An Interview with Illustrator Traci Van Wagoner

Illustrators Workshop:  
  Traci Van Wagoner is an artist and a children's illustrator with over 18 years experience designing and illustrating in the publishing, toy, and game markets. Traci’s artwork has been called - striking - enchanted - wonderful and her characters have their own unique personalities.
She was farm bred girl turned city slicker living in NYC. Traci loves children's books; reading, writing and illustrating them designing products, gardening on my roof, walking in the park with her dog and husband, playing pool.

Her Clients Include:         
 -International Masters Publishers  
-Silver Editions
 -Ten to Two Children’s Books     
-Highlights Magazine 
-Jacob Packaged Goods                 
 -Nancy Hall Associates
-Herman Agency                           
  -SCBWI Bulletin
-SCBWI Metro NY Newsletter      
-Once Upon a Time
-EB Brands                                    
  -Leap Frog
-Moose Entertainment                   
-New Moon Magazine                  
-Highlight Magazine             
-Pauline Books & Media          
-Puddle Duck Publishing   
Hi Traci,  Thank you for being here. I love your work!
What circumstances lead you to pursue your art?
That’s an interesting question with a convoluted answer starting way back in the olden days when I was a jus a kid. My mom and dad always supplied us (I have three brothers and four sisters) with fun art supplies crayons, pencils, watercolors sets, colored construction paper. Both of them were artists of sorts. My dad painted various things, and I remember my mom drawing horses for me during church. The first tips of art I learned from them, like the eyes in a human face are halfway through the oval of the head great stuff like that. Everything has always come back to drawing and art for me. At Utah State University I majored in Advertising Design. That didn’t’ seem so scary. I took a huge leap and moved to Boston, but I soon discovered that advertising was not right for me. Children’s books captured my attention while living in Boston. I fell in love with Make Way for Ducklings, spent a lot of time at the park with the adorable sculpture of those ducks. The idea of writing and illustrating all paired up into fun book package took hold. I was hooked. I’ve had a rocky road with this career path, but the passion has driven me.
While kid lit has been my overall drive since those Boston days, I’ve had many distractions. I got a 2nd Bachelors degree from Fashion Institute of Technology in Toy Design, and I created Imagine That! Design with my husband and we worked several clients creating toys, games and giftware products for many, many years. This took most of my focus for a long time until our main client disappeared during the worst of the recession. We were left pretty high and dry and scrambling for more jobs and clients to fill the void. Which lead to one and then more and more children’s book illustration jobs.
Why children’s books?
I love the world’s that can open up for children through books, from the earliest experiences with bedtime stories and lap time with parents to middle grade and young adult. I love them all. Picture books are wonderful with the interplay of text, illustration and imagination, mixed with together-time that’s a beautiful package.
Who are the artists and illustrators that inspire you most?
There are so many. I studied a lot of Art History during my first degree at USU, and I have been influenced by many artists through the ages. To name of few at the top of my list of artists from history: Monet, Cezanne, Michaelangelo, VanGogh. I also love many of the
illustrators from the Golden Age of Illustration: Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and so, so many children’s book illustrators and writer/illustrators. These few are merely the tip of the iceberg for inspiration: Lane Smith, Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, Joe Cepeda, Will Terry. Also Mary Grand Pre’s Harry Potter covers reignited my passion and desire to create such beautiful and fun imagery at a time when I needed some inspiration to follow my dreams.
What was your original goal to achieve as an artist, and have you reached it?
To get the things in my head onto paper (so to speak since I work mostly digital now). I feel like I’m always reaching my goal, but when I get there, the goal has leaped higher. I think that’s what art is and an artist is and should always be learning, growing, developing. I think most of us are hardly ever satisfied with our own work. With every illustration I do, I reach a happy point at some point where I think, “Wow, this looks really good, professional. Yeah.” But then, as short as 5 minute later, I feel like a fraud and wish I could create things as beautiful and wonderful as (see list above, plus so many more amazing illustrators and artists.)
I use to do my art in oil and watercolor but now I do most of my art work digitally. What mediums have you worked in and does that include digital?
I was trained in traditional media, oils and acrylic mostly. I tried gouache and watercolor during college, but they are not to my taste. I prefer working from dark to light. I work mostly digital now although I work as if I’m painting using my own brushes, paper textures and color palettes that mimic the colors I used with real paints. My sketches are pencil or pen, and then I scan that in and paint in Photoshop. I used to use Painter, but I found it too fussy and annoying overall. However, there are still things I can do with that program I can’t do anywhere especially my graphic paint brush using my signature texture which came from a special paper I got while on Safari in Africa made out of matusa dona, which is elephant dung. Ha, you gotta love that.
Can you describe your over all style?
Hmm, that’s a tough question. I had a friend describe my style as a urban Norman Rockwell — I like that.
Bright colors, values, textures with characters (animal or human) who are not realistic and not cartoony, but some of my books are quite cartoony. So I’ll stick with the bright colors and fun textures. How about whimsical?
How do you work with an author? Does the author tell you what illustrations they want to see in their books?
A variety of ways depending on the client. Self-published clients, I always ask if they have specific thoughts in mind for characters or setting, but for the most part I have free reign. Self-publishing authors tend to have more of an idea of the types of characters they want. The least hands-on with any expectations has been Pelican Publishing. They had very few directional notes other than they wanted artwork that was a bit more realistic than my usual style and from the samples I had sent them when pitching for the job.
How do you approach a paintings or drawings when you start a new project?

I start with pen or pencil and a sketchbook, sit on my couch cuddled up with my dog and doodle until images start to solidify in my head. Then I can sketch for real. With a picture book job, I start with a text dummy book and loose, quick thumbnail sketching. Often I’ll take my loose doodle sketches, scan those, clean them up in Photoshop and print that out for an underlay to make clean and better pencils. But, I do also tend to approach each job a bit differently which drives my husband crazy. I don’t like to get bored. Or I like to make things hard for myself — guess it depends on your POV.
Where can people find your art on display?
I have various pet portraits out and about and some posters and canvases from my gallery at Zazzle.
What type of illustration services do you provide?
In addition to illustrating picture books for myself and publishers, I work alongside my husband and business partner design and illustrating a variety of projects, mostly focusing on the children’s industry of books, toys and games. We offer a range of services for self-publishing authors from book illustration, some amount of editing, and book layout and design, providing print-ready files.
Here’s a link to a post I wrote about Hiring an Illustrator that has some helpful information for writers and hopefully other illustrators:
What are your upcoming projects?
I have just finished the fourth book of the Booker T. Bear Let’s Go Series by Jen Jellyfish for The Library Story. The first book of 4 (hopefully more) will be coming out at the end of this year.
I’m in the early sketch stages of another graphic novel for Ronnie Sidney, Rest in Peace RaShawn. This is the third in the series of books about serious issues kids are facing today. I will be sharing regular updates on social media as the project progresses, showing various stages of my process.
Where can everyone find your art work and learn more about you?
I post regularly to social media. This month I’ve been doing #inktober with a focus on dragons. It has been a great challenge, proving that I can draw fast sometimes.
instagram: tracivwcreations
twitter: @TraciVanWagoner
My design company Imagine That! Design:
 Thank you so much, Traci, for doing this interview. I enjoyed talking to you!   ~JD 
Some of Traci Van Wagoner Illustrated Books:

Daddy Did I Ever Say? I Love You, Love You Every Day, 10 to 2 Children's Books, 2007
Candy Canes in Bethlehem , Pauline Books & Media, 2012

Jack and the Beanstalk, You TELL Me Stories, 2013 (in process of being released)
Anything Can Happen in Mrs. Whynot's Room, Puddle Duck Publishing Fall 2014
Moose's Big Day, Come Along Critters, Summer 2015
The Mermaid's Gift, Pelican Publishing, September 2015
Nelson Beats the Odds, September 2015
Cody and Grandpa's Christmas Tradition, Pelican Publishing, Fall 2016
Tameka’s New Dress, Creative Medicine, Summer 2016

My latest book: The Sequel to Janoose The Goose, Janoose And The Fall Feather Fair Is About to make it's Debut



by J.D. Holiday and Luke Brandon Winski

The Fox returns to Free

Range Farm and he has a score to settle with Janoose! How will the fox get his revenge?

This is a preview of the first page to
Janoose and The Fall Feather Fair.

Second page.

The Authors' Words: Author Barbara Ehrentreu: Living With and Without Hal

The Authors' Words: 
Author Barbara Ehrentreu is a retired teacher. Her books are: If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor,  After, and now, You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal.
After the death of her husband, Hal, more than two years ago, Barbara decided to gather all of the poems her has written about him from before and after he passed away, and the results are her new book of poetry called: You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal, a memorial to Hal and their everlasting love for one another. Barbara also writes poetry and several of her poems are published in the anthologies: Prompted; An International Collection of Poetry, Beyond the Dark Room, Storm Cycle and Backlit Barbell.
She has a blog, Barbara's Meanderings, and she hosts a radio show on Blog Talk Radio,
 Red River Radio, Tales from the Pages once a month.
Hi Barbara, Thank you for doing this blog post. I have admired you greatly and thankful for your friendship.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I wrote my first poem in third grade. It was published in the School District newsletter. Then I didn’t write anything until I was in my late teens and in college. I continued writing for myself off and on until I showed them to my brother and he said they should be published. So he put them on the computer back in the late 70’s and I had booklets of my poems to give to people who wanted to read them. I took several workshops online for poetry and also one in person and I started to write a little more seriously. However, it wasn’t until I joined the Writer’s Digest website Poetic Asides where I wrote a poem a day for each April, did I really write a lot. From that experience it blossomed into being part of a group that split from PAD (Poem A Day) and we eventually published two anthologies with our poems. Also some of my poems have been published in online publications. Currently, I am an ongoing guest poet for the esteemed poetry group: Poem Kubili, which has also helped to elevate my writing as well.
Please tell us about your latest book of poems, You’ll Probably Forget Me:
Living With and Without Hal?
I wanted to have a memorial to my husband and I had written a great many poems both before and after he passed away. Every time I felt sad I wrote a poem and they are on a variety of subjects. Some are from writing for Poetic Asides and some are from writing poems to read on World Poetry Open Mic, a radio show on which anyone can read his or her own poetry or the poetry of someone else. The whole show is dedicated to the love of poetry. Also, I saw that I got a huge response to the poems that I posted about my husband. One of them was the Scriggler Poem of the Day and another won Honorable Mention in a poetry contest. So the idea of putting all of these poems together was in my head for about a year. Then the opportunity came for me to do just that when my publisher and I decided to publish it on She worked with me to place the photos with the poems and we decided to make it full color so the photos could be shown in their best light. Also, she is a graphic designer and she designed the cover and placed those forget me nots on the bottom of the page. My publisher, Susan Joyner Stumpf who owns Wildfire Publications, said she cried when she went through the book the first time. I think my book shows my journey through my life from when we first met to after he passed away. It shows how though I had lost my soul mate and love I could survive and find hope without him. I believe my book will help a great many women who have had the same thing happen to them. I went from collapsing and needing to be in the ER to where I am today, which is living my life and moving forward.
The title comes from something my husband always said to me. He would always joke that when he was gone in a few years I would forget about him completely because of my terrible memory. It was a running joke for years with us. So I thought the title of my book should be: You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal.
Has being a writer in any way helped with how you dealt with losing Hal and help you help your family?
Yes. When I felt sad I would write a poem after the sadness. It helped me to feel better and do what I had to do. I poured all of my emotion into my poems. Kind of like the woman in Like Water for Chocolate would weep into her food. One of my daughters started writing a journal with thoughts about her father and I think she was following in my footsteps. Also, after I had written something I gained a new perspective on an event and I was able to understand my daughters experience a little more. I was very fortunate to have both of them with me for these last two years so we went through it all together. Grieving is a difficult process and is ongoing. I don’t think I will ever stop missing my husband or having times when I am unbearably sad.
What books by other authors have given you comfort in the last few years?
At first religious readings helped me. In the Jewish religion there are readings in the funeral service to comfort the grieving.
A good friend of mine, Donna Marie Merritt, has written a series of books with poetry about how she coped with her husband’s illness. One of them is called: Cancer: A Caregiver’s View. She is lucky to have her husband still. Reading her poems helped me a lot. But also, talking with people has helped too. Other authors have taken the time to speak with me at various moments and that was probably the best thing for me.
How much of your writing, whether it’s poetry or stories for a book, come from events you have seen on the news?
That’s an interesting question, because I have used the news at various times for my poetry. Sometimes after a particularly awful event I have written a poem. I wrote about the shooting in the church in Charleston, SC and I wrote about the little girl who was accidentally shot by her father’s gun that was left out on the table. I have also written about people who I have seen on the road and various other events. For the most part, though, the bulk of my poetry is about my life and my family.
Can you tell us a little about each of your other books?
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor was my first book and began in Paula Danziger’s workshop. It is dedicated to her. Here is a little about this book:

Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn't help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn's crush on Jennifer's hunky junior quarterback, Brad, her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer's silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can't be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer's secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer's secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?
Image result for After by Barbara Ehrentreu
After, happened because my husband was in the hospital and I actually started writing it while he was recuperating from a heart operation. Here is a little about this one:
“After” is a story about the struggles Lauren Walstein, a fifteen-year-old girl, has to go through when her father suddenly has a heart attack and undergoes bypass surgery. In one phone call her life changes completely. Lauren is a character with whom most teens will relate. Her best friend since kindergarten, Joey, is going out with her enemy and they have grown apart. Before the phone call all she thought about was getting a scholarship for softball, and the Mets. Suddenly she must deal with both her father’s illness and being in school. The demands on her from both ends complicate the story. In the middle of all this, she finds she is developing feelings for her best friend that are more than friendly. Is he feeling the same or is he just comforting her? In addition there is Joey’s mean girl friend Amber, who doesn’t appreciate Lauren being in the picture. Will Lauren’s father recover? How will Lauren cope with her new feelings for Joey?
In your stories how much of yourself is in your characters?
In my first novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, I am probably most like the mother. In After, again, the mother is very much like me, but there are parts of me in Lauren, the main character, as well. Also, parts of Lauren’s sister, Dianne are from me too.
What were some of the pitfalls you ran into in your own writing career?
When I tried to get my first novel published I had attended some SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences. So I had a few editors’ permission to send them my manuscript. I did just that and I received seven rejections. I continued to send my book out and received two more rejections. After each rejection I revised my book and continued to send it out. Then I gave up and I put it away for about two years. I was busy and I figured I would try again when I could. Then I decided to get into a critique group called MuseKids that was run by Lea Schizas. Lea also ran an online writing conference once a year and I had been part of that for a few years. So she said she was starting her own publishing company and she was holding an online pitch session. I prepared for this and took my finished manuscript to make the pitch. My book was accepted after that pitch session and so it was published as an ebook by a Canadian publishers. Since it is a Canadian company it has been difficult to find bookstores who will stock it. I have had a few book signings and done very well, but I am still waiting to have more. Not being published by a big publisher does cause someone to need to do more promotion too. So I have to do a great deal of online promotion.
With your life experience, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self that she should not worry about all the little things she constantly worried about. People don’t even notice you most of the time. Also, I would tell her to study more in college. You never know when you will need to use that knowledge. The last thing I would tell her is that she should love herself no matter how she looks, because she is way too hard on herself for her looks.
Where online can people find you and your books?
My blog is:
Everyone can find me here: Facebook Author Page:
My Books:
You’ll Probably Forget Me: Living With and Without Hal
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor and After:
If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor
Both books are also available on Ibooks and Barnes & Noble
Thanks again, Barbara. I appreciate it very much!  ~JD

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