Artist Mae Waite is a master of color and texture. She loves to experiment with a variety of techniques and surfaces. Working in ink, oils, acrylics, and watercolors, Maeʻs work is a bold expression of the world around her. “I create for myself and for you,” she writes. We are so pleased to feature our talk story with artist Mae Waite.
For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Mae Waite, and I’m an illustrator/painter. I’ve been painting since I was three years old. I received my BA in art with a concentration in studio art from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. I’ve been a freelance painter since graduating in 2018. I’m also a part-time artisan at Louis Vuitton, so it’s safe to say I’m always painting.
Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?
This question always makes me pause because I’ve moved around so much. My father was in the Navy so I had the wonderful experience of living in multiple states such as California, Washington, DC, and Hawaii. I attended Radford for my freshman and sophomore year before moving to Kent, Washington, and finishing my high school education at Kentwood High School.
Go Royal Lions! Why did you become an artist/illustrator? Did you always know you could create art?
I’ve always had a fascination with art and creating. I love the thought of transforming a vision or an idea into something tangible. It really feels magical. Becoming an illustrator was more serendipitous. I never thought that illustrating books would fulfill me as much as it did until Kaylin [author of Aloha Everything] found me.
What do you enjoy most about illustrating? What are some of your greatest challenges?
There are so many things about illustrating that I love. I love looking at a project and gauging its potential. It’s like being presented with a bunch of small puzzles and it’s up to me to find the best solutions that fit the concepts/theme. I guess that’s one of the biggest challenges as well. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist and want to put my best effort in my paintings.
Can you share a bit of your upcoming debut picture book, Aloha Everything, illustrated by you and written by Kaylin Melia George? Is this your first picture book?
I don’t want to spoil anything but in a nutshell, it follows a girl named Ano who learns about her Native Hawaiian heritage through hula and her adventures. And yes, technically Aloha Everything is my first children’s picture book although I was working on it along side another book called Aloha Christmas by Burton Richardson.
What was the process like to making those beautiful illustrations in Aloha Everything?
The creative process was awesome. My collaboration with Kaylin was a very special experience that made the project so much fun. We first started the creative process by discussing the mood boards that Kaylin created. She did a really great job setting the visual pace of the book. Once we were on the same page, I began the conceptualizing phase which mainly consisted of creating simple compositions that highlighted the text best. We generally refer to these as thumbnail sketches. The book is split into three different sequences: Main, Rest, and I Spy. Early in this stage we didn’t have a style established yet but what we knew that it was important for us to have consistency for all three sequences. We wanted to make sure that the I Spy and rest pages were distinguishable from the main pages. The next step was creating character designs for Ano who was the protagonist. We created a handful of versions. We also created character designs for a couple of recognizable names such as Laka, who we ended taking out in the final, and Pele.
To achieve the overall looks of our characters, I referenced sources such as The Merrie Monarch Festival and archives from UHM’s database that held images of different instruments, traditional attires, and tools. I also looked at different modernized Native Hawaiian looks that inspired the fun and whimsy element that children would enjoy.
After the long and tedious job of gathering references, I started creating drafts of the pages based off the thumbnail sketches. Then, I created color swatches followed by digital renderings to further explain my visions. After that, we took it to the big paper. I cut 300 lb Arches watercolor paper to the proper dimensions and dove into painting. We didn’t paint the pages in chronological order which was nice.
Do you have a favorite illustration? Which one and why?
Honestly, I hold every illustration close to my heart. It’s as if all the pages of artwork have a mind of their own and they’re trying to come out of the paper. If I had to choose one, page eight clicked to me from the beginning. Ano has her arms stretched wide as if she is overseeing and embracing the land.
I love that one, too! What was your favorite part of working on the book?
The book reveal was the most rewarding. I teared up a bit. When you work day in and day out on something you don’t get to take it all in until it’s in your hands.
What was the most challenging?
The biggest challenge for me was ensuring consistency with all the illustrations. There would be times where my mind would go wild and I would want to implement new things (I secretly did anyway) but I had to dial it back.
How long did it take to complete the illustrations?
It really depended on the complexity of the design. Some, such as page three which has a ton of sea creatures following the mighty honu, took me what seemed to be a billion years—it actually took maybe two weeks while the last page took me about a week.
What techniques and resources did you use to illustrate the book?
After doing a few material swatches and mini painting samples we settled on acrylic and gouache on paper. I really loved how versatile and opaque the paints could be while being able to bleed like watercolor. It was important for me to be able to have access to a wide range of textures.
Do you have any experiences as a woman of color artist that you might share with our readers?
After graduating college, my professional art career took off in Hawaiʻi, which is known for its big melting pot culture. Because of that, I can’t say that I’ve ever been judged differently for my ethnicity or gender. Most people regard my art and are impressed because I’m young.
What would you like to see change in the industry regarding the acceptance of BIPOC creators?
What’s really great about the art industry is that skills, work acumen and visions are highly valued. I would like to see individuals flourishing from their own merit.
What beliefs is your work challenging?
I don’t think my current work challenges so much as evokes. I love illustrating because it brings out the childhood nostalgia that I miss in my adulthood. It’s important to create images that tell all kinds of stories: stories meant for a wide audience and stories that are hard to tell with words.
What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artistic career and what you’d like to see out in the world?
I would love to work towards becoming a concept artist/creator for animations. I am currently working on a large body of works that belong to a single narrative.
What advice can you give an aspiring artist/illustrator?
Be yourself and remember to be curious.
Can you share a bit about what you’re working on next?
I’m currently working on a series that follows a character through many figmental scenes. I would like each illustration to be one piece of a grander narrative.
That sounds really interesting. What’s your online presence like? Are you on social media? What do your followers say about your work?
I use Instagram @maewaitestudio as my platform of choice. My audience accumulated over the past five years or so consists of people from many different backgrounds because my art also covers many different styles and visions. The feedback I receive on social media is largely supportive and motivates me to work on my next piece to showcase.
And a few fun questions, if you’d like to answer. Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about yourself with young readers?
Iʻm pretty open about this, but I’m adopted from Kunming, China.
What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? Any favorites?
I love fantasy and sci-fi novels. I think my favorite at the moment is Dune by Frank Herbert or the Grace of Kings series by Ken Liu. These books took me longer to read because there’s so much to unpack and learn from.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My parents. They promote me better than any platform. I will periodically get texts from my dad saying that he needs a new order of my business cards.
Yay, dad! What advice would you give your younger self?
Stop overthinking everything!
Wise advice, for sure. Thank you so much for talking story with us, Mae! We wish you all the best!
To learn more about Mae Waite and to see more of her work, visit her website at maewaitestudio.com. To pre-order her book, visit the Kickstarter website, Aloha Everything: A Hawaiian Fairy Tale.
Images courtesy of Mae Waite; book cover courtesy of Kaylin Melia George.