Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Mary Sullivan

Today, KIDLIT 411 is very honored and thrilled to interview the talented author, Mary Sullivan! Mary is the author of BALL, a 2014 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. Welcome, Mary!

We've got some questions for Mary, so let's get started.

How long have you been writing/illustrating for children? How did you get into illustrating for children?

This question is hard. Because I don't really write or illustrate FOR children. I just write and illustrate....and it turns out that children like it!!

But okay, I know what you mean. In 2000, I decided to hone in and only pursue jobs in that particular field. 

To start off with, I decided I wanted to illustrate for Highlights magazine. I sent a sample to them. They liked my work and gave me an assignment. That's really how it all began. And I eventually got to do a hidden picture and have done hundreds of them since.  Okay, maybe not hundreds. Boyd Mills Press gave me my first picture book illustration job. From there, I was able to pick up jobs all across the education field. 

© Mary Sullivan

Was it something that you always wanted to do?

You know, I always wanted to be a painter. A fine artist. It was all going to be soooo romantic. Never happened though, despite trying. I hate to paint.  

It's weird. Looking back on my childhood, I'd sit at my little drawing desk and pretending that someone, like a "boss," would tell me what to draw. . . and then I'd draw it. Or I'd write a poem or story and draw a picture for it. I did this all the time. Without really having a name for it . . . I was illustrating.

A sketch from a book Mary is working on, not yet sold

Do you illustrate first or write first?

Definitely wrote. Wrote poetry. I have a collection of poems from 4th grade. Also, made a book dummy in 4th grade. Even though at the time, I had no idea what a book dummy was. I didn't really start illustrating until 6th grade? My school projects were visually above and beyond. However . . . content-wise . . . only average!  :-)  I learned early that presentation was key to a successful project.

© Mary Sullivan

What was your inspiration for your picture book, BALL?

Ball came to me on a walk with my dog.  Watching other dogs playing ball . . . and marveling at how obsessed they were. I came home, drew some sketches . . . and that's how BALL was born.
Another sketch for a book like BALL/FOOD, called TOY

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring author illustrators?

It's hard to give advice. Because what works for one person, does not work for another. But for me, the crucial part of my creative process is alone time. I thrive on quiet time in nature. It's where I catch the most wonderful ideas. Get out, sit quietly on the edge of a lake or a field and just listen to what comes. It's so mystical.    

What are you working on now?

I'm working on my next book for Houghton Mifflin. I guess you could call it a sequel. FOOD will be out spring 2016. It's about a dog and his love of food . . . and his struggles in getting something other than his kibble.  Here is a special SNEAK PEEK of an illustration!

A scene from her next book © Mary Sullivan

What is something that most people don't know about you?

I struggle with "melancholy." My alternative doctor says that most creatives do. Sometimes, especially with all the social media, it looks to me like everyone else is just super happy all the time. I like when folks share their struggles. It helps me get through the down times to know I'm not alone.

© Mary Sullivan

Do you like pizza? If so- anchovies or no anchovies on your pizza? 

Love Pizza . . . and I must confess, I've never had an anchovy on a pizza!!  Will try it soon!  

As a special treat, we have a video interview of Mary Sullivan conducted by Julie Gribble:

Or you can watch it at this link.

Mary Sullivan has been drawing and writing for as long as she can remember. Her childhood home was full of music, art and poetry.   Mary lives with her husband Carlos in Austin, Texas.  She spends her days drawing, writing, drinking tea, playing with her dogs and seeking sunshine.   


  1. How is it possible that I didn't know about this book? I must run out and get my hands on it ASAP. I love Mary's style! Her art is so playful and fun and secretly snarky that I'd never guess she has bouts of melancholy. But, we all have demons we're fighting.

    I swear that dog in FOOD is based on me. :}

    Thanks for showcasing Mary, KidLit411, so that I now have yet another author/illustrator I can adore!

  2. Same here as Teresa, I need to get a copy of Ball! It was interesting seeing the struggle between wanting to be a fine artist and illustrator, thanks for introducing me to Mary Sullivan!

  3. I just put Ball on hold at my library. I'm really looking forward to reading it. It looks adorable! Great interview.

  4. Mary is awesome! Thanks for sharing! Thanks for sharing about the melancholy and struggles that we sometimes face as well. I've heard of Ball, but must rush right out to get it!

  5. I have to add that I love the video interview with Mary!

  6. Thanks so much for doing the interview, Mary! I already own BALL, and it's a great book! :D

  7. Mary, I'm in love with your fantastic drawings and illustrations. I'm definitely going to check out BALL.

  8. fun interview, really inspiring! Can not wait to get BALL, I'm already a big fan. ~Y


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