I asked Suzanne some questions about her illustration process, and on her experiences as an illustrator:
1. Have you always wanted to be an illustrator? And how did you enter the children’s book world?
I have always loved art and I was always busy drawing, sculpting, or painting when I was a child. I also loved science, and so I had a tough decision to make when it was time to choose a career path and university. I eventually decided to pursue science and received my H.B.Sc in Life Science from Queen’s University. I worked as a Medical Research Technician in a Cellular Signalling Research Lab in Toronto for a number of years before I had my children. I left my job in science after the birth of my first son, to raise my young family. During this time I reacquainted myself with the fantastic world of picture books, reading with my children and I realized how much I missed doing my art. Over the years as my children grew, I carved out little pockets of time during naptime or late at night to start working on my art style, study the children’s book industry, attended PYI CANSCAIP and joined SCBWI and after a few years of hard work I had enough pieces to put together into a portfolio. I made postcards and bookmarks out of Moo mini-cards, and sent them out to about 100 publishing houses in Canada, USA and the United Kingdom. I was thrilled when, just a few months later, I received a call from Christie Harkin, who was the Children’s Publisher at Fitzhenry & Whiteside at the time. She just happened to have a bookmark collection so not only did she like my postcard she also enjoyed the little take-away bookmarks I had included in my mailers. She asked me to create sample art for one of their Tell-Me-More storybook picture book manuscripts. I was over-the-moon excited and well, pretty much terrified, since this was big-my very first children’s book project. I was offered the contract to illustrate Skink on the Brink, written by Lisa Dalrymple.
My studio is just off the kitchen, as it used to be our formal dining room. It has a great big window, and is centrally located so I can pop in and out when my kids are home from school to look over homework or dinner preparations. I have a great little wire hanging system that I installed above my worktop. I like to look at my sketches all together to check pacing etc. so I end up taping them up all over my wall, and hanging them from this wire system. It’s also useful to hang my many reference photos during a project. (see worktop-sketches on wall image) I also use a variety of tools that help me create the various textures in my medium of choice-plasticine. But my favorite tools happen to be the simplest- my wood clay shaper tool, an old toothbrush, and large safety pin.
3. Do you always work in your studio or do you have other places where you create?
I do all of my plasticine artwork in my studio, but if I am sketching or writing I often work at the kitchen table or even at the cottage during our summer holiday.
4. Do you have favorite music to listen to when you work?
I find I need music when I am creating, so I often listen to the radio, or my ipod. Right now I particularly love Maroon 5.
5. When working on an illustration, what aspect do you find the most challenging? And which part of the process do you enjoy the most?
When working on an illustration, the aspect I find the most challenging (but also the most rewarding) is translating my tight pencil sketch into the final plasticine art. Sometimes ideas which I thought would work perfectly don’t end up working out the way I had planned, or an unforeseen issue arises that calls for changes. But I do also enjoy this challenge, and I find that the intuitive nature of my process sometimes brings about an unexpected yet exciting outcome- a happy mistake. I enjoy each stage of the process but I find the very beginning of a project, where I dive into reference material research and begin thumbnails sketches, to be extremely invigorating and fun. Being from a science background, I love the research component of any project. I find I also need time to just “think” about the project. It’s this “thinking time” where I immerse myself, pouring over the manuscript and reference materials and just let my mind drift from idea to idea. I carry a notepad everywhere so if an idea hits, I can jot it down.
6. You are represented by Transatlantic Agency – How did this come about? How has it helped your career as an illustrator?
Yes, I was represented by Patricia Ocampo, at TLA. Patricia left agenting to pursue an editorial position at Annick Press and recently Simon and Schuster Canada, so I am currently unagented. Even though we only had the pleasure of working together for a short time, I found her editorial feedback on my WIP manuscripts to be very constructive and helpful. I have lots of great stuff to work up, thanks to the productive and lively coffee date/brainstorming sessions we enjoyed.
7. Whose work do you admire? Who or what inspires you from outside your own medium of work?
From a very young age I’ve been a huge fan of Robert Bateman. His attention to detail and talent for photo-realism is phenomenal. I actually wrote a speech about him in grade school. Interestingly, I am also drawn to colourful, impressionism like the works of Monet, and Renoir. My list of “art crush”/ favorite illustrators is forever growing. So off the top of my head…Beatrix Potter, Shaun Tan, Steve Jenkins, Julie Morstad, Erin Stead, Barbara Reid, Cybele Young, Elly MacKay, Melissa Sweet, and Eugenie and Kim Fernandes, to name a few. I am especially inspired by other dimensional artists, and I love observing their unique artistic process whether they create in linoblock, cut paper, collage, assemblage, or painting, it’s all fascinating.
8. What advice would you give an aspiring illustrator? -In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
I still feel too new to the field to be able to offer any sage words of advice. But, I can’t express how important it is to join CANSCAIP and SCBWI immediately, even if you are just thinking about going into a career in illustration. Go to their meeting, and conferences, network with others in the profession. I have found illustrators to be such a welcoming and supportive bunch, so don’t be shy (yes, most of us are very shy and introverted) and ask lots of questions.I also suggest joining a critique group. Not only can you learn a lot from the valuable feedback you will receive in a critique but you can also learn and fine-tune your own analytical skills through your critiques and self-evaluating your own work.
9. Is there anything you are working on now that you can tell us about?
I recently just finished up the final artwork for my second picture book, with Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Gerbil, Uncurled, written by Alison Hughes. It is due out this Spring. I am currently working on a few of my own manuscripts which I hope to have polished and ready to submit to publishers with accompanying sample art very soon. And… also a few things in the works that I am not at liberty to speak of yet…shhhh.
10. Where would you like your work to lead you? Have you any aspirations or plans for the future?
I’d love to write and illustrate my own picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. There are new mediums I’d also like to incorporate into my artwork. I feel like this is a huge time of personal growth for my art and my writing, and I am super excited to see where it takes me.
Thank you Suzanne for taking the time for this interview!
For more of Suzanne's work, please visit: