Susan Rank-Pollard – Illustrator Interview

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Sue has such a vibrant online presence that you feel you must have met her in real life at some SCBWI conference or other. And if you haven’t yet, and are in New York for the annual SCBWI 2018 winter conference, I encourage you to look out for that amazing hair, and engage her in conversation. 



[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

I’m an illustrator doing some writing. When I’m sketching, it’s always with the thought of, “Where will this go? What happened just before? What might the overall story arc be?”

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

I’ve lived on both coasts. I’m from the East, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and moved cross-country in a mini van with a good man, three cats, and the stuff we didn’t trust to a relo cube. We spent 2 weeks doing so in order to visit family and friends along the way. If you ever really want to test a relationship of any kind, I highly recommend it!

Until leaving Pennsylvania, I had only ever known life with 4 distinct seasons, each lasting exactly three months. Talk about storybook! I don’t have that in California. I recently visited family in Ohio and got to experience winter for the first time in years and came back with winter-themed sketch work that I doubt would have happened otherwise. I’ve come to realize that the changing of the seasons grounds me and my work. I miss it, and I plan to return to it as soon as I can.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

I always knew that visual art, the kind that was entertaining in a way that was funny and narrative, was what I wanted to do, because it’s a great bridge builder.

In second grade, starting at a new school, our Halloween art assignment was to follow directions to make a black cat out of construction paper. I asked my teacher if it was alright to design mine a little differently and she gave me the go ahead. Others were in profile, but mine faced you, holding its back feet, pink toe pads visible, smiling pink mouth, happy eyes. My teacher hung them all along the cork strip above the chalkboard and put mine first in line, right by the door! I wish I still had that cat, but I am friends on Facebook with my second grade teacher! She just retired.

Drawing has been my strength in the best of times and my refuge in the worst of times. It has been a way to share joy and laughter, fear and sadness. But mostly joy and laughter.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

Color pencil and/or ink line, and watercolor together.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us of a work in progress and the process of creating them?

I start with a feeling and harness it, meld it into some direction (why this emotion?), and then apply it to a character. In this case, I visited Ohio and experienced winter for the first time in a long time. I felt a sense of joy, excitement, and wonder. And decided it had been so long since I’d felt that, I’d better grab it with both hands!

Once I have a fairly tight drawing, I transfer it to 300lb hot press, watercolor paper. This is my favorite paper because it handles a LOT of water and really doesn’t need any stretching, although I still do so, because once my drawing is transferred and refined with hatch marks and indication of color (I’m using a selection of basic, muted warms and cools, keeping most of them isolated to their own planes (far background, near background, middle ground, and foreground.), I soak it into the paper for about seven minutes. I then lay it on a lightweight painting board, blot it with a non-patterned paper towel, and apply white tape to the edges in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise action. Direction doesn’t matter, but progression in this way helps the paper lie flatter.

Once the paper is completely dry, it becomes a conversation in media between the dry and the wet. I may fiddle with the drawing a bit more before I lay in the first washes.  I’ve been doing a lot of limited palette recently, really getting back to basics, so all of the watercolor here is in alizarin crimson, lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, Payne’s grey, and sepia. Again, being mindful of where I place my warm and cool tones. Then it’s back in with pencils. Then paint. Then pencils, then paint, then pencils, then… Is it done yet? *tweak tweak* How do I know when it’s done? I walk away for a few hours. Or overnight. If I come back and something sticks out, I fix it. If not, then it’s done.


[JM] How important is SCBWI to your artistic journey?

There’s nothing like finding your people when you’re in an industry that largely involves a solitary day-to-day routine. At the moment, I’m even serving my region, San Francisco South, as Illustrator Coordinator. My experiences with SCBWI, the people I’ve met and now call friends, the people who’ve given me encouragement, the people whom I’ve encouraged… I’m on the lookout for an agent and I’ve a few art directors in mind to target with my upcoming mailing. Most of whom I’ve met through SCBWI conferences. There’s no other organization quite like it.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

A mess! Cramped, too. Got my eye on something bigger, though it’ll be awhile. Living in a 1,000 sq ft Craftsman is a challenge. I don’t do as well in small spaces. Let’s see, the walls are a custom mixed white based on Palm White Crescent matt board, 2 combo spot lamps to minimize shadows on the work space from the overhead, which are warm/cool balanced light tubes. Windows to the left side of the table, since I’m right handed. This is the best possible setup for watercolor painting.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 

I don’t actually have a lot of wall space and the house is in renovation limbo, but here are a few. The old lady used to guard the thermostat in the farmhouse my husband rented back in PA before we were married. She comes from Spain. Over the years, I’ve occasionally given her a word balloon, and right now she doesn’t think much of the old smoke detector that the previous homeowner left behind. I love the Eggs, Cheep piece. It’s what makes that wallpaper tolerable! When we redo the kitchen, I plan to keep much of the wallpaper for art projects. So many things are art to me, like taxidermy. Here’s my otter, and my newest acquisition.

[JM] Do you have themes/characters/subjects you return to again and again?

 I do! They’re like old friends. But I do like making new friends, too.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                                 [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

My husband and I eloped in Yosemite, so that park has a special place in our hearts. I really want to go to Yellowstone. National Parks are a big deal to me. I love going camping. Any chance to get back with nature, I take. Living in an environment like Silicon Valley makes you really appreciate quiet, green surroundings all the more.

[JM] I love America’s National Parks, too, and would love to visit them all. Cats or dogs? 

Cats. Well…ex-cats. Jenga cats. I have a porch kitty who has no desire to be an indoor cat. According to neighbors, she’s at least 16 years old! I’ll have cats again. Maybe after the renovations. I’ve never had a dog. Been thinking about that. Bunnies and skunks (descented, thank you) are neat, too.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

Unless the light is right, most people don’t seem to notice that my eyes are two different colors.

[JM] I’m gonna be looking now! What was your first paid job (besides babysitting)?

When I was fifteen, I worked at a plant nursery over the summer. Got an entire shipment of heat-scorched geraniums once. Guess who got to prune the entire truckload?

[JM] Haha. Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

Coffee and a banana or a Quest chocolate chip cookie dough bar. Or 70% dark chocolate if I really need a brain chemical boost.

Thanks so much for sharing your art and journey with us, Sue, and all success in achieving your illustrator dreams.

Facebook and Instagram – Susan Rankin-Pollard
Twitter- @suerankinsays

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1 Response to Susan Rank-Pollard – Illustrator Interview

  1. Happy birthday, Susan! Lovely to find out more about you and your process – and your funky taxidermy!

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