulk of his career’s work. Some notable ones are Building Stories, which was named one of the Top Ten Fiction books of the year by both Time Magazine and the New York Times in 2012. His latest graphic novel, Monograph, was recently released.

Ware has also done some exciting and high-profile, non-graphic novel projects. He has done illustrations for This American Life, and a mural for 826 Valencia, a San Francisco literacy project, among others.

Ware’s work is linear and mathematical. His illustrations are precise and somewhat geometric, which makes them well suited to the panel format of graphic novels. His style is realistic, highly detailed, and vividly coloured. Perhaps the most enticing thing about Ware’s work, however, is not even his illustrations but the content – the stories he tells with his art. Like many illustrators, he possesses an uncanny knack for storytelling. Reading some of his comics, I found that his novels read like a screenplay. The dialogue is extremely convincing and the characters are fully realized. My favourite thing about Ware’s work is his insight and expression of the human experience. Some of his favourite topics include isolation, depression, and emotional torment.

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Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer was born Jean-Thomas Ungerer on November 28, 1931. His father – to whom he attributes his artistic skill – was an artist, historian, and engineer, but died in 1935 when Ungerer was 3 1/2 years old. His childhood was marked by the deep divides of the region he was raised in and the scars of WWII, something he would later explore in his memoir, À la Guerre Comme À La Guerre (A Childhood Under the Nazis). During the war, Alsace was annexed by the Nazis, and French was banned in schools. From then on, until its liberation, the Nazis indoctrinated students every day with their teachings. Ungerer viewed the battles in 1945 that led to the eviction of the German armies from the region, and made drawings of these events.

© Tomi Ungerer
A childhood drawing

It was total, systematic brainwashing every day

Tomi Ungerer

Ungerer began studying at the Municipal School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, but after failing his baccalaureate exams, took time off to hitchhike his way around Europe. In 1956, he headed off to New York City with $60 and his drawings.

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Illustration from the Mellops series

Here his first children’s book, The Mellops Go Flying, was published by Ursula Nordstrom of Harper and Row (she would later go on to publish Shel Silverstein), and it met immediate success. This would begin a career of famous children’s books, including Critter, Adelaide, Emil, The Three Robbers, and Rufus. Ungerer also began doing advertising work for the prominent magazines in New York.

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A drawing from Fornicon

The publication of two books aimed at the adult reader, The Underground Sketchbook of Tomi Ungerer and Fornicon, which both featured comical erotic illustrations, led to a change in the nature of his work. This was in part due to the fact that he was no longer considered desirable or appropriate to hire for children’s books, but also because the political climate of the time. The Vietnam war was breaking out, and Ungerer became increasingly invested in political work. A strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement as well as the anti-war movement, he created posters and satire illustrations for both.

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Ungerer found himself, around this time, a sort of exile. Having been somewhat shunned from the illustration scene in America, he and his wife moved to Nova Scotia and then to Ireland. Europe, he found, was far more receptive and less sensitive to the erotic and shocking nature of his work.

Advertising work




Leonard Baskin

Not because I am so great, though I am, but because all the others are so dreadful.

Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin was born on August 15, 1922, into a Jewish family. His father, Samuel Baskin, was a Rabbi. When he was seven, the family moved to New York City. Baskin set his sights on becoming a sculptor at the age of fourteen when he saw a sculpture demonstration at Macy’s. From this moment, his career would only grow.

Baskin began studying sculpture at Manhattan’s Education Alliance, under Maurice Glickman, who would arrange his first solo show for him in 1939. Baskin went on to study at New York University’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts as well as Yale University. After three years in the United States Navy, he spent time traveling in France and Italy, studying art.

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During his time at Yale, Baskin developed an interest in printing, which would come to form an integral part of his long career. Inspired by William Blake, who worked as both a fine artist and a printer, Baskin founded Gehenna Press. The first book he printed was a selection of his own poems named On a Pyre of Withered Roses. Over 50 years, until Baskin’s death in 2000, Gehenna would produce about 100 extremely high-quality, elegant books. For a small, private printing company, the output and demand for products was outstanding, as well as its success.

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Baskin’s career in a multitude of fine art medias is perhaps what he is best known for, however. The breadth and variety of his work is astounding. His massive sculptures are some of his more well known works, among them the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial sculpture, the Woodrow Wilson Memorial sculpture, and the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, MI. He also created huge, life-size woodcut prints, painted, and drew.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Sculpture

The female form is useful for some ideas, but the colossal male is better suited to the ghoulish ones I try to portray.

Leonard Baskin

In his work, Baskin was inspired often inspired by poetry. He worked closely with the British poet Ted Hughes, and even moved to England for nearly a decade to collaborate on books and art with him. In his work can be seen a sense of his religious upbringing, and a sensitivity to the chaos and upheaval that was the 21st century.

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Baskin was able to work in nearly any medium he wished, with great success. In this respect, Leonard Baskin is quite a remarkable and unique artist. Not only was his fine art well received and influential, but he was a well-read and extremely educated man. He wrote, critiqued art, and taught printmaking and sculpture at Smith College and Hampshire College, both in Massachusetts. Baskin’s many awards include a Caldecott award for his children’s book illustration, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Gold Medal of the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and innumerable retrospective exhibits while he was still alive. Today his work is displayed in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art, the Vatican Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

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Coles Phillips

Model 20 Hudson Motor Car advertisement
Model 20 Hudson Motor Car advertisement, Gouache

Cole Phillips was born in Springfield, Ohio, into a lower middle class family. His parents had few aspirations for him, however, he drew throughout his childhood. His first job was at the American Radiator Company where he worked as a clerk. In 1902 he began attending Kenyon College, where he created popular illustrations for the school yearbook and magazine, The Reveille. 

In his junior year, Phillips left school and headed to New York City, with hopes of making it as an artist. Of course, career plans rarely follow a linear path, and he had his fair share of ups and downs. Immediately, he was hired at the American Radiator Company’s NYC branch. He was fired however, since he drew on the job, and was found with an unflattering caricature of his boss. Next, he got a job working in what was effectively an art assembly line. Here, he would often draw just ankles, a skill that would come in surprisingly handy when he began working closely with hosiery companies Holeproof and Luxite. He quit this tedious job after only eight weeks and after a brief stint at an advertising agency, figured he could open his own. He did, but found that he had no time to paint or do any of his own work, so became a freelance illustrator, relying only on a month’s worth of savings. He was able to secure a job at the magazine Life (a different one than the one you’re probably thinking of) and began doing illustrations for them.


His big breakthrough came when he was assigned his first cover. He decided to utilize a technique he’d been thinking about, where he removed strategic parts of the foreground and bled the background color through that space, effectively using negative space to “draw” large parts of the illustration. The cover was a huge success and was dubbed the first “Fade away girl.” Phillips’ new fade away technique would become a signature of his.

Over the course of his career, Phillips would illustrate over 50 covers for Life. He also signed a five year, monthly cover contract with Good Housekeeping. He illustrated numerous books, advertisements, as well as magazine covers for Colliers, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s,  Saturday Evening Post,  Women’s Home Companion, and Liberty. Oftentimes, he wrote his own copy for his advertisements.

Phillips’ work became increasingly more sexual over time, as society loosened. Even still, many of his illustrations were of beautiful women, and caused quite a stir. He is even credited with drawing the first pin up girl. His use of strong design principles helped his work gain mass appeal, and was famous throughout the world. From 1907 – 1927 he was considered one of the most popular American illustrators. Sadly for him, his fade away work was so well liked that art directors often didn’t let him experiment outside of those bounds. Phillips was a businessman about all his illustration endeavours, and insisted that he include his signature on all his works. He died from kidney disease at the age of 47.

Phillips’ first cover featuring his iconic “Fade away girl”, 1908