VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tina Kugler

This week I'm excited to introduce all of you to Tina Kugler. She has tall pink hair. (kidding!) In addition, she is a wonderful artist brimming with ideas and quite the sense of humor. I loved putting this interview together so I could spend time looking at the fun illustrations she sent along. Tina also has a whole bunch more art to see on her website. Please pay her a visit! http://tinakuglerstudio.com

How did you get started in illustration?
I have always been sort of obsessed with children’s books. Even before I had kids, I collected picture books.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us?
Digital! I used to loathe the look & feel of computer-created art until I got a Cintiq tablet and Corel Painter. It is so intuitive, I just love it. Plus I have three small kids, so I always have to stop and yell at some point, so I can just “save” and come back to it-- no spilled/dried paint or anything.
I typically start with a pencil sketch on the tablet, once I am happy with the composition, I lighten the opacity and trace over it on another layer (like a lightbox) with dark brown chalk. I then paint underneath the chalk layer, and add highlights, shadow, texture, and other color elements. I am messy, in general, so my work has that slightly loose, rumpled feel.
My greatest compliment, I think, is when someone says, “I can’t believe you made that on a computer!”
Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you?
I do, however I don’t consider myself a writer at all. I am an illustrator first & foremost. My first dummy, “Jo-Jo,” I just wrote as a vehicle for my illustrations. It was rejected largely because of the story, the protagonist wasn’t proactive enough, apparently. I was all, “But I’m not a writer! Let someone else write it and I’ll draw it!” I have about a million orphaned half-stories, in that I have a great premise, but no ending.
Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life?
I do work part-time at a “real” job (graphic design), and I also do freelance illustration regularly for an educational company. I squeeze in doing my “own” work whenever I can.
Balancing family with work is the real challenge, for anyone I think. I am good at simultaneously drawing and conversing with a 3-year-old. Once our youngest is school-age, I’ll be a superstar.

Where in the country do you live? 
I live in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small town right on Lake Michigan. We have been debating moving back to Los Angeles (back to the animation industry), it’s a real struggle. My husband & I are both from Wisconsin, it’s really a part of who we are. The difficult thing is trying to figure out how to make a living doing art. The cost of living here is comparatively low, so it’s beneficial for freelancing (my husband is an artist as well).
My studio is a small office right off of our living room. If it gets too loud out there, I am fortunate to have French doors to close it off! I also love that from my desk, I can see down the street to watch the kids coming home from school. Our house was built in the 1850s, there isn’t a level surface remaining anywhere, so my chair tends to roll away while I am drawing. My desk is a monstrous vintage teacher’s desk and it’s just perfect-- it has side boards that slide out to put the keyboard on, when I tilt the tablet down to draw.
My studio photos are kind of boring right now, for six months we’ve been packing to move, and now we are slowly unpacking. I gave away all of my houseplants & I can’t find my office stuff. So I should paint in some spider plants or something.

Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences?
Definitely my own experiences. I attended UW-Milwaukee as a film major (art minor), but in 1996 I moved to Los Angeles to work in television animation. For ten years I drew storyboards, which taught me everything: composition, staging, movement, acting, emotion, you name it. So I look at my books in terms of little films.

Please list any of your publications and let us know your website.
So far I’ve only been published in the educational market.
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve got a bunch! I rewrote my rejected dummy and am sending it back out. An author friend and I are collaborating on a picture book dummy. I have another picture book dummy I am working on with my husband. And I am working on an educational project with a very intelligent friend.

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
Oh goodness-- where do I start? I adore Mary Blair & her amazing color work, and Wallace Tripp is another of my very favorites. I had the good fortune to actually work with two more of my favorites, Peter Hannan & Gary Baseman, when I was in cartoons. Let’s see— Calef Brown, Lisbeth Zwerger, Richard Scarry, J.P. Miller, Lois Ehlert, Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler, Tibor Gergely, Arthur Geisert, J. Otto, Adam Rex, did I tell you I used to own a children’s bookshop?
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why?
Luna Lovegood, I think. I am a major Harry Potter geek. And my brain kind of goes all over the place.

What inspires you?
Just today we went to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, which is, in my opinion, one of the best art museums in the country. It is all outsider art, and every show there is just amazing. (The bathrooms are also amazing.) It is just buzzing with creativity, the work there is so different & wonderful.
Also the Lynda Barry book, What It Is.
My children inspire me too, their insights, the questions they ask, everything is new & fascinating to them. The 5 year old recently asked me, “Are numbers real?”
Chew on that for awhile.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist, always.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I am usually chasing children or cooking something. What I would like to do is go to a museum, to the zoo, for a walk, or take a nap. I love naps.
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Persevere, keep going, keep fighting, don’t give up. Nobody is going to do this for you. :)


  1. Every time I see Tina's work I just shake my head (internally, of course) and wonder in amazement at how this fine artist is not practically a house-hold name in the illustration world. She is easily one of the most talented artists working today, producing consistently high quality work that ALWAYS looks fresh and spontaneous.

  2. I love that drawing with the school bus and the two monsters- what a riot!!!

  3. Beautiful work. I really enjoyed reading the interview.

  4. I love it Tina! Your work is wonderful and you have an exceptional 5 year old! "Are numbers real?" What a great question! Asking that question my self as I do my taxes, Great interview!

  5. Humorous! Delightful! Whimsy! You're work is fantastic! Thank you!

  6. I find your art more than interesting. I would like to count on you if we have a project to collaborate...