Interview with Artist/Illustrator Mae Waite

Mae-WaiteArtist 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.

Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

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.

Waterbed @ Mae Waite

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.

City @ Mae Waite

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  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.

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