Maddy’s Dream Job: Lego Star Wars

LEGOLAND, Billund, Denmark  photo credit: Bobby Hidy via Wikipedia

Like a lot of young Americans, Kutztown’s Madison O’Neil grew up loving Star Wars and Lego. Now he is headed to Denmark to design Lego Star Wars characters.

Design by Maddy O’Neal, done for fun, before he got the job!

I last wrote about Maddy in 2013 when as a new BFA grad he took an odd career detour to become a ranch hand. Maddy’s new official job title: Character & Graphics Designer, LEGO STAR WARS.  

Madison O’Niel was a ranch hand at Vista Verde in Colorado.

He starts work on February 22, 2016 at Lego, Billund, Denmark. He doesn’t even have a place to live. He and girlfriend, Megan Blair, also a talented KU design grad, found a Bed & Breakfast a short bus ride from Lego HQ.


There are already 2 KU Communication Design grads working at Lego, Austin Carlson and Lauren King. Maddy interned at Crayola and met Lauren there, before she, herself, took off for Denmark. Lauren alerted Maddy to this job opening.

It all happened fast. For the past few years he’s been a designer at the quirky online store Think Geek. He flew to Denmark for the first time over Thanksgiving.  Maddy explains,”I prepped an online portfolio, had a skype interview, was flown to Billund, Denmark for a series of interviews and design workshops, and got the job a week or two later. ” He told my illustration class he was one of a dozen candidates flown in from all over the world for the interview.


His interview in November included hands-on tests. He and the others were given a table full of Legos and told to create specific scenes and characters on the spot. Maddy says it was fun, stressful, but fun!


Maddy was ready. In fact, he had packed his suitcase with these tiny characters from cult movies and TV shows including Game of Thrones, Firefly, and, of course, Star Wars. Note all Maddy’s creations in this post are totally unofficial and not available in stores. He custom prints stickers and fabricates props to adorn off-the-shelf Lego people. All rights are retained by the original creators.


See more of Maddy’s imaginative creations including Beast Boy from Teen Titans and Sherlock Holmes here. As he says at “I loooove LEGOs! As a hobby I enjoy creating LEGO minifigures of my favorite characters from pop culture. With custom decals and paint applications I can give these little guys big personalities.”

Lessons from Maddy: Network, Build a great portfolio web page, and Looooove what you do!


Note: My new book, The Real Poop on Pigeons is available for pre-order on Amazon, at the discount price of $8.88.  The first review was good, and it is a selection of the Junior Library Guild. I am exhibiting  artwork from the book at Kutztown U in April and at The Hoboken Historical Museum in June. More details to come soon.pigeons.jpg



Kutztown Welcomes Jersey Students

pa-sign.jpgKutztown University gets a lot of students from New Jersey.

Why so many? We are in Eastern PA, less than an hour west of the Delaware River. I grew up in New Jersey and must admit I always resented this sign: Welcome to Pennsylvania: America Starts Here. I suppose it wasn’t meant as an insult.

The other day at our faculty meeting we were discussing Kutztown’s cost vs. a NJ state school. They pay far, far more taxes in NJ, so it should be cheaper there, right ? Communication Design Chair Prof. Todd McFeely insisted Kutztown U is a comparative bargain. I decided to crunch the numbers. BTW, Communication Design here consists of graphic design, ad design, interactive design, and illustration concentrations.

Another odd billboard on the way from New Jersey.

Universities market themselves by quoting tuition by semester. Instate tuition at Montclair State in NJ is $5886.15 per semester, plus mandatory fees of $1629.90, plus miscellaneous fees like a $225 first year fee, studio and lab fees of up to $260 per class. I add tuition and fees, include the first year fee, but not lab fees to get a yearly cost of $15,257.10. Here is Montclair State’s website, if you want to check my figures.

Illustrator Jerry Pinkney visiting Kutztown U CD class.

Lets compare that to out-of-state tuition at Kutztown University of PA. Tuition and mandatory fees per year: $20,114.50. Turns out we have a first year fee of $238 (who knew?) which I included. That is nearly $5,000 more. However, as my chairperson rightly points out, Kutztown offers a generous tuition reduction program to “above average” students.

I’ll paste the details here: “New first-year students must have a high school GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, and a minimum SAT score of 1,000 (combined math and critical reading) or an ACT composite score of 21. Students receive a 40% reduction of the out-of-state tuition.”  Truth is, 1000 SAT’s are not that rare. I’ll crunch these numbers- 40% of annual out-of-state tuition = $7,060.  $20,114.50 minus $7,060 means a a cost of $13054.5 for that NJ student with modestly impressive credentials.

Main St. Kutztown, PA, watercolor ©2015 Jamie Basile, KU grad

Bottom Line: Kutztown can be $2,000 less than Montclair State. My chair was right, as long as you have the grades, we are the better deal. The full out-of-state tuition reduction plan can be seen here.

Kutztown University has been attracting fewer students in recent years. Largely, this is due to the demographics of Eastern PA. Our Communication Design program is first-rate and very competitive, yet even our application numbers are down this year. We have extended the application deadline for our program until Feb 26.

art student FRY
“Weston Sharadin, art student & Highland bull” © Sierra Fry, KU

We hope to get a few more good applicants. If you can’t find the info you need on this page , get in touch with the CD Dept, 610-683-4530, or contact me, Kevin McCloskey: Note: I used my beloved New Jersey as an example, but any out-of-state applicant gets this deal.

Is Kutztown the right school for you? That’s for you to decide. I wrote about picking an art college in 2011. I advise prospective students not go into debt for a degree in the arts, even the applied arts, like communication design. See Picking an Art School and Picking an Art School Part 2.


The Third Man behind the Terrible Two


The Terrible Two was a 2015 NY Times bestseller. The Terrible Two Get Worse, just released this month, has already gained that honor. The series is a runaway hit with middle grade readers.  According to Variety, the Terrible Two have a movie deal!  Boffo!  I met co-authors Mac Barnett and Jory John at the ALA librarians convention in San Francisco. They are very funny guys both in print and in person.


Jory John worked at 826 Valencia, San Francisco’s legendary street-front writing project. Mac Barnett is the author of a string of hit kid’s books including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.

Original Terrible Two Cover Sketches © by Kevin Cornell

I told Jory and Mac that their Terrible Two illustrator, Kevin Cornell, was once my student at Kutztown University. Mac whipped out his phone and shot a selfie to send to Kevin. Kevin and Mac collaborated together on the children’s picture book, Moustache!mustache_book_image.jpg

I asked why Kevin wasn’t with them. “Good Question!” said one of them. (I’m sorry, I get Jory and Mac mixed up.) Jory, I think it was, said Kevin’s illustrations were one of the biggest reasons for the book’s blockbuster success.

Terrible Two concept sketches © Kevin Cornell

Above are a few of the many sketches Kevin drew of the two merry pranksters, Miles and Niles, and their nemesis Principal Barkin. Kevin’s sketches have a Ralph Steadman feel and great verve. Booklist, like other reviewers, noted the role of the illustrations in the Terrible Two series: “fast-paced reading that highlights the meaning of friendship, and animated, amusing cartoon illustrations enhance and extend the story.”


I’ve got good news for fans of Miles and Niles. There are 2 more Terrible Two books in the works. Kevin Cornell also finds time for his own projects. In fact, he told me he prefers to be at his drawing board rather than on a book tour. Go To Sleep Monster, written and illustrated by Kevin Cornell, will be published by Harper Collins in April.

illustration for Go to Sleep Monster! © Kevin Cornell

To see more of Kevin Cornell’s inventive artwork visit his website:  To see, or buy,  all of his books visit his Amazon page. I will leave you with a photo grab from his Facebook page, a lesson in consistency to all illustrators, myself included, a snapshot of his sketchbooks. 12376183_10155760182498647_4139928117513362644_n.jpg “My 14 year collection of immature humor and drawings of inanimate monkeys.” -Kevin Cornell.


Aubry Cohen has got Skills


HeadshotcroppedAubry Cohen graduated from Kutztown in 2014 with a concentration in Graphic Design. She had all the classes for the Illustration Concentration, but one. As I always say, a portfolio is WAY more important than a transcript. Today Aubry works for Artskills, a Bethlehem, PA company that makes art and poster supplies along with many other decorative items.

Banner from ArtSkills Facebook page.

Q and A with Audry:

Q: What is you current job title?
A: I’m currently a Graphic Designer/Illustrator.

ArtistiCats ©Aubry Cohen, a senior seminar project from KU

Q: How many folks work at Artskills? How many from KU?
A: There are around 40 employees at ArtSkills, and only 12 members of the Art Department. 5 of the Art Department members are from Kutztown!


ArtistiCats packaging ©Aubry Cohen, senior sem project.

Q: Did Kutztown prepare you well for the job? Are there things you wished you learned more about?
A: Kutztown definitely prepared me well for the job! My package design class helped me learn the basics of packaging that I use every day now.  It would be beneficial for KU to offer more packaging design courses to give an even deeper knowledge of the field, however. I know a lot of my graduating classmates got jobs where they do packaging as well!

Valentines Candy Wrappers © 2016 ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen
Valentines Candy Wrappers © 2016 ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen

Q: Was there a particular portfolio piece that helped you get your job?
A: I definitely think “ArtistiCats” from my Illustration Senior Seminar helped me get this job. For this project, I developed a line of children’s art supplies, and designed a handful of characters to be on the packaging. This often is what I do at work now!  See entire project here.

Monster Wraps © ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen
Monster Wraps © ArtSkills by Aubry Cohen

Q: What is the project you are most proud of?
From school, probably ArtistiCats! From ArtSkills, I’m very proud to have been able to work on a product called Outdoor Doodlers. They are sidewalk chalk holders that will be released this coming spring. I got to design the characters for the wraps of the holders, and they were super fun to do!

More Monter Wraps © Artskills by Aubry Cohen

Q: Do you have any illustration project, outside of work you are doing?
I do various personal illustrations in my spare time, which is always fun! I’m also developing a small online illustration studio with my girlfriend called Catmint Studios. We are hoping to sell some fun illustration-based products, and get it launched this year!

Design from KU greeting card class © Aubry Cohen
Design from KU greeting card class © Aubry Cohen

Q: Any advice for Illustration students?
The thing that I heard multiple times when I participated in KU’s portfolio review, and that stuck with me the most, was that I had a nice variety of styles in my portfolio. Everyone I spoke with enjoyed seeing many different illustration styles, as opposed to just one signature look.

ArtSkills stickers and packaging detail by Aubry Cohen
ArtSkills stickers and packaging detail by Aubry Cohen

Aubry: “My advice is to push your boundaries as an illustrator, and never be afraid to try new things! If you always draw creepy stuff, add something cute to your book. If you’re always doing digital paintings, try out some vector work. I get to work on such a huge variety of illustration projects at ArtSkills, and being able to be versatile really helps with that!

Illustration with typography © Aubry cohen
Illustration with typography © Aubry cohen

I would also say that, as an illustrator, definitely still be open to graphic design jobs! My job at ArtSkills is first as a graphic designer, but I am fortunate enough that I get to do a huge amount of illustrating as well. Opportunities for illustration can most certainly come from graphic design positions, so have a well-rounded portfolio, even if you consider yourself an illustrator before anything else.”

Fox Dance character design © by Aubry Cohen
Fox Dance character design © by Aubry Cohen

Q: Finally, can you point us to illustrators you admire?
I really love character design, and that’s a part of my job at ArtSkills, too! As such, I admire a lot of character designers, and many illustrators I find online. Here are the links to some favorites: Olivier Silven,  Nico Marlet, Zoe Persico, Melanie Matthews, Piper Thibodeau and an artist who goes by the name Crayon Chewer.

See more of Aubry’s work at her site. Learn more about ArtSkills at




Hannah Stephey has BIG News She Can’t Share!



Not long ago, Hannah Stephey posted the image above on her blog and wrote: “Truth be told, all I want out of life is just to publish this book…and maybe get some cute new boots.”

Maneki Pug © Hannah Stephey

We recently heard from Hannah, a 2014 Kutztown illustration grad, via Facebook. She has big news, but it is still secret. She is not at liberty to reveal which of her many projects are moving forward. I am not surprised to hear of her success. I wrote about her self-published work when she was still a student. Today, she has a literary agent and two, yes TWO! children’s books in the works. I swiped some art from her website.  I really don’t know what she talking about, but I bet some funny-looking pugs are involved. When he get  facts, we will update! Meanwhile –some Q & A.

Look Cookers!, published 2015, art © Hannah Stephey

Question: Hey Hannah, most newly-minted illustration grads don’t find work quickly and get discouraged? How did you avoid that trap?

Hannah: I dealt with the dark void of post-graduation job searching by “keeping my day job,” so to speak. I did internships and freelance work in graphic design by day and worked on my book stuff by night. So, basically, no sleep ever.

Children’s book concept ©2015 Hannah Stephey,

Q: How did you keep your creative juices going? 

Hannah: Here’s the important nugget: plan for the real world WHILE you’re in college. Get your name out there, try design competitions, portfolio reviews, trade shows, anything that puts you in front of clients & art directors. It’s super easy to just sleep and watch cat videos in your spare time, but the people who make it are the ones who never stop creating, even after class.

Comic done while a student at KU ©2012 Hannah Stephey

Q: What did you learn from your self-published I (heart) Captain project? did you do that as a junior?

Hannah: What I learned from my self publishing adventures was ANYONE can make and sell books. Sure it’s much more validating if you get actual-published, but you can make and sell any book you want through services like they make creative portfolio pieces. And, yeah, that was my junior year.

Sir Corgi © Hannah Stephey

Q: Do you think zines are worth doing?

Hannah: Zines are a bigger thing than people realize! Many comic book people start out with zines or have at least dabbled in zines. They’re fun and conventions are a great way to network with other artists (& steal some of their contacts.)

Cover detail from a zine © by Hannah Stephey

Q: How did the book,  The Look Cookers, happen?

Hannah: The Look Cookers is a story my uncle, Jim Malloy, wrote that I illustrated. It’s self-published. (It won a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and is available on Amazon.)

Pugucinno in a Cup © 2015 Hannah Stephey

Q: Did going to BEA and other events help your illustration career?

Hannah: BEA (Book Expo America for students reading this) was a great way to get some serious exposure from the literary world. It’s pricey, though.

Mail Pug © Hannah Stephey

Q: Would you like to give a shout out to any of your Kutztown profs?

Hannah : I’d like to give a shout out to the entire KU CD department, but especially Kresge who was also my advisor for being so awesome and such a huge Toy Story nerd. Cunfer for being a stone-cold perfectionist and whipping me into shape, and teaching the importance of traditional techniques to give our work more soul and personality in a digital world. And of course… McCloskey! Who helped me discover you don’t have to be a cookie cutter logo tweaker to succeed in a creative career, and I needed to hear that! Also Clair and Prof. Voccola. I know he’s a writing prof, but he deserves props for being awesome.

Pugs and kisses.jpg
Pugs & Kisses © 2015 Hannah Stephey

All art in this post © Hannah Stephey. All rights reserved. When we get titles and publication dates of her upcoming projects, we will share more.



The Real Poop on Pigeons !


Time to reveal the subject of my next book, -PIGEONS!Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.15.12 PM

“Robert McCloskey’s original idea for Make Way for Ducklings (1942) was to use pigeons …but he found pigeons too difficult to draw.” from Claudette Hegel’s Newbery and Caldecott Trivia.  Hard to believe, but it makes me happy because my next book is The Real Poop on Pigeons!pigeoncard

The great Robert McCloskey, no close relation, could draw anything. I sent him my 1992 kids’ book, Mrs. Fitz’s Flamingos. He sent me back an encouraging note. Now, oddly enough, I’m doing a book about pigeons. The Real Poop on Pigeons will be published by TOON BOOKS, April. 2016.

Picasso and Paloma © Kevin McCloskey 2015
Picasso and Paloma © Kevin McCloskey 2015

We Dig Worms! was such a hit it went into a second printing just 3 months after its April 2015 release. I got a call from Toon Books’ editor-in-chief Françoise Mouly this summer. I was out, but she left a message, “We need another book, We Dig Salamanders, We Dig Birds, We Dig Something!” Got to admit, I listened to that voice message more than once.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.24.05 PM
Fancy pigeons from Real Poop on Pigeons © 2015 Kevin McCloskey

Why Pigeons? Like worms, most kids, no matter where they live, have seen pigeons. I learned about pigeons from an expert. Thanks to Holly Metz I met Vinnie Torre,  one of the last of Hoboken’s great pigeon racers. Holly was editing a series of oral history chapbooks for the Hoboken Historical Museum.

Vinnie Torre in his rooftop pigeon coop
Vinnie Torre, pencil and watercolor. © 2009 Kevin McCloskey

I visited Vinnie’s rooftop loft to research art for The Pigeon Guys. That book is available as a free ebook, here. Sometimes students ask if they should do ‘pro bono’ or free work. Well, I did the Pigeon Guys for free. I am a founding member of the Hoboken Historical Museum and think it is great place.

Antique print from painting by Ludlow, male Red Pouter pigeon,
Antique red pouter pigeon print from painting by Ludlow, circa 1890

Plus what I learned on that project inspired my own pigeon book. The research was fun.

I read a number of way cool books on pigeons. I liked Andrew Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird. I loved Courtney Humbprey’s  Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World. Wow, books about pigeons have long titles.

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.19.29 PM
For Real Poop on Pigeons, an early sketch © 2015 Kevin McCloskey

I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh to sketch their rare Victoria crowned pigeons. I learned Picasso painted lots of pigeons.  He even named his daughter Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.

Old German chromolithograph from Schachtzabel's book. K. McCloskey collection
Old German chromolithograph from Schachtzabel’s book. K. McCloskey collection

I bought inspiring antique pigeon prints from a Warsaw dealer via Ebay, they are chromolithographs. Some came from a lovely German book, Emil Schachtzabel’s​ 1906 Illustriertes Prachtwerk sämtlicher Taubenrassen​. The entire book can be found on Wikimedia, here.

You can pre-order Real Poop on Pigeons at Amazon. It is on sale now, but they will not ship it until April. Of course, if you need a Christmas present, We Dig Worms! is available wherever books are sold. Thank you, worms, for all you have done for me this year!2910795

Did I mention this? School Library Journal chose We Dig Worms! for their Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2015. To me this is as mind-boggling as the idea that Robert McCloskey couldn’t draw pigeons.

More Death With a Smile


I promised more images from the exhibition “TO DEATH WITH A SMILE” or in Spanish “A LA MUERTE CON UNA SONRISA.” Thanks to Prof. Vicki Meloney for sharing the files, here they are.

Save My Soul by Carlos Franqui

These Kutztown students are finalists, along with artists worldwide. The works are on display through Feb 9 in Mexico City at MUMEDI, The Mexican Museum of Design.

Breathe Breed Bury by Malichi Hall

Finalists’ artwork can be found on the MUMEDI website.

By Erika Mabus

First Prize in this contest includes a MacBook Air, a three night stay at the Museum’s boutique hotel in Mexico City and 3,000 pesos.

Dead Zone by Kristen Demilfy

Prof. Meloney writes, ” the contest challenges cultural perceptions of death and dying. When can death evoke a smile (clever, funny, emotional)? We spent weeks researching the concept of death — Cultural connotations, discussing and dissecting our beliefs and traditions (sometimes the conversations has us rolling with laughter and sometimes brought us to tears).— thousands of entries worldwide, 400 finalists, only 22 from the united states and 16 of those 22 were from our Kutztown University Graphic Design class! Way to go KUCD!”

Michael Oxendine

Some of the images are cartoon-like.

Five More Minutes! by Morgan Mahoney

Others border on the surreal.

Bliss by Kathryn Desiderio

Prof.Meloney pointed out that she Prof. Cunfer and Prof Tienken  are so proud of their junior year students. The final image, below, is by Natalie Bett, a grad student from Kenya, a student in our new MFA program.

Music Shall Carry Me Home by Natalie Bett

All images © the individual artists, students at Kutztown University of PA. For more info on the Communication Design Dept at Kutztown, including our new MFA, visit the website.