Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Spotlight Illustrator Esther Mann

Esther Mann headshotOur featured illustrator for the fall is illustrator Esther Mann. Raised by a muralist father, she can remember painting large backdrop sets, landscapes, and scenes for an amazing number of years. Of all the subjects she painted, she found and still finds, humans and the human figure to be the most fascinating. Those loves (the human figure and comic book styles) eventually led her to 3D art. She works primarily in Photoshop and Daz Studio and has sold art at numerous Comicons. She currently lives in Coeur d’Alene with her husband and children.


Esther, thank you for being our spotlight artist this season. Can you walk us through your artistic process from initial idea to final design?

I was listening to a Shinedown song: Unity and I knew I wanted to create a rescue at sea picture.

I knew that I would need an unusual aspect ratio to capture the sense of space that I was looking for, so I started there with an extra-wide view.  When setting up a scene I get the main characters placed first, two people, and the water in this case.  The next setup is the angle of the picture, in this case, heroic pose so the viewer is down looking up at the hero, also I use this step to set the composition.  The next step is lighting, darker natural lighting, contrasted with spotlighting the characters since I wanted them to be illuminated by “searchlights”.  Compositing all of that together makes the raw image that I take into photoshop (see left image).  Once in Photoshop, I set the color levels, use brushes to enhance the waves, add tension via the rain and waves, apply sharpening filters and additional lighting fixes, and all other post-work.





You work primarily in 3D computer graphic programs. Why do you prefer that medium over more traditional methods of creating?

I like working in 3d because it allows me to focus on the story.  What perspective tells it best?  Which expression is the closest? What landscape features will make the scene work?  There are so many endless opportunities that can be seen and implemented in such a short amount of time with 3d, which then allow all my energy to go into the final product. Also, changes to the resolution are able to be affected easily, so if I change my mind about a resolution or I need it larger, I can pretty easily make that change. 

One thing I’ve found when transferring my work from sketch to the computer is I lose a lot of the character’s expressiveness. But your work is very expressive. How do you maintain a character’s emotions when working in 3D programs?

There are many techniques in working with 3d that mirror photography: lighting, depth of field, etc. 

I read an article where you stated, ‘3D art is in its infancy.’ Where do you see this medium headed in the future?

The gains of the last 10 years with 3d are astounding.  We’re seeing huge gains in the augmented reality/virtual reality spheres.  We’re already seeing the realism of these models increase at an exponential rate.  I am convinced we’ll see it continue being integrated not only in movies, but in everyday life.


You joined SCBWI in 2019, can you describe how being a member has contributed to your evolution as an illustrator?

What I was looking for, as an illustrator, was an organization that created opportunities to meet and come in contact with other artists in the area.  One of the best things about an illustrators’ group is that, different than fine art groups, is that there’s an occasion to work on different skills, like developing a group of images that tie together to make a cohesive whole; so it’s really developing a whole new skill set.  It’s very exciting.

You have also sold your work at Comicons. How did you get involved in that arena and what is that experience like?

It was really a great fit with my interests.  I found out that there were Comicons that were local and were looking for artists to display, and wanted to meet other artists with similar interests and see what they were doing, so being a vendor at these local venues made a lot of sense, and then I sold some pieces so that was awesome!

How do you prime yourself to be creative?

I tend to keep an eye on commercial 3d models that are coming out for sale.  Often, they will be developed and released around themes i.e. upcoming movies or events.  When I find one that piques my interest, I purchase it add it to my library.


What do you do when you have “creative block?” How do you overcome it?

When I hit a creative block, I know it’s time to do some “editing”.  I stop trying to make new things and work on improving techniques with lighting, brushes, or color mixing.  No one has the mental energy to be creative 100% of the time, but by still being willing to engage in a related process, I am able to.

Do you have a favorite artistic companion — a certain pen, pencil, sketchpad that you take everywhere you go? Why that one?

HA!  I have a backpack in which I keep all my electronics and supplies. I never leave home without it.

Who are your top five favorite illustrators or artists and why? He produces his own comic books, but his whole philosophy on art, production, and making money with it, is very down to earth. Beautiful illustrations, amazing web comics, what’s not to like? Awesome grasp of 3d, and an all-around great guy. This project is visionary.  From the layout to the storyline, it pushes boundaries of what’s possible in storytelling with an incredibly different perspective. Fantastic colors, amazing scale.  He works both painting and sculpture.  He came to art later in life and is very inspirational to talk to and work with.

forcedUpdatesWhat are you working on now? What projects are you looking forward to and why?

I am working on 2 graphic novels right now, and I’m talking with another group about a collaboration on another story project.  I always love collaborations because there’s so much to learn and so much energy that comes from working with.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to do what you do?

Get involved with people who do what you want to do.  Don’t be afraid, thinking your work isn’t good enough, most people feel that way.  The more you get involved in a field you love, the more contacts you’ll make and contacts will definitely be able to help you personally and professionally.

Where can we find more of your amazing work?