Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Wendy Wahman

© Wendy Wahman
Oct. 31, 2014

We are very excited to spotlight the talented author-illustrator Wendy Wahman. She authored and illustrated DON'T LICK THE DOG: MAKING FRIENDS WITH DOGS and A CAT LIKE THAT  and illustrated SNOWBOY 1, 2, 3. 

Tell us about your background and how you came to children's illustration.

I've been drawing from the time I could hold a piece of chalk. My mom put in chalkboard closet doors in our room, and I'd draw from the floor to as high as I could reach, then move outside and draw on the patio.

I have a graphic design and technical drawing background. I love doing info-graphics and maps – they’re so neat and tidy and satisfyingly done when they’re finished.

© Wendy Wahman

I've done toy design, greeting cards, fine art pins and boxes, co-owned a silkscreen t-shirt business with my best friend, and shown watercolour/pen & ink work in galleries.

The best job-job I've ever had, was in the art department of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The paper was closed in 2009, after 146 years in print. A handful of employees were asked to stay and work the online P-I, but the majority of us were sent packing. Happily, that was the same year DON'T LICK THE DOG, launched.

How all this leads up to children's books: I was looking for freelance illustration work with children's publishers. I love children's books, magazines and TV. I didn't want to write books, I just wanted to illustrate.  

Samples sent for DON'T LICK THE DOG © Wendy Wahman

Henry Holt's Laura Godwin asked if there was a dummy to go along with the dog art samples I sent out in '07. There wasn't, but I had one in mind, so ever firm, clear and confident (ha!), I replied, "Yes, no, kind of, well, there can be.” I sent her a dummy two weeks later, and she gave me a contract for two books! Laura and my husband, Joe, were patiently helpful with their time and help with writing, DON'T LICK THE DOG. I’m deeply grateful to Laura Godwin for taking me under her wing and giving me a chance.

You do both editorial and children's illustration. How do you divide your time and do the two types of work influence each other?

Interests and deadlines (not always in that order) decide my day.
I can’t think of how one influences the other, except that I try hard to not let them influence each other – they’re such polar opposites usually, and need to remain so.

© Wendy Wahman

I love immersing myself in stories of all kinds, even the sad or frightening ones, and try to go deep for concepts. Illustration is not decorative art – it needs to tell some of the story, or at least lure the reader in.

© Wendy Wahman

Tell us about your children's books. Is there one that is a favorite or has a special meaning for you?

DON'T LICK THE DOG: MAKING FRIENDS WITH DOGS is a picture book on how to meet new dogs safely for children (and adults). A CAT LIKE THAT is how to be safe and kind to cats. SNOWBOY 1, 2, 3 is a counting book, written by my husband, Joe.

© Wendy Wahman

A CAT LIKE THAT is near and dear to me. I slogged and stuttered along for a good year, trying to write a story. Thoroughly frustrated, I asked Laura if I could start completely over. Being the totally cool editor she is, she said, “Sure.”  I wrote A CAT LIKE THAT in a few hours. It was one of those inspired little poems that pour themselves onto the page as if they were just waiting the invitation. The text divided into page breaks perfectly. I sent it to Laura, and her reply was something like, "Genius freaking manuscript! I love it!” You know I loved that answer!

What projects are you working on these days?

I'm redesigning my website, and working on some new stories.

Progression for illustration done for AKC Family Dog Magazine
on caring for geriatric dogs © Wendy Wahman

Can you tell us what your typical process for illustration is?  

For children’s books, I’m pretty conventional: Thumbnails, larger sketches. Notes all over the sketches. More sketches, then dummies. Back and forth to critique group, until finally ready to show my agent, Erzsi Deak. Sometimes I sketch in Photoshop.

Storyboard for A CAT LIKE THAT © Wendy Wahman

For editorial, I spend time with the Thesaurus, sparking words and phrases. I google whatever research I need, and write and draw ideas that work into sketches. I almost always do fairly finished sketches to send art directors, since my editorial work is digital. The more I sketch, the tighter the end illustrations, so I prefer to just go for it.

Snowboy 1, 2, 3 storyboard © Wendy Wahman

What is something that most people don't know about you?

I have an eidetic memory for lyrics. I often 'wake up singing.’ Songs from decades ago roll out complete, verse after verse. Fortunately for my husband and poodles, I have a decent singing voice, inherited from my operatic grandmother, Sylvia Leventhal.
˙ Wendy Wahman

Where can people find you on the internet? 

Here, there and too many places:

© Wendy Wahman

Wendy Wahman is the author/illustrator of DON’T LICK THE DOG: MAKING FRIENDS WITH DOGS and A CAT LIKE THAT, and illustrator of SNOWBOY 1, 2, 3, written by Joe Wahman.  DON’T LICK THE DOG was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her book trailer for A CAT LIKE THAT was selected from over 7,000 entries for Walker Art Center's Catvid Fest. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and the Harvard Business Journal. She also teaches creative bookmaking to children and adults.

© Wendy Wahman

Watch her book trailers: "Don't Lick the Dog" / "A Cat Like That" /  "Snowboy 1,2,3" 


  1. I can tell that Wendy had experience with greeting card and such designer work. There is a certain innocent sexiness to her work that is simply riveting! I love the storyboard samples; I'm going to study those careful to learn how to do them right. Thank you, Sylvia and Wendy for this terrific interview!

    1. I agree, I love how you can see the design elements so clearly in the storyboards.

  2. Ah, thanks, Teresa, what a very sweet thing to say, 'innocent sexiness.' The Freudians would have a field day with that!

  3. Wish I lived close by so I could hear Wendy singing in the morning! Ha! So nice to learn more about Wendy and her process! Thank, Wendy, Sylvia and KID-LIT 411!

  4. Thank you so much for being featured in our spotlight, Wendy! Your art is spectacular and I am so happy that you shared your process with us! Thanks, Wendy and Sylvia!!!!

    1. The honor and pleasure is mine, Elaine. Thank you!


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