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Ruth Asawa Biography

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

I'm Celebrating the little things and the BIG things, like having another picture book coming out this fall. Here's the back story.

I've revamped and am reposting this article from my blog, Celebrate the Little Things. Check out the original post to see more behind the scenes photos of my sketchbook pages, and initial dummy book set up.

cover for Ruth Asawa Biography
©2017 Traci Van Wagoner

Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life

written by Joan Schoettler and illustrated by me from Pelican Publishing. To be released October 1, 2018.

In February 2017, I was contacted by Pelican Publishing with a different type of manuscript about a real person with which the Art Director, Kevin Johnson, thought I could have some fun. He knows I like to do research, so I read the manuscript, a biography about an artist I'd never heard of before, Ruth Asawa a Japanese-American artist. S little web research, and I was hooked. Check out my pinterest board where I've collected a ton of images and research on Ruth and her work. It's stunning.

I emailed Kevin with my terms and schedule, and guess what? A few days later...

I got the job - Yippee!

Here's a run down of the progression of this project.

I got contract and initial payment and the researching began, starting with Ruth -- amazing information and images. I also found David Zwirner gallery. I sent an email explaining the project and asking if they had any information they could provide, and/or sculptures to see in person.

I completed a text dummy and dove into more research. Sketches began where I explored and learned more about Ruth and got to know her and her work. And then I needed more in depth research.

Ruth Asawa picture book biography sketch by Traci Van Wagoner
Sketch for interior, Ruth Asawa Biography

I painted the first color sample in which I established the painting style and basic color palette.

They loved it.

It was time to finish off the sketches. Oh yeah, and more research for the nitty-gritty details of all the scenes.

As I was finishing off the sketches, I heard from Jonathan Laib, the curator at David Zwirner. They were preparing for an opening featuring Ruth's work, and he graciously offered to show me some of the smaller sculptures before the show. Laura, his assistant, called a couple days later and invited me to the gallery for a private showing of a few of the smaller sculptures. It was amazing! (Thank you, Laura and Jonathan!)

I was mesmerized when I saw these in person. The photos don't do the sculptures justice. There is a magical quality when you see them in person with the looped wire interacting with itself and the air and everything around it.

“My curiosity was aroused by the idea of giving structural form to the images in my drawings. These forms come from observing plants, the spiral shell of a snail, seeing light through insect wings, watching spiders repair their webs in the early morning, and seeing the sun through the droplets of water suspended from the tips of pine needles while watering my garden."
~ Ruth Asawa

photos by Kurt Keller,

Ruth Asawa sculptures at David Zwirner

with Traci Van Wagoner and Jack McDowall

With a renewed energy after seeing some of these amazing intricate sculptures in person, I finished and sent the final sketches.

Ruth Asawa pencil sketches by Traci Van Wagoner

The sketches were very well received with only a few minor revisions needed, and I got wonderful and encouraging comments from the author. I love it when what I'm doing and trying is well received and understood.

Thank you for choosing Traci Van Wagoner to illustrate Ruth Asawa’s story. Her story sketches cover my dining room table like a gift, complimenting my words with her illustrations. Traci’s research flows throughout her illustrations. Her creativity and designs fit Ruth’s story well. In looking at the format of the book, Traci incorporated many different structures on the pages from double spreads to vertical and horizontal styles, and to lovely looping with illustrations within the curls. The size variations of framed illustrations add subtle dimensions, showing the reader the diversity and range of Ruth’s art too…always trying something different, exploring, and experimenting.
The double page spreads interspersed in the book are a treat for the reader. They focus on important pages. The four-section page with the train has a real sense of movement. I enjoy the subtle passage of time through the sun and moon.
~Joan Schoettler

Thank you Joan! This made my day!

I also got some kudos from Kevin: Traci Van Wagoner – That girl is the bomb!

I completed the revisions and sent them over. Pelican decided to send the sketches to Ruth's daughter to make sure we got everything right. She had a few changes and suggestions, but overall she loved what I'm doing.

I set to work painting. And painting. And painting. And when I was getting close to finishing, the hardest part for me when self-doubt sets in, and I'm sure I'm a fraud. I set my timer for 30 minutes and painted. And another 30 minutes, and another until I was done. I sent them to Kevin, knowing in my heart-of-hearts that I could still finish them even more before sending finals. Yeah, a bit neurotic with a problem of letting go, I'll admit.

Come back soon for another post continuing from here where you'll see more of my process in finishing the book with sketches and color samples of the final illustrations. Also, be sure to check back for more updates as I move toward the release date of October 1, 2018. There will be more sharing about my process, and some giveaways.

Please let me know if you'd like to see anything specific in my process. I don't want to bore anyone.

The book is available for preorder:

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