Can’t believe 2017 is already over. Here are some things I did this past year.

I continued doing freelance this year. Below is the cover for the latest installment of the Green Ember series, Ember Rising.

I also did around 20 interiors.

Heather and Picket spend a lot of time separated, and it was difficult to come up with a scene that included them both in the same space. My wife talked me through the composition above, which ended up working great.

I got to do another cover for a Green Ember Prequel, The Last Archer.I did this cover in a week, while I was working full-time and also teaching. I’m pleased with how it turned out.

I also had the chance to Illustrate Doug McKelvey’s beautiful book, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

This is a beautifully written book and I’m happy to have played a small part in it.

I also continued working at BJUPress illustrating textbooks. Here is a sampling of some illustrations for the upcoming British Literature Text:

Here are a few from the Textbook Stories of the Old Testament

And here are a few from a 5th grade Reading Story.

As I mentioned earlier, I also taught a digital illustration class at Furman University. It was a full year. Glad it’s over.

2016 Year in Review

Here we are at the end of 2016. Let me tell you a little about what I’ve done this year.

Ember Falls, the much anticipated sequel to the Green Ember, released. I did the cover and interiors for that project. Below are a few.
I love these books. They’re tremendous fun to work on, and they’re excellent stories. Check out https://sdsmith.net/ for updates and additional information about the world of the Green Ember.

I did a cover and some interiors for Crossroads In Gallilee the next book in the Choose Your Journey Series from Journeyforth. Below is a sampling.

I completed a project for Biblical Visuals International called Depths of Grace about John Newton, who wrote the song Amazing Grace. There were a number of illustrations (like 40?). Here are 6.

I did an illustration for Cobblestone magazine’s October Alexander Hamilton issue. It’s a good looking magazine, and if you’re interested in American History for children, check it out.

I also wrote some articles for StoryWarren. One is about Boy’s Reading. The other concerns George Washington’s soap.

This year also brought a few events. I attended the Great Homeschool Convention in Marchwith my friend Sam Smith and his brother Josiah. I also got to speak at a school in Greenville, one in Landrum, and had a few homeschool events at my house. I further spoke at a gathering in West Virginia and exhibited at this year’s Maker’s Market here in town. I was also interviewed by domestic theologian Allison Burr’s lovely children on the Melody, Mystery and Mayhem podcast.

During the day I work at BJUPress illustrating textbooks. Here is some of the work I’ve been doing at my day job.

These are concepts for British Literature.

This year I worked largely on Elementary Reading. Here are a few illustrations from Ben Carson’s story.

Below are a few from John Henry Races the Steam Engine.

This is a story about a houseboat caught in a flood.

And here are some from a selection of A Cricket in Times Square.

I also did various pieces for other books.

In addition to my textbook work and freelance, I taught a Digital Illustration class this fall at Furman University.

These are samples for the class assignments. One is a generic cel shading, the other is a lighting demonstration, and the third was a coloring assignment for the non-existent brand Jane Austen Boots.

I also did a painting for the faculty show.

All in all a pretty full year. Looking forward to seeing what’s around the corner in 2017.

Bonus: Here are two pictures of my growing girls.

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.

Inkwell: Story Warren’s Family Conference

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

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.

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.

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

Next, I tightened the drawing up a bit.  I wanted it to be a little loose but not unreadable.

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

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