Saturday, November 22, 2014

WILD CHILD (Abrams Books 2015) -my next picture book poses the question: What is the scariest animal in the jungle?

My very first illustrated picture book came out in 2000. And in 2015 my 21st and 22nd illustrated picture books for children will be released... (see list of all my published picture books to date)

In the spring of 2015 The Fantastic Ferris Wheel (published by Christy Ottaviano Books and written by Betsy Harvey Kraft) will be released. It's the true story of George Washington Ferris, the inventor and design engineer of the very first giant observation wheel, dubbed the Ferris Wheel, in 1893 for the Chicago World's Fair. (a post is coming soon showing how I created these realistic period illustrations... a ten month process from start to finish)

And in the fall of 2015 Wild Child (published by Abrams Books and written by me) will be released. (This is my 4th picture book as author/illustrator.)

My new picture book story Wild Child poses the question, what is the scariest animal in the jungle? And it isn't who you would expect! It's not the Lion, or the Gorilla, or the Hippo, or the Crocodile... not even the Snake or the Tiger! In fact, the absolute scariest animal of them all is very small, with soft skin, and just two tiny teeth... but it's the terror of the jungle and has all the other animals on the run! 

Wild Child tells how the jungle animals learn, through trial and error, to tame this terrible tiny creature. Because if they don't, they'll never have a moment of peace and quiet ever again!

This post is just a brief teaser... Soon I'll post again about my upcoming picture book, Wild Child -with additional views of storyboards, sketches, and how I created the jungle animal illustrations using inks, crayons, and gouache, combined with digital composing and additional color.

(above: promo view/ not the book cover) Wild Child is Steven Salerno's 22nd illustrated picture book for kids, his 4th as author & illustrator. It will be released by Abrams Books in fall 2015. Visit
(above: view of character sketches in progress) Wild Child is Steven Salerno's 22nd illustrated picture book for kids, his 4th as author & illustrator. It will be released by Abrams Books in fall 2015. 
(above: view of an illustration in progress) Wild Child is Steven Salerno's 22nd illustrated picture book for kids, his 4th as author & illustrator. It will be released by Abrams Books in fall 2015. 

See my web portfolios for advertising, editorial, packaging, and of course, children's picture book illustrations at

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who Lives There? -my illustration in today's Sunday New York Times

"Who Lives There?" illustration by Steven Salerno for The New York Times 11/9/14

My illustration in today's Sunday New York Times for an article about potential buyers of an apartment being concerned and curious as to who already lives in the building they are interested in buying into.... and how they might be able to go about finding the answer to their questions. So I created a simple concept of a Sherlock Holmes character peeking in the backside of an apartment building, and used golf yellow and red colors as they represent caution.

See my portfolio of advertising, editorial, packaging, and children's book illustrations at

Saturday, August 16, 2014

BOY ON A RED HORSE... a WORKBOOK promotional ad... sketch to completed illustration

Like most illustrators, I am having to regularly advertise my illustration style samples to art directors, design directors, art buyers and editors in all areas: advertising agencies, magazines, newspapers, publishing, etc... and I do so through a variety of promotional vehicles: portfolios on my illustration web site and blog of course, as well as a number of illustration industry web sites like,,, and others... and social media sites like, facebook, etc...

I also promote my illustration business through email promos via, snail mail postcards, and illustration directory ad books, such as WORKBOOK (which is sent out to about 15,000 art directors annually) This is the directory I have consistently advertised in since about 1992. I am required to create my directory ad pages for WORKBOOK about 6 months ahead of time to meet their production/printing schedule, so I just completed my latest directory ad image for the Spring 2015 WORKBOOK Illustration Directory book, which will be released in March 2015. (a companion WORKBOOK ad book will be released in fall 2015... and I will create that ad page art sometime near the end January 2015).

Sometimes I just use an existing illustration of mine as my WORKBOOK ad page, but most often I create a new illustration image specifically for the directory ad. I was doodling recently, and created an image of a boy on a horse... and liked it as there seemed something a bit mysterious about the two characters, so I decided, if developed further, it might be a good candidate as my next ad page. I thought as an ad for my illustration work, it possibly might catch the attention of some publishing AD's for book cover assignments...

I never really draw horses, but when I do, I enjoy it. And maybe doing so comes a bit easily for me because I know their shape quite well. My grandfather had a little farm, and he always had a handful of horses. He was born in 1907 (I think!) and as a young man had worked in the Adirondack mountains for a paper company, hauling giant cut logs out of the forests with his team of horses. And he also loved entering County Fairs in the Horse Pull contests, wherein weighed slabs of concrete were placed on sleds, then hooked up to teams of horses and the horses pulled the heavy weight to see who could pull it the furthest: 20 feet, 30 feet, 60 feet, etc... My grandfather raised Belgian Draft horses... which are a very big, strong breed....they weigh on average about 2,000 pounds! So they could really pull heavy weights! I remember as a kid helping in the barn and brushing and feeding the horses... and also riding on the slabs of cement on the sled when the horses pulled the sled around the track behind the barn! Anyway, I think those memories of horses helps me to understand how to depict their character and shape on paper.

The next step was to create a more refined sketch, and in the general dimensions of the WORKBOOK directory ad page size, which is 7.25" wide x 9.25" tall. This is the sketch you see below.  
In this sketch I embellished upon the initial doodle -by adding in another tiny horse far in the background, and purposely kept the landscape horizon line very low to emphasize the height of the young boy sitting atop the big horse. This sketch was created with a black ink brush-tip pen, blue marker, and pastel on a scrap of lined paper.

This is the final completed illustration, with the type treatment in place too (for the WORKBOOK ad page). You can see that I essentially kept the same basic composition for the final art image as indicated in the sketch... with only a change in the shaping of the cloud formations, and also decided to eliminate the little horse seen in the background and instead show a sailboat, and turned the rolling hills seen in the sketch into the sea. Whether it had stayed a little horse in the background, or is a small sailboat, it didn't really matter... essentially I just wanted to place something small in the background so as to show contrast in size, thus making the horse seem as big as possible within the composition, and to create a triangle of visual attention with the sailboat, the boy's face, and the horse's head.

To create the final image, I taped my sketch on my light table, placed my heavyweight paper on top of the sketch and in pencil lightly redrew the image of the horse and boy... making on the fly improvement adjustments to the image. Then I used a brush-tip ink pen to draw the final image, using the light penciling underneath as my guide. Then I scanned the ink drawing into Photoshop... and in a multitude of layers began to finalize the completed look of the illustration... The background blue texture you see is a texture I created with color pencils which I also scanned and brought in as another layer. The foreground "ground" texture was another texture I created with pastel on rough paper. The yellow and red colors seen in the horse and boy were done digitally, as were the clouds and sailboat and sea. 

It was a very simple image to create technically, the only really work was drawing the horse in a minimal manner, and allowing the quality of the gestural line be a feature of the overall image, in other words not rendering the horse and the boy characters, but rather drawing them directly. What you do not see posted here, are the handful of attempted final inkings of the horse and boy which were not executed well enough, and ended up in the waste basket. 

Note: The sketch seen at the top was drawn without using any reference at all, because I know a horse's general anatomy well enough to certainly create a rough sketch image from just my imagination, especially a sketch that is virtually in silhouette... However, to create the final illustration I did indeed use a few photos of horse's head and legs for reference.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel -my upcoming illustrated picture book

In 2012 the picture book I illustrated, Brothers At Bat (written by Audrey Vernick/ published by Clarion Books an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was named a Notable Picture Book of the Year by The New York Times Review of Books... which was quite an honor considering only eight books were on the list. The true story about 12 brothers from New Jersey who made American baseball history, essentially takes place from the 1920's through the 1950's, so my accompanying period illustrations were reflective of those dates in time.

Brothers At Bat caught the eye of editor Christy Ottaviano (Christy Ottaviano Books, a division of Macmillan/Henry Holt Publishers) and she contacted me about a picture book project that she felt was a perfect match for me to create the illustrations for, entitled The Fantastic Ferris Wheel.

This is the true story (written by Betsy Harvey Kraft) of American engineer George Washington Ferris who created the first giant "observation wheel" for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago... which was such an instantaneous hit with the public that it became known simply as The Ferris Wheel. So, in order to create the illustrations for this book, I had to submerge myself in all things 1893...

To put just the research involved for such a project into perspective, the most recent picture book I had illustrated, (BOOM! -released in 2013, and published by Disney's Hyperion Books) which is a story about a boy and his little dog that is afraid of thunder... To create the sketches for that book I only had to research TWO photographs for use as reference: a picture of a firetruck, and another photo of an orangutan.  In comparison, for the Ferris Wheel book, I had to wade through over 3,000 period photos to select the approximately 140 photos that I would use as general reference in creating all the preliminary sketches! 

I began the sketch process in September 2013 and finished in December 2013. I began the final art process on January 1st 2014 and will finish all the final art images near the end of May 2014. Posted here is one of the illustrations I completed for the book. It is a scene where the giant steel wheel is being constructed and people curiously gather to ponder the oddity of its design. Not only did I have to get the actual depiction of the wheel's construction process correct, I also had to observe the proper fashions and architecture of the day correctly as well.

Shown here is the (1) initial rough sketch, the (2) refined final sketch (which is shown to the editor) and also (3) the final completed illustration. I created the final art by making all the various necessary drawings: of the wheel, the scaffolding, the people, the background, etc... as well as painted background textures, then scanned all these elements into Photoshop, where I then compiled everything into my final composition, and added digital color, too.

George's Fantastic Wheel/ initial rough sketch   visit
My initial rough sketch, which also indicates where the text will generally be positioned on the right side page following the curve of the wheel .
George's Fantastic Wheel/ refined final sketch   visit
The refined final sketch, which is shown to the editor. Here the text is accurately
dropped into place too, to make sure I am allotting sufficient space within the art for the text.
In most instances I do my sketches in B&W only, and will work out the color as I execute the final art... however during the sketch stage I do indeed begin to plan how I will approach the color in the final art.

George's Fantastic Wheel/ final illustration   visit
The final completed illustration. But since I will not submit all the final art to the publisher for a couple more months, I still might make slight changes to this illustration.

By far, the illustrations for The Fantastic Ferris Wheel are easily the most intense to create compared to any of the other 20 books I've illustrated to date.This is by virtue of having to get all the period references correct, but mostly due to all the scenes involving physical mechanics, architectural elements... etc. I am only at about the half way mark in completing the final art and I already physically feel like I have illustrated two books already!

The sad part... is knowing that George Ferris died just a couple years after the successful debut of his wildly popular invention, at the young age of 37. But indeed his vision lives on still to this day, as "Ferris Wheels" continue to be a part of our social landscape around the world and inspired the huge observation wheels of today, like the London Eye, and the Singapore Flyer.

Visit to see samples from my many other picture books for kids, as well as my work for advertising, product packaging, etc...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Sleeping With the Dinos" (a NYTimes Travel section illustration assignment)

I've been creating illustrations on a freelance basis for the New York Times since 1980. Wow, time flies! I'm in my fourth decade of providing illustrations for this publication... amazing! Over the years my illustrations have appeared in the paper's various sections: The Op/Ed Page, Letters To The Editor Page, Travel, Business, Real Estate, Living, The Arts, The Book Review, The Sunday Magazine, etc... 

Recently I was called upon (by art director John Cohoe) to create a whimsical illustration for a Travel Section piece on museums around the world that provide many interesting after hour events for patrons to experience (see the 2/16/14 issue of the NYTimes) One such special event described was how the Museum of Natural History in NYC and London's Natural History Museum both offer the experience of actually sleeping over night in the museum, among the fossils, and dinosaur skeletons, and all the others creatures on display. I had my choice of picking any number of other museum experiences mentioned in the article to illustrate, but how could I pass up on the opportunity to create an image of sleeping with the dinosaurs?

Posted here are the steps I went through to make the illustration, though I have very much abbreviated the number of steps... selecting just the main stages. What you do not see are the varied number of very rough sketches I go through before arriving at the one I then show to the art director and editor at the Times for their approval. Nor am I showing the probably ten layers of adjustments I do within Photoshop to finalize the image.

Above ^
This is the initial pencil scribble/doodle I made while reading the manuscript from the writer... just a crude vision of the concept of a person sleeping between two enormous dinosaur skeletons

Above ^
This is the final rough sketch. I created it with black crayon and pencil. Here I have worked out the composition within the exact space given to me by the art director to fit within their layout design. Essentially the visual point was to depict a man in his pajamas calmly reading a book before retiring, dwarfed by the enormous and scary looking dinosaur skeletons... a study in odd juxtaposition. It is as if the man is oblivious to the oddity of the clash in scale and time.

 Above ^
This is the final rough sketch (with added color) which I then showed to the art director. I scanned my sketch into Photoshop and then quickly added in a textured color blue background, and erased out the area of the skeleton bones to reveal white, plus added in a bit of color for the pajamas and lamp light, etc... This is so the art director can see my general intended color scheme for the illustration. In this particular case I showed the color version of the sketch to the art director because it was so simple, but in many other instances I only show a B&W sketch to the art director because normally I resolve the final color choices as I work on the final art and not before.

 Above ^
This is the final crayon and ink drawing of the elements within the illustration: the human character, the skeletons, Big Ben in the background, the bed, lamp, etc.... I then scan it into Photoshop to create the added color and texture layers...

 Above ^
Here I have added in a textured blue background layer (that I painted with gouache), but I then cut out skylight shapes at the top and lightened this area to make the sky appear lighter than the inside of the dark museum. I also added in the yellow stars, moon and lamp light.

 Above ^
Here I have added in white color and light blue shading for the skeleton bones, the color for Big Ben, the man's pajamas, and added in some even darker blue shadowing on the back wall.

Above ^
In this detail of the man, you can see his meek character, and the subtle texture of the background. After completing the illustration and sending it to the art director... my only change I would have made if I had thought of it, would have been to add in a little sign next to the man with his name on it, maybe "Mr. Wallington."  (because the two dinosaurs each have their names on a sign near them.)

Visit to view my illustration portfolio, and to view my many picture books for children. Be sure to see the NEW STUFF portfolio section.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

MON PARIS... illustrating a travel article

On a somewhat regular basis over the past handful of years, I create small spot illustrations for the Westways group of magazines (which are the automobile AAA magazines) for their DriveSmart and TravelSmart columns. The Design Director I always work with is Eric Van Eyke... (see my earlier post about these assignments).

But recently, I was also contacted by the Westways Art Director, Lori Anderson about creating a full-page illustration for one of their feature travel articles on Paris, entitled MON PARIS. (I think it is for their January 2014 issue of Westways) I said yes to the project before even reading the manuscript, as I had been eager to work on an assignment for Westways other than for the small spot illustrations I usually do for the DriveSmart and TravelSmart columns.

The key to this travel article was visiting Paris and hanging out in one particular neighborhood and purposely not indulging in all the expected tourist venues, but rather enjoying the nuances of regular everyday life, like a Parisian. The writer describes people and things seen while sitting at the same neighborhood cafe each morning over cafe creme, croissants and reading the paper. It is this scene that I illustrated. 

Posted below is the sketch and final drawings I created. The final drawings were all scanned into Photoshop, and then positioned, modified, manipulated, and layered with color and textures, etc... to arrive at the completed illustration...

This is my initial sketch. It is simply a black crayon pencil sketch with just a bit of gouache color indicating the coffee. Of course, I go though an earlier much rougher version before this one, but the sketch shown here is the level of "tightness" in a sketch I like to show to an art director, because ultimately it saves time. If a sketch shown to an art director is too rough, they have questions about it which then prompts having the do a second tighter version anyway... so why not just give them that level right at the start. Particularly in the instance of working with an art director for a first time. The more you work with the same art director, the more and more you can get away with "sketch shorthand" because they begin to understand what your final art will look like, even from seeing just a very rough sketch.

This is what I then showed to the art director. It is my initial B&W sketch which I scanned into Photoshop and added digital color layers.... which as you can see I elected to use just monochromatic yellows/oranges in the background and limited full color in the foreground for the coffee cup and croissants. This sketch was quickly approved by the art director and editors, so I had the "green light" to proceed with creating the final art. 

This is a close-up view of the waiter character from the initial sketch.
Based on the preliminary sketch that was approved by the art director, this is the "final stage art" drawing of the foreground portion of the illustration, the cup of coffee, croissants, and the Le Monde newspaper. It was drawn with black crayon, and embellished with black gouache (with a brush).

Detail view of the croissant.

Based on the preliminary sketch that was approved by the art director, this is the "final stage art" drawing of the middle portion of the illustration. It is of all the characters seen sitting in the cafe, walking the sidewalks, and standing at the patisserie across the street. It was drawn with black crayon, black ink pen, and embellished with black gouache (with a brush). Some of the tones were created by smearing the ink line with a wetted finger immediately after having drawn the line.

Detail of the characters sitting in the cafe.

Based on the preliminary sketch that was approved by the art director, this is the "final stage art" drawing of two of the characters: the waiter and the woman seen at the top window watering her flowers. It was drawn with black crayon, black ink pen, and embellished with black gouache (with a brush). Some of the tones were created by smearing the ink line with a wetted finger immediately after having drawn the line. (The "mutton-chop" sideburns and pompadour hairstyle on the waiter was as described in the article!)

Detail of the waiter drawing.

Based on the preliminary sketch that was approved by the art director, this is the "final stage art" drawing of of the background portion of the illustration... the building facades, signs, etc...  It was drawn with black ink pen, and black crayon. As soon as I created this background drawing, I immediately knew I had made the line work much too dark... but did not worry, because I knew that once I scanned the drawing into Photoshop I could then manipulate the line to make it lighter.

This is a speckled texture I created, done by rubbing a toothbrush into slightly watery black gouache and then "flicking" the bristles of the brush with my thumb (held about 12" inches above the paper surface) such that a fine spray of dots hits across the paper. I also used a dark brown crayon to then draw horizontal streaks across the speckled texture. This texture was scanned into Photoshop and layered into my final illustration.
This is a view of all the above elements that I had scanned into Photoshop, which were compiled in layers to compose the final illustration scene. I altered the black lines of all the the middle ground and background objects/characters so that these lines were now more of a sepia/brown color instead of black. This was done so the "still-life" objects in the front (coffee/croissants/newspaper) rendered in black, would pop more in prominence. I also faded all the middle ground and background lines a little bit, to also make it all seem further back within the scene. On a new layer I added in the yellow color and "erased" some of the yellow (effectively creating white) to highlight the waiter and make the effect of the steam rising from the coffee. The "speckled" texture was added over the entire composition but then strategically "erased out" so that it remained in only some areas, like on the buildings and also streaked across the street a bit.

Next, I added a layer of darker orange to bring more graphic richness and definition... which I also used as the color of the coffee in the cup, to help relate the foreground with the rest of the scene. Employing such limited color in the middle ground and background assists in making a very
detailed/busy area of the image to become more unified, and brings some needed simplicity to the overall feel... and of course also acts as a way of bringing more attention to the foreground elements.

Here is the final illustration... with blues and greens and more yellow added into the foreground objects.

Detail view of the waiter and the woman sitting at the cafe with her little dog. Here you can better see how I orchestrated the use of the speckled texture sparingly. I love the subtle, simple descriptions of all the little characters seen in the background.

Detail view of the lovers kissing, and the old man carrying his baguettes. The street is Rue Vavin, and the cafe the writer was sitting at is named Cafe Vavin... and I think it is located in the 6th Arrondisement.

Detail view of the coffee.

I also created a small spot illustration of the Eiffel Tower, to accompany the large main illustration. It was created in the same step process as described above for the cafe scene illustration...

I am looking forward to seeing the final printed copy of Westways magazine, the January 2014 issue. Seeing the images in tandem with the words (within the designer's page design) for which they were created is what it's all about as an illustrator.

Visit my illustration web site, to view all my portfolio sections... make sure to see my NEW STUFF section and all my picture books for children!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

creation of my next WORKBOOK promotional ad

For many years throughout my career, each year one of my self promotional tactics as an illustrator is to place a directory ad page with the illustration source book, WORKBOOK. In recent years their book size format changed, from being one large 11" x 8.5" book released to art directors once a year in the spring, to now being two smaller books formatted at 9.25" x 7.25" with one released in the spring and one in the fall season.

Posted here is a peek at my upcoming single ad page art I created, which will be released in the WORKBOOK spring 2014 book.... I call it "the cyclists" featuring a "high wheel" bike from the 1870's and also a sleeker modern bike of today. It is just a simple juxtaposition of the two eras. 

If you visit my web site, you see that I still create illustrations in my light. whimsical style, particularly for my food illustrations and of course for my picture books, but lately I have also been creating many illustrations in my "new style" (see the NEW STUFF portfolio section) which is actually a present day spin on how my own illustration style looked at the very start of my career a million years ago! -darker and more realistic. I wanted to place an ad in WORKBOOK which advertised the new style images of mine rather than the whimsical ones.

I am currently gearing up for a new picture book project, a non-fiction story on the life of George Ferris, who invented the Ferris Wheel for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. (He called his invention an "observation wheel" but the public nick-named the contraption the Ferris Wheel, and the name stuck.) And I plan on illustrating this book in my darker/more realistic illustration style. So recently I have been pouring through reference photos from the 1870's - 1890's in preparation for the book project, and was in love with some photos I saw of these "high wheel wheel" bicycles from the day, and decided to draw one, for use in my upcoming WORKBOOK ad.

Below are the various simple stages I went through to create "the cyclists" art image:

-completed ad page-   visit
above: here is the completed art image as it will appear in the 2014 WORKBOOK illustration directory. It is too small to see in this screen view, but there is white informational type bending above the upper bike's rear wheel, as well as along the rear frame of the bottom bike. The image was created by scanning into Photoshop my ink and charcoal drawings of the two bikes, then adding in texture and color digitally.

-"high wheel" ink drawing-   visit
above: this is the pen & ink drawing of the 1870's "high wheel" bike I created. The smudging you see was done by wetting my finger and smearing the ink line as I drew. The horizontal ground lines at the bottom were drawn with charcoal.

-detail-   visit
above: detail of the ink drawing. Near the beard you can see traces of my finger prints from when I smeared the ink lines as I drew. The photo reference I used was of a man with a beard, but I made up the uniform, bag, and flowing coat tails for dramatic effect.

-charcoal drawing of bike-   visit
above: My charcoal drawing of a modern day cyclist... To heighten the contrast with the 1870's bicycle, I purposely made this drawing with airy simple lines... loosely drawn and sketchy in appearance. I like that the frame of the bike was literally done with five strokes of the charcoal stick.

above: I scanned the ink drawing into Photoshop and positioned it at the bottom, and then also added in a scan of a textured paper to act as a background, and manipulated it's color into a kind of a dull mustard.

-composing bike images-   visit
above: Next I scanned the charcoal drawing of the modern day bicycle into Photoshop too, composing the two image as you see here, with the modern bicycle stacked on top.

-adding white color-   visit
above: I began the process of adding digital color in Photoshop by indicating the white layer first.

-adding digital color-   visit
above: In Photoshop I then digitally added in color on several different layers, using various "brush" tools and "erase" tools to get the effect I desired. I purposely used the same color blue for each cyclist's clothing... but with the modern day cyclist kept the color flat.

-manipulating background-   visit
above: In Photoshop I then manipulated areas of the background paper color to create a kind of hand-made looking digitized texture... you can see it in the upper left corner of the image above. I also designed the type positioning for the promotional ad by wrapping the info along the same curve as the wheel.

-completed art image-   visit
above: a view of the final art again, as it will appear as my promotional ad page in the 2014 WORKBOOK illustration directory.

Visit my illustration web site to see many samples of my illustrations for magazines, advertising, packaging, and children's picture books.