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Friday, July 22, 2011

An Interview with Jean Wogaman

Jeanie, which came first the illustrating or the writing and how did you start working on children's books? 

I kinda go back and forth between writing and drawing. Before I could read and write I amused myself in pictorial worlds. It wasn’t until I was in sixth grade when a friend introduced me to Narnia that I started to think writing the stories might be fun too. In college I majored first in English then switched to Art.

As a young adult I dabbled in writing without completing anything. I took a correspondence course in creative writing, but the demands of a toddler kept me from finishing it in the allotted time frame. When that toddler was old enough for preschool, I took courses in illustration at the Corcoran School of Art. But family demands, day jobs, and a lack of workspace forced me to shelve the projects I’d begun in class.

I got sidetracked with office day jobs (which are abundant here in Washington, DC). When I was advised by an office colleague to advance my career prospects with a masters degree, I chose to study social science. I don’t believe I ever really intended to make a career in the field. Some small part of me suspected anthropology would help me generate interesting characters, settings, and conflict for fiction writing.

When I finished my MA in 2004 and was contemplating what to do next, my old aspirations came back to me with a vengeance. By then my daughter was entering eighth grade. Her growing independence provided me with longer stretches to write. My masters program had instilled new discipline and improved my ability to focus. I wrote the first draft of my first middle grade novel in the next two years. For a day job, I worked as a substitute teacher in the DC Public Schools. Being around kids from all sorts of different backgrounds fanned the creative fires. As soon as I finished the first novel I started a second, finishing the first draft of that manuscript in four months. I was hooked.

I discovered the kidlit blog community in 2007 and started reading about the publication process. I joined SCBWI and started attending conferences, had critiques from agents and editors, and found writing critique partners. I learned how the internet facilitated connections between publishers and illustrators in remote locations. I dusted off my art supplies and started work on an illustration portfolio. 

What media do you work in?

My favorite black and white medium is pen and ink. Sometimes I add a neutral gray wash. 

For color work, I combine ink drawing with watercolor wash and recently started experimenting with adding colored pencil to the mix.

Do you do digital drawing and painting?

Alas, no. At this point my graphics software is woefully out of date. (I bought my Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Pagemaker bundle in 1999.) I’d like to get back into digital work, at the very least in order to tweak the images I make on paper. I wish I had room in the budget for a Cintiq.

Do you write stories first or do you come up with a drawing and a story follows?

Writing generally comes first these days, although I am still very much a visual thinker. I construct visual images in my head before putting words on the page.

Have you illustrated books for other authors or would you consider it in the future?

I have not illustrated other people’s writing but would certainly be willing if the stories intrigue me. 

That being said, I am not interested in being approached by writers looking for an illustrator to work on spec in advance of submitting to a publisher. Publishers like to be the ones to match authors and illustrators. I defer to them. Nor am I interested in illustrating an author’s self-published books at this point.

How many books have you published and how long does it take you to write and illustrate a book? 

I have yet to have a book published. My short fiction has appeared in Pockets magazine. Although I’ve had a blog for a few years already, I just created my first portfolio website this spring and sent out my first batch of promotional postcards in May. I’m working on more portfolio pieces now in preparation for a second mailing in late August/early September. 

Do you find that being both the author and the illustrator is an advantage when doing a picture book?

As stated above, I have no books out yet. While I would be willing to consider a picture book project, I am targeting the middle grade market. I have a new middle grade novel manuscript that I am in the process of revising. I hope to have it ready for submission to agents this fall. Illustration-wise, I do a lot in black and white which lends itself well to middle grade or chapter book interior art.

What fuels your creativity?

I daydream constantly--no doubt to process all the crazy, disturbing things going on in the world around me. 

You’ve had a few interesting jobs. I have as well. I was a piano tuner a few years. My handle cap was that I was a small woman and couldn’t pick up many piano part let alone the piano! What was working as an opera scenery painter like? (Or any other job that was interest for you)

I painted opera scenery while I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington which has one of the best opera schools in the world. The stage and the resources at our disposal were all professional grade. As a member of the paint crew, my work involved a lot of slapping one color across a huge backdrop, not much more exciting than painting a wall. But occasionally I was given more complex tasks. I managed to get pretty good at dry-brushing a wood look on muslin and sculpting Styrofoam into rocks. Some of the sets were really cool. We once worked on a rotating set with multilevel platforms for the Tempest. That was a fun space to work (and play around) in.

What is the Sketchbook Project and Art House community?

You can learn all the nitty gritty about the sketchbook project at
Here’s the short version: You pay a fee and choose a theme. The Art House Co-op sends you a sketchbook, but you don‘t keep it. You fill it with art and send it back to Art House by the deadline. They file it in the Brooklyn Art Library with all the other submissions and people come in and check them out. They also take the books on tour. The 2011 books are in Chicago as I’m writing this. I just received an email notification that someone checked out my 2011 book there today. You can view a digitized version of my 2011 book (theme: “This is not a sketchbook“) at My theme for 2012 is “treehouse” and you can follow my progress with it on my blog at I don’t know much about what else the Art House Co-op does. I participate only in the sketchbook project.

Where can people find out more about you?

I have a website at and a blog at I am also on twitter at where I am a frequent participant in the #kidlitart chats (for children’s illustrators) on Thursdays 9:00pm-10:00pm Eastern and an occasional participant in #kidlitchat (for both writers and illustrators) on Tuesdays 9:00pm-10:00pm Eastern. Other than those chats, I am rarely on twitter. You can learn what I’ve been reading lately at I am on Facebook and am at this point still accepting friend requests from people directly involved in children’s literature. I recently signed up for Google+ (as Jean Wogaman), but I have no idea what I’m doing there. It’s not like I have time for yet another social network thing.

Thank you so much for being on Manic Network’s Blog, Jeanie!
Thank YOU, Michelle and Jan! I am honored that you asked me. 



  1. Great interview, lovely work
    Kit Grady

  2. Keep up the good work, Jeanie. You'll get something published eventually! I really like your architectural drawings--have you considered writing any stories that might include such images in a way that is more central to the narrative?

  3. Thanks, M!

    I've always loved drawing buildings. I even considered architecture school at one time. The novel I'm revising at the moment takes place largely in that pen and ink structure you see from a bird's eye view.

  4. Great interview, Jeanie! I'll have to check out that sketchbook project, it sounds intriguing!

  5. Thanks for featuring me, Michelle! I look forward to reading more interviews here.

  6. Jean--so great to read this interview. I admire your work, and now feel I know you a little better! I am definitely looking forward to seeing you published!!

  7. Thanks, Elizabeth! I'm looking forward to seeing me published too. :)