Anika A Wolf Illustrator Interview

There’s an excitement that’s hard to explain when a picture book writer sees the illustrations for the first time. I do well to draw the most basic of shapes, and my imagination doesn’t stretch itself in artistic visions. That’s so sad for me to even put in writing. So, thank goodness for visual thinkers and talented artists like Anika A. Wolf, the fabulous illustrator for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS.


I asked Anika a few questions about our shared journey.

1. What was your first thought when you saw the text for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS? Did you immediately have visions of the characters and woods or did you have to think about it for a while?

Oh I definitely had to think about it! I think that’s where illustrating someone else’s story drastically differs from when I write one of my own. When I’m writing my own story, I have vivid ideas in my mind about how I’d illustrate it and what the characters would look like. Receiving a manuscript and coming into the story with a blank slate takes a little more time, for sure. I think I must’ve read through the story at least 10 times before I actually started sketching anything! And then when I did some first character designs for Kuda the bear, because his character is so grumpy I pictured him as being an older curmudgeonly type. Mira Reisberg, our awesome art director/editor, gently pointed out that even though he’s grumpy, he should still be a “kid” (or, cub I guess in Kuda’s case!). There are some children’s books that break the rules, but usually characters in picture books are child-like so that they’re relatable to the young readers.

Even though the characters didn’t come swiftly at first, I connected with the story straight away! I fell in love with the idea of a rock and roll woods and my favourite is Sherry’s use of onomatopoeia. BOOM whappa whappa!

2. What was the greatest challenge illustrating it?

Every part of illustrating a picture book is a challenge! haha Good thing I love challenges though 😉 But for me, some parts came easier than others. Surprisingly, composition was harder for me than I expected, especially since I have a graphic design background (I’m a disgrace to my design roots! haha). And then the hardest by far was going back and forth with Mira on the colour. The scheme I chose had a bit of a grey-ish undertone to it and Mira wanted me to warm it up. The end result now is more saturated than my original, for sure, although it does still resemble my original vision for it.

And in general it’s tough making any changes to final art and the back-and-forth aspect of the collaboration, but it’s a process that I just took one step and a time.

3. How did you decide on the general style and color scheme?

“General style” is something that’s hard to define as an illustrator. It’s similar to when writers refer to their “voice” in their own writing. It’s something that’s developed over time and my illustration very much now has a look about it that has ME written all over it. Some (but they are few) illustrators change their “style” for each picture book they do – and while maybe I will at some point depending on the project, currently the look and feel of how I illustrate is consistent in all my work.

As for colour scheme – I love to look at inspiration for that before deciding on one. Some of my favourite go-to’s is to look at other illustrator’s work online, search for ‘colour scripts’ or ‘schemes’ on Pinterest, and the Adobe Color website – https://color.adobe.com. Pinterest boards and the save to collection feature on Instagram are awesome!

4. How hard has it been to coordinate all of the input to get the illustrations so gorgeous?

Not overly hard since most of the input came directly from Mira. There was the odd time where Callie (the publisher) and Sherry were copied into the conversation and things got a little hairy in terms of getting everyone’s feedback, but in general pretty easy peasy. And Mira made it SO easy on me – every piece of feedback she gave she provided in a YouTube video where she spoke while screen sharing what she was talking about. As a visual person, I greatly appreciated that because I didn’t have to guess at what she was talking about or go back to her about anything if it had just been typed in an email. And I could pause the video at any point to jot down notes.

5. When did you start playing with art? What has your path to this book been like?

Oh this is SO very cliché (all the cool kid illustrators say it haha), but I was drawing as a kid as soon as I could hold a crayon. My parents always joked that if I ever ran out of sketchbooks or scraps of paper in the house that our supply of toilet paper would be in danger haha! That said though, I didn’t realize that being a professional picture book illustrator was even a thing until 2011, when I somehow stumbled across an illustrating for kids books course through the London Art College online. So I’ve been serious about developing my illustration for kids for the past 7 years, but before then was either fine art (in high school), fashion design and illustration (in college), and graphic design (also in college, and I’ve also worked as a graphic designer for 7 years now too).

So you could say that it’s been a long time coming – 7 years is no joke! But I’ve been doing it outside of a day job (one with a terribly long commute for a number of years at that) so I just got in illustration time whenever I could. There’s something to be said about it taking 10,000 hours to get good at something. When I look back at the illustration I did in 2011…wow. I thought it was good then, but now looking at it it’s quite hilarious to me. I’ve come a long way.

6. What do you think about the collaboration that allows a Kentucky writer, a Canadian artist, and a Californian editor/art director to work with a publisher in Texas? Anything about that you’d like to comment on.

Just that it’s so great to be able to collaborate in general across the distance! The internet is so great for that and the distance really isn’t a concern whatsoever. It’s also great to get diverse perspectives and experiences on things and that’s what has made the book as awesome as it is. I also think we all worked super well together, so that helps too! 🙂

7. What’s your favorite illustration and why?

Surprisingly, it’s the last spread where Kuda and Rabbit walk home again through the forest as the sun is setting. It’s surprising to me that it’s my favourite because Kuda’s facial expression in that one was the most controversial amongst the four of us! There were so many rounds of incredibly subtle changes to his expression it got to be a little crazy making haha

I think why I love it though is the mood – it’s such a happy, peaceful moment. And who doesn’t love a gorgeous sun set? It gives me such warm fuzzies.


Thanks to Anika for sharing her experiences so generously! Tune in next week and I’ll answer the questions Anika asked me!

ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is available for pre-order now through Clear Fork Publishing. Releasing October 5! Just click the title!


You Can’t Blame It On Your ADD

Okay, first I’ll tell you that I’m highly qualified. I am a licensed mechanic …OOPS…wrong blog. I’m actually a certified teacher and administrator for special needs youth. In reality I’ve worked with special needs children and my own ADD children all of my life. If you have attention deficit disorder it might be harder to write than the average bear, but you actually can be an excellent writer if you can just get yourself organized. That dirty little O word you hate to hear.

You probably consider yourself a pantser as a writer and are proud of the fact that you can just sit down and write your heart out without any organizational tool to get you going. How does that work for you so far? Are you spending way more time in rewrites than you think you should? Does your writing make perfect sense to you but confuse someone else? Does your writing show up on paper as something different than your imagination told you to write down? Then read on.

It’s very fresh in my mind what a struggle it was to help my son edit his doctoral thesis with his ADD adult brain. He made so much more work for himself because of his ADD and at first he wasn’t open to structural suggestions. Eventually it got better, but by then he had spun his wheels for several semesters just trying to focus more precisely and be more open to structure. Try using these tools the next time you sit down to write something and see if they don’t help you a little bit.

  • Begin your work with the end goal in mind. This will help you immensely; if you can just keep refocusing on that end goal to keep yourself from straying into the many interesting avenues you’ll see along the way. Yes, that article in quantum physics is interesting but has nothing to do with your topic of novel structure. Yes, that TED talk would be so fascinating but bookmark it for later.
  • Start small. Set a goal to do something small very well, instead of doing something huge just well enough. Get feedback from someone who won’t spare your feelings on this small thing you’ve accomplished before you move on to bigger things. Start with one chapter, so you don’t end up with a whole thesis, book etc. that only you can understand.
  • Get one critique partner early along your journey who understands your ADD and can help you maintain that focus as well as watch for the specific traits in the writing of people with ADD. Otherwise you will waste a lot of your time and eventually someone else’s.
  • Be an open listener. You may be an adult, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s insight isn’t important for you to listen to so you can achieve that goal. Whether your goal is a term paper, a thesis, a novel, or a short story the journey for you will be a little bit harder than for the average bear.
  • Use some simple tools like index cards instead of that distracting electronic database that you think is just so much fun. That electronic database may be the biggest distraction you face because you’ll never get it exactly where you want it. For you some old-fashioned index cards may get the job done a whole lot more efficiently. Then build your database when you’re further along the road; you may need it sometime.
  • Take the time to at least set up folders, binders, or whatever you need for your hands on resources while you write. Because of your attention difficulties you will not be able to keep up with the massive amount of web surfing you will do and you will quickly lose the location of that great reference you needed so desperately. Write everything down right away because your brain may not be able to remember it when you need it.
  • Please read Scattered, by Gabor Mate, M.D. My dog-eared copy has been my best reference since I discovered Dr. Mate. He writes as someone who experiences ADD. He is insightful and compassionate. He will help you understand your brain and he will give you hope. To paraphrase him, his powers of creative expression would have been better expressed much sooner except for “…disorganization, driven ness, distractibility, lack of persistence, forgetfulness, and periods of psychic lethargy.” One of the best books I’ve ever owned, personally and professionally.

I was so proud of my son when he finished his doctorate and I knew how hard he worked and how many hours he put into it. I wish he been more open to feedback early in the game; it really took a lot longer than it should have for him. Once he developed some insight into his stumbling blocks, he wrote like gangbusters and got that thesis knocked out and then did great with his orals exams. We call him Doctor Howard now; not really, we usually call him booboo bear.


Good luck with your writing!

You can’t blame it on your ADD.



Five Rules For Grabbing the Gab With Your Kids

Parents complain that their kids stop talking to them at a certain age, usually tweens and teens. These five rules will help you keep the conversation going:

  1. Respond to information they tell you without being judgmental, watch your tone of voice and your facial expression. Sally just told you her fifteen year old friend had sex last night – your job is to keep a blank expression, nod, and let her tell you what she thinks. Reserve the lectures for another time!
  2. Respond to any conversation your child starts no matter when or where it is or how inconvenient it is for you. Teenagers get the urge to share information – that passes very quickly to another person if you are not available. Available means actively listening with your whole being. Matthew will tell you about his new crush or he’ll go tell a friend instead. You may not get a second chance to listen to what’s on his mind right now.
  3. Put your own agenda aside. Kids hate lectures and if you are talking, it is probably a lecture to them.  Consider yourself to be floating with them down a current that they control, fighting it will only result in your drowning!
  4. Seize the moment!  The best conversations with teens happen in cars or in passing. Somehow, sharing important news is often easier for them to do when they are not facing you.
  5. Lower your expectations. Kids are internalizing a lot at this age and just don’t need to share as much information with you any more. If you follow the first four rules, they will share the important stuff!

May I Have Your Attention Please?

“May I have your attention please?” started my official day as school principal for many years. It’s not like I thought anybody, especially the kids, would hang on my every word even if they could hear over the normal chatter and the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the school day.  When your your child tells you, ” I didn’t hear the announcement!” believe him. There are legitimate reasons they don’t hear that important announcement telling them band practice is cancelled or the baseball game has been moved to another location and it’s the last day to reserve a yearbook.

Every morning as principal, I pulled an assortment of papers of all shapes, sizes and colors, and legibility from a magnet near the public address system., which was in a well traveled hallway, not in a nice little office somewhere. The quality of my announcements was then directly related to the scribbling on those papers, often thrust into my hand as announcements were being made.  Rydell’s principal McGee on Grease and her “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter,” is a classic. And, yeah, the quality of PA systems in schools is usually great if you are standing in the same room!

Now, once announcements are started, many things could possibly happen to keep my voice from reaching your child’s ear.  It’s quite likely that the cute girl two rows over or last night’s homework being hurriedly scribbled will take priority over my melodic voice. And, unbelievably, some teachers can’t keep kids quiet for five minutes, or simply don’t care to. Your child’s twirling brain has 15 friends, personal appearance concerns, overdue assignments, soccer practice and the fight she had with her brother at breakfast twirling through her brain!

So, cut your kid some slack if they didn’t hear the announcement and you can’t find the baseball field, band practice or your sanity! I promise it’s a legit excuse.  But, just FYI, announcements are NEVER the only way kids get the info!