GUEST ARTIST: “Making Art is Good for the Soul” by Kristine Lombardi

Kristine Lombardi Watercolor FOOD

Hello everyone! My name is Kristine Lombardi and I am an author and illustrator living in beautiful Montclair, New Jersey, which is about 12 miles west of New York City. I have lived here for nearly 20 years now and adore all of the natural beauty of the parks and gardens (we have many!) and the literary culture of this town. I also love its proximity to all my favorite museums in the city! Whenever I am in need of inspiration, I just jump on the NYC bus, which stops right at the end of my block. I always feel energized after a day in the city and am ready to return to my studio and get to work! Plus, I miss my sweet cat Boo to be away too long.

I’ve been an artist since childhood, but I have taken a bit of a circuitous path in terms of career—starting as an art director in advertising. I worked on a lot of large consumer accounts like Pepsi, Tanqueray and Orbitz. Back then I drew all my layouts by hand before bringing them into the computer and adding type. I was always brainstorming–sketching ideas and layouts. One day, while rendering concepts for a new business pitch, my boss pulled me aside and mentioned that maybe I should consider being an illustrator one day. The idea kind of got stuck in my head. Three months later I left my job, never to return! That was 2003.

My career as an illustrator started with small assignments for local magazines and newspapers and then gradually shifted to larger, national magazines and specialty markets like music CDs, small gift items and greeting cards. I even did several live events-most notably a Vanity Fair party, where I drew on a large chalkboard wall at a Ping Pong venue. I absolutely loved the variety of assignments and was always so excited when my phone would ring and there was someone on the other end wanting me to create art!

In the early days I did a lot of work in watercolor and ink. I liked that combination a lot! Watercolors are so delightfully translucent. But as time went on and I began to encounter this thing called “revisions” it became harder to work that way—especially for fast turnaround editorials or book covers. I eventually reserved using watercolors for more decorative jobs such as illustrated food, greeting cards or lettering.

Flash-forward about ten years later, the magazine business changed a lot—along with the budgets, so I needed to pivot if I wanted to continue on as an illustrator. I had always wanted to illustrate children’s’ books and had taken classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City where I learned more about the book process. I got my first book deal in 2013 after several years of close calls. My first three books were done primarily in gouache, pencil or a combo of those mixed with digital.

The Belonging Tree 1

It wasn’t until I was asked to illustrate a picture book called The Belonging Tree (Macmillan, 2020) that I had a eureka moment and realized that the woodsy setting for all of these squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays would be the perfect opportunity to work with watercolors again!

The Belonging Tree 2

Of course, there was still that little issue with revisions (you can’t escape them! haha) so I had to work a little smarter. I devised a system of painting background illustrations and small bits & characters separately, then layering them in Photoshop so I could move all the elements about until they were just right.

The Belonging Tree 3

I was happy with how things turned out, but it was still an arduous process to make revisions in that medium and often required hours of retouching.

The Belonging Tree Pages32.33Spread2.V5

Working on all of those woodland illustrations was so much fun that I began to think about how I could continue on in that vein. I’d been teaching adults for the past decade at the Montclair Art Museum and began to ponder bringing those instructional skills into a book format. I had always been a fan of Walter Foster art instruction books. My parents had those large format paperback ones during my childhood—subjects like how to paint seascapes and landscapes and animals.

I kept revisiting the idea of writing my own guide since I had enjoyed illustrating in watercolors so much. I reached out to the publisher with a comprehensive pitch for the beginning artist and they loved it. In 2021, Nature Painting was released into the world. At 128 pages, it was the longest book format I’d done to date. I just found out that the book has been translated into Italian, which makes me so happy!

Working on Nature Painting was a great experience. I spent the bulk of the first year of the pandemic painting in parks and gardens all over town. I would set up my watercolors, sit on the ground and do detailed studies of things like bark, ground cover, ferns, etc. That focus, in hindsight, was exactly what I needed to get through such a scary time. I remember tuning in to watch Andrew Cuomo on the 11am news, feeling completely terrified by all the grim updates and then going right back to work for hours at a time. Being in nature at that time—and now—was incredibly soothing to me As I would paint, I would listen to all the birds singing, catch glimpses of fast moving chipmunks and feel the warmth of the sun on my back. I absolutely loved painting outdoors!

In between the book projects, I have also dabbled in surface design-which is a completely different industry. Art tends to be more trend focused but I was happy that I was able to return to painting in watercolors for much of the art I created for that market. Some of my images made it onto products sold over on Wayfair. It was fun to see my designs on pillows, shower curtains, ottomans and duvets. But my first love will always be books!

Overall, I am just so grateful that I do what I love and always happiest when I am doing anything creative. Watercolors are still one of my favorite mediums, along with it’s more opaque cousin gouache and just a plain old soft lead pencil! (I use those when writing and drawing book dummies) I hope each of you can find joy creating in this medium whether it’s for commercial work or just for pleasure. You can follow me on Instagram!

Making art is good for the soul! Enjoy!

Kristine Lombardi
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The Belonging Tree (book)
Nature Painting (book)
Paint Every Little Thing (book)

Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
15 Comments
  1. Mugdha 1 month ago

    Hello Kristine,

    Your art is beyond gorgeous!! I specially LOVED the pictures from The Belonging Tree! I’m gonna look up other picture books done by you right away and get myself a copy. 🙂 Thank you tons for sharing your lovely art.

    Love,
    Mugdha

    • kristine lombardi 1 month ago

      Oh my gosh, you are so sweet to say that! I am so happy to hear you liked the images from The Belonging Tree. That was a lot of fun to illustrate. Thank you Mugdha! 🙂

  2. Jean marmo 1 month ago

    I am in love with your art especially the children’s illustrations. I loved reading your story and it sounds like you are in a perfect place. Congratulations.

    • kristine lombardi 1 month ago

      Thanks so much Jean! I hope I am! haha I am one of those eternally restless people but I really do enjoy what I do. Thanks for taking the time to read. 🙂

  3. Jill 1 month ago

    I admire your commitment and self reliance. And of course, your cheerful art. Congratulations also on writing a useful and beautiful book.

  4. Mary Roff 1 month ago

    What a wonderful art journey and delightful art!!!! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Suzala 1 month ago

    Kristine, I twas an illustrator in Advertising in NYC many years ago. I have found the best community in NYCUrban Sketchers. Why don’t you join us? @suzalele

    • kristine lombardi 1 month ago

      Hi Suzala! Oh how cool!!! I would LOVE to join! Although I am terrible in the heat/humidity so I may have to wait till fall! 🙂

  6. Sandra Strait 1 month ago

    Your art is amazing – so lively and cheerful! I love your style!

    • kristine lombardi 1 month ago

      Thank you so much Sandra! That is very nice of you to say. I need to get acclimated with this site so I can see what all of your work! What a fun community! 🙂

  7. Anita Sinha 3 weeks ago

    Wow..such an inspiring personal artistic journey !💕

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