Susan Gal's ABRACADABRA, IT'S SPRING! - Guest Post

Creating the artwork for Abracadabra, It’s Spring!
by Susan Gal

      Abracadabra, It’s Spring! came to me as a manuscript. I immediately fell in love with the jaunty text and the playful, magic-themed words. Sometimes the text tells an illustrator what to draw, but more often than not its my job to bring the text to life. That’s the fun part for me--how do I bring a fresh, interesting perspective to words on a page? In art school I was trained to push past my initial solution to a problem and come up with my own unique interpretation. So…. spring is about nature; snowmelt and sunny days filled with flower buds bursting and the air humming with butterflies, birds, and bees. Animals awakening from their winter rests and gardens waiting to be planted. My job is to interpret these impressions and visually weave them with the text.
      Along with interpreting the text, designing the spreads for Abracadabra, It’s Spring! posed a particular challenge for me. Its a gate-fold book, meaning one half of the spread stays in place while the reader unfolds the page revealing another spread. The left side of the spread has to match with the unfolded, newly ‘revealed’ spread. Knowing that the reader will have to interact with the book in this way challenged me to make each spread, when opened, come alive with color--like the world re-awakening on a glorious spring day! 
      After completing work on Abracadabra, It’s Spring! I began work illustrating its companion book, Hocus Pocus, Its Fall! I loved working with the same format and use of magic words, transitioning the imagery from spring to fall. Hocus Pocus It’s Fall! will be published Fall 2016.
      I began my career illustrating for magazines, newspapers, posters, and calendars. I also worked briefly in animation as an ‘in-betweener’ for Disney Animation Florida. But my first love has always been both writing and illustrating children’s picture books. In 2010 I took the plunge with my first book, Night Lights. When I write and illustrate a book the pictures and characters come to me before the words arrive. I formulate a story in my head before putting pencil to paper. Then I jot down the story and begin to rewrite and refine it. From there I staple together a small paper dummy and start to lay out the pace and timing of the story. I don’t let myself start to sketch until I feel okay with the sentence structure. For me, the easier part of the process is creating the artwork, so I don’t allow myself the joy of drawing until the story is developed. Once the sentence structure is in place the real fun begins!
     Character development and design is the most exciting part of storytelling for me. While working in animation I learned how important it is to know your characters. If they aren’t real to me, then there’s no point in spending time with them and bringing them to life in my story. Sometimes a character’s personality and body language is pretty complete from the start. Other times the character evolves as the dummy evolves. I spend a lot of time sketching the characters to get a feel for them. I like to stay very loose at this stage to keep the drawings fresh and allow for spontaneous things to happen. 
     When I feel as though I have a grasp of the character, I scan my charcoal sketches on the computer and begin to digitally place them in a spread. Working digitally allows me the freedom to move the characters around in a composition. Eventually the drawing talks to me and tells me where it wants to go and I start to refine it. At this stage I’m still working in black and white so I can focus on the composition and design. Once the composition is established its time for me to start experimenting in Photoshop to render the final art. I’m intrigued by light, color, and texture and try to capture it in my work. Each new book gives me an opportunity to try my hand at a new technique.
      My studio is in my home located east of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has high ceilings and large windows with natural northern light. My drawing table faces east so when I start my day the studio is filling with sunlight as the day begins. Because I’m fascinated with light and color I enjoy experiencing how the light changes as my work day progresses. I paper my studio walls with photos, drawings, poems, etc….anything that inspires me. There are so many beautiful things that catch my eye—eventually I will need more wall space!
Learn more about Susan at
Abracadabra, It's Spring! by Anne Sibley O'Brien and illustrated by Susan Gal, published by Abrams Appleseed (£8.99) - CLICK HERE to purchase the book from Abrams.

1 comment:

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

What fun to read this account, Susan! As I hope you've heard from folks at Abrams again and again, I'm thrilled with your exquisite illustrations, bringing my text to life.

Iit's been especially fun to be the author watching the process unfold, instead of the illustrator, responsible for the visuals. I knew from the moment I had the inspiration for ABRACADABRA that it wanted the work of another kind of illustrator. You were the perfect choice!

Thanks for all the beauty and movement in these gorgeous spreads.