mike curato

illustrator, author, graphic designer, cupcake connoisseur

Processed Magic: the Vague Art of Picture-Book Making

processMy friends and family must wonder what I do all day. Sometimes I worry that they’re sick and tired of my only update being “I’m working on the book. The deadline is end of April.” I’m sure some of them have mental images of me waking up in the morning to a big yawn, hopping into my bunny slippers, eating a muffin (aka breakfast cupcake), brushing my teeth, then sitting at my drafting table and whistling while I work all the live long day. How cute! I wish my life could be like this. I know that I am blessed to have a career doing what I love and working from home, but I wouldn’t say it’s been that easy.

Last night, when I was on the edge of tears after a disastrous affair involving perspective, ice skaters, and historic costumes, I shrank away from my studio and sat across from my husband, Dan, for some much needed consolation. He’s very good about listening to all my whimpers and moans. “Maybe you should leave it and work on another piece for now?” I mumbled and nodded. “I mean…I don’t really know what your process is.”

“Ha!” I exclaim, “I’ll let you know when I figure that out!”

Everyone knows that Artists have a process. We revel in learning about how the greats set about creating their masterful and prolific bodies of work. I have personally OOOHed and AAAHed in many a lecture while feverishly taking notes about different artists’ almighty process. After all this time in the creative field, I don’t think I have a process. I feel somewhat like a hack, especially now that I’m “legit” with a three-book deal. While I do have a style and form of executing a drawing, I don’t think this has anything to do with process. I think process happens more in thinking and concept than in execution.

Maybe instead of a creative process, I have a creative struggle. Now, I’m not trying to be dramatic, and I certainly do not want anyone’s sympathy. I am trying to use the word “struggle” in the most humble sense, as in it’s hard. It’s really hard!! Sometimes I sit at my desk and I look at all of my reference and my sketches, and it’s not enough. I’ll stare at the desk or the wall or out the window and think, think, think. Sometimes I can draw and draw, and it’s just not right. It’s tricky. One can be very accurate in their rendering of something: everything looks like how it should look, the perspective is spot on, the composition is ideal. And yet, it doesn’t work because it’s lacking magic. That’s what I’m up against every day. How do I create that magic?

There are some pieces I’ve made that do carry magic, and I’m so grateful for that. I know without question when I look at them that they are special. But, I can’t tell you where that comes from. It’s not something that I can pull out of a hat, it just happens. Meanwhile, I have deadlines, and whole books that I’m supposed to fill with said magic. Last night I felt like I was waving a plastic stick in the air and chanting abracadabra, waiting for someone to throw a tomato at me.

I asked Dan, “What was I like last year when I was working on book 1?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, was I a mess like this? Was it coming together easily but just took a long time? I can’t remember! Why can’t I remember!? It was my first book, one of the most defining moments of my life, and it’s all a blur!”
“Umm…I just remember you were in the studio drawing…a lot.”

(Lesson #928357: I need to keep a journal.)

Dan was right though. I was drawing a LOT. While I can’t remember much from creating book one, I do picture a fuzzy image of my desk and a pencil moving. There is a lot of magic in book1, and there have been magical moments making book 2. All I can do is keep creating opportunities for the magic to happen by continuing to draw, and allow mistakes, and redraw, and complain to Dan. Perhaps that is my “process.”

In any event, it’s time to draw.



New Author Success Story: Mike Curato, Little Elliot


Check out an interview I gave to The Business of Books!

Originally posted on :

MikeCurato headshotOne of the issues we continually address in our Business of Books classes is the importance of understanding that publishing is a business. We encourage our students and clients to get to know as much about the industry and their particular genre as possible. We also drive home the value of persistence. You will most likely have your project rejected (repeatedly) and it’s important to be armed with great material as well as a belief in your work when you seek a book deal or self-publish your project.

Illustrator and writer Mike Curato has savvy, sticktoitiveness and a whole lot of talent, a winning combination that led to a three-book deal  (with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) for his stories of a polka-dotted elephant named Little Elliot. Mike talks to us about how he put himself in a position to make his longtime dream a reality, shares what…

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Little Elliot, Big City Cover & Release Date!

Hello Readers!

Some of you may have already heard that Little Elliot, Big City has been slated for release on September 2, 2014 with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (Macmillan). I just received news that I can finally share the cover with you!!!

LittleElliot_coverFor all of you typophiles out there, I did indeed do all of the lettering myself. For the New York history nerds, the building on the top right is the once famous Hotel Astor, which was torn down in the sixties. People may also recognize a certain bakery on Prince street in the lower right, which has made an appearance in my work before.

I just reviewed the second round of proofs last week. Cross fingers that the next round will be the last, and then–TO PRINT! Though the book is still months away from being sold in stores, just sharing this image with you is a huge milestone for me. Things are happening!!!

Seattle: What I Learned

Today, after ten years of living in Seattle, I am moving to New York City.

Part of my preparation for the move has been to spend time with the people who have made my years here so worth-while. Recently I was at dinner with friends, and one of them asked me “So, what did you learn from living in Seattle?” It was a good question. I did not have an immediate answer, but I promised them that I would think on it.

After a few weeks of stewing, here’s what I have to share.



merrierFierce2 TheForce TrueLove

community walk



fancy italian sex&city



bees behind-the-scenes chicks dudes



wondertwins gunnarold NWbeauty oliverolemodelssquirtweirdosfamily

I feel so blessed and grateful and happy and sad. I have no way of fully expressing how much my friends and this place mean to me, but this love is real. xoxo


In Search for a New Home

So, the date is BOOKED! Dan and I are leaving Seattle on November 12 on a one-way flight to NYC. If any of you dear readers are currently living in New York, or know someone who is, please let me know if you hear about any great apartment deals! We are aiming for Brooklyn, but also open to Astoria and parts of Manhattan.

I’m super excited to begin a new adventure!

Tudors in tha House

I am a history nerd. I am obsessed with royal bloodlines, especially that of Great Britain. The story of how the line evolved over centuries is better than any daytime soap plot I’ve seen. One of my current reads is The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. I love reading all the family trees in the appendix, but they can be quite cumbersome and hard to follow.


In this (Re)Design project, I revamped the Tudor family tree to read more clearly. Icons were used to display gender and kingship, and color was used to illustrate the actual royal bloodline. I also edited some of the content to what I thought was more relevant. Click to enlarge!




The title logo is a stylized version of the Tudor rose.





Here’s a detail of the tree…





(Re)Design: King Lear

For my next (Re)Design challenge, I set about redesigning the cover of one of my favorite plays, King Lear. There have been many cover designs over the years, but I wanted to create one that was more personal (and I wanted an excuse to play around with some custom type!).

Various Lear Covers. Image from PBS.com

Old, but not so wise, Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters and their husbands, leaving nothing for himself but his title. You probably wouldn’t have to of read it to know that it doesn’t end well.

Considering the theme of division within the story, I thought that cut paper would be an appropriate medium. The cover was inspired by the tempest in which Lear goes mad, which is ironically when he starts making the most sense. While I was working on it, I also realized the parallel that the imagery had with the Tower card from the Tarot deck, in which a bolt of lightning strikes a turret. It represents unexpected upheavals that go against what was commonly believed. In this case, Lear believed he could take an early retirement and have his children do the work of keeping his kingdom in order, and in the end he triggered a series of events that brought down his entire house.

I started by sketching thumbnails of the overall look. Then I taped down some Strathmore drawing paper to the cutting board, and taped a sheet of tracing paper on top of it. I sketched out how I wanted all the type to look. Then I used an xacto knife to cut away all the negative space. I rolled up pieces of drafting tape and stuck them all over the back of the cutout, then mounted it to a piece of bristol board.

DSC_0001I scanned this piece and masked out the color background. I also scanned some pencil sketches I created for the ground and a cloud.

processThe “William Shakespeare” text was created in Illustrator using Futura, then converted to outlines and placed in the Photoshop file. Finally, I added some texture, a vignette and a border. Here is the finished piece:


(Re)Design: The Bourne Trilogy

In an effort to get more examples in my portfolio of design work that I want to being doing, I am starting a personal project that I’m calling the (Re)Design Series. I’ll be taking my favorite brands, movie posters, book covers, CD packaging, and concert posters and reinterpreting them.

This past weekend, I worked on The Bourne Trilogy, my favorite action/spy films! I worked from actual scenes from each movie, and tried to capture the feeling of isolation and mystery that I love in the story line.




(Re)Design: Hostess with the Mostest

It’s nice to see that Hostess is back (even though it probably isn’t technically “food”), but they really missed an opportunity to rebrand. I made this!…for fun…on a Friday night. I think I’ll eat one of these now.



This is a new image of a very old idea. It was floating around in my head for years…


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