O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I finally get to share with you my dear friend’s author-illustrator debut picture book!
Kaz Windness is an author-illustrator who loves to make her readers laugh. I have known her for a few years now. We met at a SCBWI conference oh so long ago and I sat beside her at several illustrator sessions watching her draw the speakers. I knew then that this day would come. When she’s not writing or illustrating books, Kaz teaches illustration at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and enjoys making deep-dish pizza. Kaz lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, two sons, and Boston terrier. You can learn more about her at her website.
SWIM, JIM! is her first picture book and it’s a fantastic first. Little Jim the crocodile is afraid of swimming, unlike his siblings who make fun of him. He decides to find a “smaller swamp” to try swimming on his own. This is a fun story with unexpected jokes that will make readers laugh. It is absolutely the perfect debut for Kaz, as I’m convinced that this is a book only she could write and illustrate. I’m so excited to share it with you today.
Me: Can you share about your artistic journey? When did you start creating art? How did that bring you to where you are now as an illustrator?
Kaz: I wasn’t a naturally talented artist, but what I didn’t have in ability, I made up for in persistence and practice. I’m a late (late) bloomer!
I’ve been telling stories with pictures as long as I can remember. When asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d say, “an artist!” (I also wanted to be a ballerina for a while, but I was much more coordinated with a crayon.)
I went to the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (Denver, CO) for illustration and was a valedictorian graduate in 2002. After graduation, I was a pet portrait artist, gallery artist, graphic designer, and art licensor, and I worked in a real estate office, but my dream was always to become a published children’s book author and illustrator.
Me: “Swim, Jim!” is your author-illustrator debut. Yay! Congratulations! What is it that draws you to creating picture books?
Kaz: My mother used to take my little brother and I to the library and let us check out as many books as we could carry. We didn’t have a TV and we lived in a (probably haunted) tiny house right behind the railroad tracks.
My mom would read us book after book, only pausing for the train to go by. I fell in love with books in my mother’s lap.
When we weren’t reading, I was drawing my own stories. Compared to other kids, I was slow to write and read, but I could always tell stories with pictures, and I just never stopped.
Me: I love how Jim is afraid to swim, but goes in search of a solution. Were you ever afraid to swim as a child? Were any of your kiddos afraid to swim? What gave you the idea for this story?
Kaz: “Swim, Jim!” is autobiographical. If I’m being completely honest, I still don’t know how to swim. I like the water, but I’m dependent on floaties, just like Jim was early on in his journey. I’m not afraid of swimming, I’m just afraid of sinking.
At age four, I was enrolled in swim lessons and the (likely teenage) instructors decided to push us all off the high dive. I was a tenacious little kid and would have jumped on my own just to prove a point, but I wasn’t given that option. I sank and had to be rescued.
This never would happen in today’s world, but many kids have a fear of water—or going to school, or making friends, or public speaking, or becoming a writer and illustrator. Jim’s story is about facing your fears in your own time and in ways that feel safe to you. There’s no reason to head right for that high dive! And you aren’t alone. You have family, friends, and teachers to help you overcome your fears.
Writing and drawing “Swim, Jim!” has been healing for me. I’m going to learn how to swim this summer. I hope the story helps kids face their fears, too.
Me: I love that this story had back matter with crocodile facts, including the hilarious bit about crocodiles farting. Did you always have back matter with this manuscript? Or was this requested by the editor? How did you decide which facts to include?
Kaz: LOL! The crocodile fart fact is my favorite! I spent a whole day talking to zoologists, herpetologists, and crocodile experts about farts. It’s a career high! I even have some videos of crocodiles making fart bubbles if you’re interested.
The manuscript always included a “science-y back matter” page because I love crocodiles and non-fiction trivia, but I didn’t have any facts written until we were fairly deep into the illustration process.
I worked hand-in-hand with my brilliant editor, Catherine Laudone, to come up with the topics we thought were most relevant to the book and also would be most interesting to kids.
We also worked with the fact-checking department at Simon & Schuster and I learned how important it is to document sources. If you are writing anything non-fiction, be sure to keep track of where you are finding your information and double check to make sure your sources are credible. Even if it’s just about a crocodile fart!
Me: What did your illustration process for this book look like? Are you a traditional or a digital artist? Or do you use a blend of both?
Kaz: I am both a traditional and digital artist. I will turn pretty much anything into an art supply.
For my books, I start with pencil and paper sketches. I carry a sketchbook everywhere. For “Swim, Jim!” I went to the Botanical Gardens and the zoo to draw reference for Jim.
After my sketches make sense on paper, I take a picture with my phone, and revise the drawings in Photoshop. I do all my color paintings in Photoshop as well. I use very textural digital brushes. I build up the textures slowly, and use a lasso tool to select an area to fill in with texture. It’s not a fast process, but editing does go more quickly in Photoshop than if I were doing traditional paintings. I usually don’t have to start over; I just have to tweak and make things better.
Me: What was your favorite part of this book? Is there a favorite line of text or a favorite scene you drew?
Kaz: I love the fart joke, of course, but my favorite images are where you see Jim in all his floaties for the first time and the first pool scene. Drawing all those candy-colored pool toys and water textures was so fun! And who doesn’t want to draw a crocodile in flippers and a pink donut float? Not me!
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Kaz: Quit now! Kidding! Although I would say that this is a career choice that you need to be fully passionate about and committed to. I can’t not write and illustrate books for kids. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m so glad I stuck it out, even though it took me more than 15 years to see any career traction. While it’s so very satisfying and validating to have success now, the real payoff of choosing children’s books was all the AMAZING friends I’ve made along the way. You included Jena!
Be a lifelong learner. You want to be challenged by the work you are doing and continually striving to be a better writer and artist. Go to the workshops, take the classes, keep taking risks, challenge your style and media, and immerse yourself in children’s books – especially recent publications. Also, expand your inspiration to all kinds of art and writing. Be inspired by pre-historic cave paintings, 1980’s punk fashion, 1990’s hip-hop music. Go to the museum. Draw from life. If you stop growing, you’re done, and where’s the fun in calling it in? This should be hard, but it’s a good hard, and the effort does pay off.
I am starting an advanced children’s book illustration school later this year with some very talented and successful author-illustrators called the Cuddlefish Academy, so please watch for that! Also, please look out for upcoming 2023 books: WORM AND CATERPILLAR ARE FRIENDS (Simon Spotlight) and BITSY BAT, SCHOOL STAR (Paula Wiseman Books) + more in the works! You can find me at my website and follow me on all your favorite social media.
I’m happy to send a personalized “Swim, Jim!” bookplate and sticker to anyone who reads this interview and orders a copy.
If you would like to order a signed copy of SWIM, JIM! those are available through The Wandering Jellyfish: https://shop.twjbookshop.com/products/swim-jim-by-kaz-windness-pre-order-release-date-may-31-2022-signed-copy
Aww! Yay for great advice and friends and so many upcoming opportunities for you Kaz! Thank you for stopping by my blog today.
Dear readers, this wonderful book will be released later this month, but you can still preorder it now. It’s a sweet story combining crocodiles, swimming, fear, and floaties! You won’t want to miss it.
BUT WAIT! There’s more! Kaz is doing both a blog tour #SwimJimBlogTour #SwimJim:
and a giveaway! Once again, I’m not in charge of the giveaway. Kaz is running this one herself with plenty of swag! See what’s included:
1 signed copy of SWIM, JIM!
1 crocodile plush with bubble noises
1 inner tube floatie
1 crocodile bubble fidget
1 Jim lapel pin
2 Jim stickers
2 Jim cards
1 personalized drawing/sticker
Rules: It’s for US residents only. The winner will be picked 6/15. TO ENTER: go to Kaz’ twitter and comment, retweet, or tag a friend AND confirm here: https://www.rafflecopter.com/