Tatjana Mai-Wyss was born in Switzerland. Growing up with her nose in a book, she always wanted to be the one to draw the pictures. Today Tatjana is an illustrator, designer, teacher and all-around creative based in South Carolina. She enjoys working with a variety of clients, and her illustrations have been published in books and magazines in the US and abroad. She illustrated Annie Silvestro’s lovely picture book, THE BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB.
HERE IS TATJANA DISCUSING HER PROCESS:
Finished interior art
Above and Below: A couple of book covers
How long have you been illustrating?
The art for my first picture book was due the same day as my older daughter in 2002, the book came out in 2003.
What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
While I was still in college I got to do some black and white illustrations for the Chicago Children’s Museum.
How did you get the attention of Tricycle Press to get the contract?
Yes, that was my first picture book and a very exciting experience. I was told that they received a a postcard from me at the perfect time and that led them to contact me.
Did you go to college for art? If so, where?
I went to college in Northern Illinois.
What did you study there?
I have a double major in Illustration and French Literature.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I was a museum fabricator for a small company and got to paint huge murals and make lots of interesting things.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
I just realized that you illustrated BOOMIN BELLA written by a friend of mine, Carol Ann Williams. How did you get the job to illustrate her book?
The publisher contacted me with her manuscript which was actually called “Loud Lily Ann” at the time.
Do you think art school influenced your style?
I was definitely shaped by what I was taught in college, but after that there’s a lot of conscious “unlearning”. I think most Illustrators really have to find their style over time.
How long do publishers usually give you to illustrate a book?
The timeframe varies a lot depending on the publisher and the book, it’s also often something you can negotiate a bit. There are many steps to the process, and there is also quite a bit of back and forth between the publisher/editor and the illustrator.
Your latest Book, THE BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB was written by another friend of mine – Annie Sylvestro. Did the publisher give you any direction in how to illustrate the book or did they leave you to come up with the vision all on your own?
They gave me a lot of freedom to develop my own ideas, and added fun creative details of their own (like the old fashioned library checkout card in the front)
You did a gorgeous job with the illustrations. Had you worked with the art director and the people at Doubleday Books for Young Readers?
Thank you very much! This was my first time working with this group of people and it was great.
How long did it take you to illustrate that book?
Was this your first time working with this publisher? It took almost exactly two years from when I received the manuscript and the publication of the book.
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? If so, and how long have you been with them?
I’m not working with an agent at the moment.
I found a picture of your standing in from of a mural that you pieced together with separate drawings for a festival. There was a big hidden cat in it. How did that come about and how long did it take you do it?
That picture comes from our local Community Arts Festival. It was a large (around 4’ by 6’) coloring mural, where I drew part of the design in sharpie on each card stock square, then each patterned square was colored by festival goers and they all fit together to make the secret picture (of a tiger in this case). We made another one last spring, but it got lost in a giant downpour. It takes a couple of days to come up with the design and draw all the detailed squares at that scale.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
About 15, a couple of them were published in France.
Have you done any book covers? I’ve done a few book covers and a couple of projects where I did a color cover and black and white interior art. I would love to do more of those, so I’m working on putting some examples of that in my portfolio.
Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?
I would love that, I am exploring a few ideas.
Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?
It would depend on the timing and the project.
Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?
That’s actually something I’m working on for myself.
Have you worked with educational publishers?
My first published illustrations were for a series of beginning readers, and I’ve done a couple of other educational projects.
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?
I’ve been published in Babybug, Ladybug and Cricket Magazine. I love illustrating for magazines because it’s quick and there’s more room for experimentation.
Have you won any awards for illustrating?
I’ve won a Giverny Award (best children’s science picture book) for A Tree for Emmy by Mary Ann Rodman (2009 Peachtree Publishers)
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
I have an online portfolio and a website, and I’m trying to send emails and postcards to art directors when I have new work to show. I’ve also started sharing my work process on Instagram. I’ve been learning a lot about other areas of illustration and would love to try some new things as well.
What is your favorite medium to use?
I like to use watercolors and gouache, colored pencils and collage materials. These days I’m having a lot of fun manipulating the elements I’ve made by hand in Photoshop.
Has that changed over time?
It does keep evolving, although I tend to like some of the same things. I used to do a lot of pen and ink line work, I should probably add some new ones to my portfolio.
Do you have a studio set up in your home?
Yes, I love my studio.
What is the most important thing in your studio?
The most important thing is having a dedicated space to work.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
It’s kind of my favorite thing, so I try to spend as much time as possible. That can mean many things; outside of paid assignments I love to learn new skills and experiment with different materials. I also always carry a sketchbook so I can draw anywhere.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I think it’s important to research and really get to know what you’re drawing, to the point that you can put your references away. I do take pictures, or find some at the library or on the internet to draw from.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Since I live in a pretty small town and don’t have any actual colleagues (or even an art supply store), the internet has been life changing for me in many ways.
Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?
I am learning to use Photoshop and I love the possibilities. The books I’ve published so far have all been done by hand in one piece on paper though.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
For now I have a small tablet, but I haven’t used it much yet.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I’ve always dreamt of going to Bologna for the children’s book fair. This year everything came together and I decided to go – I’m so excited!
What are you working on now?
I’m busy getting my portfolio together for my first visit to the Bologna Book Fair.
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.
I actually found that for me the best way to get started is with lots of scrap paper and rough materials (even a crayon). It helps not to start out too precious, and make improvements in different colors on top of the original sketch. Then I use tracing paper as I get closer to the final design. I try to keep the drawing light and full of movement.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Be confident and bring yourself out in your work, keep practicing and enjoy the process.
Thank you Tatjana for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Tatjana’s work, you can visit her at her website: http://www.tatjanamaiwyss.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Tatjana. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!