An Interview with Illustrator Traci Van Wagoner

  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

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