Sunday, May 22, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator RUTH CHAN


With all the picture book debuts this spring, it is certainly time to celebrate with a party!  Ruth Chan's picture book debut, WHERE'S THE PARTY? is exactly perfect for the occasion! It is not easy for illustrators to break into children's publishing. Nor is it easy for Georgie to throw a party in Ruth's book, but he manages to pull it off with big success. Congratulations to Georgie and to Ruth!


It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about yours?
Well, it all started with your class at SVA's Continuing Education!  And then I signed up for two more of your classes.  This was sort of the first concrete step I took.  I'd been surrounded by picture books all my life, first as a kid, and then as an educator, but never thought I'd have the chops to actually make one and get it published.  The classes helped me understand the basics of the industry, as well as what makes a good picture book.

Upon your recommendation, I signed up for the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter Conference in 2013. I was so overwhelmed, I didn't manage to meet a single person, and returned from it completely disoriented.  I was, however, inspired, and decided to dedicate the next year to getting to know all I could about the industry, and working on my illustration.  I read picture books incessantly, went to book launches, followed everyone I could on social media, and painted every day. I returned to the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference with a new portfolio, a deeper understanding of what I had to do, and a group of friends I'd made along the way.  

I ended up winning a Runner-Up award for the Portfolio Showcase that year, and the very next day, I had emails and calls from agents and art directors.  I signed with my agent, and worked with her on a book dummy I'd started in an SVA class.  We sent it out and got a two-book deal at auction with Roaring Brook. It was very quick journey, and I'm very fortunate to have had that.


How did WHERE'S THE PARTY get started? What were some the stages? 

The original idea came one day when I was walking in my neighborhood. A delivery man from Balloon Saloon was trying to deliver balloons to an address, but he couldn't find it, and was becoming increasingly frustrated. It was such a funny visual to see this person holding over 50 balloons-- something that would make anyone happy-- so agitated and angry.  I thought it'd be an interesting concept to make a book about anticipating a party, and having all the fun of it taken away.

I also knew Georgie (my cat) and Feta (my dog) were going to be the main characters of the book.  They are such odd and funny creatures in real life, it was inevitable that they'd become picture book characters.


I started working on the dummy in your SVA class. I reworked it in the next class.  I created another version after working with my agent.  And then changed the entire concept of the book while working with my editor.  I think, in the end, we had 21 versions of the manuscript and eight versions of the dummy!  

What was your favorite part of working on this book?
I loved painting the characters.  There were times I'd sketch or paint one of them and laugh out loud at how funny they were.  That's got to be one of the best feelings-- to draw something and then laugh or nod at something you did right.  I feel like we're always our own harshest critics, so to do something you actually like is quite the accomplishment.


And the most difficult part?
It was hard to step back from the story and try to see it with fresh eyes at every round of edits.  You sort of lose sight of the story arc, the rhythm, etc. because you've read and looked at the darn thing so many times.

There was also one spread that I could not for the life of me figure out the colors for. I think I did the spread six times before settling on a palette I'm still not completely sure of. 


Where do you live and what is your studio like? 

I live in Brooklyn, NY, just a few blocks from Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Central Library.  It's great here. Feta loves going to the park, and Georgie loves staying inside and watching the birds from his perch on the windowsill.


My studio space is in my bedroom, and while it isn't the most space, it has a great view of the city.  It gives wonderful light, and it's great for spacing out, and for watching the lighting change over the course of the day.  I also live across the street from another children's book author/illustrator, so we'll work together in his studio pretty often.  Making picture books can be such isolating and lonely work, so it's nice to have even just one other person around.  Feta even has his own bed there.

And then at night, Georgie and Feta usually snuggle up together and fall asleep.  Actually, they do this pretty much all day long. The are both kind of old, and love sleeping.  And love sleeping together. It never gets old, how cute it is. 

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?
I was painfully shy as a child. So much so that I'm blotchy and crying in almost all of my school pictures from earlier grades.  

I drew and painted as much as the average kid, but I wouldn't say I was a 'born artist' who was incessantly drawing.  I also didn't like to read very much until about 7th grade.  I much preferred playing outside in the woods and biking around with my friends!  

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
Like I mentioned earlier, I'd always loved picture books. They seamlessly encompass some of the most beautiful things in life: A good story, beautiful language, incredible art, humor, wit, tenderness, and truths. I’d amassed a huge collection of them, but never allowed myself to really consider making them. While I doodled here and there, I had no formal illustration background, and, in my mind, there was no way I’d make it in such a competitive industry.

Then in 2012, a number of really difficult things happened at the same time and I found myself alone, jobless, and, quite honestly, depressed.  I remember sitting down in the mornings and drawing because I didn’t really know what else to do, and then— as things sometimes unfold— that aimlessness led to more illustrations, which led to taking a few SVA continuing classes, and then to attending an SCBWI conference.  And you know the rest!

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs? 
You know, I was really fortunate, I didn't really have many rejections when it came to picture book submissions, just because of how things unfolded for me.  I had a few from submissions I'd made at the 2013 SCBWI conference, but I also knew my work wasn't quite up to snuff.  I've had a ton of rejections from illustration competitions, and I think the key is to hope, but not expect.

That being said, there were so many ups and downs.  There are so many downs when you admit to yourself you really want something, and start working towards it, because you start thinking, "What happens if I don't get what I really want?"  But there are many little ups as well: Talking to a favorite picture book illustrator, finding a solution to a problem in the story, drawing that funny character. 

There were a few times making WHERE'S THE PARTY? where I was convinced I couldn't make this book.  And I think you feel that working on any book, even if it's your 20th book.  But then your editor or agent or friend pulls you out of that, and you end up being just fine!

Are more books about these characters in the works?

Yes!  GEORGIE AND FRIENDS is going to be a series, of which WHERE'S THE PARTY? is the first.  I just finished working on the second book, GEORGIE'S BEST BAD DAY and is about Georgie and his friends having a bad day together.  


I'm also about to start illustrating a sequel to a book that comes out in September, 2016, called MERVIN THE SLOTH IS ABOUT TO DO THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD.  Colleen AF Venable is the author and has written two hilarious, heartfelt stories here. 

Is there anything that you remember from SVA class that has been particularly helpful? Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now? 
- Join SCBWI!
- Get others to look at your work and get feedback.  The critiques in your class were so helpful.
- Be prepared to work hard.  Read as many picture books as you can. Attend as many events as you can.  Get on social media to see who is talking about what in the industry.  
- It's really not impossible! I remember sitting in your class thinking "Wow. This real life author/illustrator is here talking to us. If only I could ever get to that point. But it'll never happen." But it did!


To find out more about Ruth and her work visit her website here
and for more fun pictures of Feta and Georgie check out her Instagram here
And now it is time to get to the PARTY! 



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator JASON KIRSCHNER


We are on a roll with picture book debuts from amazing illustrators from SVA! This week we are celebrating Jason Kirschner's MR PARTICULAR. This tale in comic book style is filled with warmth and humor: our super-hero is just a bit fussy and quirky, and SUPER appealing!  MR PARTICULAR has gotten off to a flying start. Congratulations!

How did MR PARTICULAR get started? What were some the stages? 
My son was a picky kid. When he'd refuse to eat something or he’d make a fuss, we'd call him Mr. Particular. As a comic book fan, I thought it would be the funniest name for a superhero. After a few different book dummies that no one was buying, I wanted to write something that was closer to my heart which ended up being Mr. Particular: The World’s Choosiest Champion. I went through several stages of story revisions with my agent and then started drawing.  I produced a fully illustrated dummy with a few color spreads which we shopped around and sold to Sterling last April.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
I loved just about every stage of this project. The story was fun to write because I knew all the characters intimately and I got to add a lot of comic book homages to the script.  Having said that, drawing these guys was my favorite part. I'm an illustrator first and bringing these characters to life on the page was tremendous fun.


And the most difficult part?  
Honestly, it was the unknowns that were hardest.  As a first time author/illustrator, I just didn't know what to expect and I was continually surprised by the amount of work that happens even after you sell the book. It wasn’t bad — it’s just a lot of work.  Thank goodness I had tons of support from my editor and art director.

Where do you live and what is your studio like? Your art materials?
I live in a lovely house in NJ where I've stolen the finished attic and made it my studio.  It’s as quiet as a room can be in a house with two 9 year-olds.  I’ve got a large drafting table with a lightbox for drawing  and a computer workstation with my Wacom palette for Photoshop. 
As for materials, when I use expensive paper I tighten up so I draw everything on cheap photocopy paper. That way, I don’t worry if I mess up — and I often mess up.  I like 11”x17” so I've got some room. I draw with brown and black Prismacolor pencils. Then I scan it all in and color digitally.

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?  
Yes. Always. I’ve got sketchbooks from when I was three and four years old.

Future projects? 
I’ve just finished a new manuscript and I’ve started drawing the dummy. I've also mapped out the next two Mr. Particular books -- not that anyone's asked for them. I just love the characters so much. I hope it does well enough to warrant a sequel. I’ve also started fiddling with a chapter book because I’m so wordy.

Is there anything that you remember from SVA class that has been particularly helpful? Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now? 
I loved meeting the guest artists and hearing their stories.  Each one went about things differently which was reassuring.  
As for advice— Do tons of work.  If you write, write every day and if you draw, draw every day.  (If you do both, alternate days or something.)  I go up to my studio every day after my day job and work. And get a good critique group. I’ve been with mine for several years and they’ve been instrumental in raising the quality of my work. 

To find out more about Jason and his work visit his website here
Also check out the blog Drawn to Picture Books created by Jason and five other illustrator friends. SUPER GREAT!!!


Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator CLAIRE LORDON


Having your very first book published is super exciting and fabulous! This spring not just one, not just two, but THREE people, who were all in my SVA class at one time or another, are having their picturebook debuts. Each wrote and illustrated their books, each has had a different experience towards reaching publication, and each are going to do a Q&A here. I'm thrilled to introduce to you these new author/ illustrators! First up is Claire Lordon:


Lorenzo the Pizza Loving Lobster is about a feisty creative little guy who wants to share his love for pizza with his friends. Eelgrass or algae pizza anyone? After a few silly mishaps that will make kids giggle, there is naturally a delicious pizza party at the end!

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about yours?
I took my children's book class at SVA (with Monica Wellington) in January 2014 and in June 2014 I attended the New Jersey SCBWI conference. There I made a contact with a publisher. I sent them my dummy and my portfolio and after six months I received a response. They said that while they didn't want my story, they loved a few pieces of art and wondered if I had any stories about them. They happened to love an illustration I made of a lobster, and I was just finishing up my dummy for "Lorenzo, the Pizza-Loving Lobster". When I was finished with my dummy and some sample art I sent it to them. After a few rounds of revision I received an offer! I believe my art and illustration background gave me a bit of a head start.


How did LORENZO get started? What were some the stages? 
The idea for Lorenzo started as an inside joke between me and my boyfriend. I gave him a stuffed animal lobster for his birthday and somehow we decided he was Italian and loved pizza. I thought this would make a great character in a children's book, so I made one piece of art and wrote a story.
The story for Lorenzo was very different at that point. Originally it had Lorenzo as a child and then grew up to a grownup lobster. I made a "dummy" book and had a few samples of what I thought the final art should look like.  After submitting my book dummy, my editor and I went through a few rounds of revisions and the story changed - all for the better. Then I had to make a new storyboard and rough sketches of all the pages before going into final art.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
Besides all my pizza breaks? 
My favorite part was creating the storyboard. When I created the storyboard I particularly enjoyed figuring out the pacing and thumbnail compositions because that is what the rest of the work is going to be based on - it's very exciting!



And the most difficult part?  
The most difficult part was the waiting! The publishing industry is very slow and waiting to see the actual physical book from when all the artwork was complete took almost a year.

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?
I currently live in Brooklyn, New York. My studio is very small, but since I work mostly digitally it's fine. I use Photoshop with my Wacom Cintiq monitor to create most of my illustrations. Occasionally I start out with a pencil sketch or thumbnail, but otherwise I work using my computer.


What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? 
I was always drawing and announced to my parents when I was three years old that I was going to be an artist. I continued to study and make art all the time, even taking art classes on Saturdays for many years. I loved exploring different mediums and my favorite subjects to draw were always animals.


How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?  
I studied and made art all throughout my childhood and decided my junior year of high school that I wanted to further pursue art. For college I chose to go to the Rhode Island School of Design. There I had one foundation year and three years of studying illustration.  In my last semester I realized that I loved creating art for kids. I dabbled in a few industries doing various illustration work when I decided that taking a picture book class sounded like fun. I decided to take the children's book class at SVA. I have always loved telling stories and found that children's books are a great fit! I can combine my love of storytelling and creating art for children with picture books.

Did you have some rejections along the way?
Yes! I received some rejections, some were silent (they didn't respond), some were filled with encouraging notes, and some were form rejections. The rejections that were more personal and had suggestions really encouraged me to keep working.

What are some of your other projects that you are currently working on?  
I recently completed a few pieces of art for a story about a penguin named Bento who is apprehensive about school picture day that I'm going to shop around. Right now I'm working on a story called "Santa Jaws" which is about a shark who takes on Santa's duties underwater. I'm also working on a story about a fox who wants to go camping. There are a few other drafts in progress, but they are very rough.
I'm also working on art for my portfolio, as well as various illustration projects for clients.

Is there anything that you remember from SVA class that has been particularly helpful?
There were many things that were helpful from the SVA class. Learning how to pace a story and how to storyboard were greatly helpful. Also learning how to create a "dummy" (rough draft) book really helped me before I started submitting my work.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
1. Join SCBWI
2. Read many picture books so you can learn more about the industry
3. Write and illustrate - lots!
4. Find a critique group that will give you support and good feedback
5. Share what you make - through social media and to art directors and agents
6. Repeat steps two through five.
7. Don't give up. Keep making new work and keep trying!

To find out more about Claire and her work take a look at her website here 


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator HYEWON YUM


Hyewon Yum was in my class at SVA many years ago. She had just moved to NY from Korea and did not speak very much English. She was quiet but very hard working and very talented. She went on to earn her MFA at SVA, and soon after graduating, published her first book, LAST NIGHT, in 2008 to great acclaim. She has been very busy writing and illustrating ever since: her newest book, PUDDLE, has just been published. This week she returned to SVA, to talk to my current students. Everyone was awe-struck by her beautiful work and inspired by her experimentation and creativity. Thank you Hyewon for sharing your story with us!

Where did the idea for PUDDLE come from?
It came from my little boy. Just like in the book, I don't really like going out when it rains, but with little kids, being stuck in a little city apartment isn't very interesting. So I tried to have fun with my little boy who asked me draw. First I started to draw him, he was pretty interested. And when I drew mad mom, he laughed so hard. (people do enjoy other people's pain!) But the thing that struck me most is whenever I drew different face expressions, his facial expression changed. It was such a precious moment to see emotions and sympathy on your child's face.

Where do you live and what is your studio like?
I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's a really great place. So many artists live here, and there are the best bookstores and coffee places. But my place is small, my work tables are in the basement, so when it's spring I usually do sketches on the kitchen table which has a window.


Can you tell us about your art materials? You have used many different art materials and techniques in your various books - printmaking, collage, painting, computer - but every book looks like it is clearly made by you! Experimenting with materials and techniques is part of your style.
I love to try new materials. It's like a new box of crayons that never fails to inspire you to draw when you were a kid.


Going back to your first book - because it is so exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about LAST NIGHT?  How did it get started? What were some the stages?
LAST NIGHT was my MFA thesis book. In 2006, I started working on this book. Originally it was story about a house wife having an affair with a black bear. It was done by etching. But I needed to make it into a children's book for my portfolio since I wanted to make picture books. So I started with different medium (Linocut) and different color palette.


First I made thumbnail sketches to see how the story would be (because I didn't have much of an idea what the story was just yet.)


When I was done with thumbnails, I made bigger sketches and planned what color goes where, where I should cut on the linocut. Then print! I started with lighter colors, then made more cuts on the plate, then printed darker colors. After I made prints for all the images, I scanned them and printed them out  on watercolor paper and bound them together. There were no words.



How did you meet your editor?
I met my first editor, Frances Foster, while I was in my first year in SVA. I emailed her. Of course I didn't expect she would actually meet me. But she did. And then I invited her to my thesis show and she liked the book I made and published it as it was, without any changes! There: LAST NIGHT!


What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?  Yes, I always drew. I used to bite my fingers all the time and as a therapy my mom sent me to art class. Then no more biting fingers, believe it or not.

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
After art school in Korea, I had a chance to do illustrations for children's books. I had no idea about picture books, and the publisher taught me alot and introduced me to amazing books from Europe, Japan and America. Then I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
I still remember you read us WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak and COME AWAY FROM WATER SHIRLEY by John Burningham. (unfortunately I didn't grow up with those books!) It made me think about books from a totally different point of view. We open the book and walk through this world: when Max's room becomes the forest, it is magic that happens every time you turn the page. I am still thinking about those books whenever I start a new book and I am still learning from them.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
I did it, so can you!

To find out more about Hyewon and her books, visit her website here




Tuesday, April 05, 2016

April is School Library Month


School librarian extraordinaire, Ms Rattner, (librarianleaps.blogspot.com) invited me to her school near Albany, NY. Librarians put so much work into making sure author visits go smoothly: Thank you!!!  School visits are so much fun. I love sharing my books and how I make them with children. 

I showed a bit of home life - They got a kick out of this picture of my cat: 


 And Zoe likes to hang out with me when I paint.



I explain how I first do research when I start a book. Here is a reference picture that helped me when I worked on Mr Cookie Baker


Here is my first sketch:


And after numerous revisions and versions, here is the picture in the book.


Later there was the chance for some of the children to do their own sketches based on famous French paintings. They were so creative. 


The theme of the evening activities was France (for the Readover Sleepover - in the library and classrooms!) Here I am together with Ms Rattner and Crepes by Suzette! It was a jam-packed visit: à bientôt and Merci!


Librarians are GREAT! Thank you for the tremendous write-up at LibrarianLeaps


Friday, February 19, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator SUSIE LEE JIN



Susie Lee Jin was in my children's book illustration class at SVA some years ago. She went on to earn her MFA there and has worked as a free-lance illustrator doing a broad range of projects for an impressive list of clients. MINE! is her debut book as an author and illustrator. Congratulations!

Susie's story is told with only three different words: "mine" (repeated numerous times!), "ours", and "yours". This is energetic and hilarious storytelling pared down to the essentials! You will fall in love with these two adorable bunnies. 

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about yours? 
Sure, I’d love to! Thanks for inviting me to share my story.  It all started with your class— you were my first children's book teacher, and I'm still using what you taught me about story boarding… Thank you, Monica!


How did MINE get started? What were some the stages?
I usually start a project by doodling.  I find a quiet place to sit with a stack of copy paper, pencils, and kneaded eraser, and I just sketch and daydream.  I draw characters and give them quirks, then try to picture how they might act and feel in different social situations.  They are partly imagined as well as loosely based on memories and people I know.  The whole exercise is pure self-entertainment. I know I’m on to a good idea if I’m having a good time.   

For MINE!, I began by sketching two bunny friends playing in the snow, chasing one another with snowballs and making snow bunny-angels.   I remembered sliding down an icy hill on an old coat with my big sister Virginia and exploring our neighborhood together, and these childhood memories jump-started my imagination.  

I drafted the dummy for MINE! half a dozen times before it started to come together. After sharing it with my writing critique partner and at a couple of children’s book events, I reworked it a few more times.  At this point (after about a year and a half!), I felt pretty good about the story.  I put it in a drawer to marinate for a month, intending to look at it with fresh eyes and tweak it just one more time before submitting it to a publisher.   

That fall, I brought MINE! to a portfolio review event at the Children’s Book Illustrator’s Group, where I met with art director Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster.  I was sitting on the edge of my chair as she looked through my book draft.  I recall her turning the pages and chuckling until she reached the end.  Her reaction alone really made my day. Then she offered to pass MINE! on to her editorial team, making no promises.  A wonderful surprise appeared in my email box that following New Year’s in the form of a book contract offer, from my thereafter awesome editor Justin Chanda.  It was an amazing journey to publication from there. Justin and Lucy had some great ideas for revising, and their input helped me make MINE! even better.  I’m so pleased and proud of my first picture book!

What was your favorite part of working on this book?
 
My favorite part was visualizing the relationships of the rabbits. I know their personalities well.  In particular, I really liked drawing and painting the tiny bunnies high-fiving after they make their getaway with the carrot.  


And the most difficult part? 
Mixing enough gouache paint for forty pages’ worth of picture book art!  MINE! is my biggest illustration project so far—since all the pieces were hand-painted, I wanted to make sure my color palette was consistent throughout the book.  Before starting on the final art, I sat hunched at my desk for a couple of days just squeezing out tubes of paint, mixing and remixing, and storing my paints in little labeled containers.  I was so paranoid I would not be able to exactly remix a rabbit fur color or something, hence all the prepping! And then, of course, actually making the forty pages of book art was quite a painting marathon. 

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials? 
I live in Fort Lee, NJ, right across from George Washington Bridge and New York City.  My home studio is upstairs, and I think of it as three parts— one side is my messy artist “kitchen” with sink and faucet, cabinets, and a big closet for all my art supplies; the other side is my office with computer, scanner, printers, and a library of favorite children’s books; and nestled in the middle is my art table facing a tall window with great natural light. Within reach are lots of pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, eraser, loose copy paper, scissors and tape.  These are the materials I use the most.  My walls are dotted with sticky notes of sketches and ideas and art reference photos for various projects. I also have some framed pieces that inspire me— the amazing interior fold-out spread from Valeri Gorbachev’s ONE RAINY DAY; a few postcards  of drawings by Bill Traylor; and several carefree drawings created by my family members. 

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? 
I was an avid reader.  I loved (and still love) reading and getting lost in stories, in the worlds of other people’s imaginations.  My favorite go-to books as a child were my illustrated GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES, RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY stories by Johnny Gruelle, and my TREASURY OF PETER RABBIT AND OTHER STORIES by Beatrix Potter. Later I remember being especially enraptured by my beautiful copies of SWAN LAKE by Mark Helprin, illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, and PUSS IN BOOTS illustrated by Fred Marcellino. All of these books enchanted me.  And, yes, when I was not reading or riding my bike or exploring my neighborhood, I was probably making something out of crayons, cut paper, paint, mud, or you name it.  My mother encouraged me by gifting me a variety of art supplies, and I was often experimenting with combining materials.  I was so engrossed at times that everything else disappeared.

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
In addition to reading a lot as a kid, I also watched a LOT of television.  One of my favorite shows was READING RAINBOW with LeVar Burton.  I enjoyed listening to the stories as the camera panned over the book art, and I still remember how strongly they made me feel.  The shock of the fire and consoling community in A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER; the desperation caused by drought and valiant Kipat shooting the storm cloud in BRINGING THE RAIN TO KAPITI PLAIN; and the empathy I felt for GREGORY, THE TERRIBLE EATER who like myself was a gastronomically picky child. The narrated books made me want to read and see more books.  One inspiring episode had a catchy song “Making a Book” that showed how to cut, glue, and sew together your own book with cardboard, paper, and yarn.  Another episode explained the four-color process printing of a picture book, and yet another featured a visit to an illustrator’s studio.  I was totally floored.  Later when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, these precious memories came back to me.  I loved creative writing and storytelling.  I loved children’s books.  I loved making art.  I decided to put these passions together and go for it.  

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?
I have been in the illustration business for over thirteen years now, and art as a career is unpredictable.  The “ups” are times of plenty— contracts-in-hand and lots of illustrations due, often at the same time!— and the “downs” are times of nothing-in-hand and trying to secure that next project.  Sometimes the whole business feels like a crapshoot!

During these lulls, one big challenge for me is maintaining self-momentum.  I’m constantly chiding myself while cheering myself on, “You can do it, Susie!”  I have one-woman art business meetings to outline a game plan for the day, week, month, and year.  I remind myself that my art can be whimsical, but not my work ethic.  When I’m not working on art for others, I keep myself busy developing my own dummy ideas and marketing plans. Running an art business, I wear a lot of hats and need to stay disciplined and manage my time well.  Good thing I love being my own boss!

Another “up” is getting to know and work with other artists and professionals who also love children’s books.   I’m not at all lonely in my work, because I love what I do; but working in my art space, I often am alone.  A regular challenge is to leave the vacuum of my art studio once in a while and see the world!  I go to book events and expos, schools full of budding readers, libraries and book stores and meet up with my artist-friends for professional advice, critiques of work-in-progress, and moral support.  These people affirm that I am not the only one in the world in the visual storytelling business.  Art is being made on a global scale, by unique people with talents to discover and admire and compete with.  

With all this global competition, rejections are a natural byproduct.  I have been rejected PLENTY. In general, though, the children’s publishing world has been a kind community to me.  I have found children’s art people to be gracious folk, and rejections often were/are accompanied by to encouraging notes and constructive criticism.  Whether via a form letter, handwritten note, or that silent non-reply that is in itself a rejection, rejection to me is proof positive that I am actively striving to find that editor or art director who “gets” me creatively.   I think of it as a search for a kindred spirit (nod to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, ya’ll!).  You may get a hundred NO’s, but you just need one YES! to get published.

Being an author-illustrator is rewarding work and what I want to do each day.  When I see or hear kids reading my books, my heart feels very full.  I would not want to do anything else.

What are some of your other projects that you are currently working on? 
I’m currently working on picture book illustrations for a story about a little dog who gets adopted, as well as developing a few dummies of my own picture book and board book ideas.
Can you tell us about your experiences with children's books in the years building up to your debut with MINE?  
After your class, I went on to SVA's MFA Illustration program, which further expanded the publishing world for me.  My primary undergraduate studies at Duke University were English and elementary school education, so coming from a non-arts liberal educational background, this was indeed a new world for me to explore. I was able to focus on children's books writing and illustration for a FULL TWO YEARS.  And the people; oh, the amazing people!  The other students in the program were/are inspirational and diversely talented.  I also loved that my teachers had themselves made a lifetime commitment to the arts, and they created an engaging atmosphere to hone our illustration skills.  More importantly, they encouraged us to draw from our personal stories, to find our unique visual-storytelling voices. 

Entering the SVA MFA program was my first big commitment toward my dream of being a professional artist. At that time I decided to knock on as many doors as I could.  Being a student at SVA helped make those doors open.  Some of the highlights were two internships at Penguin's imprints G.P. Putnam's Sons and Phyllis Fogelman Books. I especially grew under the mentorship of amazing Art Director Cecilia Yung and her art/editorial team.  They graciously invited me into their offices to ask as many questions as I had in me, and I had a million-plus questions that they graciously answered!

I also spent a lot of time reading children’s books, at book stores and in Penguin’s resource library.  CAR WASH was a picture book they were working on at the time, and I remember poring over ATLANTIC, which had just come out.  Both titles were illustrated by fabulous children's book author-illustrator G. Brian Karas.  I’m telling you this because during a student's second year, the SVA MFA program facilitates a mentorship with a working visual artist.  I remember nervously emailing G. Brian Karas to inquire if he would consider being that person for me.  When he replied “Yes,” I was beyond excited.  Someone I looked up to was going to be by side for a whole year.  That it could even happen was fantastic.

I am a big believer in continuing education for a lifetime.  When I think about the start of my professional journey, I consider the School of Visual Arts as a launching point for me in many ways.  I consider myself lucky and blessed to have been a part of that magic.  Those opportunities and fellow artists helped me become the artist I am today.

And finally, do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Focus on creating your best work and personal voice— read a lot, write a lot, and draw a lot.  Then get your work out there.


To see more about Susie's artwork visit her website here
For more interviews in my series with my SVA Alums:  Enjoy!