Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Get to Know Our Illustrators – Susi Schaefer

How long have you been a member of SCBWI? What’s the most impactful thing you have learned from being in SCBWI?

Hi everyone!

If memory serves me correctly, I joined in 2013. The most impactful thing I’ve learned is that I have A LOT to learn still. I write and illustrate picture books, and honestly, I had no idea how little I knew about the craft and the publishing industry before I became a member of SCBWI.

What medium(s) do you use to illustrate? 

The best description is probably digital collage with traditional textures and washes. I also incorporate photography into my pieces; I feel it really adds dimension to my work. The trick is to not make it look gimmicky. I pull from a library of textures that I have created–somehow I feel more ownership over the final piece when I incorporate those.


What is your illustration process?

First, I always try to see the finished illustration in my mind, and I try to feel the vibe of it.

Then I create a sketch, either in a sketchbook or on my iPad.

Many times, I start with a simple shape or a line doodle. I use references a lot. My goal is to have highly stylized characters and environments, so I need to see how much I can push the simplification process without losing the characteristics of the intended subject.

Next comes color blocking, either in Procreate or Photoshop.

Color is one of my favorite parts of the illustration process, and I have a lot of fun selecting palettes. I’ll look at fabrics and paint swatches and vintage illustrations, really anything that speaks to me. Adobe Color is another fantastic tool.

I spend a fair amount of time on the expressions of my characters.  Once again, I try to make them as simple as possible, ideally just with lines and dots.

Finally, textures are my very favorite thing. I may use a hand-painted background, or I add texture over my illustration.

Oh, and sometimes–but not always–I use shadows behind shapes.


How long have you been illustrating?

When I was in my teens, I was an apprentice to a glass painter. I’m from the Austrian Alps, and glass art is very popular in that region.

Once I came to Socal, I studied graphic design, and I ended up working for a marketing company.

And after I had my kiddos, I fell in love with all those glorious picture books that I got to read to them. So I made it my mission to study that craft. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing journey.

In a nutshell, I have been illustrating in one form or another for a very long time!

Are you self taught or did you study illustration? 

I did not study illustration, so in that sense, I am self-taught. But I’d say that my glass painting and my graphic design days helped me out quite a bit in the beginning.


Do you have a dedicated art space? 

I teeter-totter between my little home studio, which has my Wacom, and every loungeable surface in and around my house with my iPad Pro in tow. My dog, Raven, is my studio buddy regardless of where I end up.

What would be your dream book to illustrate?

It always seems to be the current one that’s rattling around in my head. I wish I could just blink and the art would appear since patience is not my strong suit.


Are you working on any fun projects now? 

Here is some recent work. I also have one book out on submission and another that I am tinkering with.

Tell us about the children’s books you’ve written.

I have written stories for as long as I have illustrated, but I didn’t start writing seriously until a few years ago. That’s when I took some online writing courses, and they helped me improve a lot, especially with getting rid of unnecessary text and with voice and story structure.

Cat Ladies is actually my author/illustrator debut.

Any tips for illustrators that are starting out?

For me, the trick was learning to keep it simple. I used to think that I had to force myself to include as much variety as possible to show that I can do anything. Stick to something you love to create, and the joy will shine through. Then build from there.

Also, just because a specific style comes easily doesn’t mean it’s not valid; it might just be what you’re meant to do. Making an easy piece used to feel like cheating, but if I labor too much over a piece, I feel the spontaneity and fun are gone. Sometimes, your natural style is your best style.

Do you currently have an agent? 

I do have an agent, and we connected when I queried into the black void of slush piles. Eventually, my work got the attention of an agent. She ended up showing my work to a colleague and that’s who I signed with.


Have you had any books published or won any awards?

I have two published books out in the world.

One is “Zoo Zen – A Yoga Story For Kids,” written by the talented Kristen Fischer, illustrated by me, and published by Sounds True.

The other is “Cat Ladies,” published by Abrams, written and illustrated by yours truly.

I have been recognized by the SCBWI and the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.

What was your publishing experience like?

The publishing experience was a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions. I got to work with some fabulous teams at great publishing houses.

There is a fair amount of waiting involved, especially once final art is turned in. It took another year until I got to hold the physical book in my hand. But when that moment comes, it is very, very special. I learned a lot on the fly.


Tell us 5 interesting things about yourself.

I was born and raised in the Austrian Alps.

I love Nutella.

I am a certified scuba diver.

I love bugs.

I wish I could fly, but I’m afraid of flying (confusing, I know).


Where can people find more of your work?

Thanks for having me!

Here is how to find me online.


IG and Twitter:    @susischaeferart



To see our Previous Get to Know Our Illustrators, click here.