Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 12, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Hans Wilhelm

With over forty two million books in print, Hans Wilhelm is one of America’s foremost author/illustrator of children’s books. Many of his 200 books have been translated into twenty languages and have become successful animated television series that are enjoyed by children all over the world. His books have won numerous international awards and prizes.

His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Mazza Museum of Art, Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut, Kerlan Collection at University of Minnesota, de Grummond Collection atthe University of Southern Mississippi.

Hans was born in Bremen, Germany. He lived for many years in Africa before moving to America. He now lives in Weston, Connecticut in an old farmhouse with his artist wife Judy Henderson.

As a noted speaker Hans has been inspiring audiences around the world with his spiritual and life-affirming concepts that he shares in many of his books.

When did you start painting?

I was lucky because I didn’t grow up with TV, iPads, computers etc. I had to entertain myself and drawing, making up stories etc were my way of expressing myself at a very early age.

Here is Hans Wilhelm’s Process:

1st: I take photos of the place (or use Google search) for my sketches.

2nd: I make a dummy of the book in actual size – with cover. Here is a typical inside page with the cover together.

3rd: Again, coloring according to photos

4th: Old cover (rejected) and new cover (blue).

Would you share the type of art materials you use? Paper, paint, brushes, etc.

Mostly Pencil and watercolor. I then scan it into the computer and use Photoshop to finish it.

When you finish a piece do you use any sprays to help preserve the illustration?

No. Several years ago I stated to scan them in my computer and “preserve” them that way. It often happens that an overseas publisher wants the art work for publication in their country. So, it’s convenient to have the art work as files in your computer and send copies of these files instead.

Did you go to art school?

I went to several classes at art schools and had private art lessons.

When did you move to the US?

I arrived in USA some 30 years ago. I grew up in Germany, left it at the tender age of l9 for Africa where I lived for 12 years and finally went on a trip around the world that took me three years. Its all in my bio published by GALE. For a free text go to

When did you sign your first picture book contract.

1982 – but I already had published a cartoon book when I lived in London for a while.

How did that happen?

I had just arrived in America and didn’t know any publishers. Somebody told me to start at the top -which was Random House at that time.

I went to their offices in New York City and told the receptionist that I wanted to see an editor to look at my picture book. She looked at me and asked me to repeat what I just said. A bit puzzled I repeated that I wanted to see an editor to look at my picture book. Then she informed me that nobody can see an editor without a prior appointment. “However,” she said with a smile, “I really LOVE your accent. Let me see what I can do for you.”

With that she left the reception area – only to reappear a few moments later. “You are in luck,” she said, “Mr. Ole Risom happens to have 5 minutes for you. Please follow me.”

Ole Risom looked at my proposal and bought it right there and then.

I guess, without my German accent I still might be looking for a publisher….

What was the name of that first book?
Tales From the Land Under My Table

When did you start writing and illustrating your own books?

I started as a young kid – but they were (Thank God) never published. I was in my thirties when I published my first books.

Do you write and illustrate the whole book, before you run it pass an editor?

For the most part, yes. My editor does the fine-tuning.

How many languages have your books been translated into?

My books have been translated in more than 20 languages and are enjoyed all over the world. Leila Daiani is translating and using my books in her classrooms in Iran.

So many of your books have been translated into different languages. Do you believe that the translation of original books into other dialects could hinder the transformation of initial story and erode the core of the prose? Do you find that any of your books were misinterpreted?

Words are only symbols of meaning. Even in our own language our capacity to express ourselves in words alone is limited. Often the visual has to take over where the words fail. Many of us know the old proverb: A picture is worth a thousand words. I believe that there are no accidents in life and everything happens for our best and our growths. Therefore, I put my full faith into the translations of my book as I can’t read them anyway. Furthermore, every reader of a book is responding in a very personal and unique way and I leave it up to him or her to take from the story whatever they wish.

Do you have or ever had an artist rep.

I had an agent for one year – but I found out that I could sell better on my own.

Have you always worked in watercolor? Do you think your style has changed over the years?

Yes, I always use watercolor for my illustrations. I hope I have become better and mastered the technique more over the years.

Your bio mentions TV and movies. I’m assuming they have stemmed from your books. Which one might we recognize?

Many of my books have been made in TV animated movies. By far the most popular one is called WALDO’S WAY which has been shown all over the world. Waldo is a big fluffy white dog with black ears and a heart of gold. To any problem that he and his friend Michael may encounter he has a win-win solution, even for the ‘bad guy’.

Are there any differences between writing book and doing a TV series?

Writing for television is very different than writing books because television requires only dialog. I usually work with a great team of experts in this field and gladly accept their suggestions and guidance.

Even though Hans has written and illustrated his own books, he has done many with other writers, such as A MONSTER IS COMING and WAKE UP, SUN by David L. Harrison. I’m sure you remember David from our 2010 Summer Conference.

Do you ever meet the authors whose books you have illustrated?

Some authors are my friends and I know them very well – others I have not met in person.

Do you have a daily art routine?

Yes, I can only be really creative in the morning. The afternoon is more for business stuff.

How have things changed in the industry, since your started illustrating?

Boy, did they changed! I am now working intensely on ebooks and apps. By the end of the year I will have probably published 50 ebooks. They are available from different publishers. If you want to know more about how I look at the changing world of publishing you may want to watch my interview video on the home page of my website:

Do you have any words of wisdom you can share with new illustrators?

Be creative not only with your image but also in how you market it. There are many interesting ways how an illustrator can market their work these days. Excellent classes and workshops on this and other topics are given by the Society of Illustrators in NYC. And, of course, you need to be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: Their bimonthly magazine is a gold-mine.

Thank you Hans for sharing your work with us. Having two hundred picture books is an amazing record. I look forward to seeing the 50 ebooks you have done this year.

You can visit Hans at his website:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Hans, your animals and style are so appealing, no wonder you’re so successful! “Pirates Ahoy!” looks hilarious! And the artwork in “The Royal Raven” and “The Boy Who Wasn’t There” is breathtaking. I really loved seeing David L Harrison’s name on your books, too 🙂

    Thanks SO much for sharing this, Hans, and Kathy, for all your hard work.


  2. love your interview…his work is SUCH fun and diverse but always HIM. enjoyed!!! 🙂 c


  3. Love the colors! Everything is so vibrant.


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