Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 19, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Wendy Wahman

Wendy worked at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper until it’s closure in 2009. Now she mostly does children’s books and illustration. Her first book, “Don’t Lick the Dog” was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Other books include “A Cat Like That,” “Snowboy 1,2,3,” “Rabbit Stew,” “Pony in the City,”  “Nanny Paws,” and illustrations for middle grade non-fiction, “Your Body, Yourself: Q&A,” and “The Teen Body Book, a Guide to your Changing Body.”

Some awards: American Illustration Annual, Best of the West, Society of News Design International, Bank Street Books, Society of Publication Designers, Society of Professional Journalists, Society of Illustrators.

Here’s Wendy Explaining her process:

For the dummy, I sketched in pencil, and added gray in Photoshop, using layers.

No. 1: I had Mom in the book still. As time passed, I pulled her back to just a limb here and there.

I know this family so well, it’s funny when people mention ‘parents.’ There is a dad, but in the back story, he’s in the Coast Guard and gone a lot. They got Nanny Paws for the girls. Ally, the one in orange, eventually took on the character of the twin a bit wary of Nanny Paws. If you watch, she’s the one who holds back or is further away from the dog. When they first got Nanny Paws as a puppy, Ally was afraid of Nanny Paws and 

Mae took on the roll of protecting Ally from her.  I was afraid of our miniature dachshund when I was a kid. I must have been 4 or 5 when we got Willy. Willy probably bit me with his sharp puppy teeth and scared me. I went through elaborate obstacle courses to keep away from him. I climbed on furniture from room to room just to keep out of range of that tiny puppy. Back to Ally: A couple years pass, and she’s comfortable with Nanny Paws. But it’s Mae who totally digs everything Nanny Paws does. She finds Nanny Paws hilarious, while Ally is always just slightly guarded   Mae plays tug with Nanny Paws for instance. Ally would never do that. Throughout the book, I tried to keep Ally, in orange, on the left, and Mae, in purple, on the right. You can see in the final art that I switched the girls position in the tub.

That’s a long introduction to sketch 1!

No. 2:  Will point out Nanny Paws body changed over time. At first she was shaved down.

No. 3: For a while Nanny Paws sported a bow.

No. 4: This was the final art in the dummy my agent sent to editors. The line was done with brush pens I’ve been using for decades. Examples are on my website.

No. 5: another early sketch

No. 6: This was done after the book was sold.

No. 7: Nailing the twins distinct personalities, Mae is now on the right, and thrilled to have Nanny Paws in the tub.

No. 8: Final art.

For Nanny Paws, I did the final art in No. 2 pencil on tracing paper & copier paper. I’d tested about many kinds of pencils and papers, but these good old work horses were what won out for me. Water color I did a couple ways. I printed out the final pencil and taped it to a light box, then taped water color paper over and painted. I also did pages of water color washes and details I later collaged in. Nanny Paws’ paw pads were pre-painted and collaged on, as were the twins’ cheeks.  The backgrounds are free textures I found or had, colorized and collaged. Nanny Paws’ fur started out as a real lambswool texture. Ultimately, we went wtih a colorized victorian wallpaper.

My art director for Nanny Paws was Merideth Mulroney. She and my editor, Kelsey Skea, were meticulous, exacting – and utterly fantastic to work with. This was a new (old) style for me, and Merideth was there for me every step of the way.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my former agent, Erzsi Deak, for pushing me to use a softer style. Thank you, Erzsi! My new agent, John Rudolph, also encouraged me to try something softer. Thanks, John! I’ll be using this style in future work.

Some Book Covers:

Interview with Wendy Wahman:

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve always drawn and done art, but I didn’t start illustrating until 1992.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

A 2×2” spot for Games Magazine in 1992.

Have you always live in Washington State?

I grew up in California, and have moved back and forth from there a couple times. I live in Tacoma now, with my husband Joe and our two standard poodles.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Early 2000’s, I think.

What was the title of your first picture book?

“Don’t Lick the Dog; Making Friends with Dogs,” published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

How did that contract come about?

Funny story. I was sending out art samples for a book about dog language that I hoped someone else would write. I just wanted to be hired as an illustrator for that – or any book. From those dog art samples, and what I must have alluded to as a book, four mainstream publishers asked to see the manuscript. Of course I was thrilled! But what to do? There was no manuscript. I took two weeks off work and made one. Laura Godwin offered me a two book contract, the companion book is “A Cat Like That.” She and designer, April Ward, helped me every step of the way to make “Don’t Lick the Dog” the best it could be.

Have you ever illustrated someone else’s picture book?

No, but I’d like to.

How many picture books have you published?

Six. Five I’ve written and illustrated, and one, “Snowboy 1,2,3” written by my husband, Joe Wahman (

It looks like you have done a lot of editorial artwork. How did you get involved with that?

I worked for a daily newspaper for 13 years, and began freelancing for other publications. I sent samples to places I hoped to work with.

Do you have an artist rep. to represent your illustrations? If so, who and how long. I not, would you like to find one?

I have a literary agent, but he doesn’t rep my art. I have had art reps in the past, I just don’t have one now.

I see you have published three of your books with Henry Holt and Co. Did you work with the same editor for all three?

Yes, Laura Godwin. Noa Wheeler became my editor for “A Cat Like That.”

Have you done any book covers?

Yes! I love doing book jackets. There are some samples on my website and my Behance portfolios.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

That would depend. If I felt I was a good fit for the story, and if I loved the story too. I’ve been asked a number of times to illustrate ‘private citizen’s’ books, but even if the first criteria were met, most people can’t afford the art fee. Books take a long time to illustrate. They’re a big commitment.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

A long time ago. Lowell House Juvenile & Algonquin Press, Chapel Hill.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Good old Cricket!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not lately.

What do you think is your biggest success?

My friends. Loving my friends and family, and being loved.
But I bet you meant in terms of illustration, though, so I’ll say, “Don’t Lick the Dog.” But I’m hoping “Nanny Paws” will forge ahead and lead the pack. For editorial illustration, I’m most proud of my time working with the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Sad when they got rid of the section. Wes Bausmith and Carol Kaufman, the art directors I worked with there most, are brilliant! And totally fun. It makes such a difference to work with people you love, and who get you too.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I used to do all my work in watercolor and pen & ink. Then I switched to digital when I was working at the newspaper. It was so much faster, and we had all those deadlines. Now I’m about half and half, preferring pencil to ink, and having fun collaging textures in with the watercolor.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?

It’s a bedroom in our 1910 house. The window looks out onto the huge trunks of Port Orford Cedar trees, where in spring, the baby squirrels play like puppies. The room is quiet and peaceful – unless the dogs are barking. I have an antique drawing table that belonged to my in-laws, and a make-a-mess table built into the closet. I work on an iMac and have lots of books within arm’s reach. The one I probably pick up most is the Thesaurus. Sometimes I look through it just to stir things up upstairs. The supermarket of words.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, between 4 and 6 hours, 7 days a week. More when I’m on deadline, or don’t go to the gym.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

It doesn’t end when I get to work. Questions come up constantly, so I’m snooping around for answers until the final art is finished and sent.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Sure. Though back in the good old days, I sent samples through the mail. I got work that way too. I’ve made some wonderful friends online, and your blog right here Kathy. Thank you!

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I have a tiny wacom tablet. I just got an iPad, but I don’t like drawing on it – yet. I didn’t like the wacom tablet at first either. I need to sit down with my buddy Kevan Atteberry for a lesson. Speaking of Kevan, I’d like to mention my other superstar critique mates: Ben Clanton, Elizabeth Rose Stanton and Jennifer K. Mann. We call our crit group, The Whatsits. We do events together whenever possible, combining reading, drawing with kids and Q&A. Twitter: @The_Whatsits, and our Facebook group:

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I have a companion book for “Don’t Lick the Dog.”
I’d like to get back to doing more illustration for adults. But really, I’m pretty content – and very lucky.

What are you working on now?

A new picture book that I thought was ready for my agent BUT IT WASN’T!! It was fine-tuned, made a full dummy. I had the thumb’s up from my critique group and other trusted readers, and sent it to him. Two days later I got an email back, outlining everything that wasn’t working. I cried for a day, then got back to work.

I’d really love to do sequels for “Nanny Paws.” I have so many fun ideas for her and the twins. They’re like my little family now, and I miss hanging out with them every day. But we have to wait and see how the book does first.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

1. Join SCBWI.
2. Do character outlines for all your characters. Do a new one when your story changes. You’ll be amazed how much your story will gain, and how often the answers can be found by knowing your characters really well.
3. No work is ever wasted.

Thank you Wendy for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Wendy’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Wendy. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Always fun to meet more “Wendy’s”! 😉 Great range of style in your illos (and the poodles!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Wendy!


  2. Even though I consider Wendy a very good friend on FB, I don’t know much about her professional life so I really loved reading this interview! Wendy, did you go to a particular art school or are you self-taught and honed your style on your own?


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