Created November 03, 2023 by Laurent Sewell
Our Member Interview Series welcomes Author-Illustrator Kristin Wauson. Her debut picture book, MR. THATCHER’S HOUSE, was released in 2022 from Sleeping Bear Press. She is represented by Adria Goetz of K.T. Literary Agency. Kristin connected with her agent through Twitter Pitch. In 2015, she was awarded the SCBWI Austin Emerging Voice Illustrator Mentorship, and in 2019 she was nominated for the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. She's a member of many groups, including Puddle Jump Collective, The Big Dillustrators, and the 6 Ladies and a MANuscript Critique group.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up here, in the suburbs of Austin. Living in a city that is known for its art and music scene, and its overall creative vibe, definitely helped me to identify as a creative person. I also got a lot of encouragement from my family to draw, paint, and pursue creative hobbies.
My childhood home backed up to a greenbelt with a creek, and I used to go there with my spiral notebook to write or draw—imagining that the trees were actually an enchanted forest that went on for miles. Nature has taught me most of what I know about drawing. Trees have gesture and a certain line rhythm. Once you learn that rhythm, you will start noticing it in every organic form and can apply it to your work. It’s kind of a secret sauce that will add appeal to almost anything you draw.
Did you always want to be an illustrator-author, or did that come later?
I have always enjoyed writing and drawing. When I was younger, I wanted to be a Disney animator, but it felt as unrealistic as saying I wanted to play for the Astros when I grew up. I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Creative Advertising. It was my intention to work for an ad agency, but at the last minute, I decided the agency life probably wasn’t for me. Instead, I took a job as a graphic designer, and I did that for almost 10 years.
Becoming an illustrator was another lifelong dream—I just didn’t know what a career in illustration would look like. When I was pregnant with my now eight-year-old son, I started googling things like, “how to become a children’s book illustrator.” After my son was born, I quit my job to stay home with him and started developing my skills as an illustrator. In the beginning, I didn’t intend to write. It took a while for me to build the confidence to call myself a writer and start working on my own stories. Fear of failure is a funny thing.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would probably see that, like most people, I struggle with making time for my creative work.
Right now, I’m not doing a lot of drawing or writing because I’m working full-time as the campus sub at an elementary school, while I pursue my teaching certification. It’s a hard job. I’m usually on my feet all day. My schedule is always different. I never know what I’ll be doing until I arrive on campus. I could be in any classroom from Pre-K to 5th grade, Life Skills, or Special Ed.
Being an artist and a writer has become such a part of my identity that not having the time or energy to write or draw feels really uncomfortable. But, kids are amazing. Spending the day with them has been an unexpected source of joy and satisfaction.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
My own kids have always been a huge source of inspiration. Now, I’m around like 500 of them every day. They are constantly saying and doing hilarious things; and you’d better believe I’m taking notes. Sometimes, I’ll be doing something boring like washing dishes and I’ll think of something that happened at school that cracks me up. I’ve been in tears at the kitchen sink because I’m laughing so hard for no apparent reason.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
Of course, all of the obvious publishing milestones make me proud. Eight years ago I was a complete beginner. Now, I have an agent, and I wrote and illustrated a book that is now published. Completing the illustrations for MR. THATCHER’S HOUSE was probably one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, because it was HARD; and I overcame some serious equipment failure that threatened to derail the whole process at the end. Being on faculty at the SCBWI conference was also such a huge honor—especially since it involved speaking in front of an audience, which is something I thought I couldn’t do.
What surprises you about the creative life?
It always surprises me how not glamorous it can be. When I was working on MR. THATCHER’S HOUSE I lived in my pajamas. My neighbors have all seen me running to meet the garbage truck at 8 a.m. wearing yesterday’s yoga pants, flip flops, and socks. I drew spreads on the couch while streaming episodes of “The Crown” or “Outlander” on Netflix. I often forgot to eat lunch. (I don’t recommend that. Artists should take care of themselves!)
Instagram gives the impression that a creative life involves spending leisurely afternoons in cozy studios listening to music, drinking coffee, and watching watercolors dry. In reality, there are all of these things that you’re supposed to be doing … and you’re supposed to do them every day.
Sometimes it feels like if you can’t do any of those things, then you can’t lead a creative life. But, creativity looks different for everyone. It can look like 10 minutes sketching in the car while you wait to pick your kids up from school. It can look like taking a quick photo of the sunrise before you run into your office building, or, jotting down a story idea you had while you were putting away socks.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I want my work to inspire people and make them feel something. Hopefully it makes them smile. And, of course, I hope they find something in it that is relatable.
What are your maquette-making materials?
I have made models with lots of different materials, but for characters I like to use Sculpey clay, and I will sometimes use a wire form underneath the clay if needed.
What is something you have always dreamed of having in your house?
A tree. Preferably with a spiral staircase around it. Also, a library with a ladder.
Would you rather be a Disney princess or a character you create?
Disney princess. 100%
Burnt sienna or raw umber?
Just for the sake of being difficult, and because I like watercolors, I’m going to say transparent red iron oxide, which is closer to burnt sienna. Burnt sienna mixed with ultramarine blue is a gorgeous color combination. I like using venetian red in landscapes.
Insta/Twitter - @kristinwauson