Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m very excited to be sharing the work of one of my dear friends and critique partners, Susan Reagan! Sue is an incredibly talented illustrator and writer and I’m thrilled to have her with us on Critter Lit. Her newest board book, SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, published with Creative Company this month. Her work is stunning and I can’t wait to share it with you all!
So without further ado, please welcome the fantastically talented Susan Reagan!
Where do you live?
I live in Tremont, a neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. Our neighborhood was once called the Southside. We sit directly between Cleveland’s Downtown and the Steelyards that once fueled the economy and life of the neighborhood. I love living in a city neighborhood! It’s full of history and diversity and is my greatest inspiration as an artist.
How many years have you been in publishing?
Quite a few. The first books I illustrated were for Christian publishers. But it wasn’t my primary source of work, I worked for American Greetings as an illustrator for the first half of my career. I still freelance for them; it’s my bread and butter work.
How did you first get published?
I had a brief stint with an agent back in the mid 90’s who got me my first book. It was MY LITTLE BOOK OF BIG BIBLE PROMISES. But it wasn’t a leap into publishing. I stayed with American Greetings for a while after that.
Do you write/illustrate full-time?
I have always illustrated full-time but for many markets. It’s only over the past five years that I have decided to dedicate myself mostly to publishing and picture books (I still have bills to pay so I do some other freelance too). I am working on my writing. I have a couple of manuscripts just about ready to share with my agent. They have been in the works for years. Writing is much more challenging for me than illustrating but I love to push myself. I have also started teaching illustration as adjunct faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’m loving it!
What inspires you to create picture books?
My own manuscripts are based on visual puns or a funny phrase. I like silliness but the books I love to illustrate are more serious or complex. My drawing style is more observational and less character design driven. I love the use of line and I love a subtle limited color palette.
What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?
I guess what surprised me most is just how involved the process is and how different it is from the other types of illustration I’ve done. It’s a slower paced business and it took some time for me to adjust it. I‘m accustomed to a quick turn around on assignments. But I love how much time I get to spend with a book while illustrating it. I love having time to really think things over.
What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?
I draw, design, paint, concept, every day!
What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?
The toughest part is sending out finished work and waiting. Even when you know the work is good there is something about waiting to hear from a creative director or an editor that makes most artist anxious. Most of us are naturally tough on ourselves. We don’t do this work just for ourselves. We want to hear that it worked; that we created something acceptable, beautiful, funny, touching, informative, whatever the goal. Also, I feel the weight of illustrating someone else’s story. I want to do right by them. I know how hard they worked to create their beautiful writing.
What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?
I was feeling a bit rusty a few years back. I got so caught up in the business of illustrating and creativity that I got a little lost. I went back to my first love of drawing people. I participated in The 100 Day Project on Instagram and made a drawing a day of people I observed. It really energized me. I loosened up my line work and started trusting my instincts again. I made so many discoveries that are now a part of my illustration style.
Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?
Coffee is important. I think better when using my iPad and sitting in my living room than I do anywhere else. Also I like quiet when I am thinking so no music or background noise. If the windows are open and it’s a cool day— that’s the best!
Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?
My critique group without question! For over five years now I have benefited knowing these very talented women, one of which is the writer of this blog. Lindsay Ward, Betsy Snyder, Kellie DuBay Gillis, and Alissa McGough. Each one so smart, honest and talented! We give each other honest feedback and support each other’s successes and dreams. I have learned so much from this amazing group!
I’m reading THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colton Whitehead. I would highly recommend it!
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Last January I signed with Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary. I have already signed on to illustrate a book by Beth Anderson, who has visited this blog. She’s an amazing writer. I love AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET and I can’t wait to get my copy of LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT. The title I will be working on is PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN, about Prudence Cummings Wright and the ways that women used their skills and ingenuity to contribute to the American Revolution. I’m just getting started!
What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?
Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. Actually I have probably been told that a 100 times, I need to listen better.
Tell us about your newest book.
SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK, written by Emilia Zebrowska, from Creative Editions just released this month. It’s a sweet little bed time board book in which one last game of Simon Says turns into a fantastical journey into the night and off to dreamland.
Another recent release is YOU AND ME, another board book from Creative Editions, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. It made the American Library Association’s list of Notable Children’s Books for 2019. I was pretty happy about that.
What’s up next for you?
I just turned in LIGHTS OUT. I am very excited about this book! It’s a wonderful story written by Marsha Diane Arnold, published by Creative Editions, about the disruption that happens in nature and animal behaviors from too much light. It releases next fall. Here’s a sneak peek:
I’ll have another board book Creative Editions titled READY OR NOT. And then as mentioned above, PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN IN 2022.
Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?
I would say to remember that sometimes it can take a while to have the breakthrough you are looking for. Work on what you love and seek good critiques and don’t be afraid of an honest opinion.
And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite but I remember laughing so hard at A Fish Called Wanda and Raising Arizona that I thought my sides would split. Wonder what I would think now?
Huge thank you to Susan Reagan for stopping by Critter Lit today! We can’t wait to see all the fantastic books you have coming out!
SUSAN REAGAN’S picture books include YOU & ME by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Creative Company, 2018), SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK by Emilia Zebrowska (Creative Company, 2019), and LIGHTS OUT! by Marsha Diane Arnold(Creative Company, 2020). She is currently illustrating PRUDENCE WRIGHT AND THE MINUTE WOMEN by Beth Anderson (Calkins Creek, 2022). Susan graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Columbus College of Art and Design. She teaches illustration techniques as adjunct faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Art. Susan lives with her husband and three “mangy mutts” in Tremont, a historical neighborhood of her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about Susan Reagan visit her online or follow her on social media:
TO ORDER Susan’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.
Want a chance to win a copy of SIMON SAYS OPEN THE BOOK?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 5th! US addresses only please.