Last December I was asked to illustrate a holiday card for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. This is the process of how I made it.

This illustration was done as part of my last job working as the Graphic Designer/Administrative Coordinator/Bookeeper at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Shout out to Communications Director Kristen Wishon for making the sweet request and paying me for my time. It was timely as I was leaving my post there that I had held for over 3 years. The organization is doing important, but difficult, work in an local arts eco-system that is extremely resistant to the institutional change that is necessary for Pittsburgh to become a genuinely equitable place for artists to live and work. But I digress! Before leaving to pursue a career in Software Development, it was personally important to leave something special behind and I figured that a cute illustration of the staff would be a great way to do that. I wanted to leave everyone there a gift to remember me by that would also could be one for them to be remembered by.

When the print copies were going around I could hear everyone in the kitchen eating fudge and pointing each other out in the illustration, laughing. It was the cutest thing and it made me so proud. I saw how important it is to feel seen. It was a real honor to capture everyone in kind-hearted caricature.

Needless to say, it was a real treat.


The biggest challenge for this post card was including all 22 staff members of the Arts Council and the Office of Public Art in a 4x6” space. My goal was to create something that was meaningful to those in the office and would be meaningful to those who would receive this card. So, overall it had to have a successful holiday vibe while also including clear inside jokes capturing the staff’s real personalities.

Tools: #2 pencil, a mechanical pencil, lightbox and Photoshop. My lightbox was the MVP of this illustration.

Initial Pencil Sketch

I wanted to draw this at scale. I kept it simple and traced a post card that was lying around. It was here that I was plotting out where everyone would go. I didn’t know yet exactly what everyone would be doing. I knew I could figure that out in the next layer of clarifying pencils.

Initial pencil sketch.

Second Pass at Pencils

Now that I knew where everyone would go I had to figure out what everyone was doing. This took some time but was the most fun. It was a delicious puzzle to solve. How to create flavor while maintaining visual clarity.

Second pass at pencils, figuring out where all the staff would go.

Finalized Pencils

My pencilling hand was really warmed up at this point so I decided to “sling inks” with lead. I tightened up my drawing hand and kept a sharp #2 pencil at hand. This allowed for a thick, buttery line that had a nice texture that would lend visual warmth to the image. I think this came out well. I’d seen many cartoonists use pencils as inks and I wanted to try it out for real on an illustration gig.

I’d say it was a success.

Finalized pencils as inks

Final Art

After scanning the final pencils I brought the art into Photoshop where I thresholded them to increase the contrast and then got busy coloring the image. I used the Art Council’s branded palette as the jumping off point. This was helpful as I had a limited color palette. The coloring was just solving a puzzle: How do I distribute the colors give outfits of varied colors for all the figures while not concentrating any one color any where? I love it when art becomes simple problem solving.

Below is the final result scanned from the post card. Final art depicting the whole staff of the arts council wishing Pittsburgh Happy Holidays.

Thanks to everyone at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council from 2016->2020 for making my time there as enlightening as it was. I’m thankful for all the ways you helped me grow into who I am today <3. Real talk.

🎶 Currently listening to:
MF DOOM - Deep Fried Frenz