In the children’s picture book “Kalamata’s Kitchen” (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2021), a nervous Kalamata finds the courage to start a new school after food-filled imaginary adventure with her alligator pal, Al Dente. The magical story, written by Sarah Thomas, comes to life with colorful, expressive illustrations by Arlington artist Jo Kosmides Edwards.
When she’s not illustrating books — Edwards also contributed the cover art for “Wolfpack” by Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle’s “Love Warrior” — or painting murals around the D.C. area, Edwards is hanging out at home with her husband, Brock, and sons Jude, 10, and Oliver, 9.
Washington FAMILY caught up with the “Doodling Dynamo” to learn more about “Kalamata’s Kitchen” and how she juggles her kids and her craft.
How did you become a children’s book illustrator?
Becoming a children’s book illustrator was a bit of luck. I had always wanted to make a children’s book. Derek Wallace and Sarah Thomas had heard of me through a mutual friend, and invited me to participate in their contest to come up with a character for “Kalamata’s Kitchen.” It seemed like a very cool project, so I entered. I won! While we started by self-publishing several books, we then published with Random House Children’s Books, and the rest is history!
What has been your favorite part about illustrating these books? The most challenging?
My favorite part about illustrating the books was working with the Kalamata team and having the opportunity and freedom to create a character that inspires children and helps them develop a sense of wonder. The hardest part was the very first spread because that sets up the vibe of the whole project. Also, since my focus was often in portraiture, backgrounds were a new challenge for me. Once those environments were established, then the rest started flowing.
What’s the hardest part about juggling motherhood and your career? What’s something that makes it easier to balance both?
I’m sure a lot of parents say this, but the hardest part about it is usually the guilt. The little voice that says “You’re not doing enough with your children this week, they will suffer.” Then it says “You’re not honing your craft as much as you should be, it will suffer.” I think to balance everything, I wake up super early each day and pump out a couple of hours of work before the kids wake up. That way when they are up, I can fully focus on them for a bit before they go off to school. Also, my kids love to make things, so if I set them up with art supplies, they often will sort of zone out making something while I do the same.
How do you find time to nurture your own creativity?
Early rising definitely helps, and I am very, very lucky that I have a husband who is incredibly supportive of my career. Since I don’t have unlimited alone time, when we finish eating dinner and migrate to the couch afterward, I will pick up an art book or a sketchbook or look up some art online and show my family. I am also constantly listening to art books and podcasts while I work or when driving to activities.
Any tips for parents raising young aspiring artists?
Nurture their interests and passions. Encourage them to watch YouTube videos, get them some classes, check out art books and magazines at the library, or have them shadow an artist for a day. Host a family art night where you have hot cocoa and paint a flower that’s sitting on the kitchen table. Nothing will teach them better than doing, especially doing it every single day. Know that both the time they spend creating art brings them joy and your support makes them more confident, brave and motivated.
Vacation spot: Lewes, Delaware, with family friends.
At-home activity: Playing with our dog, Rusty
Local activity: Riding our bikes on the W&OD trail
Local restaurant: Athena Pallas in Crystal City