Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 25, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Susan Miller

Susan started her career as a fashion illustrator, and then had the wonderful opportunity to work for Weekly Reader on staff. Since then she has had the pleasure of working on many children’s books, puzzles, as well as illustrations for Highlights publications. She works out of her home studio in Florida.

Here is Susan discussing her process:

I attended the Orlando SCBWI conference, our homework was to illustrate a Mother Goose rhyme. I choose Elsie Marley.

Elsie Marley has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till half past 9
Lazy Elsie Marley

This was the first sketch I did. Donna Brennan, the art director, suggested I add more action by having Elsie preening herself while ignoring the swine.
I loved the idea. When I show my sketches,I usually  do them  pretty tight, I will first do them very loose and then keep refining them until they get to this point.


This was the second sketch I did for myself, very rough, I did a lot of sketches to get her the way i wanted her.

This is an example of my process, I paint all the underpainting first and start adding details. I have several layers, duplicate my art and then keep merging the layers and adding until I get the art the way I want it.


After all the details are added this is what I showed at the conference. A suggestion was made that the room was too big for the house, someone  said it looked like a mirror. I also noticed the siding was off. So back to the iPad to fix it.

This is the final piece of art. I lightened the piggies, fixed the siding, and when I made the room smaller, I added the window with the piggie looking in.

Interview Questions for Susan MillerKelsey Garrity-Riley

How long have you been illustrating?

Many years ago.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first paid illustration job was for G.Fox & Co. a known CT department store. It was of a pair of boots climbing up the side of an ad.

Did you study art after high school? What school did you attend?

I went to a small art school in Boston called Butera School of art.

What did you study?

I studied illustration.

What was the first thing you illustrated where someone paid you for your work?

Those boots in the G.Fox & Co. ad.

When did you decide that you wanted to illustrate for children?

I started out at G.Fox & Co., as a fashion illustrator, which it turned out, I didn’t like. An illustrators position opened up at Weekly reader and I was fortunate enough to get the job. Weekly reader is a periodical for kids, that is used in the school system. That’s how I started illustrating for children.

Have you ever illustrated a picture book? If so how did that book come about?

I have illustrated many children’s books, mostly easy readers. The first book I illustrated was for a company called Troll and it was called Fish for Supper. I got that one through the agent I had at the time.

You have a nice client list of major publishers. What are some of the things you did for them?

I have illustrated many early readers, puzzles, games, illustrations for text books, Lately I have been illustrating hidden pictures for Highlights Publishing.

How did those jobs come your way?

At the time I had an agent. Weekly Reader continued to give me work when I left them and decided to start a freelance career.

Have you made a book dummy to help sell a book idea?

Yes, I have a book dummy that I have sent to a couple of publishers, no news yet. I also have a couple that I have been getting ready to send out.

Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how long have you been with them. If not, would you be interested in having one?

I have had a couple of agents in the past. The last one unfortunately passed away and at that time I was very busy so I just kept working on my own. I would be interested in having an agent now, there are a couple of agencies that I would love to be a part of.

What type of things do you to get your work noticed?

I enjoy Instagram and Facebook. I have an updated list of art directors and editors that I use to send out postcards several times a year. I use the SCBWI Book on the SCBWI website as one source to keep my list updated. I also find your Writing and Illustrating blog to be a great resource.

Have you done any book covers?

Yes, I have done several, mostly for the books I have illustrated.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?


 Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes many, I did a lot of educational work earlier in my career. McGraw Hill, Scholastic, Harcourt, Pearson, Macmillian, Publishing, Silver Burdett are a couple of companies I have done educational work for.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Yes, I do work for High Five magazine, published by Highlights. High Five is one of their magazines  for younger children.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own children’s book?

Yes, I would love to I have one book dummy completed and a couple more in progress.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

At a SCBWI conference in Orlando our homework was to create a wordless picture book. Mine was a fairy tale that had to do with littering. This is one of the book dummies I have been working on.

What is your favorite medium to use?

My favorite medium now is my Ipad Pro, apple pencil and the app Procreate. Digital is very forgiving so I can be more creative with my art.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, I used to work with liquid acrylics called FW, also gouache, colored pencils on Winsor Newton watercolor paper.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?

We built this house 2 years ago, I got rid of all my mismatched furniture and start out new. My plan was to have a place for everything, thanks to Ikea the studio is very versatile. I love to craft, I have a lot of art supplies, and the studio easy to clean up after a project. It also has 2 windows so it has really wonderful light.

Are you active in your SCBWI Chapter? If so, have they helped open any doors for you?

I attend the SCBWI conference in Orlando. We live in Florida. I always leave knowing more about this business and feeling very motivated. I sent my book dummy to the art director and editor that presented.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, I spend everyday in the studio.

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

I do a lot of research before I start an illustration. I find Pinterest really perfect for that.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, You Tube is how I learn how to use new technology. Also being able to send my art digitally has been a big plus.

What do you think is your biggest success?

The fact that I could continue to be an illustrator, earn money and stay home with my kids when they were little, I consider my biggest success. At times it was challenging, many very late nights, but well worth it.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I have a Wacom Intous tablet that I use with Photoshop.  I mainly use my Ipad to create my art.

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

Yes, I would love to illustrate a calendar.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am designing my hand painted ornaments called JingleBulbs. It’s a little business I started as gifts to my clients years ago that has turned into an online business,  I have customers that have been collecting my ornaments for the last 25 years. I am working on the 2018 designs to put the website mid October.


Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

For the illustration, I can not say enough about the Ipad and the direct way of drawing with the pencil. I never had a Cintiq, so this is the first time I have been able to create art digitally similar to what I was used to traditionally.

For my craft and ornaments I am always looking for new ways of doing things and new products. I found a way to make the glass bulbs look like seaglass, that is fun. Pinterest, Michaels and Joanns are my favorite browsing places. I also like to use waterbrushes and watercolors in a little multimedia pad.




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

I enjoy Instagram and Facebook. Both can be great ways of connecting with other artists. I also found a  marketing PDF called “Marketing Yourself as an Artist” by Holli Conger, that I like. I am a big fan of her work. I thought the PDF has practical suggestions. I have also found many good courses that have become available online. I belong to a couple sites that deal with illustrating, painting, design etc. I enjoy the online courses because I can refer back to them. And of course subscribe to great blogs like Writing and Illustrating.



  1. Wow, what wonderful illustrations 😍

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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.


%d bloggers like this: