Susan: Since I create nonfiction picture books, I always begin by researching my topic. Once I’ve gathered my information, I begin writing by finding a syncopated rhythm that serves as an ”anchor” for my rhyme scheme. Here is the intro to Fabulous Fishes:
“Round fish,After finalizing my poem, I write an addendum in which I provide more information about my subjects and include thumbnail illustrations of them.
fish that like to hide.
fish that leap and glide.”
Once my manuscript is finalized, my illustration process begins. I work at a drafting table in my home studio, which has great natural light.
I then trace my drawing onto Bristol paper. For each color, I apply at least three layers of acrylic paint to give the image a flat, silkscreen-like appearance.
Susan: When I started out, I took out a library book to learn how to make a book! It taught me how to create a dummy. I submitted five of them to prospective agents, and one agreed to represent me. (She still does.) She secured a contract for my first book, Some Sleep Standing Up, with Simon and Schuster. I remember jumping up and down in my kitchen when she told me this news.
Susan: Fabulous Fishes was inspired by my encounter with a porcupine fish during a snorkeling trip. Feeling threatened, it inflated itself into a big, round ball right before my eyes. It was such a surprising and dazzling moment. I painted the fish just as I remembered seeing it.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Susan: My recipe for a magical illustration is a glorious and original combination of pattern, color, and exquisite detail – the kind that makes a child notice the spot of turquoise inside a peacock’s feather or the hair-thin spines of a lionfish.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Susan: Though I promote myself through standard social media platforms, I have found that presentations are the most effective. So, I’m always researching opportunities to participate in conferences and festivals. My program proposals have resulted in some great presentation gigs in places like Hawaii, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Presenting at the International School of Brussels
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Susan: I love the surprises that come with research. When I wrote the line “fish that hitch a ride” for Fabulous Fishes, I had no idea if fish actually did that. Then I learned that remoras do! They attach the suction cups on the heads to whale sharks and hitch a ride. They also eat the whale shark’s leftover plankton.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Susan: I credit curriculum manager Teresa Naley for suggesting that Fabulous Fishes can be used to help children explore differences. She writes “Difference is inherent to being human, yet it causes so much strife in our world. In the context of Fabulous Fishes, the reader learns that fish can be round, striped, spiked, speckled, and spotted, among other things, yet at the end of the day, they are all fish and they all call the same place home."
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Susan: I’m creating a book about birds for publication in 2021. It will include this painting of a Royal Flycatcher.
e: My pleasure, Susan! Lovely to finally have you on!