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Friday, July 29, 2011

An Interview with Aidana WillowRaven

Hi Aidana, and thank you for giving us this interview.

How young were you when you knew you were an artist?
Start off with the hard one, huh (lol)? Why I say it’s one of the harder questions I get asked is because up until about two years ago, I refused to refer to myself as an ‘artist’. Like most kids, I would draw once in a while to pass the time, but I was told by teachers, and even my own mother, than I had no ‘talent’. They’d say it nicely; just that art wasn’t my ‘thing’. As a result, my math skills were focused on. Being a reluctant reader, due to an undiagnosed case of ADD (vs ADHD), I hadn’t started associating my scribblings with words yet, either.

As life would have it, I dropped drawing all together, grew up, got married – twice – and divorced –twice – lol. Had two kids in the mix, too. I went through a rough time after being discharged from the ARMY.
By this time I was 23, had finally found books and fantasy (thanks to David Eddings and Terry Brooks), and had started keeping a journal. I say keeping rather than writing because I strongly suspect that my ‘poetry’ stank … lol. Then I found out that my journal was being violated. Read without my permission. So I started drawing my words.

Next thing you know, within a month’s time, I was spending large gaps of my time reading fantasy, and re-creating how I would have done the cover art, had I been the artist. I covered my walls in popular fantasy posters, and did my best to copy them, just to say what I needed to say.

Then, I decided college was what was needed to get out of my funk. But what to major in? I had spent the last nine months, or so, doing nothing but reading, drawing, and hanging out with medievalists. What did I want to be, though? I was reading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series when asking myself this, and Michael Whelan’s White Dragon was grabbing my attention almost more than the book. I had been making really bad attempts at recreations of it … lol.

So, I took my pitiful portfolio to the art department at Norfolk State University, and asked an advisor, there, if he saw any potential. Note I didn’t say ‘talent’.

Mr Thompkins did tell me where he saw my work need much refinement, but what surprised me, and still does, is he said I had also instinctively gotten quite a bit ‘right’, even though I was COMEPLETELY untrained. He said I instinctively put down some lines, that with the proper schooling, I could learn to see the right from the wrong.

That ‘learning to see’ mentality followed through my next six years of fine art school, with electives in animation and design. My biggest teaching influences coming from Jenks and Okala, I realized ‘talent’ was an abstract word used to describe a skill that had been refined through practice, drive, and desire, not something innate. Only the desire to refine that skill is innate. Of course, many argue this with me, and that’s ok. When people tell me I’m talented, I graciously say thank you, and only rarely get on my soap box. I still like hearing it, even if I don’t believe in it … lol. I still like stories about Santa, too.

After art school, I entered contests and shows between 1996 and 2007, but really didn’t know how to get into publishing, so I just sort of dabbled, and gathered little awards or sales. Then one night, about four years ago, it hit me … make friends with authors and publishers … so I started networking. Within three months I had my first children’s book illustration gig. I was officially an illustrator (still not an artist). It wasn’t until I started doing work for myself, again, not just work for other people to pay the bills, and that was about a year ago. Now you see why it was a tough question?

What mediums have you worked in besides digital programs? I started out in graphite, then moved into charcoal, and found a home with colored pencils, but was trained in all the standard mediums (paints, sculpture, etc). I didn’t start playing with digital software until about two years ago. I try to incorporate my fine art training in my digital work, too.

What is your latest project? I always have several projects going on at once, but my most recent is the cover art for Beverly Stowe McClure’s Life on Hold (4RV Publishing), YA novel about a girl who faces some doubts about her parentage.

How did your art career begin? With a children’s book. My intent was always fantasy covers, but drawing for a living was too cool to be true, so I ended starting in children’s books and Christian book covers.

How did you get into the book business? I covered a good bit of that earlier, but basically, I was approached by a small PH on a yahoo group for writers.

How many books have you illustrated and how many covers have you designed? Oh my goodness. You want me to count them? I haven’t broken it down, but there are over 100 books in print with my work on or in them, plus magazine publications. Will that do?

I have found that illustrating books was the first step to designing books. Do you find that to be true as well? I started doing both at once (career-wise anyway), because I was trained in both, and felt knowing where text was going to go was important in knowing what my canvas size was. But I’ve found there are more designers out there than illustrators. Too many are artists, and not illustrators. As a result, we find more designers who happen to learn, or like to illustrate, but rarely do you find artists willing to illustrate. I can usually tell by the portfolio if the illustrator is a designer or an artist. Illustration is a side-step from both skill sets. Sort of like how animation utilizes bot traditions. Does that answer your question?

Who are some of the many authors you have worked with? Again, so many. It would be easier to check out my book covers and see what names you might recognize. I tend to feel more comfortable with smaller PHs. They’re more personal. So you may, or may not, recognize any.

What are some of the interesting jobs have you had along the way? I owned a book & herb shop. I manufactured herbal remedies for pets, people, and exotic zoo animals. I decided to focus on the illustration in 2007.

What type of services does your company offer? Illustration, design, cover art, logo identity and avatars, and more. Just about anything involving illustration or design, in most genres, including graphic novels/comics.

Aidana, you have written many articles about art, illustration and design. Where can people find them? I’ve done several guest posts on blogs from all over the world, but most of my articles can be found on the 4RV Reading, Writing, & Art News blog on Fridays (

What is your next book project? I actually have three kids book on my table right now, and a handful of book covers in the works.

Please tell us where we can find out more about you and your work? My website is, my own blog can be found at, and I sometimes post to the SCBWI MidSouth Illustrators .

MORE about Aidana WillowRaven:
Aidana WillowRaven, mother of three, was trained in Fine Art, Studio Design and Animation at Norfolk State and Old Dominion universities. She has illustrated and/or designed over 100 books through her company, WillowRaven Illustration & Design Plus, in Tennessee. Her work has won numerous awards, has been published in several magazines, and has earned her guest appearances at various conventions. Framed and signed prints of some of her most popular works can be purchased through her ImageKind gallery:

To view her portfolio, or contact her, visit her website:
Thank you so much for being on Manic Network’s Blog, Aidana!
~ Michelle and Jan


  1. Your designs are great! I'm a big fan of poser myself, you do an excellent job using the software!

  2. Thank you for the delightful interview. It's great to learn more about Aidana's background. I'm one of the many fans of her artistic creations.

  3. Great interview, wonderful work
    Kit Grady

  4. Love your artwork, Aidana. I found your story quite inspiring.

    Thanks for the wonderful interview, Michelle and Jan.