Illustrator Spotlight: Traci Van Wagoner

© Traci Van Wagoner

Feb. 1 2020

We are excited to feature illustrator Traci Van Wagoner. Her banner design will be featured on our website for the month of February 2020 and in our Facebook group.  Enter to win your choice of two of her books (RUTH ASAWA: A SCULPTING LIFE, by Joan Shoettler, Pelican Publishing, 2018, or THE MERMAID'S GIFT by Claudia Cangilla McAdam, Pelican, 2015)




Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.


© Traci Van Wagoner

I’m number 5 in a family of 8 kids and I’m a farm girl turned city-slicker. That’s the short story. How I came to illustrate children’s books? That’s a long tale, and it all started with a crocodile named Lyle —  I didn’t know that as a kid when reading about Lyle the crocodile living in a bathtub in a big fancy, schmancy New York City apartment. I had no idea it was even possible to be a children’s book writer and illustrator and create such magic as Bernard Waber did. I also never dreamed I’d be living in that same city. And look at me now. Okay, my apartment isn’t as fancy and I don’t have a crocodile, but I do have a turtle. And a roof garden.




It wasn’t until much later, after I had moved across the country to Boston in search of a career in advertising as an art director, that I realized someone, a person, writes the stories in books, and an actual person creates the wonderful pictures to go with them. Wow, what an amazing thought. I didn’t get a job in advertising and was disenchanted with the industry. So, while working as a secretary, I desperately needed something else, some creative outlet. Enter that smiley, cool crocodile again. I was sitting in a park in Marblehead, MA when an idea struck — why not try writing and illustrating children’s books? A spark was ignited.


© Traci Van Wagoner


We love your design for the Kidlit411 banner. Tell us how you approached this design.

© Traci Van Wagoner
When your call came for banner illustrations, I had just incorporated #PaintPlay in my daily routine to remember how to have fun painting (another long story), and I had discovered painting with Procreate on the iPad, so I was playing with paint, new brushes, and having fun. I wanted to create something loose with painterly strokes and a lot of energy and, of course, birds. So, Birds, reading, kid lit, painterly, paint play — I went wild. Birds on wire between two — what? — buildings, sure, linking people together and with a banner airplane in the painterly sky. Yeah, it was something like that. No clear cut path, just playing with paint and a rough idea.


What is your illustration process?

My process varies depending on my mood, what the project is, how much time I have, what style I’m going to use, and what the final goal and result needs to be.

For a picture book illustration job, I generally start with a text dummy book to find the page turns, then I’ll do thumbnail sketches combined with doodle thinking in the text dummy. 


© Traci Van Wagoner

Next comes character sketches along with reference research (lots of research on some projects which continues throughout the project), a color sketch or two to establish color palette and painting style, and once the sketches are approved, the hard and also fun work begins of coloring and finalizing. 


© Traci Van Wagoner

I like to work up all the spreads at the same time to keep consistency. 


© Traci Van Wagoner

I prefer to illustrate the cover last since that is the first thing seen, and I want it to be the best it can be and the best doesn’t usually come until I’ve spent a lot of time with the book and the characters. However, the cover is often what the publisher wants first for promotional purposes.


© Traci Van Wagoner
© Traci Van Wagoner


I sketch either with pen or pencil in my sketchbook, or sometimes I’ll sketch on my iPad in Procreate. I paint the initial colors in Procreate and then transfer those to my main computer and finalize everything in Photoshop where I can see the images large and get a better feel for how much polishing is needed.

My process is different if I’m working in a black line style (NELSON BEATS THE ODDS series, by Ronnie Sidney), which adds another process of black lining before dropping in the color.


I have several posts on my blog showing my process:





Tell us about some of your recent books. What projects are you working on now?

I’m very excited about the latest book I illustrated, ELLIE AND HER EMOTIONAL DRAGONS, written by Joseph Goodrich (Wisdom House 2019) which won a bunch of awards, including a starred review and Book of the Year from Kirkus Reviews. This book marks the beginning of a new painting style for me, one I really love and have a ton of fun doing. And it looks like Book 2 will begin in April where Ellie and her dragons goes to school. 




I had a fun challenge illustrating another artist’s life with a biography picture book, RUTH ASAWA: A SCULPTING LIFE, by Joan Schoettler (Pelican, 2018). Ruth’s family was happy with the final result, and I hope Ruth would’ve approved as well. I have illustrated several more picture books and they all hold a special place in my heart for different reasons. 




A personal project I am working on is something extra close to my heart since it is a picture book I’m illustrating which came from a story my Mom told her grandchildren (my sister’s kids), EENSY, TEENSY TEDDY BEAR'S ADVENTURE. My mom (86 years old now) is the most generous and amazing person I know, and she has always supported me even though she was terrified I would be a starving artist when I decided to become an illustrator, and I want to give something back to her. My plan is to have the book completed and out in the world for sale by Mother’s Day. You can follow the adventure on Patreon where I’m sharing my process as I complete the book. https://www.patreon.com/TraciVWCreations


Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

Windy, twisty, falling off cliffs, climbing back up, changing directions, forging new paths, treading water, searching for the forest among the trees — um, you get the idea. I have been a member or SCBW (before they had the I). 


© Traci Van Wagoner

Now I have over 18 books under my belt which I’ve illustrated, and the journey continues as I’ve renewed and redoubled my effort to be both an illustrator and an author. I have several dummy books I’m submitting and many new picture books in the works, as well as a middle grade fantasy about ready to submit (again, after more edits and polishing). I do enjoy the roller coaster ride. 


© Traci Van Wagoner


What is one thing most people don't know about you?

Hmmm, I’m pretty much an open book, or at least I think I am. Okay, this is something silly. When I was young while laying in bed at night, I used to imagine I was Sleeping Beauty and the handsome princes from the kingdoms around were lined up to watch me sleep, and they would all whisper to each other how beautiful I was, and how they wished I would wake up.


© Traci Van Wagoner


Where can people find you online?
Website: 
twitter: @TraciVanWagoner 
Instagram: @Tracivwcreations 

© Traci Van Wagoner


Thank you so much for letting me share my journey with all of you! I hope you all have your own crocodiles that inspire you to create.
Live. Laugh. Learn


Award winning Illustrator Traci Van Wagoner holds degrees in illustration from Utah State University and in toy design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. A long time member of SCBWI, Van Wagoner has illustrated many children’s books, and her work appears in magazines, newsletters, and on toys and games. When not painting, she is writing picture books and middle grade novels; designing and developing games with her husband at Imagine That! Design; gardening on her roof; or walking her dog in the BIG city. Her motto is live, laugh, and learn. Oh, she also likes dragons. A lot! 





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33 comments:

  1. Congrats, Traci, I love you work and getting to know more about you!

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    1. Thanks Kathy, I'm glad to be on this roller coaster ride with you!

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  2. So cool! Good job, Traci. Love it. Love your work. Love you.

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  3. Thank you, Kidlit411, I just adored learning more about Traci! Traci, you are hilarious! I'm so glad your long winding road lead you to picture books, that ad industry doesn't know who they missed out on, but I'm glad our writing/art community got you instead😍 Thanks for sharing your adorable sleeping beauty story and super congrats on all your wonderful book and awards. Can't wait to read the books fully cratfed from words to art by you: they're going to be brilliant!

    Love,
    Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez

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    1. I'm happy you enjoyed this. Thanks a million for your support!

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  4. Love all the textures in your rooftop garden! And I love that you can make a living designing toys and writing for kids! Yay! Congrats on your success! Living in San Francisco, I know very well the work of Ruth Asawa. Getting into the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts is quite competitive here. The book is beautiful!

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    1. Thank you so much. My roof garden is my oasis. I must visit SF and see more of Ruth's work in person. Luckily a gallery here in NY has some of her sculptures. I'm glad you like the book!

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  5. Fun interview and incredible illustrations! Thanks Kidlit411 and congrats, Traci!

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  6. Replies
    1. Thanks. I've got some ideas knocking around for that.

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  7. Congrats, Traci! Great interview and your illustrations are amazing!

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  8. Congratulations on your illustration success! I enjoyed learning more about your work, your process, and getting to know you better. Your art is so much fun to see.

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    1. Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read about my journey.

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  9. Your illustrations are beautiful, Traci! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I appreciate you stopping by and taking a look!

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  10. Looks great. I'd love to have a copy of the Ruth Asawa book. Thanks for the chance to win it.

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  11. I love your work! The banner is perfect. I especially enjoy how you use colors. So much to see in every illustration. Thanks for sharing with us!

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    1. Thanks a bunch! I'm glad you enjoy my art. I love playing with colors.

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  12. Love the artwork!

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  13. I haven't read either of these books and am so excited to learn more about them.

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  14. Loved reading about your process! Beautiful work.

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  15. Enjoyed reading about you and love your new color style.

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    1. Yes! Thank you so much. I'm so glad you like my new style!

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  16. I would love to read either of these with my daughter.

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