Susan Rankin-Pollard – Illustrations and Stuff

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

It was quite a weekend! I had a portfolio consultation with Lauren Rille of Simon & Schuster, I got a peek inside Judy Schachner’s world and process, I saw how Peter Brown and Aaron Becker make their illustrations, I heard inspiring and insightful words that filled in the places where puzzle pieces were missing in my psyche,  I was offered a spot in an illustration critique group and more after talking shop with a fellow illustrator on the shuttle to the airport, which brings me to having seen old friends and making news ones!

I’d love to tell you more right this very moment, but I’m sick as a dog. Assuming that the dog is, in fact, sick. I’ve never really understood that phrase. Take the damn dog to the vet already. Anyway, I need some rest so  can gather my thoughts and upload some of the images that were in my portfolio.

I do apologize for the state of my gallery. Website help was one of the things I was seeking this weekend and the only thing I didn’t really manage to find. My newer, finished images will be up within the week.

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Last weekend I attended the SF North and East Bay hosted conference in Oakland. I’d heard good things about this conference and since I’d been part of a couple of picture book MS critique groups, I figured it was time to give this mostly writer focused gathering a try.

I was not disappointed!


First off, Preservation Park in Oakland is so very purtiful! Victorian houses, little town-like streets with street lamps, trees, and manicured gardens…! *sigh!*

Now, on to the speakers and workshops…

Nina LaCour is a delight to listen to and perfect for the topic of creating three dimensional characters. This is because she has a sort of childlike mysticism in her presence that takes you somewhere into the world of stories from the get-go. Imagine that first, nice K-2 teacher that was all about the stories and the math and science happened along the way without you even realizing it. That’s her.

John Cusick (Greenhouse Literary) talked about pacing your story, what to keep, and what to toss. He had a GLUT of information for us and must have downed a pot of coffee all by himself to give it to us in his one hour time limit! Cross Mr.Peabody (Of Rocky & Bullwinkle) with… umm… a pot of coffee and be prepared to write VERY fast, because if you miss a single bit he says, might be tough to ask him later what it was. Thankfully, one lady heard enough of a certain title and author he mentioned that she was able to ask the specifics of him and it. I’d missed it entirely and couldn’t even figure out how to ask! I hope they can give him a bit more time, if he speaks again next year.

Bethanie Strout’s (Little & Brown) talk, “Variations on The Emotional Journey: Picture Book Edition” was full when I signed up for the event, so I ended up in the MG/YA version. She highlighted the different writing tools used and ways taken by authors to guide readers on the journey through the main characters’ lives and emotions. All very interesting and useful. I figure I can take this talk and translate it to the picture books they’ve published.

Stefanie Von Borstel (Full Circle Literary) was the big surprise for me. I went to this one because the topic was “Opportunities in Non-Fiction” and, whether you agree with it or not, Common Core is on the horizon. I plan to make sure I’m on the beneficial side of things so that even if nothing else about it works, parents will at least be happy with a couple of books I might be able to get published. It helps that I happen to love knowledge and finding fun and engaging ways to present it. Stefanie’s talk really got me amped up and on the way home one of my non-fic PB story lines became unstuck!

Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy are authors of Non-Fiction picture books on the subject of weaving diversity into our stories. It boils down to being authentic. Have a good reason for that character being of whatever culture they are, because if it’s pasted in, it will be obvious and it will be flat. Wise words.

Panel Discussions with agents and publishers are always welcome and insightful. Like, like, like.

And we had a surprise speaker! Katherine Applegate, whose “The One and Only Ivan” won the Newberry, was there! She accepted the Crystal Kite, chatted with us about her long and hilarious career, and revealed that it was she who had judged the winner of the First Page contest! Well dang, did I felt silly for not having entered some writing then!

While there, I had opportunity to speak with Brian Bowes, SCBWI SF North’s Illustrator Coordinator. Brian is what I call a Swell Guy. Talented, in shape, snappy dresser, combs his hair, has lots of ideas, a quick wit, and knows his stuff. (He’s such a swell guy that I knew it was him I should ping when a dinner mate and fellow PB crit group member realized she had left her jacket on-site! He had indeed picked it up and could give it to me Wednesday night.) Brian introduced me to author and illustrator Alicia Grunow, and she and I hit it off right away. Thanks to events spear-headed by Mr. Bowes and Lea Lyon, my network has grown by leaps and bounds in the span of one month, and I suspect the SF South Bay Illustrators will have opportunity to see more of each other on a fairly regular and informal basis. This past Wednesday Night, a few of us had a Drink & Draw on the subject of Villains and it was fun, even though the Happy Hour music got too loud.

Congratulations to the winners of the writing and portfolio contests! I don’t remember who you are! My bad. But you are awesome none the less and I wish you much success in the coming years! MWAH!


This event gets an A+ and a Gold Star!



Monday, September 30th, 2013


Pretty much the kind of comment I expected. It’s good to know that the work is nice, better than “You suck! Take up accounting!” It’s the “too many diverse styles” I knew would be coming. “Limit to a few,”… Which few, which few.. Hmm… I sure wish they’d given some indication as to who they were. I’d send a thank you note. And it’d be nice to know if this came from a fellow artist and/or illustration teacher, or an agent, or an art director. Looks like a woman’s handwriting, though.

Some other good advice I heard at Illustrators’ Day…

1 and 2 – “Interpret your reference with fun,” “Give yourself a 15-20 minute daily assignment, like a watercolor painting observing something changeable.” -Melissa Sweet

3 – From the First Look panel, not on my work. I didn’t submit anything.
a. Keep the sketchy energy.
b. Find the between /nuance expressions.
c. Beware of clutter that confuses the focal point.
d. Beware of physical characteristics being exaggerated to distraction.
e. Hidden places are fun!
f. Create fun Bad Guys!
g. Everything in the image should be useful.

4 – In regards to portfolios: “Show your obsessiveness in your illustration.” Up until now, I’d always heard, “Draw what you like, because if you draw what you don’t like, you’ll get stuck drawing it,” and that’s true. But putting the word “obsession” into that mix gives it new depth of meaning. Don’t just draw what you like, show the things that REALLY make your work shine. This will translate to playfulness and a being in love with what you do. For me, that’s details like personal artifacts, but they should all serve a purpose within the context of the piece, rather than simply be decoration. I have to really consider what else I consider to be my (healthy!) obsessions.

5 – “Make any changes of style relative. Don’t jar; flow.” Looking at the order I put things in, yeah, I did some jarring. In my attempt to showcase the four different types of execution (colored pencil, watercolor, digital, and graphite) I had focused on linking adjacent pieces, but in doing so I had created a seesaw effect in the way I had arranged things. Doing more work will give me more to choose from in the future to create better flow. I think I might also label different sections, so that picture book work is separate from early reader and middle grade novel work.

Now the After Work begins. Next up is the Fall Conference in Oakland. There is much work to do. I have some new reading material for subject matter! But I need to take it easy today. My eye is STILL twitching. But I’m so excited and I wanna worrrrrk! Bah! 

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

What a Week…

This past Thursday, after making the arrangements for my much-needed gall bladder surgery, we quite unexpectedly had to say good-bye to our dear little black cat Gwynn. She had just turned 14 years old on April 1st. A year and a half ago, Gwynn fought breast cancer and won during Breast Cancer Awareness month. We had an extra year and a half with our sweet girl. And extra year and a half with her chattiness, cuddles, middle of the night pawing at the blanket to be let under it when it was cold, her playfulness, and requests for Morning Reassurance that we weren’t moving again which were rewarded with nose lick kisses from her raspy pink tongue. Gwynn never liked to see me upset and would appear at my side, talk to me, and give kisses the moment she detected my sadness. She had seen me through the death of my little brother, the news of my infertility, the divorce, the hysterectomy, and countless other smaller sadnesses. We even moved cross-country together and, a few years later, she decided that the man I love was ok by her and we got married.

She began coughing a few days ago. It seemed like the usual hairball sort, but there was no hairball. Thursday morning, she was in distress. Just putting her collar on her to take her to the vet caused a coughing fit. I walked the half mile with her along quiet, shady streets to the vet, talking to her through the mesh windows of the soft side cat carrier. She snuggled against me, smelling the spring air.

An x-ray showed a lot of fluid surrounding her lungs. It was pretty much unreadable. The doctor said she could drain the fluid and take more x-rays, and then laid out the possible causes. None of them would end well. I took time to think about it. I asked more questions. I talked to Phil over the phone. And then I decided to do the least harm. Gwynn and I waited together for Phil to drive the half hour to the animal hospital. the staff were so kind. We were left undisturbed the whole time while around us I could hear appointments being shuffled, or delayed. Never once did they rush us.

While we waited, it was my turn to comfort Gwynn, or try to, but I couldn’t stop the tears. Even in her weakened state, she gave me kisses and rubbed my hand with her face. When Phil arrived, we were allowed even more time with her, and when we were ready, she was first sedated, allowed to slip into a calm and relaxed state, and then we gently let her go.

It was a long evening which we filled with rehearsal, walking, and a semi-gall bladder blowout dinner (A berry cider, moroccan salmon, and double chocolate Ghiradelli ice cream!). The next day, we were up early and off to the hospital for my surgery. for once, everything went as expected, albeit a little delayed. I went home in the afternoon and slept off and on. Phil in taking very good care of me and Natasha, our other black kitty, has been attentive as well.

I feel like someone kicked me down a flight of stairs and I’m nauseous if I stand for too long, so I’m not eating solids just yet. But under all of that, I feel better. It makes me wonder just how sick my gall bladder might have been making me.

Today, a condolences card from the vet arrived, as did flowers from a friend back East. Something else arrived, too…

A Word About Portfolio Content

The comments on the three sample pieces I submitted in prep for my portfolio review at NESCBWI’s Spring Conference! I hesitated. This could be good, or bad. But then I thought, Even if it’s bad, it’s an opportunity to learn something. So I opened the big white envelope.

Both reviews were from Art Directors at major publishers. Both had very good things to say. BOTH would like to see more of my work. And one included a special P.S. to keep in touch and a smiley face! To say I’m over-the-moon is an understatement.

Among the comments in both reviews is a concern about consistency of style. I have a couple of different styles I work in, which is a few less than I did in college. I’ve whittled down a bit and would say that I have three, which I spread over the three samples: Cartoon/comic, painterly comic, and cartoon realism. There was also a spread of execution style:

1 – Light, but very layered, hard pigment colored pencil.

2 – Layered watercolor washes with lighter ink line.

3 – Vivid and direct watercolor application with think & thin ink lines.

These samples were selected at a time when my being there was in the stars. I figured they were my best pieces for matching me up with a reviewer and the full portfolio would pull it all together.

What did I learn? When asked to do this again, I’ll choose my favorite style and the medium in which I am most proficient, and pick two pieces from there.  For my third, a similar style, but a different enough execution to hint at being flexible.

What else did I learn?

I need to work on the printing process itself. Perhaps matte presentation paper is not the best when she pages will not be in glossy sleeves. And I’ve got to get the whole scanner and printer color profile thing figured out better so that colors match the originals better and avoid looking even slightly “muddy”.

I can hardly wait to get back to work with these new reviews in mind. Getting good direction is so invigorating! But it’ll have to wait till I’m off the heavy painkillers. Falling asleep on a watercolor painting just makes a mess!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Just like that, my trip to the NE SCBWI Spring Conference is a No Go. A situation has popped up that will require a doctor and a knife and being grateful for good medical insurance. I am one of the lucky ones.

I’m disappointed. I was really looking forward to the conference. Thankfully, arrangements are being worked out so that I can still take advantage of a few opportunities I would have had, if I were there. I wish I were going to be there, but things are a bit uncertain right now. Best to be on familiar territory in the event of an emergency, catching a cold right now would be a Bad Idea, and who knows when this or that doctor can see me and make time for me to be on the slab.

Anyway, I’m not going to gripe about it. I’ve been through much worse. Worse with worse timing, none the less!

So where do I go from here? Because there is no stop. Not this time. There may be slow, actually… I know there will be some slow, but I don’t think there will be a stop. For instance, today I am just too wound up about seeing the doc tomorrow for a follow-up to talk about surgeons. I needed busywork.

I gathered a ton of reference photos of bears. I’m not sure why I’m so interested in bears lately, but I am.

I scrubbed the bathtub. It needed it. I don’t know what’s in the San Jose water and I’m not sure I want to know. I probably should, though.

Some bills got taken care of.

And then, I scanned, trimmed up, and submitted 2 black and white spot illustrations to the SCBWI Bulletin. Here’s one.



They’re new pieces that were to debut in my portfolio this weekend. This is my attempt to turn lemons into lemonade, y’see. I’ve been thinking for a few months that I really need to make and submit some spot illustrations, but just hadn’t gotten around to it or had what I considered a good idea. If they pick one for the next issue, I know which one it won’t be. After sending them in, I noticed that the current issue was available to download, so I did. And found a pig in a polkadot dress in the back. Well, then! Maybe I’ll resubmit it next year.

My point is, keep going.

There are setbacks. There are rejections. There always will be.


Sometimes they are monkeys with wrenches.

It’s nothing personal.

Don’t let them mess with your brakes.

And when all else fails, go out into the summer evening and dance with the fireflies.

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of childhood memory sketch work, as inspired by the fabulous Hazel Mitchell and making quite a bit of headway in getting in touch the simple joys, all-encompassing fears, and the deep sadness of being a child, which is so important in making picture book art. I’ve been sharing them on Facebook and Twitter and they’re also now in the Gallery section here. The feedback I’ve gotten through FB and Twitter has been so nice and so appreciated!

But yesterday, I was shocked to have my name suggested to an art director at a rather large publisher, who requested an illustrator that could draw tween girls really well! My being suggested was as a direct result of my sharing those sketches! I was away from home and my computer when all of this happened, so I was really glad I’d put up at least a very basic website here! When the Tweet mentions rolled in, I immediately made sure my website link was correct. Today, said art director and the editor is looking over the web pages of the names that were suggested to him yesterday.

Now, while it is true that I don’t have a complete portfolio to show here right now (I’m working on it), it’s important to note three things I did, just by showing up, that are just as important as the portfolio.

1. Sharing your work. I don’t mean handing it out for anyone to use. No. What I mean by this is, in terms of Twitter, find your tribe and be friendly, use the right hash tags (in this case #kidlitart), and don’t be afraid to say, “Hey! Look what I drew today!” Be a neat person, do neat things, and share. It’s just like kindergarten. (I almost typed kinderfarten! Great! I’ll be thinking about that all day!)

2. A basic website is usually better than none at all! I’m not going to get the job. Not without the portfolio. I know this and I’m ok with it. BUT! Someone very talented in her own right, Diandra Mae , thought enough of me to toss my name into the hat. Thank you, D! Now imagine if I hadn’t had ANY sort of a website ready! Not even some morsel to create an interest, to keep me on the radar! A few weeks ago, I set about getting some things organized here, including the addition of the Flickr Stream, and my About and Contact page. Man, was I relieved to know that I had already done that! Now, at the very least, the AD will see that I can definitely draw, (which he stated in a Twitter Talk was the most important thing he looks for in a new illustrator.), know a little bit about me (a more personal connection), and how to get in contact with me. So don’t let the lack of a complete portfolio slow you down. Start, or work on your web page.

3. Butt in Studio Chair. With all of the distractions we have around us these days, especially technological ones, this is a biggie. I’ve learned a few things about myself that are making this last one easier. It looks like this.

Every day: Get up, feed the cats, eat a simple breakfast, write your morning pages, stop looking at FB on your phone AGAIN, get a shower, no PJs, and do NOT sit in the black leather easy-chair by the front window, you know the one that lets in the sweet smell of orange blossoms, attracts the lap cat beasts, and gets nice and warm from the sun, and…!

Put more succinctly: Have a routine, identify pitfalls, and keep the pitfalls OUT of your routine.

Happy Showing Up, everyone!

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

First and foremost, this blog is going to be getting some love in the coming weeks. Namely, adding a gallery of sketchwork and finishes, so that I can share fun WIP things like this…


I’ll be finishing the design of this drawing with a full background and then applying different methods to flesh it out and see what I’m most comfortable with and like most in order to create a finished piece. The finished piece will go into the gallery of finishes and, if its lucky enough, into the digital portfolio! Ooooh! Aaaah!

Other features will include book reviews, be they picture book, books about illustration or illustrators (I’m currently reading Show Me A Story, Why Picture Books Matter, Conversations With 21 Of The World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators, a mouthful of a title by Leonard S. Marcus), or the latest novel that makes me go WOW! Which would be Tony DiTerlizzi’s A Hero For WondLa right now. Over-The-Hump Day will be a Wednesday post of an unpredictable nature, but something to coax a smile and remind you that the weekend is coming!

And there’s a super-secret project coming, too.

I have some other wild ideas, but I won’t delve into those just yet. Not till I work them out.

So, that’s what’s going on right now. Check back here or follow me on Twitter (@suerankinsays) to get notification when there’s an update!

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

I am reminded by John Robey that this is a good thing to do, so here goes:

1. Having a project to distract you during a rough time is a Good Thing. Bonus points if it is for a niece or nephew who looks up to you.

2. Knowing that someone looks up to you. It reminds you to behave accordingly.

3. Serendipity. Let the universe know in a kind fashion what you need so that it has the chance to fall into your lap. Case in point, I asked some illustration, especially children’s lit, type people what other books they would recommend in addition to those I had. The very next day (today), Show Me A Story is thrust in front of me at the indie book store by my husband, who was looking for an activity book about writing for the afore mentioned niece who looks up to me.

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

My first PiBoIdMo has come and gone and with it, the Picture Book Academy course I took concurrently with the delightful Mira Reisberg. I learned quite a few things from both:

First, when I try to force out ideas, they usually stink! At least that was the case this year. Since PiBoIdMo ended, I’ve had only 2 ideas, but they’ve been really strong ones! I’m pretty sure that it’s because A) the pressure of a daily idea is now off and B) the relief of that lack of pressure has made me uncurl from the little ball of stress and I’m now open to the ideas that flow in freely from images, or snippets of conversation. In short, I’ve learned what my current idea generating pattern is: Relax, feed my head, and listen.

Secondly, I’ve started to hone in on the kind of books I want to write. This is a lot like finding your “voice”, but voice can be applied to nearly any kind of book really. I mean, I can write about manners and numbers and letters, but is it really what I want to do? I wrote a story about covering sneezes and I like it a lot. I’m still fiddling with the form and trying to get that word count in the area of 600 words, or less, and while it’s funny, which I like, and I think it’s worthy of publishing, it may not be my ultimate book path. This brings me to the second thing I learned: You will only know what you enjoy writing when you have written and written a lot. Turns out I enjoy onamonapia, alliteration, character-driven plots that are meaningful, and, dare I say it, rhyming.

(I’ve been trying to avoid rhyming. It’s the thing that makes editors and publishers cringe and groan and not want to even look and you’d better be spot on, or they won’t. So… since my latest idea and its sibling are in rhyme, you’d better believe I will work and rework it until it’s as perfect and pleasantly readable as I can make it and that it has a reason that makes it essential for it to rhyme.)

The third thing I learned, and this also has to do with activity outside of PiBoIdMo and PBA, is that it’s really, really important to find the right critique group. The right critique group knows the Sandwich Form of Critiquing (lead in with a compliment, go to a problem/possible negative, and finish with another positive and encouragement.). The right critique group gets that your subject matter may not be their favorite, but also gets that theirs may not be yours! And regardless, everyone agrees to give a critique and not instructions on how to rewrite the story so that it’s more in line with their own personal likes. They also understand the format rules, namely the word count limitations of whichever genre they’re focusing on. I have once been guilty of submitting something WAY over word count, because I didn’t realize the group was for Picture Books. I was helpfully steered to a Middle Grade group for that manuscript and later submitted a PB manuscript to the first group. A misunderstanding like that once is forgivable, but knowingly committing repeat offenses is a surefire way to build resentment and pretty much ensure that people will not have the time or desire to read and critique your 1600 word picture book manuscript.

I’m sure I will continue to work with Mira and I do recommend her courses as she is overflowing with knowledge on the subject and has a beautiful smile and spirit to boot! Depending on what the next year brings, I plan to do PiBo IdMo again to test how my idea generating process will have grown. Unless of course, I have a mega picture book deal and I’m just too busy!

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shooting I have only one question. That question is not “Why did he do this?”, because the actual why, the on the ground, in his mind why, while it matters, is not the real problem with a crime of this scale. The answer to that question has to do with our failing and stigma-drenched mental healthcare system.

“Why is it that when someone goes unstable and wants to kill himself, does he then go out seeking others to take with him?” This was the question I posed to my husband last night. His answer was simple. The attention. And he’s right. Instead of killing himself quietly, he took the road seen all too often on the news. On the news where the faces and names are plastered and unavoidable. Where criminals are made famous.

We need to stop making them famous.

This is easier said that done, because the news sells and we are naturally curious creatures, even morbidly so. And then there’s the part of us that aches for the victims, for their families, for the police who had to be on scene escorting survivors, examining evidence and bodies, and notifying those families. We want to know that they’re ok. We want to see the triumph of the human spirit.

So the real question is, “How do we satisfy our need to connect and empathize without feeding the fire of criminal one-upmanship?”

I don’t know. I wish I did. I’d shout it from the rooftops.