VSS Illustrator Interviews

In doing these interviews, we hope to give you a glimpse into our artist members' unique personalities, a new perspective on their wonderful work, and the opportunity to know what inspires them!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sue Shanahan

This week we are featuring the beautiful work of Sue Shanahan. We are lucky to have Sue as one of our regular contributors to the VSS. Her detailed portraits glow with the energy and love she gives to her subjects.
Sue has worked for Disney World, Cricket Magazine, McCalls, The Illinois State Library, and done portraits for Hillary Rodham Clinton of Chelsea, and of Oprah Winfrey!
Be sure to visit Sue's website to see lots more- www.sueshanahan.com
How did you get started in illustration?
In my early twenties I began submitting art to card companies, magazines, and publishers. In my mind there is no concrete time that I actually started because it is something I was in the process of doing as far back as I can remember.
What is your favorite medium? Can you describe your usual work process for us? 
I mainly work with mixed media. What that means is I start with archival watercolor paper. I do a preliminary sketch on it. Next I fill in the images with color wash. Over the wash I draw and refine the details with colored pencil. I use black ink to outline and also white gouache for highlights.

Do you write as well as illustrate your own stories? Which comes first for you? 
I do write as well as illustrate. When writing a picture book the words come first. When illustrating a quote, it can go either way. Sometimes the image comes first and I search out a quote for it and sometimes the words give birth to the images.
Do you illustrate full time or do you also have a day job?  How do you balance the different aspects of your life? 
I illustrate full time. It gets tough to balance everything. I try to work 9 to 4 Monday thru Friday. Notice how I used the word “try”?  When things come up and they invariably do, I try to go with the flow.
Where in the country do you live? Could you describe your studio and include some photos? 
I live in a suburb of Chicago called Mokena (which is the Indian name for mud turtle!) My studio is in our family room. I have always worked this way. I never wanted to be cut off from my family.
Tell us about your education and training. Did you learn more through school or your own experiences? 
I went to junior college and had a short stint at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Although art classes were helpful I have to say I am self-taught in many ways. There is so much to learn in this business that one has to figure out on their own. As artists what we do is so individualized there could never be a program that would fill all of our needs.
What is your website?
My website is:
My online portfolio:
On my website’s home page is a link to my Etsy shop and a You Tube video I’d love for you to check out.
Tell us about your current project.
Right now I am illustrating a children’s book I’ve written.

Who are your favorite children’s illustrators or authors?
My first major influence was Maurice Sendak. Today I love John Muth, Paul Zelinsky and Chris Van Allsburg. I also am a huge fan of illustrators Arthur Rackham and Honor Appleton.
If you could be any children’s book character, who would you be and why? 
Hmmmm, how about Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz? She was a real girl who learned that all the power she needed was right inside of her. I like the notion of the magic being inside of us.
What inspires you?
Looking at other artist’s work, reading biographies, and watching Oprah.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always counted on being an artist. In fact, I saved my drawings because I was certain there would be a biography written about me one day!

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I do love to see a good movie.
What job would you like to have if you weren’t an artist?
The first thing that comes to my mind is a hospice nurse.

Any advice you’d pass along to illustrators just getting started?
Expect rejection. It’s all part of the process. At a book signing, I asked JK Rowling about rejection. She told me “Any writer worth their salt has many rejections under their belt.”