I grew up climbing trees, running in the grass and riding my bike in sunny Miami, Florida. I marveled at pelicans that flew overhead and held lizards, rubbing their bellies to lull them to sleep. And I was surrounded by flowers: fragrant, snow-white jasmine, ruby red hibiscus, golden lantana. Their patterns and colors dazzled me.
These experiences had a powerful and positive effect on me, as did my mother’s influence as a poet. She made up fun rhymes and read poetry to me. She also encouraged my interest in drawing pictures.
So, of course I grew up to become an author and illustrator of rhyming picture books that celebrate nature! My creative recipe is always the same: writing bouncy, rhythmic rhymes and painting bright, graphic images to fill young children with a sense of wonder and curiosity about our natural world.
Outdoor experiences have inspired all my books. I created Fabulous Fishes after a porcupine fish inflated itself right before my eyes as I snorkeled in Belize. Stripes of All Types was sparked after seeing a striped poison dart frog in the Costa Rican rainforest.
Fantastic Flowers was conceived when I encountered a monkey orchid at a botanic garden that looked just like a monkey. The idea came to me in a flash: flowers that look like other things! I had fun selecting those that resemble flying parrots, ice cream cones and even tiny babies.
After writing 18(!) drafts, I felt I’d finally captured the flowers’ whimsical characteristics in a pleasing rhyme scheme. Synthesizing complex information such as the importance of pollination in my addendum was my biggest challenge. Capturing the flowers’ unique shapes and colors in my artwork was the most joyous part. I included actual photos of the flowers so that the reader could see that the illustrations were from real flowers.
My illustration process begins with many pencil sketches. For the final illustration, I trace my drawing onto Bristol paper. Then for each color, I apply at least three layers of acrylic paint to give the image a flat, crisp appearance. Using tiny brushes, I revel in depicting the smallest details—the spot of turquoise inside a peacock’s feather or the hair-thin spines of a lionfish. I want children to notice them! Having worked as a textile designer, I delight in finding patterns in everything I paint, and nature provides them in abundance.
Being outdoors gave me a sense of inner calm and belonging that anchored me to the world as a child. That is why I always feature children engaging with nature on the final page of my books: cultivating a garden, gazing at baby birds, swimming with fish. I create my books to say “Go outside. Look around you. Nature is spectacular!”
Susan Stockdale has won numerous awards as the author and illustrator of eight nonfiction picture books, including Fabulous Fishes, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, Stripes of All Types, a Parents’ Choice Silver Medal Honor, and Fantastic Flowers, a NCTE Notable Children’s Book. Enjoy more of her work at www.susanstockdale.com.