Born and raised in a small west Texas town, Akiko was called “Aki”, because her child peers could not pronounce Akiko. She grew up with an artistic Japanese mother and an engineer father of German/Swiss Irish descent. Many afternoons were spent in her father’s shop where he created miniature train sets, electronic light-up jewelry and worked on "fancy" cars. Akiko's mother was a painter and she often took Akiko to her painting classes when Akiko was as young as four years old.
Akiko was influenced not just by her parents, but also by her Swiss/Irish grandmother who loved to bake. Perched on the kitchen counter, Akiko would add ingredients into the stand mixer and her grandmother would adjust the recipe so the baking would come out just right. This grandmother also first introduced Akiko to books. These books occupied Akiko during those long hot Texas summers, as well as her regular family journeys to Japan.
In college, Akiko traveled to Europe and took a summer course abroad in Innsbruck, Austria. She studied art history and visited many famous art museums. Akiko eventually received a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the San Antonio Art Institute. Following graduation, she worked as a professional illustrator and graphic designer. She also taught digital and traditional illustration as an adjunct professor. But eventually, she discovered her true artistic love and passion, cakelustration!
In 2014, Akiko won the prestigious Tomie dePaolo children’s book award with an illustration made with cake! And although Akiko has been baking for many years, she didn’t become an actual professional cake artist until 2015, after winning “a best in show” at the That Takes the Cake show in Austin, Texas. These awards set her career in a focus. She decided to create illustrations using sugar as her medium. Although she enjoys making cakes for special events, her true passion lies in creating stories out of sugar. Her unique ability to bring a story to life with her imaginative and inventive 3D techniques brings many layers to her art and stories.
Presently, Akiko is enjoying life on her farm in the Texas hill country, and she gathers inspiration from her past, her children, and the many animals that reside on their property.
Nature and animals have always been fascinating to Mirka Hokkanen. Since she was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1979, and could walk, she has played in the woods and explored the variety of wildlife that existed around her. After high school, she moved to Illinois to study abroad, receiving her BFA in 2002. From there she continued her studies at the University of Dallas, in TX, and graduated with an MA in 2004 and MFA in 2006.
Mirka comes from a line of tinkerers, artists and hand crafters. She’s never known any other way of living, always having the need to make something with her hands, wether it is with a needle, crochet hook, hammer, weaving loom, pencils, paintbrushes or burin and brayer. Since graduation Mirka has worked as a full-time printmaker exhibiting work both nationally and internationally, participating in the local culture and teaching a variety of classes. Her husbands active duty military status, whisks them away to a new adventure every few years, keeping her on her toes and always being inspired by new surroundings.
In addition to time spent in the studio, Mirka enjoys exploring the outdoors with her children as well as reading to them, from books borrowed from the library. Seeing imagination at work in their minds is a constant source of inspiration for Mirka’s illustrations and writing. Not a day goes by that someone is not telling some sort of story to another in the house.
Mirka loves weaving a thread of humor in her work when ever she can. She uses pencils and watercolors as her main media, with digital illustration being a close second. She has been a printmaker for almost 20 years, and hopes to one day illustrate a book in linocuts or wood engravings.
Lisa grew up in Canada. After graduating from her Nursing program, she had the opportunity to travel and live abroad. Having lived in Saudi Arabia, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Oregon, Bocas del Toro, Panama and now New York, Lisa continues to enjoy diversity. Working as pediatric nurse, she has spent umpteen hours caring for and in the presence of children.
Whether watching a hospitalized young Saudi princess sit in wonder hearing “Cinderella” read to her for the first time, or seeing a small boy clutching “Curious George goes to the Hospital,” as he fell asleep the night before his surgery, Lisa experienced stories having a profound impact on children.
Lisa’s last nursing position was in Neonatal Intensive Care unit. Through generous donations each baby is given a book at their bedside, to be read to them by their loved ones. These tiny babies are extremely fragile, and sometimes the only contact a parent can have is to read to their baby. Watching the baby’s loved ones read softly to them and seeing the baby’s positive reactions through their vital signs on their monitor; there is no doubt in her mind of the healing effects of books.
It is no accident Lisa’s love for children, stories and making art recently converged and she picked up her pencil, paper and paints again. You can see more of her work at:
Lisa currently lives in upstate NY with her husband, sixteen-year-old daughter, three-year-old son, two dogs and a fish that her son named Blue Whale.
Born, raised and currently living in Argentina, Carina usually signs her works as Catru. It’s short and easy to remember and it reminds her of her parents, wanting to call her Catruska when she was born.
Carina's parent's house was full of tools and handcrafted products made by them. That's where she got her love for creating. Her mom used to love cats, her dad used to love birds. And both told her lots of stories about them, when she was a little girl.
Carina always did lots of things and tried all kinds of techniques. When 5 years old, she made paintings with ink using her own style and sold them on the street. Then, she made houses for her dolls. She drew flying bikes and sketched machines that she wished were hers. She wrote stories. She ran drawing contests with her friends. Carina remember a dreamy, fun, full of creativity childhood.
Carina first graduated from a short computer program and then went on to graduate with a Bachelors in Educational Technologies. She subsequently taught computer programming at the college level, for many years.
In 2007, she received, as a birthday surprise gift, a drawing tablet. And there, it all began.
Since then, Carina began taking private academic drawing lessons and started making crafts of all kinds, developing more and more her own happy style. Colors seemed to blossom all around her. and she began listening. Others told her she should be illustrating children books and it has been like a seed in her heart, now being watered.
Cheryl Pilgrim is a born and bred Texan who has always loved books and creating stories and art. She lives in the Houston area with her husband, two dogs, and cat. When she's not teaching at the local public junior high school, she's in her studio writing, drawing, and painting.
Now that her two children are grown, Cheryl's able to devote more time to her writing and art career. She illustrated her first picture book, Hound Dawg, in 2015.
Cheryl works in a variety of media including acrylics, watercolors, mixed media, and pencil. You can see more of her work at cherylpilgrim.com.
Gretchen's parents lit the fire of her imagination when they read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, to her and her twin sister at the impressionable age of six. Of course, she initially imagined Bilbo Baggins as an overgrown rabbit in clothes, but that must have been because of his large furry feet.
Books became her creative outlet. All kinds of books -- especially her father's collection of slim white American Heritage volumes. Many happy days were spent sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of them, scanning their pages for fascinating images and making up stories in her head.
Gretchen loved to draw and fortunately, her parents encouraged her. Her dad, in particular, stoked this combined love of reading and drawing. When she was sick with the mumps, he brought her The Little Brute Family by Russell and Lillian Hoban, for consolation. Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are followed. By then there was no turning back.
Eventually, all this lead to a BFA with honors, the Illustration Department Faculty Award from the Philadelphia College of Art and The Starr Foundation Award from The Society of Illustrators Annual Student Competition in 1982. Upon graduating, she worked as a graphic designer and illustrator at various advertising agencies, in-house creative departments and finally, as the Creative Director of a web design & hosting company that she ran, along with her husband, for ten years.
Later, Gretchen created a world of monsters, including baby monsters, secretive monsters and an entire alphabet of Guardian Monsters. She also illustrated several picture books about the adventures of a clever little bird living on the African plains, and another about a little girl heading into the Amazon rain forest for a picnic with her two companions - her favorite ragdoll and grumpy purple tapir.
Gretchen is both honored and excited to continue her creative journey into new realms of the imagination, with the Storm Literacy Agency. Links to some of her artwork can be found at: http://gretchenkdeahl.com
Where Monsters Meet – http://www.wheremonstersmeet.com
Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) – https://www.scbwi.org/members-public/gretchen-deahl
Behance Portfolio – https://www.behance.net/gkdeahl
Fiona was born in North West Scotland where she studied at Edinburgh University, earning a First Degree in English Literature in 2004 and a Master in Photojournalism in 2006. Early in her career, Fiona traveled extensively as a journalist and photographer. Her work was published in a variety of British publications: Wild Travel, Heritage Magazine, Birdwatching Monthly, the Independent on Sunday, Country Walking, amongst others. Fiona especially enjoyed the wildlife shoots that took her to remote landscapes: The great gannet colonies of Shetland, the threatened birdlife in the Faroes, whale watching in Iceland and the great crane migration across the Hungarian steppes. Fiona was also a contributing photographer to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' photo library. Her love of wildlife, and of the outdoors, is ever present in her unique and beautiful illustrations.
Fiona is currently based in Austria where she works as a photographer and graphic designer. Her journey to illustration came later in her career, coinciding with her move to Austria where she struggled to master the German language. Suddenly the idea of communicating through pictures became very appealing!
Fiona remembers the first book she shared with her sister as a child, 'Hiawatha's Childhood,' illustrated by Errol Le Cain.
"By the shores of the Gitche Gummee, By the Shining Big Sea Water, Stood the Wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon."
She can still feel the magical power of that book, particularly the illustrations. The combined power of words and illustrations, continue to motivate Fiona. Fiona's favorite color is a crackly, luminous Old Master yellow. She loves birds and has an extremely handsome bilingual cat with a perfectly symmetrical striped tail!
Annina Luck Wildermuth
Annina is Swiss-American, born in Mainz, Germany and comes from a family of artists and writers. She has loved drawing and writing stories since she can remember, but she tried very hard to avoid it as a career choice and studied medieval history and French in college.
Many years and many different jobs later, she started painting decoratively, creating floorcloths, hangings, greeting cards and flower pots for all sorts of occasions. People especially enjoyed her vivid characters and told her that they would be good in children’s stories.
Finally, Annina made the great decision to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2008 and attended her first picture book critique group when she moved to Huntington, NY in 2009. She’s been working on illustrations and stories full-time ever since.