Member Spotlight - Sara Lynn Cramb

Cramb_Fig 1Member Spotlight - Sara Lynn Cramb

Sara can often be found drawing in her studio with some tea, lazy cats dozing nearby, with a view of the Alaska Range out her window.

< All images © 2023 Sara Lynn Cramb unless otherwise noted. 50 States map art from Smithsonian Young Explorers Fact Book & Floor Puzzle: 50 States, published by Silver Dolphin Books. Illustration © Silver Dolphin Books.

I like to say that I draw things for a living. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I grew up in rural Ohio and had abundant time to explore outside when the weather was agreeable, and a wonderful library of beautifully illustrated children's books to pore over when it was not. I illustrated stories on loose sheets of paper that my mom helped me staple together into makeshift books. I wanted to be like my idols: children's illustrators Jan Brett, Eric Carle, and Charley Harper. 

My family spent the summers traveling for work and I enjoyed many days of exploring campground trails all over the Midwest. I loved exploring outdoors almost as much as I loved learning about animals. I pored over animal fact books (Zoobooks were my favorite) and watched nature programs in awe (I particularly liked the combination of humor and education on Going Wild with Jeff Corwin). I preferred learning in a more visual way and disliked being in a classroom with dry, image-poor textbooks.

Knowing I wanted to do something related to art for a living, I went to college for graphic design and illustration at the University of Akron. My parents wanted me to pursue something that I was interested in that would also allow me to make a stable living. Graphic design seemed like a way to do art while having a steady income. While in college I took classes and independent studies in children’s book illustration, trying to learn as much about the subject as possible. During my last year at college I interned at both the Akron Zoo and the Summit County Metro Parks as a graphic artist, and my passion for working on projects that educate and inform the general public was ignited. I illustrated and designed many signs featuring the amazing animals on exhibit while at the zoo and spent my lunch breaks observing and drawing the animals. The metro parks internship allowed me to reconnect with spending time outdoors. Both were extremely valuable in helping to shape the direction of my future career.

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< Image: Black-capped Chickadee illustration from If You Are a Kaka, You Eat Doo Doo, published by Tilbury House Nature Books.


The next few years after college were a bit of a blur as I secured an in house design job in Michigan. There, I further honed my design skills and created map illustrations for use on the company’s websites. It was during my time there that I realized that while I didn’t hate what I was doing, I wanted to draw more. I wanted to refocus and see if illustrating books for a living was really possible. So, I started to work on my illustration portfolio. I spent many nights and weekends building up my portfolio with the type of work I wanted to be creating, and I started to pick up small freelance jobs. Near the end of my time living in the Mitten State, I got married to my longtime partner before moving to Georgia so he could attend grad school.

Cramb_Fig 3In late 2013 I started freelancing full time. I worked on a mix of design projects and the occasional small illustration commission. I had a lot of map and animal artwork in my portfolio at the time. To my surprise, in November of that year, Silver Dolphin Books contacted me to illustrate an educational book and puzzle kit about the 50 states which lent itself very well to my skill set. To say that I was elated would be an understatement. I was getting to illustrate a children’s book for the first time! This was a dream come true for me. I’ve illustrated a number of other titles for Silver Dolphin over the years, but this one holds a special meaning for me.

< Image: Photo of Sara on the atoll of Rakahanga holding a mischievous coconut crab nicknamed ‘Citizen Snips’, who was found stealing water bottles at the dig site.



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Over the next few years I slowly built up a robust client list of publishers, small businesses, museums, schools, and individuals. I added new work to fill in the gaps in my portfolio in between client projects. I kept my portfolio up to date and reached out to publishers with postcards, emails, and at conferences. Through trial and error I found my publishing agent and started to get a wider range of publishing projects through them.


I learned that my first agent didn’t seem to value my skill set shortly after signing on with them. They tried to push my portfolio in a direction I wasn't interested in and also pressured me to take on high volume, low paying jobs. I parted ways with them a few months after signing on. About six months later I found my current agency and sent in my work though their submission process. I was accepted for representation and we’ve developed a good working and portfolio building relationship over the last 5 years. It seems like the changes happened quickly looking back on it, but at the time I remember it feeling like slowly climbing a mountain. There were times of boom, when there were seemingly not enough hours in the day to get through all of my work, and bust, when all of my leads seemed to turn to dust and my inbox was distressingly empty. I learned to pick up more design work when the illustration work slowed and how to create personal projects that would generate passive income through licensing. I also learned how to gain a bit more work/ life balance over time by turning down projects that were not a good match for me. I’m still working on all of these skills today—portfolio building, marketing, personal projects, and trying to find balance.

2017 presented some unique opportunities and challenges. I joined my partner on a trip to do archaeological research for his doctoral dissertation in the South Pacific. We lived and worked in the Cook Islands for seven months, starting on the main island, Rarotonga, and then traveling by cargo ship to the coral atolls of Manihiki and Rakahanga, and then back to Rarotonga again before returning home. In addition to helping with the excavations, I also did all of the photography and the drawing of unit walls and special surface features, including several coral-lined courts (square or rectangular meeting places, lined with coral blocks and filled with small rounded pieces of coral to act as ground cover). It was an absolutely amazing experience which still informs my work to this day.

Cramb_Fig 5Shortly after returning home I started to prepare my presentation on "Creating Educational Illustrations for a Young Audience" for the 2018 GNSI Conference in Washington D.C. I was excited to share what I had learned these past several years about adding diversity, personality, and clarity to one’s educational illustrations. The presentation went well (even though I have terrible stage fright) and I received many wonderful questions from a room packed full of attendees. These conferences are a truly great way to connect and share information and experiences. I met so many amazing like-minded people at the conference, including many artists from Georgia that I had never met before. A small group of us, led by Olivia Carlisle, started to work on setting up a GNSI Georgia Chapter in the months after the conference.

Image (Above): Mammoth vs. Mastodon coloring page, licensed by the Illinois State Museum.

Cramb_Fig 6In 2018 I began taking on more publishing work than I ever had before. I slowly added to my publishing list, reaching a total of over 30 educational children’s books featuring my illustrations with a wide range of subject matter - dinosaurs, human anatomy, nocturnal animals, scat, ocean life, geography, history, and many more. I was lucky enough to work in many interesting book formats such as picture books, activity books, and interactive kits and puzzles. In addition to children’s publishing, I was able to work on a number of other exciting projects over the years. I created illustrations for mobile apps focusing on teaching scientific concepts, museum signage, websites, coloring pages, and character licensing, to name a few. Throughout all of this I continued to draw inspiration from being in nature, and from learning about the amazing plants and animals that inhabit our world.


Cramb_Fig 7I have been creating self-initiated work for my portfolio for many years to show that I am capable of doing the type of work I want to do. I came up with the idea in late 2019 for my most recent personal project, a series of educational coloring pages that I release to my newsletter subscribers on a bi-monthly basis. This project has allowed me to have a creative outlet in which I research and explore topics that I haven't had the chance to delve into in my client work. These nature coloring pages have led to working on several books with Rockridge Press, and a licensing deal and mascot commission with the Illinois State Museum. I am hopeful that even more opportunities will arise as I continue to create them.

< Image (Above) “Use Less Everything” illustration created during the 2021 Our Planet Week illustration challenge.

Cramb_Fig 8In July of 2020 I moved to Fairbanks, Alaska leaving my home for the last 7 years behind in the heart of the early pandemic. My publishing work had started to slow as well, as everyone tightened their belts in the uncertain climate that existed throughout much of 2020. The isolation of the pandemic made adjusting to my new home challenging, but the abundance of natural beauty made it a little easier. The first natural phenomena I witnessed after my initial quarantine was the southern migration of sandhill cranes to Creamer’s Field. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, hundreds of giant graceful birds dancing, eating, and making calls so loud you could hear them for miles. Inspired by my new environment, I started experimenting with my work, developing a more textured style that I felt more in tune with. I’ve recently started to work on client projects in this new style.

< Image: Cover art created for Where Giants Roamed.

Right now I’m working on the finishing touches for a book about the megafauna of Beringia. I’m also continuing to make nature coloring pages and have started developing licensing artwork featuring animals and other natural elements. I look forward to hopefully many more years of creating illustrations that educate, inform, and excite the general public about our natural world. I’m very pleased with how my recent GNSI conference presentation, Illustrating for the Educational Children's Market, went this past August and I am working on ideas for my next talk. I hope to see you there!


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Sara Lynn Cramb creates colorful illustrations full of personality for educational children’s books, websites, apps and other media with a focus on engaging and educating young audiences about the natural world. She also creates patterns, puzzles, and greeting card designs for art licensing. Sara currently lives in Fairbanks, AK. Sara’s portfolio can be viewed at She can be followed at @ saralynncreative on Instagram to see current work.




This open-access article appears in the Journal of Natural Science Illustrators, Volume 55, No. 1.




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