Sunday, August 11, 2019

Suzanne Kaufman: The Craft Of Nonfiction Illustration

Suzanne Kaufman is the illustrator of the New York Times best-selling picture book All Are Welcome, and is the author/illustrator of  Confiscated and I Love Monkey. Her illustrations have also appeared in Take Your Pets to School Day, 100 Bugs, Naughty Claudine Christmas, and Samanthasaurus Rex. In addition to being a recipient of The Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship, Suzanne is also an SCBWI Illustration Mentorship and Portfolio Honor winner. She has lectured about illustration and animation around the US, England, Japan, and Peru. Find out more about Suzanne and her work at

Suzanne says she is a super-nerd. Her parents were both mathematicians, and she has also has always loved reading nonfiction. Her daily sketches and observations of her daughters playing outside piqued the interest of an editor, who asked for an art test.

“Failure for me is the only way I get better,” says Suzanne. When planning her schedule, she budgets for failure. She also budgets time for RESEARCH throughout the project. When waiting for feedback, Suzanne uses that time to play with character as well as world design.

“Schedule for rest. Stories need to breathe and you do, too!”  Suzanne also keeps documentation about how long she’s in a “waiting for feedback” period, just in case she needs to explain why she needs more time.

During the research phase, she talks to the editor about connecting with the author to check sources.

Suzanne takes out all the art notes not necessary in the manuscript, then breaks the text into pages. As she paginates, she looks for a sense of flow. As she goes through the paginated text, she makes her own illustration notes.

Suzanne says she always asks (right away) what the publisher’s process is for reviewing accuracy in a project, and she gets this checked when she is in her rough pencil phase, BEFORE final art.

Suzanne always figures out visual hierarchy when working on a nonfiction picture book e.g. silhouette, color, shape and details.

To build up a nonfiction picture book portfolio, Suzanne advises daily sketching. “Post it on social media to make yourself accountable and take it to a finish.” You never know who is watching, says Suzanne. “That’s how I was found five years ago!”

So much great information packed into Suzanne’s session!

Related posts in the SCBWI Conference Blog:
Suzanne Kaufman: Birth Of A Picture Book Author Panel
2015 Portfolio Showcase Winner Announcements (Suzanne was an Honor Winner)
2015 SCBWI-NYC - Suzanne Kaufman’s Conference Illustrator Journal
2014 SCBWI-NYC - Suzanne Kaufman’s Conference Illustrator Journal

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