Illustrator Spotlight: Rachel Michelle Wilson

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

Sept. 1, 2023

We are pleased to feature illustrator Rachel Michelle Wilson and her banner design for Kidlit411. 

Illustrators: remember to enter our website banner contest for a chance to have your design be featured in 2024!

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

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

Creativity has always been my way to process and express emotion. To navigate life, really. As a kid, stories offered me a sense of order and power. Books gave me a safe space to explore. Creative projects gave me a place to direct my anxious energy. So I read and made stuff a lot. My favorite projects were illustrated stories, plays, over-the-top operas, and funny videos. 

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

As I grew up, it felt like many friends and family members around me grew out of their creativity while I clung to mine. It was hard sometimes as certain experiences taught me that being passionate and creative was something embarrassing. I started relying on school projects to give me the permission to create. This continued throughout college where I received my B.A. in English. 

After I graduated, I didn’t know how to give myself permission. For years I felt lost about what I wanted to do with my life and creatively stuck. Luckily at one of my tech jobs (I was a tech writer for a long time), I worked with a bunch of creative people like a screenwriter, a satirist, a musician, and a graphic designer. They inspired me to assign myself creative projects again. 

I started with daily poetry and designed social media posts to go with my poems. (At this point, I didn’t consider myself an artist as I was always a writer first.) Then one day I discovered a box of picture books in my mom’s garage that I collected until I went away to college. I cried as I read them because for the first time in a long time, I felt at home. I realized that someone wrote these books. I wanted to be that someone too. 

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

So I wrote a story and queried agents WAY too early (though I’m glad I did as it was my way of giving myself permission). After lots of rejections, I buckled down and worked on craft. I joined SCBWI, Storyteller Academy, and a bunch of critique groups. I listened to podcasts and read hundreds of picture books. As I wrote more stories, my hands itched to illustrate. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I took art classes and completed a 100 day illustration project. After about 2-3 years of consistent work, I put a portfolio of art and a few dummies together, queried again, and connected with my lovely agent Lindsay Auld at Writers House. We went on sub, sold some books, and here we are! 

Congrats on your upcoming book, How to Pee Your Pants (The Right Way)! Tell us about it and what inspired you.

Thank you so much! Okay, so I’ve heard a lot of great embarrassing stories over the years and noticed two interesting patterns: 

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

1) Most of them happened in childhood.

2) As adults share their stories, their feelings of embarrassment and shame from childhood are STILL there. After all this time! 

Isn’t it fascinating that those emotions can linger that long? 

I’m no exception. My pee my pants moment was pretty traumatic (and hilarious), but I realized that as I shared my story and listened to others, I felt connected and loved. And so did they. 

A big part of this was being able to laugh about it with someone else. I thought maybe I could channel this same laugh-with-ourselves energy into a story inspired by my own embarrassing moment. Maybe I could turn something sad into something funny. Maybe I could write the book I wish I had when I peed my pants. 

Eventually I gave myself the permission to turn my maybe into a why not.  I hope my book gives the kids (and parents) who read it the space to laugh with themselves. 

What is your preferred medium and illustration process?

To counteract my “blank page anxiety,” I like to sketch on my iPad in Procreate. I can move things around, change the size of things, and undo anything I don’t like. Once it feels right, I print out my sketch and use it as a guide as I play with paint, pencils, screen printing ink, etc. I complete every element of the illustration traditionally, scan them in, then collage them together digitally. This hybrid approach to illustration really helps me create playfully and freely instead of getting caught up in perfectionism. 

© Rachel Michelle Wilson

I made How to Pee Your Pants (The Right Way)  with this hybrid approach using acrylic ink, black watercolor pencil, and screen printing brayers. 

What projects are you working on now?

I just submitted my debut cover which is super exciting! While I wait for next steps, I’m preparing a pitch for my second book with Macmillan. And in the next few months, I’ll start working on a yet-to-be announced picture book project. 

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Give yourself permission to create what you want to create.

Ask yourself, “Would I rather do art as a hobby or a profession?” It’s okay to like making art without doing it as a career. 

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

I was a professional clogger for 10 years (the tap shoes with an extra tap, not the wooden shoes). We dressed up as waiters for a Hot Chocolate dance from the Polar Express movie (we did mild stunts and threw ceramic cups across the stage; one hit my face and my lip swelled up – I looked very attractive for that performance). We jazzed hands in white gloves to All That Jazz. We dressed up as zombies and Hair Spray characters (don’t worry, those were two different dances). And of course, we can’t forget the traditional hoedown! My favorite routines were the hip hop ones; in fact, though I don’t clog anymore, I still do hip hop for exercise now. 

© Rachel Marie Wilson

Where can people find you online?

I share a weekly newsletter and monthly podcast episode on my substack called AT THE KID TABLE. It includes deep dive studies of children’s books, craft chats, creative process explorations, and funny essays about life. 

Here is a link that includes my website, newsletter, and social media accounts. I’d love to connect! 


Rachel Michelle Wilson is a children’s book author-illustrator with a sweet tooth and a dash of sass. Her humorous debut picture book HOW TO PEE YOUR PANTS (THE RIGHT WAY), coming Fall 2024 with Macmillan, is about a bird who turns his most embarrassing moment into an opportunity to help a friend. When Rachel is not making books, you can find her paddleboarding across a lake, puzzling over a logic problem, or hosting a living room dance party.