Denise OrtakalesI was always artistically inclined as a child and loved to cut and paste. After high school I went to college and earned an Associate degree in Graphic Design. I married soon after, working in a variety of jobs, everything BUT graphic design. Why? Who knows, but different crafts and hobbies kept my artistic fires burning for years. 

After my two children were born, I took some evening courses to update my graphic design skills. One of my teachers helped me realize that I what I really wanted to be was an illustrator. I had been buying beautifully illustrated children’s picture books for years, for the children I thought. I wasn’t fooling any one but myself.

In 1997, I went back to school. I have my family to thank for their support (and babysitting) throughout the next two years. Within one month, I had my first assignment and I’ve been busy ever since. In 1999 I graduated from the Art Institute of Boston with a BFA in Illustration. Soon after I received a contract for my first children’s book to illustrate.

Fast forward to today. I am still doing a variety of projects for various adult and children’s magazines (Consumer Reports, Utne Reader, Ladybug, Spider) and children’s books. I’ve also taught at the Art Institute of Boston, Chester College, and McIntosh College.


Scissors & RibbonAbout Paper Sculpture

Why did you choose Paper Sculpture instead of drawing and painting like other illustrators?

I like to say that paper sculpture chose me instead of me choosing it. But in reality I remember seeing it as a child and wondering how they did that. When I was considering illustration as a career, I found a book on the paper sculpture and I knew that I had to try it. It was one of those AHA moments that you shouldn’t ignore.

What kind of paper and glue do you use?

I use charcoal and pastel papers which are about the same thickness or a little thicker than construction paper. I prefer the papers that are colored in the pulp rather than printed color but will use anything if it’s the perfect color or texture. My favorite glue is Aleene’s Tacky Glue which is a thick white glue available at most craft stores. Really, any white glue will work, the key is to put it on VERY thinly.

What do you use to make your images 3-dimensional?

I use scrap pieces of foam core and mat board glued behind each piece of paper. If you’re trying this at home, try several layers of corrugated cardboard or foam meat trays work well too.

How did you learn to do Paper Sculpture? Did you have to go to school?

I really taught myself. I went to art school twice but I didn’t learn to do paper sculpture there. There are some books on the topic but the best way to learn is just to try it. Here are some of my favorite books:

Couldn’t you get the same look on the computer?

Yes, you could get a very similar look. But I enjoy the creating of the actual piece, getting sticky fingers and paper cuts. I’ve always enjoyed a variety of crafts and the computer just doesn’t hold the same type of fascination for me. Besides, I’m already on the computer too much surfing the internet, reading email and updating my websites.

The Cow Jumped Over the MoonFor Authors

I’ve written a great children’s story. Would you illustrate it for me?

I love to illustrate great children’s stories but I only work with established publishers. Illustrating a complete book is very time-consuming and would be very expensive for you. It’s best to let the publisher absorb this cost.

Your manuscript has a better chance of being accepted without illustrations (unless YOU are a professional illustrator.) Your story needs to be strong enough to stand on its own. If it’s not then no amount of beautiful illustrations will make it any better. And if it IS a strong story, how would you feel if it got rejected because they didn’t like my illustrations?

Once your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, you can certainly ask them to consider using me as the illustrator for your book. But in reality, they have 1,000’s of illustrators to choose from and are very good at matching up stories with the proper illustration style. Be open to their suggestions and trust their judgment. Good Luck!

How do I get published?

For more information on submitting your work to a publisher, consider joining the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They are a fantastic resource for writers and illustrators looking to be published. Many publishing houses look for manuscripts written by SCBWI members.

Also check out the books below. There are 1,000’s of other hopeful writers and illustrators out there that have already done their homework. Make sure you do too.

Email MeFor Clients

How do you handle the photographing of your artwork?

Because my work is 3-dimensional and difficult to ship, I have it professionally photographed locally. The photographer and I work together to create depth using lighting and shadows. I can then supply you with digital files for publishing purposes. This usually costs approximately $125-$150 per image.

Could you ship your artwork to us so we can have our own photographer shoot it?

I prefer not to because I can’t guarantee that it won’t get destroyed in shipping. If something fell off in shipping, would you feel comfortable gluing it back together? If cost is a consideration, I know from experience that packing, insurance, and overnight shipping costs (which I would insist upon) to and from your facilities costs considerably more than what my photographer charges, and then you still have to pay your photographer. I also prefer to be there when the photographer does his shoot so I can direct the lighting of the piece. This could be arranged if the photographer is in the New England area.

How long of a lead-time do you need to create your artwork?

Because 3-dimensional artwork takes a wee bit longer to create than traditional artwork and I have to work around my photographers schedule, I am not able to take on extremely tight deadlines. I usually need a minimum of one week.

How can I see more of your work?

If you’d like to see my portfolio in person, email me. Please specify the type of project you’re working on and what type of samples you’d like to see.

Skating ScissorsFor Illustrators

I’m an illustrator and would like to try Paper Sculpture. What do I need to consider?

Transferring the 3-dimensional image to a 2-dimensional page is by far the biggest headache. Unless you are a professional photographer, you need to hire one to insure that your work will look it’s very best. At first, when you are just creating samples, it is a VERY expensive cost to cover. Be prepared for clients that have never used 3-dimensional artwork to balk at the photography expense. It’s your job to educate them.

The other problem is storing these darn things. Make friends with a framer who will give you good deals, otherwise they start to pile up and take over closets.

Are there any schools that teach Paper Sculpture?

Not to my knowledge, and I think that’s part of the fun of it, that a million other people aren’t out there doing the same thing. So buy yourself a good book (see above) and dig in. It’s not that difficult. You probably did something similar as a kid.

Do you need to go to art school to become an illustrator?

Art School is absolutely not necessary to become an illustrator. No art director has ever asked to see my degree. It will, however, bring you up to speed quicker and perhaps save you from learning your lessons the hard way. I am a firm believer in the merits of art school but it may not be for everyone. Some of the benefits that you may not have thought of are:

  • Learning to talk intelligently about your work which you’ll need to be able to do with an Art Director.
  • Learn to be objectively critical of your own work.
  • Form a circle of peers that you can call on for advice and comradery when you are out on your own.
  • If you can meet assignment deadlines in art school, you’ll have no problems meeting deadlines in real life.

Here are some of my favorite books on illustration:

© 2003-2016 Denise Ortakales, all rights reserved.

The content contained throughout the pages of this website
may not be copied or otherwise reproduced without the express
written permission of Denise Ortakales.

Privacy Statement