Like any good story, let’s start at the beginning, and for alumna Kaz Windness, it all started when she was just a little girl. As an established author-illustrator, she is frequently asked if she always knew this was her career path growing up and the answer is yes. “As a child, I loved drawing and I would use my drawings to tell stories,” said Windness. She grew up with books being a big part of her life and especially found her love for the one’s with monsters as the main characters. “My favorite book was Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ and as a kid, I decided I wanted to be like him someday,” said Windness. “However, I’m still working on the beard and Caldecott medal.”
Her love for storytelling continued to flourish and she moved to Colorado after high school to pursue illustration at RMCAD. RMCAD checked the box in several areas for Windness, but there was just one thing missing – a children’s book illustration class. Windness took this opportunity to inspire the RMCAD Illustration Department to add classes and a concentration, where she later graduated in 2002 as the illustration valedictorian.
Windness’ beautiful stories and illustrations, like “If UR Stabby” and “Mother Goth Rhymes,” can be found in libraries and bookstores everywhere. For her, finding inspiration for stories is the easy part. “I have more ideas than I know what to do with,” said Windness. The idea for her newest book “Swim, Jim!” (releasing May 31, 2022) was sparked by a real news story from The Miami Herald about a crocodile crossing a canal on top of a pool noodle. “I never learned to swim, so I felt a kinship with this crocodile and wrote his story,” said Windness.
This story idea, like many others, led to Windness immediately starting a sketch of the little crocodile hatchling. A character and concept drawing is always her first move when starting a new book. She also likes to ensure that her storylines are relatable and help humans learn more about themselves and the world around them. “‘Swim, Jim!’ is a story about facing fears and learning that it’s okay to receive help from people you love and trust,” exclaimed Windness. “Jim’s story is my story, and I know that if I resonate with the character, my readers will too.”
Windness’ next book, “Bitsy Bat, School Star” (Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster Children’s Books 2023), is also one she holds close to her heart. “Bitsy is based on my own experiences of feeling out of place as an autistic kid,” shared Windness. “She is the only bat in a school for nocturnal mammals.”
When she isn’t designing and writing, Windness is an inspirational mentor and teacher. Since 2013, she has been a part of the RMCAD team and teaches online children’s book courses. She shares with students that there is nothing quite like holding a published, physical copy of your book in your hands. “It is a thrill and honor that never gets old,” exclaimed Windness. “I am living my childhood dream!”
If you are interested in becoming a children’s book author-illustrator, check out our Illustration program at RMCAD!