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Karen “Kaz” Windness can’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in art.
“Telling stories with art has always been my passion,” she said.
She was particularly drawn to the artwork she saw in her favorite childhood books, getting inspiration from authors like Maurice Sendak.
“We didn’t have a TV, so books were our entertainment,” Windness explained. “Every week, my mom would take me and my little brother to the library and we’d check out a stack of books. I knew I wanted to make books when I grew up.”
Her desire to write and illustrate children’s books eventually led her to RMCAD, where she graduated from the Illustration Program in 2002 and returned as an instructor years later.
She also dove into the world of publishing, illustrating two children’s picture books and authoring two middle grade books to date.
But her latest project is a little different. Mother Goth Rhymes, set to be released in 2019, parodies traditional nursery rhymes and gives them a creepy twist. Windness is both author and illustrator for the adult novelty book, which features poems like “Rock-A-Bye Zombie” and “Roses are Dead.”
The project came to fruition during the 2016 election when her creativity had taken a sideline to the stress she was feeling at the time.
“I just couldn’t draw the joyful [children’s literature] stuff anymore,” she said. “I let my dark sense of humor take over, and twisting classic nursery rhymes made me feel better. When I shared the poems on Instagram and Facebook, the response was overwhelming.”
The project isn’t too far of a stretch for Windness, as she still pulls ideas from her playful side, both in the writing and illustration process.
“My favorite part is solving the poems,” she said. “I say ‘solving’ rather than writing, because each poem is a puzzle. Not only does the parody have to be clever, the meter perfect, and the rhyme natural and unforced, it also has to be funny and it has to surprise the reader. If the ending isn’t unexpected, I’ve failed.”
When asked what advice she’d give to individuals interested in book publishing, Windness referenced the three P’s of publishing: passion, persistence, and patience. She also highlighted the importance of networking and building connections in the industry.
“Find a community, because this is a challenging road and you’ll need the support and friendships of people on a similar path,” she said.
Windness cites her involvement in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as one of the most impactful decisions she’s made. She joined after graduating from college and eventually became the Illustrator Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain chapter.
In turn, she said she’s met some of her closest friends through the organization, in addition to finding her agent and scoring most of her book deals.
Windness also emphasized the importance of constant growth, both during and after college.
“This is a journey. You’ll keep on growing and developing a lot after art school, so don’t feel like you should have ‘arrived’ by graduation,” she said. “I’m a much better artist today than I was even two years ago.”
Learn more about Windness’ work at www.windnessbooks.com.