Sitting down with Susan
Susan Brand is an artist and designer who works in a broad range of media – traditional and digital; still, moving, and interactive. After working freelance as an illustrator, animator, and textile designer, Susan ran her own design, animation, and web development studio in New York City for ten years. There, she and her team created animation and websites for clients ranging from Nickelodeon to the American Museum of Natural History. Susan currently works from her attic in the leafy suburb of Maplewood, NJ.
Karen Romagna: So what have you been up to lately?
Susan Brand: Wow. I’m always up to a gazillion things. Here are some highlights: I’ve been interested in expanding my licensing opportunities for art and patterns for the last few years. I’ve joined an awesome design group, A Fresh Bunch. It’s been a terrific experience for both learning / how-to and group support. And with that eye to licensing, I’m in the middle of taking Lilla Roger’s Make Art That Sells Bootcamp. I took part A of her course in the fall and got so much out of it! It gave me the courage to completely rethink my “style”. I’ll be taking part B in April. I’ve rediscovered the joy in making art! After the picture book assignment in Lilla’s class, I got inspired to take an old story idea out of the drawer and flesh it out. I was struggling with pacing so I started googling around for instructions on building a picture book dummy. When I landed on the KidLitArt page, I saw that the KidLitaArt Picture Book Dummy Challenge was on. Of course, now I’m participating in thatI’m currently revising my first draft of a Middle Grade novel. It was set in the 1970’s and on the much appreciated advice I gathered at last June’s conference*, I’m rewriting it to take place in the present day. *Thank you, Jessica Regel! One of my ongoing endeavors is as creative director for Rent Party, a non-profit that puts on live music events to make money for local food pantries. Besides graphic design, I end up doing a lot of the poster illustrations. It's lots of fun. Oh! And last year, I had the absolute honor of winning the logo contest for SCBWI NJ and just recently did a followup logo for the Lucky Ducky scholarship. Lucky me!
KR: What/Who inspires you artistically… and why?
SB: When I look for inspiration, I go to a library or museum and just follow my whims and intuition. I’m a little homesick for the desert – I’m from El Paso, Texas – so lately I’ve been looking for things that remind me of that area. I’m leaning heavily on Georgia O’Keefe, Gustave Baumann, and Mexican imagery. In a completely different vein, all my Hundertwasser books have emerged from my bookshelf and are in every room of the house right now. I love his use of color and out of the box thinking on everything from paintings to activism to architecture.
KR: Can you tell me a little bit about your illustration process?
SB: My preferred medium is mixed medium. I love combining painting and collage, watercolor and gold leaf, hand done and digital. I feel so lucky to live in a time and place where there is access to all of this. I like to brainstorm, thumbnail sketch away from my studio – in a coffee shop or in the back yard in nice weather. Then I move on to finished sketches, still by hand. The next step is painting basic shapes and icons. Sometimes I work in full color, but sometimes it’s nice to work in black gauche or ink and scan into the computer. I end up combining everything in the computer for final output.
KR: At what point did you realize that illustrating for children was right for you?
SB: I always had a passion for illustrated children’s books – my long time collection is extensive. But my passion out of school was animation and I was lucky enough to get a job doing that. I also had a problem with comparing myself to close friends who’d had success in children’s books – name drop alert! – Lane Smith, Maggie Smith, David Goldin (who I’d shared a studio with). It’s only now that I’ve (ahem) matured, that I’m not as concerned with comparing myself to others.
KR: What advice can you give an illustrator new to our field?
SB: My biggest advice is to find your support system. It can be crazy-making and lonely to work in your studio doing something personal. Network on Facebook. Take a class, or join a challenge. I’m amazed at the community and support that came along with Lilla Rogers’s classes. As you can probably guess, my biggest motivation secret is to have several projects going on at one time. That way, when you need to procrastinate on one project, you can work on another. Eventually, they all get done!
For more about Susan Brand, check out these links:
COMING UP, April 2014 – Lisa Falkenstern
Pop back next month for an interview with NJ SCBWI Illustrator and member Lisa.