Wendy Edelson specializes in creating beautiful art for children’s books, editorial and advertising projects & art for licensing.
Experience includes illustrating over 37 books, in addition to book covers, posters, pet portraits, cards, print ads, calendars, fabric collections, puzzles, games and collectibles.
Wendy says, “The way I view the world is in the details, the bark of a tree, the thick fur of a fox, the print of a dress. All my work is lovingly created, traditionally, on paper, with paint.
Her clients included: Woodland Park Zoo/ Seattle, Seattle Aquarium, Pacific N’West Ballet, McDonalds, American Library Association, Vermont Dept. of Libraries, Discovery Toys, Serendipity Puzzles, Bits and Pieces, United States Postal Service, Smithsonian Institution, Tundra Books, Barnes and Noble, Carus Publishing, Atheneum Books/ Simon and Schuster, Dial Books, Pearson Learning, Taunton Press, Flashlight Press, Sylvan Dell Publishing, Pumpernickel Press, Ideals, Hachai Publishing, MMFab, Hasbro, Regnery Publishing.
Here is Wendy explaining her process:
Below is a holiday image I created for a Christmas card. The idea came to me because I kept seeing cars with Christmas trees on the roof, bring home the tree…driving around.
I wanted an image a bit more in the direction I want to go in…kind of in the Fantasy direction…in a world where Little People…gnomes, elves, fairies coexist with animals and everyone is wearing quasi medieval, folkloric outfits!
My research included photos of real raccoons and mice and Christmas tree on cars ( different than just standing upright…how do the boughs flatten out when laid on its side?? ) and Medieval saddlebags, harnesses, stirrups etc.
This is the sketch.
I change the sketch to brown in Photoshop before I print it out because I find the light brown disappears under glazes of watercolor so much better than if left the gray, graphite color. This is especially true when painting people, faces…skin.
I started painting the little gnome first…for no particular reason, really. Often when there is a certain kind of light, or a complex backgrounds I will paint a colored wash over the whole image but since there was little background in this image, just a little snow…I just began painting whatever I felt like first.
With this piece I did kind of finish parts first like the gnome…then the saddlebags and the tree and the crow….just like you see…then the raccoon and finally the mouse.
This is the finished card. It was all traditional watercolor glazes, I don’t use Photoshop for any of my painting at all.
I asked about mistakes:
When my drawings are so detailed…I very rarely make a mistake. I am very clear about what I plan on doing before I paint.
It has, on occasion happened and there exists a product…Absorbent Ground, made by Golden, and also Watercolor Ground from Daniel Smith , which is titanium white pigment in an acrylic emulsion and when thinned with a bit of water and applied in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next….acts like liquid watercolor paper. One can then repaint over a small area and fix small mistakes. I wouldn’t try this over say, half the painting, but if there is an area that bothers one, it can be covered and then repainted using this product. What I love about it is even with several coats, one cannot feel the patch, and it takes the color the same as the original paper….making a small correction undetectable! Magic!
I asked about the printing:
Yes, when I’m done I do scan it at high res, usually 300-350 is sufficient.
Some of my clients have incredible equipment. For those images, I will send the original at to be scanned by them.
Here are two book covers.
How long have you been illustrating?
The true answer is all my adult life except for a few months when I was a waitress in Hanover, New Hampshire and another couple of months when I sewed giant pillowcases with zippers that would become funky couches in my Lower East Side apartment. I didn’t start out planning to be an illustrator, in fact I didn’t really know exactly what that meant….besides someone who drew and painted all the time, which was what I knew I was meant to do.
I read somewhere that you are a self-taught illustrator. How did you learn to produce such lovely artwork?
That is true, the self-taught part. I had plans when I was still in elementary school of going to Cooper Union in New York or to L‘Academie Des Beaux Arts in Paris… this thanks to the wonderful stories and inspiration from my father who was a philosophy professor and a sculptor. We wrote letters to both schools…looking back, this was kind of an unusual thing to do with a 10 year old but my parents always took my desire to be an artist very seriously and encouraged me enormously. As a child I would draw while my father carved, mostly wood, sometimes stone. I recall occasionally wanting to go do something else but my father would look at my drawings and if he saw something incorrect he would say, “no you must draw this again until it is right!” Sometimes, if I were drawing a foreshortened foot ( something difficult! ) I would draw it twenty times until he would finally say it was good. To him the most important thing was to become a master draughtsman…and he impressed this upon me from a very early age. All the pretty color and technique was nothing if the drawing was bad, he always said. (cont.)
One time when I was about 7, I was with my mother, doing errands and we were at a shopping center. We passed a store that sold stationary and art supplies and in the window was a complete set of Prismacolor colored pencils. I stood transfixed, staring and my mother walked on, not realizing I wasn’t with her. She doubled back and looked to see what I was staring at, and I pointed to the pencils and I said to her, “ Look, look at those…those are what REAL artists use!” I don’t know where I got that idea…up until then all I had ever used was pencils and my sets of 72 Crayola Crayons. My mother grabbed my hand and we went into the store and she bought them for me! She said, “this is because you ARE a real artist”. I think that was an amazing thing for her to do. My parents laid the foundation for me to feel completely supported in doing nothing but drawing all the time. I think if one has a love of something and then spends nearly every waking moment of their life doing a thing, they’ll most likely reach a certain level of mastery. I don’t know if one can love doing something so deeply if there isn’t some inherent talent…so that, I think, goes without saying.
I also read that you live on the West Coast and in Mexico before moving to Vermont. What caused you to relocate?
I keep moving from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again….most recently, I moved from Vermont to central Mexico after the death of my son. He had had a lung transplant 5 years earlier because of Cystic Fibrosis. The infection that took him was sudden and my grief made me want to run from everything I knew…so Mexico, at the time, seemed like a good idea. We ( my husband and I ) spent 3.5 years in Mexico and then went to Bainbridge Island, a 30 minute ferry ride from Seattle. We had both lived in Seattle, before we met in Vermont. A year ago we returned to Vermont again.
What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
My parents were very Bohemian and unconventional in their thinking. When I was 15 I told my father I wanted to go to New York ( we were living in Pittsburgh, PA, where my father was a philosophy and mathematics professor ) and make my way as an artist. My father thought about this and told me that if I spent the summer drawing and put together a portfolio that at the end of the summer, if an art professor friend of his thought I had a chance, that he, my father would drive me to New York himself. I spent the summer drawing constantly. At the end of the summer, my father’s friend decided that “yes, he thought I could be a professional artist” My father drove me to New York to a friend’s apartment and gave me a check for 500.00, kissed me and drove back home to Pittsburgh. (cont.)
Looking back, this seems a bit crazy maybe, but in the context of our family, it seemed normal. I still didn’t really know about commercial art, illustration….really anything at all. The one thing I did have was a book called The Madison Avenue Handbook. It was filled with all the ad agencies in New York, addresses, phone numbers and the names of all the art directors. At night I’d pick a few blocks and go through the book and pick all the agencies on those streets. In the morning I’d go to the pay phone on the corner and call them all, saying, “I’d like to make an appointment to see the art director and show my book”. Making the rounds, going up in those elevators to all those appointments, I’d have my heart in my mouth but I’d ask myself “what is the worst that can happen?” (cont.)
I’d realize that the worst was, Why are you wasting my time, get out and learn to type…or whatever”, that no one was going to throw me out the window so I’d soldier on and go in….usually feeling totally intimidated by the receptionist who looked like she stepped out of Vogue Magazine. After a few days of this I was adopted, for lack of a better word, by an agency who loved my drawings. I had never painted anything in my life yet. They needed some drawings for a Christmas card for the American Bible Society and they decided I was just the person to do them! I did and they paid me 200.00 which completely flabbergasted me. Of course, they had no idea about my real age or the truth of my story but they kept me around for several months, paying me to do small drawings, all the while I learned as much as I could.
After “work”, I’d go to the 42nd St library and read books about design and painting and techniques until I felt I could fake my way through an interview. After that I got my first real “job” illustrating hang tags for “Garanimals” ( a line of kids clothes where kids could match the animals on various shirts, pants, skirts etc and dress themselves) in the garment district.
What do you think influenced your style?
When I was very young I was very influenced by my father, who introduced me to all the Great Master Draughtsmen….Michelangelo, Rembrandt and then Picasso. Then I was very influenced by Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth….then I discovered William Morris, Sir Edward Burne Jones and The PreRaphaelites, Rosetti, Waterhouse, Millais. I loved their narrative, line and detail.
When did you do your the first illustration for children?
When I was 18 I returned to New York, I was living in Vermont…for the first time, at the time. I put together a new portfolio and had samples printed up and make the rounds of children’s book publishers. I spent 3 days going on interviews and then went home to Vermont. I was back less than a week when I was offered a book called, “Whose Garden?” by Marilyn Kratz, from Harvey House publishers. It was just B & W line drawings and a color cover….which was a line drawing with colored ink washes.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?
I really didn’t decide at first to illustrate children’s books…I have a particular style and I just seemed to sort of land in the world of children’s books. From the beginning I had to earn a living and wanted to earn a living doing something with a pencil, pen, brush in my hand. Since I never went to art school I didn’t gravitate towards oil paints and aspirations to show in galleries at the start…illustration was the direction I was drawn to.
How many children’s books have you illustrated?
I think it’s at 37 now.
What was the first holiday book that you illustrated?
“The Baker’s Dozen” by Aaron Shepard, published by Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum
How did that publisher find you?
My agent at the time was Carol Bancroft, I got that project through her.
Have you illustrated more books with them? No, I haven’t done another book with Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, although I have continued to work with the author, Aaron Shepard.
I see that you published I Believe in Genevieve with Regnery Kids. I am not familiar with this publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about them? Do you know how many books they do each year and how long they have been in business?
Regnery Kids is a fairly recent imprint, a division of Regnery Publishing. They are still small, publishing maybe 8 books a year and are usually authored by well known authors. Besides “I Believe In Genevieve”, by Jenny Craig, I have also illustrated “The Best Part of the Day” by Sarah Ban Breathnach for them. I just found out it won a Gold Mom’s Choice Award, yesterday.
Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating your own book?
Yes. I wrote a book while I was in Mexico called, “The Cajeta Colored Dog ho Loved Tortillas”, and have created a dummy and several full color finished spreads but it hasn’t found a publisher yet. I’m working on some new ideas but I find the writing to be a lot more work than the illustrating! I am thinking of taking a class on writing picture books….I’d like to write books with very few words, mostly pictures! Any recommendations for a good class online?
What book would you say has been your most successful?
I illustrated a book called “One Baby Jesus” for Ideals/Guideposts that was the story of Christmas, as a Christmas pageant written like the 12 Days of Christmas. I illustrated it in 2001 and it just went out of print last year. When we were in Mexico and wanting to leave, I received the largest royalty payment I had ever received, from that book. It enabled us to move from Central Mexico with all our belongings, my studio, my husband’s music studio, our vehicles and go to Bainbridge Island and start over. It was amazing….so financially, that little book.
Also, “The Baker’s Dozen” because it was first published in 1996 and is still being printed….I created the art for that book while I was living in Seattle and right after it came out I moved back to Vermont , the second time….and had gotten a new car….the license plates they gave me just happened to be BKR 373 which, oddly enough, is Baker’s Dozen ( 13) . I think that’s a kind of amazing story!
What book award are you the most proud of winning?
I won the 2010 Moonbeam Award/ Gold Medal in the Best Illustrator category for “Bartholomew’s Gift” by Diane Dignan.
Do you still do illustrations for cards, puzzles, etc.
Yes. In fact I just licensed an image that I just completed , Woodland Mammals, as a puzzle today, and another image yesterday for a garden flag.
Have you worked with educational publishers?
Yes, a lot over the years. Recently, a lot less frequently, although I will be starting a new educational project next month.
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?
I illustrated a lot of stories, poems and covers for Ladybug and Spider and Cricket magazines.
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you?
Yes, I am currently represented by the Ronnie Herman Agency for publishing and I am represented by artlicensing for licensing.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
I get most of my work through my agents but I also get some work on my own…I recently was approached through my website by a couple who loved children’s book illustration who commissioned me to create an enormous multifold panorama painting for their wedding invitation. I also do labels for a line of organic dressings here in Vermont, and pet portraits.
What is your favorite medium to use?
Watercolors on Arches 140 lb hot press paper….
Has that changed over time?
A little….now I love Mijello Mission Gold watercolors best, before it was Daniel Smith ( whom I still love and use!!!) also, I use a little bit of acrylics and colored pencil. One of these days I want to paint in oils….I have never tried them but my paintings are now already done with glazes …light to dark. I would love to be able to go from dark to light like one can with oils, as well!
Do you have a studio in your home?
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
I don’t know…. probably my great big 72” oak drafting table….I have dragged it around with me everywhere for 30 ( !!!! ) years, setting it up wherever I’ve gone, and immediately feeling like home.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
No….pretty much, drawing and painting is what I do almost all the time. I love working late at night and have to make myself go to bed by 3….I wish I didn’t have to sleep. The one thing though that does get me away from my drawing board is gardening. I love playing in the dirt, planting seeds, growing flowers, vegetables.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
Yes, I take pictures myself and have folders/files of pictures from magazines and tons of photographic books of landscapes, animals, people of different cultures. I love doing research, especially historical architectural research and costume research.
Which illustrated book is your favorite?
I’ve always love The Wonder Clock, illustrated by Howard Pyle and anything by Levi Pinfold…especially “Black Dog”!!!
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Absolutely! For an illustrator hermetically sealed away in the studio…it’s generally a very solitary existence and the Internet is definitely a window onto the outside world. Social Media is a wonderful thing for sharing what one is working on, seeing and being inspired by what other illustrators are working on, “meeting” new artists and being less isolated. It has also opened up new ways of knowing about and meeting new clients, publishers and seeing what companies are doing what. (cont.)
I can’t even remember life before having a website…I think postcard mailings are great fun but one has to have a website to link to so prospective clients can see more work if they’re interested. Just yesterday I got a new project through LinkedIn.
Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?
In a minimal way….I create my drawings traditionally, in pencil on Clearprint drawing/design vellum ( I LOVE this paper! ) and then I scan the finished drawing and import it into Photoshop. Often I have to piece the image together in Photoshop if it’s large. I clean the drawing up, if necessary, and change the pencil/graphite color to a light warm sepia color. One thing I find is that viewing the image in Photoshop is a little like viewing it in a mirror…sometimes I can see things that weren’t visible when I was looking at it on my drawing board, things that I want to correct, irritating tangents, incorrect anatomy and so it’s a last opportunity before proceeding to finish to fix anything. Once I am satisfied with the image, I print it out directly onto 140# Arches hotpress paper with one of my large format Epson printers. I used to transfer my drawings on a light table but I hated doing this as it was incredibly boring transferring so much detail…tracing my own drawing onto the watercolor paper. I also felt that this redrawing killed the line quality, stiffening a certain spontaneity , so, for me, this is a wonderful thing!
Do you own or have you tried a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
Yes…I am exploring…for lack of a better word, the fantasy art market. It seems that traditional painting and detail are quite at home in that genre and I am drawn to a lot of the subject matter. I also want to author the books I illustrate….plus, work in oils, as well as watercolor. There’s still a lot left to do!
What are you working on now?
I am illustrating a French fairytale about a duck, working on a companion piece to the Woodland Animals piece I just completed…Farm Animals and working on a picture-book manuscript. Plus there are some other things in the wings….
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
As I mentioned previously…I love Clearprint design/drawing vellum for my sketches….if I’m having “one of those days” and find it necessary to draw a hand ( or whatever ) 20 times…it can take repeated erasing without “ghosting”.
Speaking of erasing…I LOVE the little Tombow MonoZero erasers…it’s like a mechanical pencil but with a very thin refillable eraser….wonderful for erasing small details cleanly!
Besides the Mijello Mission Gold watercolors that I love so much right now, I also love some of the colors from the Golden watercolor line, QoR…specifically Ardoise Gray, a wonderful warm, granulating gray.
…and, of course, printing my drawings directly onto my watercolor paper…thereby never having to use a light table again!
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Gee…I wish I had a magical incantation! I think it’s kind of like being a priest or a nun….if one has received a calling…the trajectory of ones life is decided…in this case, in the pursuit of creating Art. For me, this pursuit has always been the number one priority in my life…and talking about it, to anyone who doesn’t share it, this calling…probably sounds a bit weird. I do feel, most of the time, like a vessel and whatever animates this desire to create…one decides this for themselves, depending on their spiritual/religious convictions….fills one and it spills out as their Art. One can be artistically successful but not necessarily financially successful…obviously, one hopes for a happy marriage of the two. (cont.)
I think first one has to become clear about what their personal definition of “success” is….before one can pursue that, it’s really very personal.
That’s probably the most important thing, to become very clear about the voice, vision one has inside one and to follow/listen to that, regardless of trends.
Sometimes it’s really a pain when ones vision is going downstream when the rest of the world is going upstream…but, so be it. I think that the only way to be successful, regardless of how one defines that, is to be authentic to oneself.
Thank you Wendy for sharing your process and journey with us. Please let us know about all your future successes. We’d love to cheer you on. You can see more of Wendy’s work on her web site: http://www.wendyedelson.com/.
If you have a moment I am sure Wendy would like to read your comments. I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!