Robert’s Snow…Meet Illustrator Shawna Tenney!

Today’s illustrator feature for the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure Fundraiser is Shawna Tenney, an artist with a gift for whimsy and, as you’ll see in her snowflake, a child’s playfulness.

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a children’s author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles. Today’s feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class.

Shawna Tenney has illustrated many books, such as Allie’s Bike, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, A Very Strange Place, and In the Sun.


She first wanted to be a ballerina, but finding out it wasn’t made for her, she discovered writing and illustrating.  She now lives in Utah with her husband, Warren, and two daughters, Cassidy and Madeline, and don’t forget Bongo the Cat!


We interviewed Shawna Tenney.  Here are our questions and her answers:

First of all, please tell us about your snowflake. Where did the idea for the frog fairy come from?

Well, sometimes I don’t really know where my ideas come from.  I was looking at my snowflake, and all I could see was a big beehive hairdo and wings.  A fat frog lady hopped in there randomly.

Why did you join the Robert’s Snow fundraiser?

I found out about it on a friend’s blog, and really wanted to participate, mostly because my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I was very excited to participate in a fund raiser for cancer research in which I could use my talents.   I dedicated my snowflake to my mom and my good friend Amber, an 11 year old who has leukemia.

Why do you like being an illustrator?

Wow, what is there not to like.  I can stay at home with my kids while I work and make my own schedule (although at times this can be a challenge).  I get paid for doing something I love to do.

How much practice does it take to be an illustrator? 

Well, I have a bachelor’s degree, so I have had as much schooling as most other professionals.  I have always loved drawing and have been doing it since I was very little.  It takes many hours to complete a painting.  First I have to get the sketch just right with a composition I am happy with.  Then I have to transfer that sketch onto a board.  Sometimes I do a color study on the computer to decide what colors I am going to use.  Then the painting itself takes many many hours.

How many paintings have you done?  Do you have a favorite?

Oh goodness, I have done countless paintings.  I have big bins full of old paintings.  I kind of stick to one style now, but I’ve gone through many different styles and mediums.  I think one of my favorite paintings right now is “The Queen of Sheep-baa.” 

I really like making animal characters and want to do many more, maybe even someday a book with some fun animal characters.

Where do you get your inspirations for paintings? Do you ever get ideas from your family?

I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators.  As for my ideas, I get those from many things including things I used to imagine as a child, and things that are going on with my family.  Sometimes my imagination comes up with things out of nowhere.  A lot of the time I am doing jobs for a client and they tell me what to draw (which is certainly not as fun).  I really like fairy tales.  I like to modernize them and make them silly.  In fact, I’m working on a whole new website based on silly fairy tales.  Come back and visit my website in a couple months to see what I mean.  My little three year old, Cassidy, is really into fairy tales, so some of the things she enjoys inspire me.  Some of the things she says and does give me ideas for stories that I would like to write and illustrate.  My husband also helps me think of ideas.  He is a graphic designer, so he helps critique my work and helps me improve things.
Do you feel like you have a particular style of illustrating, and if so, how would you describe it?

I feel like I have my own children’s storybook style.  I guess if I were to describe it, I would say, clean, detailed,colorful and whimsical with interesting angles and compositions (at least that’s what I’m shooting for. . .).

Which do you prefer to draw – fantasy pictures or realistic ones?

Definitely fantasy.  I love making up my own worlds where anything can happen.
What medium do you usually paint in?

Acrylic Paints.  I do some black and white work with charcoal pencils and micron pens.

Have you ever thought about writing your own book? What would it be about?

Yes, I’ve actually written a few of my own, but have never gotten a story good enough to send out.  I think I would enjoy writing a picture book about a crazy fairy tale or about animal characters.

Now the rapid-fire questions…things that kids (and adults who think like them) need to know!

What is your favorite painter or painting of all time, and why?

How can I pick one?  Well, one of my favorites would be John William Waterhouse.  His skin tones are beautiful and I love his style and the way he applied his paint.  His subject matter was usually fairy-talesque.   There are countless other painters and illustrators I greatly admire.  A current artist I love is James Christensen.  If you saw his work, you would probably know why.

Favorite book ever?

Oh goodness, I can’t just choose one.  I of course love the Harry Potter series.  One book I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  As for illustrated children’s books, there are too many to count, but my favorite author/illustrators are Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg.

Your favorite kind of pie?

Banana Cream Pie.   Mmmmmmmmm!

Favorite sport?

Well, sorry folks, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I do enjoy watching some sports.  Actually, I’m more into dance, if you can count that as a sport.  I was actually thinking of being a ballet teacher in my earlier years before I decided to become an illustrator.

Your website gives your name as Shawna J.C. Tenney. What does the JC stand for?

Shawna Jean Calder Tenney
Favorite animal?

Sea Lions

Favorite color?

I don’t think it is legal for an illustrator to choose just one favorite color.

We read about your cat on your website. How come you chose Bongo as his name?

We found Bongo in my parent in law’s window well.  He was a sweet little orange kitten.  My husband chose Bongo as his name and  it stuck.

Has your cat Bongo ever helped with a painting?  Or ruined a painting?

Bongo posed for the cat talking on the phone on my website, although he was very embarrassed to have to dress up like a girl.  Sometimes Bongo tries to bite my feet while I’m painting.  Sometimes he tries to jump up on my lap or drink my painting water.  One time he stepped in my pallet and walked over my painting.  That wasn’t the worst I’ve had though.  Cassidy who is now three has painted on several of my paintings that I had to get to clients.  Fortunately acrylics are forgiving and I was able to fix them.  Madeline, my one year old, hasn’t ruined any paintings. . .yet.

 Thanks, Shawna, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving your time and talents for the Robert’s Snow project!

Thank you!  It was really fun.  What a fun project for your classes to do!  Hope you’re all having a great year

Please be sure to check out Shawna’s snowflake and all of the amazing work at the Robert’s Snow Auction Site.

And…to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Allie’s Bike and a print signed by Shawna Tenney, please post a comment below, mentioning one of your favorite snowflakes in the Robert’s Snow fundraiser.  You don’t have to have a blog to win, but be sure we have a way to get in touch with you.  A winner will be drawn in early December, after the auction.