Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 8, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Susan Jeffers

While browing through some of my picture books doing research for this blog, I came across The Wild Swan, illustrated by Susan Jeffers.  The book reminded me of how much I love her illustrations, so I contacted Susan to see if she would like to be featured on Illustrator Saturday.  I am very pleased that she said, “Yes.”

Here is Susan Jeffers, some of her gorgeous artwork and a description of how she worked to make illustrations in The Nutcracker.

For me, the most difficult part of making a picture book, is finding and choosing the story that I would like to illustrate. Illustrating a book takes me a very long time, usually a year. In the case of The Nutcracker, it took three years. So I want to be sure I am going to love the story for a long time. I have to remain enchanted by the characters and deeply moved by the point of the story from the beginning. This is a big demand.

After I have chosen the story, the process seems to go along in the same way for every book. I make a dummy out of heavy paper…a piece for every page in the book. I divide the words in the story to flow from one page to the next. Then most times I will draw my favorite scene in the whole book. This is a scene that comes directly out of thin air. This scene has all that I love most about the story. In The Nutcracker it is the scene where Marie and the prince have just left the house and snowflakes come swirling at them. What I love is the combination of fantasy and reality, taking the dancers and making them into snow and lifting them into the air. In the actual ballet the music and the beauty of the dance transport the audience to dreamland. I wanted the book to have the same feeling.

After I have a rough dummy of sketches, I find models for my characters.  In The Nutcracker I needed a girl of about eleven with charm and effervescence. My editor, Barbara Lalicki, knew the perfect person: Meghan Morkal Williams.

I invited Meghan and her mother to my house to take photographs.  I also asked my daughter Ali and her husband, Chad, to help.  I had already taken a few photos of Ali and Chad dancing and saying good-bye for the party scene.  Chad is a fine photographer and I am a very nervous one, sure I will forget to load the camera and make unfortunate mistakes. So in addition to playing the Prince, Chad also took the bulk of the photos.

Ali, having danced in The Nutcracker ballet for many years, was perfect to play the roles opposite Meghan/Marie.She was the Nutcracker and took turns playing the Prince with Chad, and also managed Emiko, the ferret, to evoke the wonderful expression for Meghan that we needed for Marie.

Then, having done the photo research and gathered stacks of references for the time period costumes and architecture, I begin drawing.  After the initial thumbnail, I perfect the drawing in pencil and then apply a waterproof black ink on top of the pencil. I still refer to the photo of Meghan at this point because I find that over time my eye improves and I get a better drawing. 

After the ink dries, I start the color, a brilliant water-based paint called gouache applied in layers.  Notice that the teddy bear has disappeared and the horsemen have gotten larger.  One never stops editing. I work back and forth with the black line and color until I think it is done.

Hope you enjoyed visiting with Susan.  If you would like to see more visit www.susanjeffers-art.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy 


Responses

  1. I know I must have several of these books on my children’s shelves. SO beautiful. Thank you for featuring her.

    Like

    • Carol,

      Your welcome! Hope you’ll stop back to view the other illustrators who will be featured.

      Kathy

      Like

  2. Wow! Susan’s artwork is stunning — what a talent! I’m always impressed and inspired by the illustrators that you showcase, Kathy — I don’t always get a chance to comment (especially during the hectic holiday season) but I absolutely had to for this!

    Like

    • Connie,

      I always have to buy her picture books. I don’t even care about the story.

      Kathy

      Like

  3. Oh, she is a genius artist…. so much heart, so much warmth!! Thanks very much for this lovely exploration of her work.

    Like

    • Kathleen,

      Everytime I thought I was finished with her post, I came up with another piece that I had to add. Illustrator Saturday takes a lot of time to post, but everyone seems to enjoy seeing the artwork, learning something about the artist, and discovering the process invloved. Thanks for leaving a comment.

      Kathy

      Like

  4. One of m favorite illustrators – thanks so much for featuring her!
    Jeanne

    Like

    • Jeanne,

      I buy her books, just for the illustrations. Hope everything is going gd with you. I have been overload with all the conference stuff.

      Talk soon,

      Kathy

      Like

  5. Thanks so much, Kathy. Susan Jeffers process is so thorough, it’s amazing, and her artwork is stunning. I was speechless after seeing her work. I really appreciate the opportunity to see artists like this.
    Pam B

    Like

    • Pam,

      Thanks for the comment. I feel the same way.

      Kathy

      Like

  6. Wonderful post! I love how intense her process is.

    Like

    • Komako,

      Her artwork is wonderful, I am glad I was able to show her off to everyone.

      Kathy

      Like

  7. Susan’s work is stunning! I’m so glad she agreed to share it with us.

    Like

    • Mary,

      It is. There are so many wonderful illustrators out there, you included.

      Hope to see you soon,

      Kathy

      Like

  8. I have always been a fan of Susan Jeffers and collect her books. Her technique is uniquely hers. One can always tell ‘it’s a Susan Jeffers’. I am so glad to see her here and know a bit more about her process. It gives us a window into her creative mind and we are humbly awed by it. What a great post.

    Like

    • Lynnor,

      She is a great illustrator. I love her work. Thanks for the comment.

      Kathy

      Like

  9. I was re-reading Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – and felt the need to reach out to Susan Jeffers to THANK her for such beautiful, evocative work. As I don’t know how to reach her, I must ask you to pass along my praise and warm thanks to her.

    Like

  10. Susan Jeffers’ work is amazing, and my daughter is a huge fan. Do you know if there is a way to send her a letter by mail or an email? Many thanks!

    Like

    • Nina,

      I agree. Her work really is amazing. You can email her using: suejeffers@aol.com I am sure she would love to hear from you.

      Kathy

      Like

  11. Please help me find a book, I thought Susan was the illustrator, but the book is not listed. It was a book about visiting Grandpa at the house by Lake Michigan, storms over the lake, etc. Gorgeous book! It was at our library in the 80’s, an was old then. Many Thanks!

    Like

  12. I checked out the Midnight Farm from the library in the 1980’s for my children. 30 years later I wanted to get it for my grandchildren. I couldn’t remember the illustrator or the name of the book so I posted on Facebook what I remembered and through a friend of a friend I now have the book. It was a book that stayed in my mind for 30 years I am so happy I have my own copy and also have copies for my grandchildren. Just love these books!

    Like

  13. Love Susan’s work! It is truly magical! Will search for more of her lovely books! Beth!

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: