Author & Artist Corner: Artist

Kristina Swarner

StudioWelcome to my studio! It's a little gloomy out today; usually it's filled with sunlight.

Here I am, working in my studio. Kristina Swarner








Here are some of my art supplies. The green, pickle-shaped thing is a Chinese brush rest in the shape of a cucumber. My floor slopes downhill, and the pickle keeps my brushes from rolling off my desk.
Pencils & Brushes

This is the top of my bookshelf. Like many illustrators, I keep a lot of objects around that inspire me or that I just like the look of.

Then Cricket gave me the assignment for the enchanted horse on the cover. The idea was inspired by one of the stories in the magazine. I was really excited, because I love horses and magical things.

I needed a very special horse, not one that was just, "Oh. A horse." So first I started drawing all kinds of horses. I even made a little rubber stamp of one.

The first sketch I did wasn't quite right. I decided that the horse needed to be flying more, and that the girl from the story needed to be in the picture.
1st Sketch

The horse in the second sketch still looked too much like it was lying down. Plus it was supposed to be a strong horse, and the flowers around its neck looked too wispy.

I gave the horse a flower to eat instead, and turned its head to face the girl. Perfect!
Final Sketch

You've probably made a linoleum print yourself, or even a potato print. The way I work is just like that. I use a rubber block that's much easier to carve than linoleum, and is also soft enough to let me stamp it with textures before I roll the ink onto it.  Here's the printing plate I made for the cover.
Printing Plate

When the print is dry, I paint on top of it with watercolors and draw on it with colored pencils. (The company discontinued my favorite pale green colored pencil, and the one I have left is only 3/4" long, so I save it for emergencies.) Here is the finished painting!
Final Cover


Click "Add new comment" below to ask Kristina a question.

Thanks, Kristina! You're a big help! :)

submitted by Rachel M., age 10, Neenah, WI
(August 13, 2010 - 12:12 pm)

Hi , what do you like more,

Painting or drawing 

submitted by Adira M., age 1 0, America
(August 27, 2010 - 5:21 pm)

Hi Adira,


I can never decide which I like better!  When I'm painting with watercolors, I think, "Ah, I love painting," but when I get the pencils out, I think, "Now for the fun part!" So I guess the answer is whichever I'm working on at the time. Smile


Thanks for writing!



submitted by Kristina S., Chicago, IL
(August 30, 2010 - 8:48 am)

Have you ever illustrated a book??Cool

submitted by Amelia S., age 12, Chicago IL
(August 28, 2010 - 2:17 pm)

Hi Ameila,


I've illustrated quite a few books--10? 12? I've lost count! And I'm working on more right now.


One book I worked on, Enchanted Lions, by David Greenberg, is about a girl who travels around in outer space on the back of a lion. Working on this cover for Cricket reminded me a little bit of that story, with the horse flying through the night sky and the stars.



submitted by Kristina S., Chicago, IL
(August 30, 2010 - 8:59 am)

Hello, Kristina. I love your studio! I'm an artist when it comes to painting, and when I saw you were on Cricket I thought it would be a good chance to make friends with another artist.  I love how you do Cricket mag covers. I love how you do it, too. Have you ever done a cover for a book? I write books, too. I was thinking maybe you could do one for me....Maybe.


I hope I hear from you soon!



Art is creativity. 

Creativity is perseverance.

Perseverance is hope.

Hope is honesty.

Honesty is an artist's life.

submitted by Olivia, age 9, Pennsylvania
(August 31, 2010 - 5:44 pm)

Dear Kristina,

Have you ever decorated the cover of a book?




submitted by Olivia L., age 9, Pennsylvania
(September 1, 2010 - 9:35 am)

Hi Olivia,


I've illustrated magazines, advertisements, catalogs, greeting cards, theatre posters, stationery, children's books, calendars, wine labels...and, yes, book covers! Smile


I'm glad you're an artist, too. What kinds of things do you like to draw?



submitted by Kristina S., Chicago, IL
(September 3, 2010 - 8:36 am)

Hi Kristina!  I'm simply in love with your paintings.  The one on the cover of Cricket reminds me of a painting in one of my favorite movies, Kiki's Delivery Service.  That painting has always inspired me, but I never was able to get a copy into my hands for closer study.  I'm so glad you did this for us, it's beautiful, and just what I was looking for.

For years I've been seeing your paintings around my house, and I didn't even link them until my mom pointed it out, when I was showing my parents the cover, and she realized she knows your work.  She likes to collect greeting cards, and she has a bunch of yours tucked into cozy spots in our home.  I believe she even has more than one copy of the one with the big red poppies.

Anyway, I didn't mean to babble, I just wanted to say thank you, and to tell you how happy I am about your work.



Oh, and congratulations for getting on the cover of Cricket.  In my world, that is a huge thing, and one of my top dreams.  Well, that or getting to write an actual story for Cricket....  Someday, I think....  ;)


submitted by Laura❀, age 16, Santa Rosa, Ca
(September 10, 2010 - 1:58 am)

Hi again!  I know this is kind of silly, but I noticed you have a bunch of Stabilo pens, and I just wanted to point out that, because those are some of my favorite pens ever, and I use them all the time, and the fact that a world known artist uses them, makes them even more special, and makes me feel a teensy bit more official.  Ha, ok, really funny, but oh well.  I have a tendancy to point out very minor details.  It's what makes my writing so lengthy, both in the stories I write and the emails and posts.

Also, something I've never, ever been able to get right is shading.  Any tips?  I've gotten them from so many people, with my parents both being artists, and my dad in fact being an art teacher, but I've still never been able to fully grasp the concept.  So, I'm always out looking for other ways people have of describing it.  I noticed on your horse painting that the left front leg is just darker, so, see, you've already helped me a bit, but I was just wondering, is it worth it to just not bother, or should I keep trying?  Ah, I feel silly asking these questions.  And my brain is all fuddled because it's midnight, so please excuse whatever I'm writing, it may not fully make sense.

Oh dear.  Anyway, it's time for bed.  Especially when I have the sniffles.  Shame on me for staying up.  At least I don't have school in the morning.  (I'm homeschooled, and have school whenever I want, including not at all)  ;D 

Thank you for your time!


submitted by Laura❀, age 16, Santa Rosa, Ca
(September 10, 2010 - 2:15 am)

Hi Laura,


I typed half of this reply before I noticed that my cat had turned on the caps lock and I had to start over. I'm happy that you recognized my art and that I'm famous at your house!


It's funny that you mention "Kiki's Delivery Service"--I've seen it a few times, but never thought about the painting looking like the one in the movie. My kids both said, "Oh, yeah, she's right!" when I told them. (I love all the Miyazaki movies, and have a Totoro figure hanging by my desk.)


I love sketching with the Stabilo pens, but my kids always borrow them, so it's amazing that the pens were actually there when I took the pictures!


About the shading, the best advice I have is to pay attention to the way light falls on things, and try to copy it. Take a light and shine it on an object; move it around and see how the shadows change. Hold the object next to a window or a mirror and see how the light hits it differently. If you're trying to shade with a fine pen, like a Stabilo,  make the lines follow the form of the object (i.e. curve them if you are trying to shade an apple) instead of making straight lines. Don't give up!


I hope you feel better soon--thanks for writing! :)





submitted by Kristina S., Chicago, IL
(September 13, 2010 - 9:46 am)

Haha, that sounds like my cat.  If I'm typing it means I'm clearly not paying enough attention to him, and he comes to sit on my keyboard.  But then if I start petting him he runs away....  :D

I'm so happy!  A lot of people I know have no idea who Miyazaki is, and it's very frustrating.  I love his films.  I've created a lot of his fans among my friends.  I'm so happy your kids agree with me!  That's really cool.  Tell them I say hi.  :D

Haha, yah, my pens are a favorite here too.  Thankfully though my brother is older than me and takes good care of them... probably better than I do.  I take them everywhere with me.  I love the colors.  Very bright and cheery, though I need to get a larger set, as I don't even have a brown!  Shocking.  And very necessary. 

Thank you for your advice on shading!  I can't wait to work on it!  And you did give me some new info, I never heard of curving for round things!  Thank you thank you!

I do feel better, thanks for well-wishing!  Still sniffly, but I was well enough to go to my first day of Chorus yesterday!!  Yay!!!  I even got put in Advanced Chorus without knowing it.  My teacher just asked if I could stay an extra half hour, and next thing I know I'm getting sheet music for the very exclusive Advanced group!!  (though, it's not like she hadn't heard me sing before, as I was in a play this summer that she helped direct)  Anyway, very exciting.  Thanks again!  I love talking to people who are really successful with their art.  If you ever come to California for a workshop or anything, make sure you advertise well, I'd love to come.

submitted by Laura❀, age 16, Santa Rosa, Ca
(September 16, 2010 - 2:52 pm)

My mom and I love the print you did for Cricket magazine. Is there any way to buy a print?


Thanks, Emma 


Emma, you can buy a print of the September 2010 Cricket cover at:


submitted by Michelle and Emma, age 9, WA
(September 25, 2010 - 2:12 pm)

Dear Kristina,                                                                                                                                 

I  love your drawing on the cover because I love horses, they are so cute. Where do you live? What is your favorite kind of horse? Have you ever illustrated any horse books?                                                                                                                                     ByeLaughing

submitted by Emma S., age 9, Oakhabor WA,
(September 25, 2010 - 2:52 pm)

Hi Emma,


I'm so happy that you like the cover art!


I love all kinds of horses, but the handsomest and smartest horse I ever rode was a Morgan, so if I had to choose one kind it might be a Morgan. Do you have a favorite?


I've never illustrated a horse book, but horses sometimes show up in my artwork, anyway. :)







submitted by Kristina S., Chicago, IL
(September 26, 2010 - 11:57 am)