New York City based illustrator, children’s book author, and character designer Steven Salerno creates sophisticated, eclectic illustrations for a wide range of editorial and advertising clients, the stylization of his art images flexing between graphically simple, to more realistic, richly textured images depending on the nature of each project.
Over his long independent graphics career he has created thousands of published illustrations for a list of 500+ prominent clients for use in print & web advertising, magazines, newspapers, product packaging, corporate publications, and retail graphics.
Steven has also illustrated 30 popular picture books for children, both fiction and non-fiction, and is author & illustrator for 5 of these titles.
Originally from Vermont, he is an honors graduate of the Illustration Department at Parsons School of Design (New York City) in 1979, where he studied art history, printmaking, animation, and illustration under top industry professionals, including the famed author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, creator of the ground breaking picture book, Where the Wild Things Are.
Although Steven is now primarily engaged with illustrating/writing picture books for children, he still also creates illustrations for client projects in print & web advertising, magazines, newspapers, corporate publications, product packaging, and retail graphics, etc…
List of prominent clients have included: The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, American Express, Simon & Schuster, Disney, IBM, Esquire, United Airlines, Newsweek, Lincoln Center, MTV, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Curious Pictures, Random House, The New York Times, United Postal Service, McDonald’s, Apple, Time Warner, Felissimo, Scholastic, Lord & Taylor, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Columbia University, Random House, Microsoft/SLATE, GQ, Gourmet, The Atlantic Monthly, and hundreds more…
Steven’s advertising and editorial illustrations have been recognized for excellence by: Communication Arts, Print, Society for News Design, Society of Publication Designers, and The Art Director's Club.
He has been a guest speaker at Parsons School of Design (NYC), School of Visual Arts (NYC), as well as at NYC Public Schools, and at town/city libraries. Steven’s illustration art has been exhibited in solo and group shows in New York City, Seattle, Louisville KY, and Tokyo, as well as in traveling group shows to numerous US cities with The Society of Illustrators, and with Pratt Institute.
Since 2000 Steven has illustrated 30 popular picture books for children (fiction and non-fiction) and is both the author & illustrator of 5 of these titles.
His whimsical illustrations bring to life expressive, memorable characters that move and define the story. And for non-fiction historical picture book titles his richly composed illustrative scenes successfully capture the look and spirit of the people and places of the story’s era. .
Some of Steven's picture book titles have been translated into Chinese, German, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish.
Steven’s picture books have been recognized for their excellence by: The Society of Illustrators (NYC), and the Junior Library Guild. They have received industry starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Children's Literature, The New York Times Review of Books, and have been displayed by the Society of Illustrators (NYC) in their annual exhibition and children's picture book art exhibition.
CURRENT PICTURE BOOK PROJECT Steven is now working on the illustrations for, Gizmos, Gadgets and Guitars -The Story of Leo Fender -written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Steven Salerno (non-fiction, published by MacMIllan/Christy Ottaviano Books, scheduled release in 2021) The true story of Leo Fender, a California kid in the 1920’s who loved tinkering with radios and electronics which lead to opening his own radio and electronics repair shop in the 1930’s where he also began repairing electrified acoustic guitars and amplifiers. This all lead him to create his own innovative version of a thin solid-body electric guitar in the late 1940’s named the Fender Esquire which eventually was renamed the Fender Telecaster in 1950, the most iconic mass produced electric guitar in Rock n Roll history.
RECENT PICTURE BOOK RELEASES The Crayon Man -The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons -written by Natascha Biebow & illustrated by Steven Salerno (non-fiction, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019) The true story of Edwin Binney, inventor in 1903 of the first color crayons for kids, Crayola Crayons. view illustrations for The Crayon Man
Wild Horse Annie -Friend of the Mustangs -written by Tracey Fern & illustrated by Steven Salerno (non-fiction, published by Farrar Straus Giroux 2019) The true story of horse lover and activist Velma Bronn Johnston (AKA Wild Horse Annie) who was the driving force behind Federal Laws in the 1970’s protecting wild horses and burros on public lands. view illustrations for Wild Horse Annie
ARTISTIC INFLUENCES Steven’s artistic influences come from studying his favorite artists in the fine art world as well as in the illustrative arts. These influences are subtle yet can be seen in his own illustration work. He never emulated any one specific artist but over time visual elements from many different artists integrated their way into his own way of creating characters and illustrative images. Artists such as Windsor McKay, Honore Daumier, Francisco Goya, Ludwig Bemelmans, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustaf Tenggren, and many others…
DESIGN SCHOOL AND EARLY ILLUSTRATION CAREER Steven grew up in a small town in northern Vermont and has been drawing pictures everyday since he was probably 3 years old… immediately knowing that “being an artist” was his place in life. Throughout his childhood and into his teens he always created his imagery from his imagination and memory rather than composing images drawn directly from life. (He never saw art in a museum until he attended Parsons School of Design in New York City when he was 18 years old.) His strongest early artistic influences as a kid were the illustrations he saw in picture books –such as Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel -written & illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, The Story about Ping -written by Majorie Flack & illustrated by Kurt Wiese, Madeline, written & illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans, and in particular the striking illustrations of Gustaf Tenggren in a 1961 Golden Press edition of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
While attending Parsons and living in New York City this sudden exposure to all the major art museums and art galleries in the city was an intense infusion of influences by the works of master artists throughout history. The week after graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York City in 1979 (now named, Parsons New School for Design) Steven immediately began his freelance illustration career with assignments from New York magazine, The New York Times, and other prominent publications. However, building up his freelance client base was a slow process. (This was the pre-digital era: no personal computers, no internet, no cell phones, not even fax machines yet. Illustrators had to meet with art directors in person to show their illustration samples in a portfolio book.) So Steven also got a job at one of the top animation studios in Manhattan at the time, Perpetual Motion Pictures -a producer of animated TV commercials and specials. His first position was at the lowly rank of cleaning the transparent celluloid sheets (cels) so that they could be reused
Then he ran their xerography transfer machine which copied the pencil line art drawn on paper and transferred it onto cels -which converted the pencil line into a black ink line. Next Steven was bumped up to the position of assistant animator where he had the important task of drawing all the “in-between” drawings of the key character poses that were drawn by the senior animators. During his lunch hour breaks Steven would run out with his illustration portfolio to meet with magazine and advertising agency art directors -and whenever he got a freelance illustration assignment he would create the illustrations during the night to meet the deadlines.
After about a year of working at the animation studio his freelance assignments became steady enough for him to quit, allowing full attention to his growing freelance illustration career.
Steven’s highest profile client in those early years as an illustrator was The New York Times, working for various sections of the paper but most often (from 1980 to about 1983) he created social/political illustrations for their Letters to the Editor Page and Op Ed Page. Note: some of Steven’s drawings for The New York Times during that time period were included in the recent book, “All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t) Inside The New York Times Op/Ed Page”. -written by Jerelle Kraus, the former NY Times art director of the Op/Ed Page… the art director that Steven had created many drawings for.
Steven worked as a freelancer creating illustrations predominantly for magazines, news-papers, and also for some advertising agencies from 1979 through 1986… then, for a brief 3 year period from 1987 through 1990, he stepped away from his illustration career to work in the golf business! (Note: Steven had played golf beginning as a young boy, learning the game from his father (a low handicap amateur player and 20 time Club Champion) and when Steven was age 17 he won his home state’s Junior Amateur Championship. So he always had a keen interest in golf. When he went to New York City to attend design school he stopped playing golf… but his affinity with the game of golf was always brewing, so after having moved out of NYC in 1986 to live in Connecticut he took a chance and resurrected his golf game and accepted a position as an Assistant Golf Professional at The Yale Golf Club in New Haven, Connecticut for two years, then for a year at Racebrook Country Club also in Connecticut. During this period Steven an apprentice in the PGA.
In 1990 Steven decided to leave the golf business just as abruptly as he had entered it, returning to his natural career as a full-time freelance illustrator again, creating illustrations for editorial publications and advertising. But his love for the game of golf never abated, so he simply added creating golf art images to his artistic repertoire. Subsequently, Steven’s golf art and golf graphics have appeared in Golf Digest, GOLF magazine, Golf World, and LINKS magazine, and his portraits of top PGA Tour players have appeared on pgatour.com. His limited edition, signed golf art prints are in private collections in the USA and Europe.
STYLE CHANGE In 1991 after the short sidetrack into the golf business Steven returned to his career of creating editorial & advertising illustrations and he also took it as a perfect opportunity to revamp the entire approach to his illustration style… and decidedly began creating his illustrations in a much more whimsical, lighter and more colorful manner compared to his darker and more serious illustrations from the early period in his illustration career from 1979 to 1987.
This lighter more whimsical approach Steven took in creating his illustrations created even more interest from both editorial and especially with advertising clients… and combined with signing up with one of the top NYC illustration representative firms, Lindgren & Smith Inc. in 1992 Steven’s range of clients expanded even further. (Note: Steven was represented by Lindgren & Smith Inc. from 1992 through 2004.)
FOOD & BEVERAGE During this time period from 1992 through 2004 when Steven’s illustration stying was decidedly light and whimsical, he was frequently commissioned to create a great number of food and beverage related illustrations for magazines, advertising, cook books, and even for fast food retail graphics… Client’s such as McDonald’s, World Wrapps, Fleming’s Steakhouses, Carrabas Italian Grill, El Paso Chili Company, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Kraft General Foods, Gourmet, Healthy Choice, Williams-Sonoma, Food & Wine, Coca Cola, Weight Watchers, and many more…
ILLUSTRATING PICTURE BOOKS…
When Steven first graduated from Parsons School of Design back in 1979 he was especially interested in creating illustrations for picture books, but his initial numerous presentations of his illustration portfolio to art directors and editors at publishing houses early in his career never elicited any picture book contract offers. Steven’s intense schedule of creating illustrations for editorial and advertising clients kept him busy -and the time flew by! Periodically over the ensuing years he would again attempt to obtain picture book projects to illustrate, but none materialized. Then in 1998 Steven expressed his strong desire to illustrate picture books to one of his illustration agents at the time Lindgren & Smith Inc. -so they put out industry promotional ads showcasing Steven’s illustrative images appropriate for the picture book genre, which quickly elicited picture book project offers from publishers. In 1999 Steven was first offered to illustrate a picture book, the Bill Martin Jr. story, Chicken Chuck -which was published by Winslow Press in 2000. This was followed by an offer to illustrate the picture book story written by famed author Margaret Wise Brown entitled, The Dirty Little Boy. Margaret Wise Brown is probably most well known for writing the children’s book classic, Goodnight Moon. (Note: Her story The Dirty Little Boy was originally titled, How the Animals Take a Bath -first published in 1939 in a magazine. The estate of Margaret Wise Brown allowed the publisher to rename the story “The Dirty Little Boy” for the 2001 version Steven illustrated, published by Winslow Press.)
Next, Steven was finally able to illustrate one of his own picture book stories, Little Tumbo -which was released in 2003 by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books… His picture book career was off and running! Beginning with his first picture book released in 2000 and through 2019 Steven has illustrated 30 picture books for both fiction & non-fiction stories (with 5 of these titles as author & illustrator). Click link below to see all of Steven’s picture books published through 2019:
STYLE CHANGE (AGAIN) In 2004 after many years Steven parted ways with his rep firm of 12 years, Lindgren & Smith, Inc. to again represent himself, just as he had at the start of his illustration career. Since 2004 he has focussed on writing his own picture book stories and continued to illustrate many more picture books… Steven also continued to create illustrations for advertising and editorial clients.
In about 2004 he slowly began to also include more realistic, richly textured illustration images back into his portfolios, sort of a new spin on his own style from very early in his career. This emerging more realistic style was further reinforced in 2010 when he began creating golf art images in a similar manner (for sale as limited edition prints), and also in 2012 when he first began illustrating non-fiction historical picture books, such as Brothers At Bat, and The Fantastic Ferris Wheel, all created in a more realistic manner compared to the simple, whimsical look of the illustrations created in the 1990’s as well as for many of his illustrated fiction picture books.
So currently Steven’s illustration range still includes images created in a simple, graphic style, to other images that are more realistic and richly textured, with some with having a retro feel.
PORTRAITS Steven also creates portraits and during his career has completed many assignments to create likenesses or caricatures of politicians, celebrities, and other famous people from history…
ALIEN CREATURES One of the interesting portfolio sections you will see on Steven’s illustration web site is the sci-fi doodles. Posted there are many of the alien creature sketches Steven often creates just for the fun of it… As an incessant doodler Steven enjoys the challenge of imagining alien faces and body forms, creating the doodles on scraps of paper, some growing into fully realized sketches. Though these sci-fi doodles and sketches were never created with any client in mind, and do not represent the style of illustrations he creates for current clients they still have managed to elicit some interesting assignment offers anyway. Based on an art director seeing Steven’s sci-fi doodles he was offered to illustrate the parody book, Ghosts from Our Past, (his drawings for the book having a paranormal/ghost theme) which was the tongue-in-cheek companion book to the 2016 Sony Pictures movie, Ghostbusters, starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones.
To get a full overview of Steven’s illustration work visit all his various portfolio sections on his web site, including the spotlight section, the behind-the-scenes section, his illustration blog, etc….