End of Year Post: 2015

The ubiquitous quote about long days and short years describes 2015 well. Here we are at the end of the year, and I’m astonished to find I haven’t posted anything in 6 months.

So, here is a monster post revealing some of the work I’ve done that was previously shrouded in mystery.

It’s Textbook

americanlit1-zachfranzenMy day job for the past two years has been illustrating textbooks for BJUPress. I enjoyed many of this year’s assignments.

Here are some illustrations I did for the American Literature book.americanlit2-zachfranzen







Biblical Worldview

Here are a few little things for the book Biblical Worldview. It’s a great book, and Chris Koelle has some beautiful art in it. I think it’s very solid and well written, thanks in no small part to Mark Ward‘s great efforts.



Heritage Studies

The bulk of my work has been the 5th grade Heritage Studies book. I’ve done most of the chapter openers. Note: I don’t have the finished files on hand at the moment, hence the rough pasted-in design elements on top of the illustrations.







I also did a million interior illustrations. Here’s a sampling:


So that’s some of my 9-5 work. But I also did a bunch of other stuff in the evenings and weekends…

For Fun & Freelance

Inkwell 2015: Storywarren’s Family Conference

I was pleased to do some illustration sessions for kids at the Inkwell conference in Charlotte in June. This was the second year of the conference, and it’s really picked up speed. Tickets sold out the first day. Kids experience an action-packed schedule of rotating sessions focused on different areas in the arts, like songwriting, poetry, story-writing, and illustration. We also had some smaller workshops and demonstrations, so there was always something going on.




Vigilante Terror

Some of the older attendees took on the challenge I assigned of illustrating an Amish Romance cover based on the title of a thriller.







Read-Aloud Revival

At Inkwell I was pleased to meet fans of Sarah Mackenzie’s terrific website Amongst Lovely Things and her Read-Aloud Revival podcast. I did a guest post about art and hospitality in March. I also bumbled my way through an interview on her Read-Aloud-Revival podcast in May:

Black Star of Kingston

Storywarren also released the prequel novella to the Green Ember at Inkwell. I did the illustrations and cover for Black Star of Kingston.

blackstar cover

blackstarinterior2blackstarinteriorsblackstar characters

Christmas Crossroads

Below is a cover and some interiors for a JourneyForth book titled Christmas Crossroads. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure type of book with three main story paths.

christmascrossroadschristmas crossroads interiors

Slugs and Bugs

I illustrated the second installment of Randall Goodgame’s Sing the Bible with Slugs and Bugs.




This year we watched Quilla turn from a baby into a toddler. It has been a heart-melting journey.


Also, my wife and I had Vesper, our second little girl. DSC_0193rev

All in all, a full and lovely year.


Heritage Studies 4th Grade

Here are some chapter openers I did for a 4th grade History book.

They are oil paintings digitally sweetened.

Heritage Studies 4


Textbook Sketches

I’m working on a 5th grade History book for BJUPRESS.  The designer and I have been going back and forth trying to zero in on the style for the book’s interior illustrations. Thought it might be interesting to give a peek at the thoughts behind the book’s illustrations.

Initially, I wanted to do something stylized.  The argument was that the illustrations would give the readers some space to enter into them and handles for their imaginations to grab hold.  So here are two ideas about what that might look like.  One’s a rough sketch of a soldier at Valley Forge.  The other more finished illustration is of a younger G. Washington during the French and Indian War.


They didn’t feel right.  The Valley Forge guy in particular was a bad fit.  It could work if the account of Valley Forge was heavily narrative or if the age were younger (3rd grade perhaps), but because these were 5th graders and sensitive to being “talked down to,” and because the illustrations have to serve interesting textual callouts, the style needed to feel more precise.  Also, another problem emerged.  Humorous illustrations about abstract things look too similar in style to serious/concrete things.


The more literal style (above on the right) allowed the comic illustrations (below) a separate voice.

heritage5 5

So it’s still rough, but we’re finding the illustration look for the book.

Heritage style samples

The aspiration is for the styles to look related, but more like cousins than brothers.  It’s an exciting project, and I’m enjoying the preliminary discoveries, but I can’t wait to get into the guts of it.  Hope this was interesting.


Kickstarter: The Green Ember

I’ve been working on a project that I’m excited to tell you about:


Written by S.D. Smith, illustrated by me, and published by Story Warren, The Green Ember is an adventure story that involves rabbits with swords. You’ll love it. As the author says in his blog post about the new book, “I made this for you.”

Green EmberCheck out the Kickstarter, reserve your copy, and maybe get some other really cool rewards while you’re at it.


UPDATE: The Green Ember met its Kickstarter goal of $10,000 in just one day! Thanks to all who donated. Go buy a book now during the pre-sale on Kickstarter.


Inkwell: Story Warren’s Family Conference

Exciting news, friends! Registration is now open for Inkwell: Story Warren’s Family Conference.

Inkwell Logo

Inkwell: Story Warren’s Family Conference
An event for children aged 7 to 17 and their parents

Saturday, June 21
Charlotte, NC
8:30am — 4pm 

From the event page:

Story Warren is all about an alliance. We’re on your side. Our heartbeat is serving your family as you foster holy imagination at home and in your church/community…

In This Together: About the Kids, For the Family
We are focusing on the kids for (and with) the families. We aren’t just aiming to serve your kids,  but to serve your family through your kids…

 The Four Rotating Sessions Will Be:

Andrew Peterson — Writing/Storytelling
Zach Franzen — Drawing/Illustration
Rebecca Reynolds — Poetry/Lyrics
Randall Goodgame — Songwriting/Music


It’s going to be great. Seriously. Register now.


Baby Bird

Here is a painting I did for the nursery of my little 8 month old baby bird.


And here’s my baby bird.

UPDATE: Prints of the two bluebird paintings are now available for sale in my Etsy shop.



Did this Cardinal for James Witmer’s story warren post (The Brave Cardinal) a few weeks ago.



Alexander and Bucephalus

I contribute occasionally to a site called Storywarren.  Starting this week, every Friday will feature a story, or poem, or song for kids.  Some will be new, but some will be old.  This Friday’s post is an old story about a young Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus.  I did the illustration below in photoshop.

The great thing about photoshop is that you can thumbnail by zooming out.  I roughed-in the necessary elements until I found something sort of satisfactory.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 7.22.41 PM

The eye scans the picture better if the composition is flipped.  So I flipped the sketch and roughed in the values.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 7.22.53 PM

Next, I tightened the drawing up a bit.  I wanted it to be a little loose but not unreadable.Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 7.23.22 PM

Lastly, I tweaked a few things and added a subtle color gradient for interest.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 7.23.33 PM

And there you have it: Alexander and Bucephalus, or as the kids in the neighborhood used to call them, Al and Butch.


Slugs and Bugs

Loved listening to the songs on Randall Goodgame’s Slugs and Bugs album while working on the illustrations.  You can learn more about it here and here.Sing-the-Bible

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