I so appreciate Suzanne Kaufman for many reasons, two of which are her perseverance with getting this post to me despite the cyber-imps working overtime to keep it from happening, and her honesty. Because picture books are so beloved and so slim, there is often the stereotype that writing them is all rainbows and unicorns. I appreciate Suzanne sharing that sometimes there are struggles. But, as she attests below, if we keep the faith, helpers can come alongside. I am so pleased to host Suzanne today in celebration of her newest picture book with Alexandra Penfold, Big Feelings (Penguin Random House).
I worked on Big Feelings (Penguin Random House) for a year and a half and the whole process has been exactly what the title describes. To be honest, it wasn’t the good kind of feelings. Alex and I are optimists, but this book was the hardest thing either of us has worked on. For me, the success of All Are Welcome came with a deep sense of “Impostor Syndrome” which impacted making the follow-up book Big Feelings. I tried everything, and I mean everything, but nothing worked, not one page. I had to throw out the whole book dummy and I had nothing creatively left to give. I was lost. I cried. I binge-watched Dawson Creek and even lost my joy to make work. My supportive team of art director Martha Rago, Editor Erin Clarke and Alex told me to take a break from the book to take all these big feelings in. So, I took the summer off to let the book breathe. I studied other books for inspiration.
I got help from friends like Jessixa Bagley and Elizabeth Rose Stanton on my own book Ghost. Then I was fortunate to be on the faculty at the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles with Alex.
I listened, laughed, and was creatively inspired by friends. My fellow faculty member and dear friend Corinna Luyken told me I needed to embrace the creative mess, that It was ok to be sad, to feel lost or even mad while you make a book. In the mess you will find the answers. She was so right. So, I finally embraced my big feelings about making this book. I embraced the mess.
And saw another point of view. Which inspired this image in the book.
The last night of the conference, I was invited by my friend to visit Alice Provensen’s daughter’s house. The house was full of gorgeous original art from their books and a table stacked high with breathtaking dummies.
As I looked at the dummies something clicked, and I knew how to solve the book. This small part of a Provensens’ dummy was the spark I needed.
The project still had many ups and downs but, after that, I embraced the creative mess knowing it would all work out with a little bit of hope. And of course, that’s the last thing I painted on this book.
Suzanne Kaufman is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller All Are Welcome and the follow-up, Big Feelings, written by Alexandra Penfold. Her books include Confiscated, 100 Bugs, Take Your Pets to School Day, Naughty Claudine Christmas, and Samanthasaurus Rex. She is the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Portfolio Honors. Her books have been awarded Bank Street College Education Best Children’s Books of the Year Honors, Washington State Best Picture Book Award, Mathical Honor Award, and Amazon Best Children Book of the Year. When not tramping through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her family, you will find her teaching illustration or working in her studio. You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @skaufmanart and Instagram @suzannekaufman, or visit her at suzannekaufman.com.