Sunday, September 24, 2017

Traci Van Wagoner "Draw What You Know and Know More by Drawing" and a PRIZE from Bryony Supper

Traci Van Wagoner's work is absolutely amazing. Her work isn't beautiful just by chance. Traci spends a lot of time researching her subjects before drawing. Recently Traci has spent a lot of her time researching the illustrations she's creating for "Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life" written by Joan Schoettler. Like Traci, Ruth's art is amazing. I can't wait to see what happens when you put the two of these artists together!

Traci has so many books she's illustrated since I first had her on my blog. She's been part of a whole series of books: "Booker T. Bear Let’s Go Series" Presented by The Library Store, written by Jen Miller, and illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner and Kurt Keller. Her newest book: Rest in Peace RaShawnWritten by Ronnie Sidney II came out in April 2017!

Draw What You Know and Know More by Drawing
By Traci Van Wagoner
All writers hear over and over, write what you know. The same goes for illustrators. And here’s a fine conundrum for you:

Draw what you know not just what you see, but to truly know something, you've got to draw it.

That's where research comes in. If any of you are like me, you’re going, “ugh, not research. I just want to draw.”

I’ve always been like, I don’t want to have to be tied down to reference and research. I want to draw things from of my imagination. Great. But I couldn’t do that when I first started drawing. I didn’t know enough. Until you’ve drawn enough things, places, people, kids, animals, settings, lighting, shadows, and whatever else you want to include in your art, you need to do some reference research, then draw from that reference AND from real life until you know what you’re drawing inside-out and upside-down. Draw the same object or setting in a variety of lighting and conditions, from a bird’s eye view, from a worm’s eye view until you know it.

“First you draw what you see. Next, you draw what you know, and only then will you know what it is that you see.”

~ Robert Beverly Hale

I had an illustrator teacher at Utah State University who told us (in a loud voice) during critiques (this happened often) that you can’t just draw what you see, ‘I copied it from my scrap,’ is not a good enough excuse. He’d then tear the piece off the wall and stomp on it. Yep, true story. If you copy exactly from scrap/reference, it won’t look right, cameras change things — wide angle lenses, things get distorted etc. If you know what you’re drawing you can use piece of reference as a starting point to inspire your imagination and draw something uniquely yours.

Once you know what you’re seeing (in reality or imagination), all the research becomes worth it and you get to have fun. This is when you’ll be able to add your own flair and style and really bring your story to life and produce something that will create an emotional response in your viewers.

And talk about emotional responses, I’m gone-to the-moon happy to have google and other online searching capabilities. Every day I thank the digital miracle workers who brought us the digital research age. It is much, much easier than the days of trekking to the library and drawing from books there, checking books out and carrying huge stacks home, making photocopies, subscribing to all kinds of magazines, and clipping out images and putting them into file cabinets of labeled reference. Tons and tons of that. All pretty much pointless now. But I digress…

With every project I finish, I’ve drawn many more things that I now know and will be able to draw easier in the future and thus be able to coax those images out of my imagination. Now I can often times, especially on my own projects which are not so tied to reality and painting realistically, solidify a scene in my head much easier and more fully. When I finally put pencil to paper, or finger to painting in Procreate on my iPad, I have an image pretty much fully formed in my head, so I know what I’m drawing.

The moral of the story, draw, draw, draw, until you know everything you want to draw. And then do some more research, looking, examining, noticing, and drawing. Every detail of the world can bring delight when you draw it and get to know it.

And one last thing to remember, there’s research and then there’s wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in procrastination, but the only way to get a dummy book done is to put in the hard work. When you realize that you’re mostly looking at pretty pictures and cool artwork created by others, because we all know Pinterest and scrolling can be hypnotic, then shut out the digital world, put your butt in the chair, and get to drawing.

Good luck and have fun drawing… and researching.


Check out my pinterest page ( to see some of the reference research I did for my latest picture book for Pelican Publishing, Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler for which I just finished the sketches. The book will come out next fall.-----

Follow Traci:

Connect with me online:
Instagram: TraciVWCreations
Twitter: @TraciVanWagoner
Blog: Celebrate the Little Things -



One lucy winner will win copy of "The Inventing Tubes" written by Bryony Supper and illustrated by Julian Bray!

To win this prize:

Let Traci know how much you liked her post and thank Bryony for the chance to win her book!

Bryony Supper
Twitter: @ThePastaKidz

Spaga Spoodle Spo, we're the new Pasta Kidz on the block! Check out our new book, coming from @matadorbooks on 28th November 2016.


  1. Great advice...quit stalling, keep butt in chair and draw! I am one of those guilty ones that will spend hours drooling over other people's work instead of focusing on my own. Thanks for taking the time to share with us...LOVE your blog!

  2. I have to agree, Traci "Shut out the digital world" is a priority. Thanks for posting and thanks also to Bryony for offering her book as a prize.

  3. Your art style is grrrreat and your advice is spot-on, Traci! Thank you, Bryony, for the opportunity to win your book.

  4. Thank you for the great advice Traci. Your artwork is wonderful!
    Thank you for the offering the chance to win your book Bryony.

  5. This is very valuable drawing advise, thank you for sharing your insight and thank your Bryony for donating your book to the cause!

  6. I LOVE researching images on Pinterest and I also make powerpoint reference docs to inspire me. I even "borrowed" a color scheme from an image set in the same region that my story takes place in. I do need to draw more. Thanks for helpful advice.