Susan Stockdale's FABULOUS FISHES

Susan Stockdale and I have a very close mutual friend and have emailed for years, so it's about time I have her here on the blog to celebrate her many works! Welcome, Susan!
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
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,
fish that like to hide.
Striped fish,
spiked fish,
fish that leap and glide.”
      After finalizing my poem, I write an addendum in which I provide more information about my subjects and include thumbnail illustrations of them.
      I always consult with scientists to vet my text for accuracy. I worked with ichthyologists at the Shedd Aquarium, the National Museum of Natural History and the Monterey Bay Aquarium on this book.
      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 use photo references of my subjects and their habitats and view them in nature when possible. I saw many of the fishes in this book while snorkeling in Belize.
      I create many pencil sketches and select the drawing I like best. Meanwhile, I submit my final drawings to experts for their feedback and make any necessary changes.
      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.
      Having worked as a textile designer, I delight in finding and dramatizing patterns in everything I paint.
      I always end my books with children engaged with their theme in some fun way.
e: What was your path to publication?
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.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of your story?
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?
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?
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?
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.
     My biggest challenge is not to sacrifice content or sound contrived when writing my rhyme schemes. I always want them to flow naturally and easily.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
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?
I’m creating a book about birds for publication in 2021. It will include this painting of a Royal Flycatcher.
      Thank you for this opportunity to talk about Fabulous Fishes in your wonderful blog!

e: My pleasure, Susan! Lovely to finally have you on!

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Yay! Loved reading about Susan's process. And those beautiful pictures!!