Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 18, 2014

Illustrator Saturday – Suzanne Kauffman


Suzanne Kaufman lives in Seattle with her husband Jonathan and two monkeys, Eleanor and Katie, who sometimes pretend to be girls. Born in the Midwest, Suzanne grew up on healthy doses of Saturday morning cartoons and macaroni and cheese. She has been monkeying around with children’s books, animation and cartoons since she was little (that’s her in the picture back in the 1970s!). Her style is inspired by midcentury design and 1950s-era cartoons.

Over the years, she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal and Discovery, to animating award-winning videogames. One of those games—Sly Cooper—won the Children’s Title of the Year award. She currently a senior lecturer for film and videogame animation. I Love Monkey is her first children’s book.

Here is Suzanne explaining her process:

Gjoa Haven is a town in the far north of the Northwest Territories in Canada where over 1000 Inuits live. Here a boy wearing snow goggles holds a hunting spear.

Here are some images of the process I did for My Lil Red Parka piece, which I did for a master class with Lucy Ruth Cummins and Scott Magoon.


I work very rough..and used only the little photo reference for this character sketch.


They wanted us to take our spin on a classic fairytale. So I did Lil Red Parka because I love Shakelton the explorer.  Above are a few thumbnails for the book.


Here is the first layer of color for this illustration.


In earlier sketches I had grandma’s house as an igloo where you now see the road sign. I thought that made the  final composition too safe so I took it out and added a road sign.


I keep going back to add shadows and depth.


I continue honing the colors and adding little details.


You will notice that I took out the Polar bear in this image. Lucy thought it was weak and distracting to the image.  Great advice and I did it before I submitted for the portfolio review the next day.


Here is the cover and some art from Suzann’e picture book, I Love Monkey published in 2009 by Compendium Inc. It tells the story of a monkey who tries to be something special — including a bee, a bunny, a robot, and more — only to discover that the most special thing in the world for Monkey to be is itself.


The book was a winner of the Mom’s Choice Award, as well as the PTPA (Parent-tested and Parent-approved) Media Seal of Approval.


Did you go to college for art? If so, what college did you attend and what did you study?

I went to University of Wisconsin and have BSA of photography, computer animation and a minor in environmental studies.


How long have you been illustrating?

7 years


Where in the mid-west did you grow up?

I grew up in Plymouth, Wisconsin the Cheese capitol of the world.


What was the first piece of art you did and someone paid you for your work?

I sold Monkey prints at Bumbershoot and this later became my first picture book.


What was your goal when you decided to move to Hollywood?

I had always wanted to work in movies.


Tell us the story about breaking down in New Mexico and getting your first job?

I toured a special company while my car was being looked at and that tour turned into lunch that turned into dinner that turned into my first job working for lovely Brad Carvey.


What made you move from there to Washington State?

I met my future husband on a blind date and had to move a year later since I couldn’t afford the phone bills anymore.


Do you feel the opportunities for animators are stronger in the Seattle area, then in Hollywood?



Did you learn to use Maya while in New Mexico on the job?

I learned Maya at Suckerpunch.


What tools does Maya bring to the illustrators toolbox or is it only something that benefits animators?

Right now I don’t use it for illustration.


What types of things did you do for Universal and Discovery? Did you work on films?

I did Understanding Computer, Understanding Television fx work and worked on the show Space Above and Beyond as an animator.


How did you get interested in doing illustration for children?

I have always been interested and collected books since I was in college but it was the lovely owner of Compendium Kobi that gave me my first break. Kobi saw my artwork in a coffee shop and offered to turn the art into a book.

suzanned_dance_copyright_suzannekaufman_2013Do you have an artist rep? If so, how did that come about? If not, would you be interested in having representation?

No rep quite yet but close.


Has most of your illustration and 3D art been for projects in the gaming community?

Some for picture books, e-books, and television. As the 3D lead of character animation and environments at Seattle-based Sucker Punch Productions , Kaufman spent more than five years helping bring to life the creatures and world of Sly Cooper, a trilogy of games about a young thieving raccoon that combined noir-inspired capers with a Saturday morning cartoon style. Prior to that she worked on the Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series and created 3D graphics and effects for television.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?

I have always wanted to write and illustrate books.


Would you like to do more children’s books?

Absolutely and I will.


Was I LOVE MONKEY your first picture book that you wrote and illustrated?



Have you illustrated any other books?

I illustrated Princess and the Pea for Amazon


How did you choose Compendium to do your book?

They chose me to make my story.


Are you open to illustrating self-published books for other children writers?

Not at this time.


Did you design and develop the video on the I LOVE MONKEY website?

I directed it but my lovely friends animated it.


Do you have other books written and book dummies to submit to publishers?

Yes and they are pretty wacky.


Have you done any work for educational publishers or children’s magazines?

Not yet.


How did you get involved in teaching animation?

I come from a family of teachers so it was natural to start teaching after I had my first daughter.


Do you ever use paint as a medium or is it all digital?

My undergrad I did a ton of oil painting.


Do you spend a specific amount of time working on your own illustrations?

Yes most mornings from 4:30 Am til 7:30.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?



Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Yes and Flash too.


Do you think your style has changed over the years? Have your materials changed? 

Yes…I was traditional mostly til last year.


Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I want to make great books that kids read over and over.


Do you have any art type tips (digital or traditional) you can share with us?

DRAW, DRAW, DRAW and oh DRAW Some more.



Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Do the work because you love it and keep the faith and your work will show it.


Thank you Suzanne for sharing you illustrations and journey with us. You can find out more at: and  for her sketch of the days post.

Please take a minute to leave Suzanne a comment. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Suzanne, I met you at the 2013 SCBWI NY conference. Great to see your work posted here!


  2. Great stuff. I especially love the monsters. Thanks for an interesting post.


  3. I just love Suzanne’s work. Thank you, Kathy, for featuring such a talented illustrator!


    • Thanks Beth for checking out the article plus Kathy you did such a great job…Thanks again.


  4. What a wonderful style! I especially love the geeky illos (superheroes, Doctor Who…). 🙂


    • Thanks Teresa..these are part of art shows I do at LTD gallery.


  5. Yay for geeky illos! (Wonder Woman is my fave)


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