Artist Spotlight: Katie Risor

TO THE END overhead view of suburban town by Katie Risor

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. My family has been in Texas for many generations, and we have a place in the hill country that has been in the family for over 100 years. So having a connection and interest in history and the privilege to be in nature a lot has really affected me personally and artistically, I think.

Texas hill country, location of Katie Risor's family ranch

The ranch house is full of paintings that my great-grandmother, Granny B, did. A lot of them of the land or other Texas countryside scenes. After my maternal grandma married in, Granny B introduced her to oil painting, which then passed down to my mom and all the way to me. My mom was a very creative person, she always had little projects or missions that she roped us in on. The process of making stuff together was always fun, no matter how it turned out.

Comics creator and illustrator Katie Risor as a young child with her mother

I think growing up like that allowed me to bypass the perfectionism that many of my artist friends suffer from and allowed me to just assume I could I do it. I always knew I wanted to have a creative career, though it’s never been a set path. I wrote stories and comics when I was young, attempted novel writing in my teens, but I didn’t learn to finish projects until college. And I came to illustration late.

The only time I really made a “decision,” though, was near the end of college, when I realized that pursuing a career in storyboarding didn’t align with the lifestyle I wanted or my creative needs. So when I began looking for illustration work, I realized that narrative illustration was the only thing I was really interested in.

Illustration from TO THE END, a middle grade graphic novel pitch by Katie Risor

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I absolutely love gouache, but I think my favorite medium right now is just graphite pencil.

Graphite pencil illustration of trees by Katie Risor

I love the texture and softness, I love scribbling and how you can always see the human touch in it. It’s so easy to get an idea down. Sometimes I feel jealous of people who do very clean inking or digital art, because I think they get more work, but I just find now joy in making that kind of stuff.

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

I just finished renovating my current studio in our first house! It has hardwood floor, white walls, an L desk, and two windows. The shining star of the space is wall shelves that I built above the desk to hold all my picture books.

Studio space of Katie Risor, comics creator and illustrator, with shelf of picture books.

Having a space that is cozy, comfortable, and functional is so important to me. When I get into this space after having a temporary desk spot I felt so relieved and happy, I didn’t realize how much not having a proper space stressed me out. When I design a studio space, having my most important supplies in easy reach is my number one priority. After that, it’s lighting and aesthetics, well lit, warm and airy spaces are what I like.

Kids and bookstore illustration by Katie Risor

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently? (This could be anything — an app, a plug-in, a specific brand of pen or paper, a particular software or hardware, an invigorating type of tea, whatever!)

I am obsessed with finding the ultimate painting surface and trying out supplies. I recently tried out Saunders Waterford hot press watercolor paper, and it totally reawakened my love for painting. Something about it is so nice, it seems to blend paint more easily and I really like the look of the paper texture coming through transparent paint. Sometimes I mount it onto chipboard or illustration board, but I am still on the hunt for the most cost effective and professional way to do it.

Spot illustration of fantastical house by Katie Risor

If anyone knows how to buy thick chipboard in bulk, please hit me up.

What artists, books, or other things are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

Honestly, right now all my creative friends give me the most inspiration.

Katie Risor with fellow kidlit creators Rivkah LaFille, Jade Vaughan, and Edna Cabcabin Moran

Whenever I meet with my critique group, go to a meet up, or talk on Discord, and get to hear see all the stuff my friends are working on, I feel a crazy boost of inspiration and motivation. If I’m feeling frustrated or down about my work, talking it out with them always helps. But if the thought of working on a project feels me with sick dread, then I know it’s time for a break.

Boys eating sandwich illustration by Katie Risor

What are some recent projects or work you’ve particularly enjoyed? What kind of work makes you really happy?

Last year, I got to work on developmental art for a preschool animation pitch. It was in a world that was right up my alley, and designing the characters was so fun.

Preschool animation concept art by Katie Risor

Any project that allows me to just be myself and do my work is a real treat. I love projects that have that special sauce, just a little delightful, surprising, funny, or spooky, that makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable but in a fun way. And I love when stories are both funny and sad. I’ve always been drawn to stories with layers, or meta narratives.

It probably comes from reading A Series of Unfortunate Events at age 10. The idea that there is always something new to discover is theme that runs through all my work.

WELCOME TO THE FOREST early reader graphic novel concept art by Katie Risor

Swamp monster concept art for early reader graphic novel by Katie Risor

Do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

I have a lot of dream projects, haha. One big one is doing an illustrated edition or graphic novel adaptation of The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende. Both the movie and book were formative for me, and I’ve wanted to illustrate it since I was a kid.

THE NEVERENDING STORY graphic novel illustration by Katie Risor

I think at age 28 my skills have finally caught up with my vision. Other than that, I would love to work on creature design or developmental art for Henson, Sesame Street, Laika or something similar, like how Brian Fraud directed the world of Dark Crystal.

Drawing some weird doodles, then getting to see it come to life as a puppet and set? That’s the dream.

Behold the acorn fairy children's book illustration by Katie Risor

Painted illustration of kids outside by Katie Risor

Children's graphic novel full page spread illustration by Katie Risor

Early reader graphic novel pitch, WELCOME TO THE FOREST, by Katie Risor

Katie is working on two available projects: an early reader graphic novel called WELCOME TO THE FOREST (featuring adorable forest monsters!), and a middle grade contemporary fantasy graphic novel called TO THE END. Contact me for more information.

Find out more about Katie on her website, or connect with her on Instagram or TikTok.