Welcome to the very first installment of our new original feature, Penguin Teen Meet the Illustrator! Books are made up of more than just words, so in this series we’ll introduce you to the talented artists who illustrate (and sometimes write!) our picture books. We’ll also be sure to give you a sneak peek of the gorgeous art from their books!

First up, we have the incredible author/illustrator Gianna Marino. Her newest book, Following Papa’s Song, renders ocean life in vivid color and texture, using a unique process. Check out Gianna’s amazing answers to our questions below to find out more about her life as an artist, illustrator, and author!

Illustrator (and author!): Gianna Marino

Book: Following Papa’s Song

Date Available: Now!

What media and materials do you use to create your illustrations? To create the illustrations for Following Papa’s Song, I used a technique which I discovered when I painted Meet Me at the Moon (2012). I layered rice and mulberry papers over a heavy weight watercolor paper. Using acrylic medium, I created a paste and adhered the textured papers to the watercolor paper. This gave the “canvas” a wonderful texture, similar to the skin of elephants and whales! Once this dried, I used light washes of gouache, in many layers, to create the depth of the water, the whales, etc. I sealed everything with a gum arabic to really bring out the brilliance of the colors.

What’s your favorite color and why? I have to chuckle at this question. I sometimes think blue is my favorite color, because it is the color of the sky, of the sea and it seems like the deepest color to me! But one of my favorite things to do is use my LEAST favorite color until I love it too. Pink has been that color. I used to design toys for children, mostly in the girls department. Sadly, we had to make almost everything pink. It has taken me years to get over that, but I did manage to make some of my favorite pages in Following Papa’s Song pink, so I have come a long way since my years with toys!

Who’s your favorite artist or illustrator, living or dead and why? I have been influenced by so many illustrators and artists over the years and all of them inspire me for different reasons. Some for their talent in craft, some in their page turns, others in their magic. Most recently I am loving the work of Aaron Becker in his book Journey. I love how his mind works, leading the reader from simple illustrations (and thoughts) into a world unimaginable, then back again to simplicity. I have also been hugely inspired by Yuyi Morales and the magic and richness of her work. She was in my writer’s group, so I was able to see the beginnings of ideas, the first tiny thumbnail sketches, to the tighter drawings and finally the (original) illustrations. I call her a witch, but only in the best way! I love art that I have no idea how it was created. I love work that is completely different from my own.

Where do you do your work?I have a studio in my home in Northern California. The skylight and many windows let in natural light (and allow for procrastination while watching deer run across the hills). I have a huge art table and many different types of brushes, paints and inks, in order to keep my self experimenting. One of the walls is blank so I can tack up an entire picture book and can see it all at once. I listen to music, National Public Radio, podcasts and even watch movies when I am painting. When I write, it has to be silent.


Aside from the text of Following Papa’s Song, where did you find inspiration for your illustrations? Having always lived near the ocean, I have spent many hours above and below it. My favorite memories are snorkeling around the reefs and watching the bright fish move through the water like birds swarming in the sky. My earliest memories of this were with my father when I was a child. He loved the ocean and the crashing waves and was the instigator for our long swims away from shore where I saw light trying to reach down into the depths of the sea. I have also been lucky to have seen humpback whales, breaching insanely high in the air, splashing their tails for the joy of it, or moving their giant fins as if waving. These great creatures care and communicate with each other and in reading about their ways, their long migrations, and their gentleness, I wanted to capture their emotions. I tried to depict their wisdom in the eyes and in the interaction with each other in each illustration.


Thanks, Gianna! We loved finding out how you create such complex illustrations and your personal love for the ocean.

You can find Gianna on her website.

Purchase Following Papa’s Song from your preferred store.


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    LOL! This is the artist that did the water colors in my office. I met her at an AZ art festival almost 10 years ago.
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