Wendy Wahman – Illustrator Interview

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When I visited Seattle for the first time last October and I was staying with my author friend, Brenda Hanson, I started to calculate how many illustrators I had interviewed from the Seattle area. The number was crazy big, and I actually thought I had already interviewed Wendy (after 5+ years of interviews you sometimes lose track), so when I realized I hadn’t, I knew that needed to be rectified real asap.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[WW] Pictures then words. I spend a lot of time drawing and looking. When I’m writing, I’m usually sketching or writing illustration notes to myself.                                                                      

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[WW] I grew up in southern California but have lived half my life in the Seattle area. My husband Joe and I moved to Tacoma July, 2016.

As far as being influenced by environment, I really couldn’t say. I live a pretty internal life. I think I could work just about anywhere I wasn’t freezing cold.                      

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[WW] I began in a small yellow house in Torrance, California. I was painfully shy and quiet and drew all the time. I made up stories in my head while I was drawing, and still do.

When I was a teenager, and not so quiet anymore, I talked on the phone and drew all over whatever was close by, or didn’t move too fast. My mom got tired of never having any blank paper by the phone, so one day she took it all away. Except for the pens. Her bedspread took a heavy hit from my phone doodles* that day. As did I.

At college I was encouraged to find something practical and keep art as a hobby. I tried again and again to be practical, but kept changing my major back to art. I finally settled on Art and Anatomy. I would be an Anatomy teacher – and anatomy would help my drawing!

Unfortunately, it didn’t matter what I studied because I fell into a major depression and had to leave. Whatever was going on in my head during that time, I also lost my ability to read words. But we’re such adaptable creatures, we humans. I figured, ok, I can’t read, but I can listen. I audited classes for a while, but pretty soon I lost all motivation. I packed up my green pickup truck and drove to Washington state. I lived in the woods and eventually got help for my depression. I went to dog training school, got a job as a vet tech, and started taking art & writing classes again.

I’ve pretty much learned everything on the job or on my own. I learned graphic design working for small printing companies, and technical illustration for environmental firms.

My checkered past includes being a dog trainer, vet tech, janitor, toy designer, co-partnering in a greeting card and printed t-shirt business with my best friend Andrea Brothers, a brief and bizarre gig at a clay animation studio, making hand-painted boxes and pins for craft galleries, and showing pen & ink and watercolors in minor galleries. I paid the bills doing graphic design and geo-technical illustration. When I got a job in the art department of the Seattle P-I newspaper, I truly felt I’d won the lottery. I got to do illustrations every week, draw maps (I love making maps) and other newspapery-graphics. I loved working at the paper, and when the 146 year old Hearst newspaper was closed in 2009, I went down with the ship.

These days I do freelance illustration, design and of course, children’s books.

My ‘heart dog’ book, “Nanny Paws” releases May 22nd. It was inspired by my little white standard poodle LaRoo and the kids next door, Ian and Tierney. For a while, LaRoo and I helped the kids get off to elementary school in the morning and they started calling her, ‘Nanny LaRoo.’ Unlike her fictional character, LaRoo is a good girl and easy to live with! I’ll be taking her with me to book events where allowed. 

Nanny Paws book trailer launches today! 


[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[WW] Plain old ballpoint pen. Of course that’s not what gets published, but it’s what I draw with every day. That and a good old No. 2 pencil.

I mostly work digitally in Photoshop. My agent, John Rudolph, suggested I try a softer style for Nanny Paws, so I got out my good old No. 2 pencil, watercolors and went to work.

My editor, Kelsey Skea, and art director Merideth Mulroney were so great to work with. They totally ‘got’ Nanny Paws, and their attention to detail, suggestions and support helped make Nanny Paws the best it could be. 

Nanny Paws book launch party will be at Seattle’s University Book Store, May 20th at 2pm. I hope you can come, Joanna… I’ll treat you to that cake and coffee at Corina’s.**

[JM] That would be fun! Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

[WW] I’m still playing catch up after a year of back to back deadlines. But when I get the to-do list whittled down, I have a sequel for Nanny Paws in the works. I wrote and dummied Lead On, Nanny Paws at the same time I did the original Nanny Paws. You can see how Nanny Paws has changed her looks a bit from then to now. I’d also love to do a sequel for Pony in the City.



I’ve also started work on an illustrated novel for YA/adults. It’s too raucous and dark to discuss in the same room as my innocents, Nanny Paws and Otis (Pony in the City), but, maybe another time?

Pony In The City

[JM] I’d love top hear more about the novel. Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[WW] Charlotte’s Web. My sister bought Harriet the Spy, and since we shared everything, we got two new books with our allowances that day.

[JM] Can you believe that I didn’t read either of these classics until I was an adult?! What does your workspace look like? 

[WW] We’re finally unpacking and putting up art after a long re-model to our 1910 house in Tacoma.

“Bliss Head,” by my talented friend, Arni Adler sits above what I call, “Dog nosed boy,” by Stacy Innerst. Stacy was going to throw this away, so I nabbed it. I worked with Stacy at the Seattle P-I. He’s such a talented artist and a really good person.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?

[WW] Gotta be animals.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your new home?


[JM] When do you start work on the end pages?

[WW] I usually work on the end pages… at the end. Partly because the art director might have her own ideas of what they should be. An exception was Pony in the City. I used an early pencil sketch of the ponies in their stalls as a way to introduce them on the front ends. On the back, I drew a detailed map of Otis’s world. You can follow his meanderings into the city – until he gets lost – then so do we.

Front Ends Pony

Back Ends Pony

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                  [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[WW] So many! Maybe it’s because it’s so cold, gray and rainy right now, but today’s pick is Organ Pike Cactus National Monument in Arizona. The Leafcutter ants!! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant) cactuses with thick waists and vogue poses, vast, slow sunsets of red-orange and purple. I live in such a wet green place now, I crave dry warm climates with hot colors. Deserts intrigue and scare me a little too. All those venomous creatures and shallow graves…  https://www.nps.gov/orpi/index.htm

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[WW] Cats and dogs, and if I could, mini goats. Right now, we orbit around our two standard poodles, Jody and LaRoo.


Jody Joe and Roo

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city!

**Corina Bakery is might fine. Let’s split a piece of cake when you come, Joanna. Their slices are as big as church hats and just as fancy.

[JM] Terrific, I think I may be coming to Seattle at the end of February, so let’s see what we can do! What was your first paid job out of high school?

[WW] I worked at a gas station’s grand opening, giving away hot dogs and balloons and getting light headed from gasoline fumes.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[WW] Coffee before 1:00. Popcorn any time.

*Someone started calling them ‘Wendoodles,’ and the name stuck. Every year I put together a Wendoodles Calendar:

And a Wendoodles Coloring Book lives here:

Various links:

Book trailers:

Wendy, thank you so much for sharing your journey and art with us. I am so looking forward to Nanny Paws release in May, and I hope to meet up with you sometime in the PNW!

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2 Responses to Wendy Wahman – Illustrator Interview

  1. Love her “checkered” past, which certainly led her to where she is today. Her illustrations are vibrant and full of action. Sweet book!

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