Instructor Stories: Julie Downing

Julie Downing of Storyteller Academy

Julie Downing has illustrated (and sometimes authored) over 50 books for children. She has won numerous awards for her work, including a Parent's Choice Award, the New York Public Library Best Books Award, APAAL Best Illustrated Book, and the Irma Black Silver Medal. Julie was selected to appear in Talking with Artists Too, a book about 12 of the nation’s best children’s’ book illustrators. She's also an instructor at the Academy of Art University. We're thrilled to be able to offer students Illustration courses and mentorship opportunities with her.

I asked Julie to share her art studio in a video.

Video Highlights

There are a lot of golden nuggets in this video. I love how Julie Downing shares her process for using Post-it Notes and some of her favorite art supplies. It's fun to see her references. But (for me) the most helpful bit she shared was her strategy to avoid distraction.

“I split my time between a desk and a computer at home and a small studio that's about 20 minutes from my house.”

And then a little while later, she explains why.” I work both traditionally and digitally. I purposefully don't have a computer here because I don't want to get distracted. I come her just to draw and paint and write.”

Julie Downing's Books

Julie has so many books that I'm just going to hit some of the highlights. The Firekeeper's Son, written by Linda Sue Park, won multiple awards, both for the writing and illustration. 

Ursula K. Le Guin's A Ride on the Red Mare's Back is another multi-award winning book.

Lotus and Feather, written by Ji-li Jiang is another truly lovely story.

And while the stories and illustrations in the first three books are dramatic, Julie's range is versatile. I also love this adorable story that she wrote about a young dragon.

And I personally own her gorgeous, rhyming Hello Moon that just released last year.

If you're more interested in nonfiction, Candace Fleming's Cubs in the Tub or Beverly Gherman's First Mothers are two of my favorites. I even found a video of Julie reading Cubs in the Tub to share with you.

Courses: Illustration 1 & Illustration 2

Julie Downing and Isabella Kung are teaching our Illustration 1 and Illustration 2 courses. Illustration 1 ran with live workshops in Term 1 (2021), and it was so much fun to watch Isabella and Julie give critiques. Students likened their workshops to watching a magician. We're excited to have them back for Term 3 to teach live workshops for Illustration 2.

Illustration 1 covered the illustration process, composition fundamentals, design techniques, and storytelling principles. They break down processes like brainstorming, thumbnailing, exploring different compositions, gathering references, and using value and color to create effective narrative illustrations. By learning and practicing each specific step in the illustration process, you can develop a roadmap to building your illustrations, become familiar with professional practices, and create stronger portfolio pieces.

Illustration 2 will help people further their narrative illustration practice, teach new rendering techniques and experimentations, as well as deepen their understanding of what makes a good children’s book and portfolio. It will be available from Storyteller Academy next month.

Book Giveaway

I'm giving away a copy of one of the books featured above. The winner can choose. Just comment on this blog post to enter. 

For additional entries, you can share the post on social media and post a link to where you’ve shared in the comments (preferably as a comment to your original comment so that all of your entries are grouped together). If you've participated in one of Julie's workshops with us, let me know in the comments, and I will add another entry. 

I’ll close the contest at midnight, Pacific Time, on January 22. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Picture of Myrna Foster
Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.

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49 thoughts on “Instructor Stories: Julie Downing”

  1. Stella J Stauffer

    Thank you for this wonderful view of the talented Julie Downing.
    I also lean towards working traditionally and question myself if I need to change my game to full digital for financial gain.
    Like Julie I love my art supplies. I love the process of creating by hand. I do appreciate the use of digital to “tweak” as necessary.
    This interview encourages me to move forward traditionally.
    Julie is a real inspiration to show we can do what we love and, most importantly, do it the way we want to do it.
    Love the studio!

  2. Illustration 1 was such a wonderful class, in large parent because of the live critiques by Julie and Isabelle! I love Julie’s versatility and look forward to checking out ‘No Hugs Til Saturday’ and ‘Hello Moon’ as I eagerly searched out the rest of the books you mentioned while taking the class. She is definitely one of my illustrator ‘mentors’!

  3. Peeking into an artist’s studio is always exciting. Thanks, Julie. I’ve read some of her book and must find the others. Thanks, Myrna. This was a treat.

  4. Patricia Holloway

    I learned so much during Illustration 1 and am excited for Illustration 2! The tour of your studio was interesting. O like your way of leaving the computer at times.

  5. How lovely to get a peek into Julie's studio! I learned so much from Illustration I and can't wait to take Illustration II next term. Both Julie and Isabella are not only talented, fantastic instructors, they are encouraging and inspiring…and their dual teaching – their relationship itself, interwoven with happy, excited dialogue and banter – is absolutely delightful!

  6. Lori Anne Butler

    I was lucky enough to be in a critique class of Julie's, it was amazing and the most helpful course I have taken. She is incredibly insightful and talented.

  7. Thank you Myrna and Julie! It was fun to see where Julie creates her delightful illustrations. I like her post-it note technique. I'm going to try it as I write my next story. This interview added to my anticipation of Illustration 2 coming up in a few weeks.

  8. I love seeing the different styles Julie uses in her artwork. I shared the article on my personal Facebook page. 🙂

  9. Thank you for sharing your studio with us. I am going to take illustration 1, this term. Very inspiring seeing all your notes on the wall.

  10. Dr. Kim D Harris

    Hi so excited to learn new things to enhance my children's book author journey effective.
    Would love to win a free copy of your book.
    Dr. Kim

  11. Martha Hollenhorst

    Thank you for giving us a tour of your studio. Your illustrations are gorgeous! I just started on the journey of becoming an author after retiring as a cake decorator. I'm happy to see that you work in traditional media. That is my preferred way of working. I look forward to seeing more of your working methods.

  12. As a retired librarian, I recognized almost all of the books Julie has illustrated and am anxious to check out her session today! Thanks so much for this opportunity!

  13. Can't wait to learn so much today from your freebie class, but what I'm really looking forward to is your class in term one!!!

  14. I really enjoyed listening to Julie discuss her process for illustrating “Cubs in the Tub”. I can't wait to read the book and see all of Julie's illustrations. So much good information in the session today!! Thank you!

  15. I am so excited to begin learning about illustration this term! I've gone through the first module and I'm working on my thumbnails. I enjoy painting and drawing, but I need some work and lots of practice to improve my skills. I can't wait for this opportunity to learn from such a talented artist!

  16. I appreciated the presentation on composition! I’m already putting to use their tip about drawing lines that lead toward the focal point.

  17. I hope to be as wonderful of an illustrator one day!! My specialty is writing, but one can try ^.^ I’m thinking a lot these days about illustration because I’d love to create my own children’s book this year!

  18. I love that Julie's art space is up 3 flights of stairs and across a bridge! That alone, inspires creativity. I've taken her Illustration I course and look forward to her mentorship in a critique group soon.

  19. What a charming studio! Thank you for the tour and for sharing how you work. I really appreciate the tip about having dedicated spaces to do different types of creating. I so easily get distracted with my various responsibilities. After watching this, I feel that making a small change like having my own dedicated desk could help instead of using our communal family dining table.

  20. Illustration is such an integral part of the children’s book. If you are not illustrating yourself you need to find a great illustrator that can help tell your story. As a writer, you also need to be able to let go and allow the illustrator creative freedom. The balance can be difficult. All of the books mentioned in this post look beautiful. Illustrating is still new for me in the children’s book world but I know what it feels like to be an artist and having your own vision.
    What if you are an illustrator that wants to tell a story? How do you find a writer?

  21. I loved Julie presentation at the SA Challenge week and the YouTube video about her art studio. Thanks, Julie, for your generosity. I am looking forward to know more of your work. For sure, I will attend one of your courses.

  22. Diana Marie Linton

    Julie's work is so beautiful. I am really excited to join the Illustration 1 program this term and develop my eye for good compositions. I hope to develop my creative practice more fully over this year.

    1. Diana Marie Linton

      I took part in Julie and Isabella's preview for Illustration 1 during the Children's Book Challenge Week last week.

  23. Thank you for sharing your space! I am a high school teacher and right now we are talking about creative careers. This was amazing for them to see!

  24. I loved Julie in the workshop. I look forward to taking her class in a few years, after I gain some drawing skills :).

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