Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 1, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Susan Eaddy

eaddypicWhen her Mom framed the rooster she drew in kindergarten, Susan Eaddy decided that she wanted to be an artist. She has been building on those basic skills learned at age 5 and never lost her love for “ClayThings”.

When she grew up, she worked as an Art Director in educational book publishing for 8 years. She illustrated over 80 educational books and covers in many different media, and won awards for her paper sculpture. She became the Art Director at RCA Records Nashville, receiving a Grammy Award Nomination for the art direction of the “Los Super Seven” CD package.

Susan Eaddy After 7 years she left RCA to open ClayThings Illustration. Today, she works entirely in polymer and modeling clay, and has appropriated every kitchen tool in the house for her art.Her ClayThings appear in magazines, books, catalogs, advertising, greeting cards, wallpaper, kitchen textiles & other licensed products. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband & Mr. FuzzBoy the fat cat. She is a long-standing member of the SCBWI and is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Midsouth Region.

Here is Susan explaining her process:

I usually use plasticine or modeling clay, which never hardens. It is oil based and melty in the summer, hard as a rock in the winter, so I use ice in the summer and a heating pad in the winter.

I use needle tools, knives, onion bags, buttons, screen, rubber stamps, canvas and plastic texture sheets or ANYTHING for texture, garlic press and /or a clay extruder for hair and grass, pasta roller to roll flat sheets of clay, and food processor for mixing large quantities of a particular color.

Here are the steps:

1. Create a tight sketch.
2. Begin to fill in my background first, using the smush method with thumbs and fingers.
3. Build individual critters or leaves or people, one at a time and layer them into place.
4. Photograph the finished artwork in my studio with a professional camera.
5. Put the raw digital file into my computer, import to photoshop for final clean up. tweaking and preparation to final size for my clients.
6. Upload to an FTP site for clients.

Here are a few videos that show the illustrations coming to life.







Here’s the video:

eaddyTide Pool sketch


Some of Susan’s Book Covers:





Have you always lived in Tennesse?

No, I grew up in FL, but have been in TN now most of my life.


Did you ever take any art lessons?

Yes, My parents always encouraged me, and I took art lessons in 6th grade one night a week. When I was in high school, I wrangled my schedule so that I had 4 hours of art every day in my senior year.


What was the first art related thing you got paid for?

I won a contest sponsored by Phillip Pickens Realty in the 7th grade. Their office was in an old house across the street from the school and they wanted students to paint their office/house. I won $25 and they got to keep the painting.


How did you did the job as art director at an educational publishing house? Which one was it?

When I found that I was moving to Nashville after college, I researched the publishers there and discovered Incentive Publications. Their artwork and covers had a beautiful trade book look to them, so I made a general pest of myself until they hired me first for free lance, then as in- house illustrator and finally as AD.


When and what happened to make you decide you wanted to add children’s book illustrator to your resume?

When I was in fifth grade, my mother gave me a workbook of poetry with space for illustration. I LOVED that book and decided that I wanted to combine my 2 favorite things, art and reading, and hoped that one day I could be an illustrator.


Did you take any classes on doing clay illustration?

No, when I was AD at incentive, I was able to illustrate the projects that interested me and free- lance out the rest. So during that time I experimented with every sort of medium, including clay. I had found my love.


What types of things do you do think helped develop your clay work?

My interest in layering, and cut paper, plus I like getting my hands dirty. And probably the biggest thing is that I like NOT knowing what I am doing, so the process is constant discovery. I am driven by my curiosity in how the piece will turn out, as I figure out how to solve each problem as it comes along.


Have the materials you use changed over the years?

Well, I used to use plasticine exclusively, but now I do use some Sculpey as well.


Have you ever tried to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Yes! I have a drawer full!


I see that you have done a lot of clay illustration for Ladybug Magazine. How did that happen?

I had sent postcards to them for years. Once I even got a postcard back saying thanks but no thanks, my style was not a good fit. Wah! I was crushed, but I continued to send them postcards. Then one day, Sue Beck called and gave me a chance. ( she was not the one who had turned me down) Yay! And now I have done quite a few for Carus with LadyBug, Spider, Click and Babybug.


What types of things do you do to get your work seen by publishing professionals?

I send promotional postcards, maintain a presence on and go to SCBWI conferences.


Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have the represented you?  If not, would you like one?

I have been working with Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary since Fall of 2012. She just sold Poppy’s Best Paper to Charlesbridge, my first PB as author! The clay was not a good fit for this ms, and the fabulous french illustrator Rosalinde Bonnet will be doing the illustrations.


I would love to have a real 3-D sculpture like what you do hanging on my wall. Have you ever thought about using a permanent clay material to create lasting 3-D pictures to sell?

Yes, I do use Sculpey from time to time and it works as a wall hanging in a shadow box, since it can be baked. It has a different look and feel from the plasticine & I usually paint the clay instead of mixing colors. My Sculpey pieces are smaller, and it is a bit trickier to work with, I think.


Do you ever do any paintings?

No, not anymore…I used too, when I was AD at both Incentive and RCA. I did paintings for book covers and magazine ads. I love to draw and I went through a period of time a couple of years ago where I revisited using watercolor. But I found that I missed the clay too much! and I felt I was spreading myself too thin.


How many picture books have you published?

Papa Fish’s Lullaby, First look at Trucks, First Look at Aircraft, and First Look at Rescue vehicles.


I see that Papa’s Fish’s Lullaby was published by Cooper Square Publishing. Could you tell us a little bit about this publisher and how you landed the contract to illustrate the book?

Actually Papa Fish was published by Northwords Books for Young Readers, but about 6 months after its release, the company was sold to Cooper Square. Again, I had been sending out postcards to my list for years… and I was contacted by the AD who was working with Northwords. She said,” I have had your postcard on my bulletin Board for the last year and a half, just waiting for the right project!”


Is the illustration of the mouse holding the monkey’s hand coming out of the library an illustration from a book?

That was an illustration for Babybug Magazine. Quiet Mouse. And I was thrilled to find out that it won the SCBWI Magazine Merit Honor award for 2012.


First Look at Aircraft is a board book published by Soundprints. How many illustrations do you have to do for a board book?

These books are unusual because they are published in conjunction with the Smithsonian and they wanted a realistic component in addition to the clay artwork. So in each there are 5 clay pictures and 5 photographs. It was so interesting, because I had to have all of my clay aircraft, trucks and rescue vehicles approved by a museum curator at the Smithsonian!


How did you get hired by Soundprints to do those books?

I had exhibited my work at a licensing show in NYC called Surtex. Someone from the Smithsonian stopped by my booth and was especially attracted to my clay trucks. She told me that they partner with Soundprints for some of their children’s books and that she would mention my work to the Publisher. So in May, I sent follow-up emails to both Smithsonian and Soundprints, (never getting a response) and in August I sent a mock- up of a truck board book to Sound Prints. I heard nothing. But then in February I received an email saying that they wanted to do a series of books with me. Yay!


Why is the Smithsonian (Smithsonian First Looks) on one of the books. Did they buy the publisher? You have illustrated a few book with Studio Mouse. How did you find each other?

I am not sure exactly how it works. It is a dual copyright between the Publisher (Trudy Corporation) and the Smithsonian on all 3 books.  Soundprints, and Studio Mouse are imprints of the Trudy Corporation. However, I think the Trudy Corp has now been bought and is operating as Palm Kids!


When you add a new layer of clay to an illustration, do you have to do anything to help adhere it in place?

With plasticine the smush method works every time. When I am using Sculpey, I use Sculpey Bake & Bond, before I bake.


Have you gotten any work through networking?

I met Karen Grencik of Red Fox literary through SCBWI at the LA conference.


Do you do any art exhibits to help get noticed?

No, since my work cannot be hung, I don’t do galleries. But I did have a booth at Surtex for 5 years where I displayed large prints of my work.


How long does it take to do an illustration?

It is a three-part process. The first part is research. I want to make sure that my animals and/or characters and settings are accurate. I go to the library and search the Internet, gathering materials to educate myself about whatever I am illustrating. For Papa Fish’s Lullaby it took me six weeks of solid research before I even put pencil to paper.

Next I do rough sketches and then tight drawings of the pages. It takes anywhere from one to three days to get the drawing and composition to my satisfaction. Then it takes me another day or so to work out the color scheme.

By the time I start working in clay, most of the hardest work is over! The actual clay work on Papa Fish took as little as three days for some spreads and as much as six days for others. The final size of each original is 11×17 inches.


Do you ever use Photoshop?

Yes. I could not do my job without it.


Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, how do you use it?

Yes. A Wacom. I am just more comfortable with a pen than a mouse and I use it exclusively when doing Photoshop work.

eaddyapp This is cool. It is a kid’s activity (app) on Ladybug Magazine’s Website for fun. Check it out.

How much time do you spend working on your clay illustrations?

I spend as much time, actually MORE time, researching, drawing, figuring out composition and palette as I spend doing the clay. By the time I get to the clay, most of the problem solving is done and I can PLAY!


I noticed that you have a studio set up in your attic. Do you try to work in a cooler place in the summer?

No, it’s a small house and I’m lucky to have a dedicated space. And the clay is not very transportable. I have all of my tools and mountains of clay at my fingertips in my studio. It’s easier to bring in ice than it is to take over another part of the house. (much to my husband’s relief)


What is the most important tool that you use?

Oooohhh do I have to choose only one? If that is the case it would be an exacto knife, but if I get more it would be the needle tools, knife, garlic press and a tiny flat blade for scooping.

eaddy babybug59239

Do you take pictures or do any research before you start a project?

 Oh yes, I lOVE to research!! I have to watch myself, because I can so easily get carried away in the fascination of learning new stuff! I do take photos and I love using the iPad as an easy way to access my research photos.


As Illustrator Coordinator, what types of things have you done with the Mid-South SCBWI chapter members?

We have a monthly Illustrator Meeting in Nashville. We sometimes pay a model, sometimes we just bring in work on which we want feedback. If someone has been to a distant conference (LA, NY) they bring back notes to share. We trade tips and moral support and I am ALWAYS enriched by our gatherings. Sometimes, in addition, we gather to sketch in a graveyard or hear a lecture at the Frist Art Museum. We currently have an SCBWI Illustrator Showcase in the Main Library in Nashville, we’ve had an Illustrator Day with the fabulous Laurent Linn. I maintain a public Midsouth Illustrator’s Blog and encourage members to post their works in progress. We also have a private PictureBook critique blog. We’ve just created a video guide to Putting Together Your Portfolio. I serve on the Midsouth Fall Conference Committeee & oversee all Illustration related matters such as our Illustrator Intensive, Portfolio Showcase, Illustrator Contest, and all Illustrator breakouts ( as well as other fun tasks).


I see that you attend the Bolgna Children’s Book Fair in 2012. Since most of us only dream about attending, could you tell us a little bit about it. Did it help to promote your work?

I had ALWAYS wanted to see what the Bologna Book Fair was about. When I discovered that my work had been chosen to be part of an SCBWI Portfolio I decided that now was as good a time as any. And by staying in monasteries, I was able to travel on a shoestring. While I did not get any direct foreign rights deals there, I met fabulous, fascinating people of great talent, and attended seminars on cutting edge issues in childrens’ publishing. One of the BEST parts for me, was meeting and getting to know the International Team. My contact with them led to school visits in Hong Kong earlier this year. There is a project in the works with Julie Hedlund, whom I also met in Bologna. In 2014 three of us Southern ICs plan to travel to Bologna.( Elizabeth Dulemba and Bonnie Adamson) I’m not sure what to expect, but one NEVER knows where things will lead.

You can see Susan’s sketch book journal at:


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

We’re still working out all the details so I can’t reveal specifics, but if all goes forward I will be illustrating one of Julie Hedlund’s delightful picture books.


What are your career goals?

To write and illustrate and have my books published and in the hands of kids!


What are you working on now?

I’m writing a PB right now. The Midnight Brownie  is in at least its 500th draft ;o) and I am doing clay sketches for it as I write. I’m also finishing up my journal from a recent trip to China and working on a new iMovie short with my clay critters.


Are there any clay tips.(Example: Something you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, materials etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

Well, I do stalk the Micheal’s website for coupons and buy quantities of both Plasticine(modeling clay)and Sculpey and fun looking texture sheets or rubber stamps when they have 40 % off. If using Sculpey with a texture sheet lightly dust it with powder first so it doesn’t stick. They have some great books on working with Polymer clay  too. Go there and browse!


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

I know that you hear this a lot, but perseverance is key. In these days of American Idol and instant celebrity stories you may expect quick success and allow yourself to become discouraged. Quick success IS the exception, wonderful if it happens, but it isn’t the norm. If you love children’s books just keep at it, and surround yourself with other people who love it as much as you do. And try to surround yourself with people who are better than you and LEARN from them. And I know this is going to sound like an ad, but truly, the SCBWI conferences are invaluable for career development, networking and inspiration. Being surrounded by hundreds of people who are passionate about what YOU love??? It doesn’t get much better than that.


If you would like to visit Susan, you can find her at: If you have a few minutes, please take the time to leave a comment for Susan. Thanks!

Thank you Susan. I loved seeing your process videos. You make me want to try my hand at clay. Looks like a bunch of fun. Please remember to keep us informed of all your future successes. We’d love to hear about them.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Love, love, love it!!

    The seals art is my favorite. Barb


    • Thanks Barbara! I had to do those seals twice before they were approved by the AD. It sometimes takes another eye to spot the problems!


  2. fabulous work…full of fun and joy!


    • Thank you Chris! I’ll always remember how kind and helpful you were to me when I first went free-lance


  3. Really fabulous work! I love seeing your process, and of course this is a really expressive medium. Beautiful compositions as well. You are cooking on all fronts.


    • Thank you Bob! You are making me think I should do some Pandas in clay. Or maybe you should!


  4. LOVE, love, love Susan’s work!!! 🙂 e


    • E!!! I Love seeing YOU here! Bologna or bust in 2014!


  5. I continue to be in awe whenever I see your work, Susan! What incredible detail! I’m amazed at how you manage to be so expressive with the clay. Congratulations on all your successes! You deserve them with all your talent and hard work.


    • Evelyn, thank you SO much for your kind words! Evelyn is a fellow Midsouther and our fearless list-serve moderator!


  6. Hi Susan,
    Wow, I’m blown away. Each picture is so colorful and unique, I can’t pick one I love. I love them all!
    I enjoyed reading about your journey of perservance. I think that’s key. 🙂
    I’m now going to watch your videos and I’m certain I’ll be blown away again.
    Kathy, thank you for featuring Susan. You found a treasure. 🙂


  7. Simply charming. I especially love the geese.


    • Thanks Rosi, The geese gave me a new appreciation for the complexity of just how a bird’ s wing is constructed!


  8. Susan, I had to come back and tell you the videos were even better than I expected! 🙂


    • many thanks, Tracy. The videos have been fun to play with…I got the idea from Chris Cheng at an SCBWI conference in LA. He made me feel like hmmmm maybe I COULD put something together with the help of iMovie.


  9. Susan, your work is truly incredible! You are so talented! Your characters are filled with life and happiness!


    • Thank you Marcela! I always hope that if I can make it fun for myself when I am creating, then my characters will be fun for other people too.


  10. Phenomenal interview with an exceptionally talented artist! I am SO fortunate to have met Susan in Bologna and even more fortunate to be working on a project with her!

    P.S. I own Papa Fish’s Lullabye and my kids can’t get enough of it, precisely because of the gorgeous illustrations (the geese are my favorite). THEY were the ones who inspired me to reconnect with Susan for one of my own projects. I was so relieved when Susan said yes because otherwise my kiddos would have been crushed. (Can’t share the details yet as Susan said, but soon! :-))


    • Awwwwww… there is NOTHING better than knowing that your book is a beloved part of a child’s library! Julie, thanks for passing that on. Tell your kids hello from me and that I can’t wait to start on their mom’s beautiful book.


  11. Amazing artistry! I can’t get over the details you put into your pieces and the time and effort you put into just one book. I’m in love with your talent, Susan. I can’t wait to see what you and Julie are up to!


    • Thank you Romelle! I do get a little detail “obsessed” and can’t wait to indulge that in working on Julie’s project


  12. Nice colors and depth! I agree your characters are happy and fun.


    • Thank you Alicia! I always hope that happiness will shine through…


  13. Hi, first, very very nice work indeed! The question I have for you is, can you hang these on the wall? or would the pieces eventually slide or fall off? is there any way you can cure them permenantly so they will never come off?


    • Good Question! Unfortunately, the pieces cannot be displayed vertically. They can be put into a flat shadow- box type display, like a specially built glass topped table. I have had to accept the concept of transcience in their creation. Just like spring flowers, they are impermanent and if I want a lasting image of them it is in the photograph. That said I DO save them have them stored horizontally all over my house.


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