Illustrator Spotlight: Susanna Chapman

© Susanna Chapman

May 29, 2020

We're excited to feature illustrator Susanna Chapman and her new picture book, ELIZABETH WARREN'S BIG BOLD PLANS, by Laurie Ann Thompson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, May 5, 2020). Enter to win a copy (book will be mailed later in the year).

Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate for children.

Picture books are fully sacred to me and I am certain it began with my parents so generously reading to me when I was little. The Hundred Acre Wood and Mr. McGregor’s Gardenare the entire bedrock of my imagination. As I grew up picture books only felt more and more important and I began to love making little books as gifts. To me no human-made vessel can carry as much love as a picture book! 

© Susanna Chapman 

I majored in illustration and took a lot of graphic design classes and then worked for 10 years designing books for young readers at three different publishing companies (with one hiccup in the middle). I loved learning the process of how books are made. I also became very awed by my book designer colleagues who wrote or illustrated picture books outside of work—Rebecca Bond, Scott Magoon, Ann Stott, and Matt Roeser are these heroes. I made my own personal projects steadily and took any paid art opportunity that came my way—even painting a mural for a church—but I had so much reverence for picture books that I doubted I could ever illustrate a whole book. Eventually those little projects turned out to be stepping stones that led to being asked to illustrate THE GIRL WHO RAN for Compendium in 2017.

Congrats on your recent book, ELIZABETH WARREN'S BIG BOLD PLANS. Tell us about the book and how did you approach this assignment, in terms of research and decisions about style/medium?

Thanks! The story, written beautifully by Laurie Ann Thompson, covers Elizabeth Warren’s young life and ability to teach from an early age, her family’s expectation that she stay home as a wife and mother, her determination to learn and teach and advocate for fairness, her running and being elected the senate, and her run for presidency. 

© Susanna Chapman

I first gathered many gigabytes-worth of Elizabeth Warren reference. I spent lots of time sketching and sketching and making watercolor studies to familiarize myself with her before receiving the final manuscript. It felt a lot like really getting to know a friend.

© Susanna Chapman

I think the honest curiosity of that stage was beneficial, in the end the art director decided we would use one of those studies for the cover! The style/medium for this book is a combination of loose-ish watercolor and an exacting photoshop assembly and pen line.

© Susanna Chapman

You illustrate, design books, and do murals. Do these different forms of art influence your children's illustration work?

That’s a very fun and kind question. I think so. The three pursuits fall in very different points on the spectrum between “overwrought meticulous finickiness” and “throw-caution-to-the-wind exuberance.” Five years ago I wondered if making murals should be my only painting outlet because I can become so tight and controlling when I have the ability to erase or “⌘z” endlessly. There is an immediacy and a zen to mural painting that is quite different from book design, which entails extensive tinkering. But I love illustration and I am always striving to balance neurotic attention to detail and open aliveness. I really hope I get to continue finding this balance.

© Susanna Chapman

Was your road to publication as a children's illustrator long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

In between I think. I was focused on working in the children’s book world early on, but going from book design to book illustration was much more gradual! I have piquant memories of sitting in years and years of production meetings while longing to be drawing. 

© Susanna Chapman

What projects are you working on now (and are you able to concentrate)?

I am almost finished illustrating the story ADA AND THE GALAXIES, written by Alan Lightman, for Candlewick Press and The MIT Press’s new joint imprint, MIT Kids Press. I’m finishing a variety of book design projects that I did not illustrate—a lift-the-flap board book and a kid’s planner. I’m also starting over on author-illustrating a book that’s been in my head for many years and there’s a potential puzzle book my husband and I occasionally try to gestate together. I am able to concentrate. I have enormous compassion and admiration for those balancing many more life elements in one spot at the moment.

© Susanna Chapman

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

This is advice I should give to myself every day: love the picture books and illustrators you admire, but honor the art you create and try to not compare it to your heroes’ work. Equally important, become strong at learning and believing and articulating what your hard work is worth. 

© Susanna Chapman

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

The song “More Than A Feeling” by Boston is a big part of my life and when I lived in Watertown, MA, I was stunned to discover that it had been recorded/produced in a basement on my street. 

Where can people find you online?

Most often writing 5 star yelp reviews for Taco Bell, but also at and @sovagt on instagram.

Photograph © Alex Crawford
Susanna Chapman is the illustrator of Elizabeth Warren’s Big Bold Plans and The Girl Who Ran, a picture book biography of Bobbi Gibb, which received a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher Book Award and Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Susanna lives in Nashville with her husband where she draws pictures, designs books, and paints murals. Visit her at

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  1. Yay for Elizabeth Warren! I just wish we could have a President Michelle Obama!

  2. I love Liz Warren! I wish I'd had her for a teacher, she seems so inspiring.

  3. I enjoy nonfiction like this. Thanks for the chance!


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