Audrey Niffenegger may be best known for her 2003 novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” a tale full of fantastical imagery and magical realism. She’s also a respected visual artist who tells stories in a different way, in art books (like the one above) elaborately illustrated in graphite and colored pencil. Now, her first major museum exhibition, “Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger,” puts her paintings and illustrated books on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts through Nov. 10.

You are a writer and a visual artist. How do you bridge those two worlds?
I think of myself primarily as a story- teller. Narrative is more central to writing than it has to be to art, but within my own art I’ve always been interested in telling stories.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is about a man who travels through time and has no control over when or where he goes. Was that idea inspired by your artwork?
The most persistent train of thought [in my work] has to do with the passage of time, death, the ephemeral, the idea that everything is fleeting. I value the idea that nothing’s permanent, that you have to be aware of it while it’s here.

Were there any other themes in your work that jumped out when you gathered pieces for a retrospective?
There is a lot of flying in the work. There’s a theme of sleeping and dreaming. A lot of them show women either sleeping or levitating above a bed or falling out of a bed, or suspended in some way — the idea of being between consciousness and the dream world.

Do you look at your work in a different way now?
I imagined myself as someone with great variety in my work. I thought I was constantly changing. When I started to gather up everything for the show, I realized that I’ve actually been pursuing certain trains of thought for long periods of time, for decades.

National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW; through Nov. 10, $10; 202-783-5000. (Metro Center)