Coffee & Conversation with Joan Waites!

T.G.I.F. fellow authors and illustrators! Joining us today is the lovely Joan Waites.

Joan C. Waites has been a freelance illustrator for the past 20 plus years. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from DeSales University in 1982. Employment followed for 15 years as a neo-natal intensive care nurse in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., while she simultaneously returned to college to study illustration and launch her freelance career.  Studies were completed at George Washington University, The Corcoran Museum School of Art and Design, The Maryland College of Art and Design, and The Maryland Institute College of Art, where she received a certificate of Illustration in 1990.

While the majority of her work has been commissioned for the children’s market, she also has experience in textile and surface design, medical illustration, and advertising art. To date she has illustrated more than 45 books for the educational and trade marketplace, work for several children’s magazines, and poster art.

In addition to freelancing, the artist is an adjunct faculty member of The Corcoran Museum School of Art and Design in Washington, DC, where she teaches various classes for the College’s “Aspiring Artist’s” programs and special museum workshops.

Joan lives and works in the metro Washington, D.C. area with her husband and three children. Her wonderful talent has also earned her the following Awards and Accomplishments!

Illustrator-What’s New at the Zoo?, Teacher’s choice Award 2011, Sylvan Dell Publishing

Illustrator- Moon’s Cloud Blanket, Pelican Publishing; IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Award

Illustrator- Tell It Again 2, Gryphon House Publishers; Benjamin Franklin Award

Educational Press Award; Hopscotch Magazine; Art for magazine articles

Featured in: The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Place, Writer’s Digest Books

And now that Joan is cozy in the cyber chair with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, hazelnut coffee . . .

 . . . and her favorite snack, Cheezits–she goes through withdrawl if there is not a box in the house!

Let’s begin! First off, when did you decide to be an illustrator, Joan?

A few years into my first career as a Neo-Natal Intensive Care Nurse, I realized I really missed doing something creative and began taking drawing and painting classes in my off hours. I was always involved in art in some way as a child and young adult, but was too chicken to try and make a career of it when I started college the first time…felt I needed a more practical career to support myself. Picking up that paintbrush again felt like “Home.” I continued to work on my skills taking various college level courses for a few years and then enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Design in Baltimore, while still continuing to work at a hospital in DC and have my first of three children. Looking back, that was pretty insane, but it’s amazing what you can juggle when you are young and determined.  Just by chance, I took a children’s book illustration course as an elective… and that was it. I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

How long did your path to your first sale take, and what were your biggest hurdles?

Well, it certainly wasn’t overnight success. I did a lot of small jobs-anything I could get hired for…newspaper ads, journal covers, mock-ups of Christmas displays and even a little medical illustration. I was thrilled to actually be getting paid to do what I loved doing. From there I did work for some Children’s magazines, lots of educational book work and then finally, about five years in I was hired to do my first Children’s book for Child and Family Press. My biggest hurdles were financial ones-I still had to work as a Nurse to help support our growing family, so I really didn’t have the time I would have liked to put into working on my portfolio and marketing. It took nearly ten years of juggling both careers till I could make the switch to doing illustration full time.

Since hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would’ve followed?

Always keep working on new portfolio pieces-something that you truly love to do. This will show in your work. It’s really hard to balance the paying work with doing new art for your portfolio, but make the time if you can.

What’s your favorite medium?

I have always loved working in watercolor, which is still my favorite. I’m also trying to experiment with some new things-prints and mixed media.

Where’s your favorite place to work?

In my upstairs studio. It’s my little getaway from the rest of everyday family life. This picture of my desk is the mess you will often see at the start of a new project during the sketching and research phase.

Which illustrators inspire you?

Favorites are: Jerry Pinkney, David Wiesner, Charles Santore, Jane Dyer and Jan Brett.

What were your favorite books as a child?

Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Snowy Day, and Little Women.

How do you describe your style and has it changed throughout your career?

I’ve heard my style described as “whimsical-realistic” which I think is pretty accurate. Over the years I have become a little less fussy about tiny details, although my work is still pretty tightly rendered.

How were you inspired to illustrate your current or upcoming release?

For my latest title that was released in Mid-October, Monsieur Durand’s Grosse Affaire.

I was asked to do the book in a realistic style that I had used for other books I illustrated for the same publisher. I’m currently working on some sketches and final illustrations for a dummy book I will submit as an author/illustrator. For this book the illustrations are much younger and playful.

What was one of your favorite assignments?

I loved illustrating the book What’s New at the Zoo? written by Suzanne Slade for Sylvan Dell.

Animals are so fun to illustrate, and I finally got a chance to do a book where I could incorporate illustrated borders-something I had wanted to do for a long time. It goes back to doing what you love-I think this is one of my best books because I really enjoyed the subject matter and the freedom I had to design the illustrations without restrictions.

Time for the lightning round!

Do you . . .

Work from photos or imagination?   Start from reference photos and add imagination.

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?   Sometimes talk about projects with other illustrator/author friends but do not post any WIP on social media or website unless I have the okay from the publisher.

Prefer sketching or final art?   Love both at the start of a project…can get frustrated with both when I am getting towards the end.

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?   Like to market via postcards…I blog once every six weeks with a group of very talented authors (, so it’s not too demanding time wise and I think it challenges me as a writer.

Enjoy brainstorming more or researching?   Brainstorming

Read Kindle or traditional books?   Traditional, but I think a Kindle would be great for traveling or waiting around at soccer practices!

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work?   Mid-morning and afternoon

Music to listen to while drawing?  News radio, books on tape, and classical music

Traditional media or digital?   Traditional, though I do scan my pencil sketches and print on watercolor paper before painting-it saves so much time! I used to spend weeks transferring sketches to paper using a light-box.

Pair of shoes?   Clogs

Guilties Pleasure?  Sitting down for a few minutes with my Hazelnut Coffee and reading a new Somerset Studio magazine. Yes, I’m pretty boring!

Line from a movie?   “There’s No Place Like Home.”

It was great having you in the cyber cafe, Joan! Thanks for capping off the first week highlighting our chapter’s talented illustrators. Have a great weekend everyone. Looking forward to seeing you all next week! 🙂


About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two college boys, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She clearly likes run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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2 Responses to Coffee & Conversation with Joan Waites!

  1. Pingback: December Illustrator Spotlight Recap « As the Eraser Burns

  2. Vito says:

    Yesterday i spent 300 $ for platinium roulette system , i hope that
    i will make my first $$$ online

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