Sculpting an Illustration with Clay Illustrator Susan Eaddy
Let’s meet clay sculpting illustrator Susan Eaddy in the first of a two part interview about her process, children’s book illustration, and licensing artwork. Susan’s illustrations are fabulously detailed clay reliefs. Each form is designed, sculpted and attached – each part becoming a facet of the whole glorious piece. But even better than me trying to describe it, watch this short time lapse video as she creates colorful tide pool creatures for a Click Magazine illustration.
OUaS: How did you get the impetus to begin making the videos of your clay process? How have they worked as a self promo tool?
SE: I took a Make your own Book Trailer breakout from Chris Cheng at the 2011 LA Conference. It was so empowering that it basically gave me the confidence to tackle iMovie. I had to keep telling myself not to get perfectionistic, that this was supposed to fun, and I should totally revel in my amateur status. So I have! And that has released me to just play with the medium. The clay is so perfect for video-ing the process, and it has been a great self promotional tool. I started out videoing with my still camera and when I saw how fun, I finally bought a video cam.
OUaS: Susan is being completely humble when she describes these as a great promo tool… in fact her videos have been shown all over the world and even landed her a feature on the Parent’s Choice blog and a TV interview with Tennessee Crossroads.
In this world where everything is more an more digital what challenges do you find working in a most non-digital medium? What benefits?
SE: Well, there are so many steps in my process and digital certainly plays a part. I start with drawing, then composing, then coloring, either with pencil or on the computer, to figure out my palette. Then I do the clay. The clay is the most joyful part of the process for me! By the time I start the clay, I have figured out composition and palette, and I can get my hands dirty and figure out how to construct my reliefs. I’ve said it before, but it is this discovery process that I love the most. I don’t know HOW to make things until I just get in there and play. I often redo pieces and parts of the clay as I go along. Because you don’t really know if something is working until it is made. After the illustration is done, I photograph… again playing with light and angle until I like what I see. When I put the digital files in the computer, THEN I can see how it translates to 2D and I notice things that I didn’t see before. So I usually shoot things anywhere from 5 to 15 times. I finalize all of my files in Photoshop and send digital files to my clients. Without Photoshop, I could not do my job.
OUaS: How do art directors/buyers react when you tell them about your process?
SE: Actually, it’s been a bit of a hard sell. Even the very visually oriented are often uncomfortable with a medium that is so different, and many are afraid to take a chance. Before digital was so common, art directors were confused about HOW they would get final files. But the digital age has streamlined that so easily that there is not so much confusion.
I was an art director myself for 15 years and I KNOW how tight and important deadlines can be. If an art director perceives that a process will take longer than normal they tend to shy away. When they look at my very detailed illustrations they assume that it takes me longer than other people to do an illustration. But that is just not the case. I have worked in ALL mediums through the years and the clay doesn’t take any longer than other mediums I have used.
OuAs: I know we have many traditional media readers (including myself) so I’m sure they’re happy to hear that! Do you feel there is a particular genre or illustration project better suited to this media?
SE: I kind of love nature based projects. I love animals, I love plants and I love research! I also have a simpler style which lends itself well to books for very young children.
OUaS: Children’s book illustration isn’t your only focus, you also do some licensing work… how is it different creating work for license as opposed to book illustration?
SE: Licensing work is all about a single image. It is decorative and although one image CAN tell a story, there is not sustained narrative. Color and design are more valued than story telling in licensed products. There is a LOT of spec work in licensing. I exhibited at a trade show called Surtex. One spends a LOT of time developing collections of images that you feel would be perfect for certain products. You then mock up those products with your designs and exhibit in a paid booth space. Manufacturers cruise the show looking for art for their products. My work was a good fit for puzzles, greeting cards and wall borders.
OUaS: What advice would you give to new artists experimenting with clay illustration?
SE: Well, I believe that the basis for all good illustration, no matter what the medium, is drawing. That is one reason I do such detailed drawings before I do the clay. I have to understand my subject before I can create it, and the act of drawing gives me insight into my subject & gives me that road map I need before I do the clay. As for the clay itself…there are so many different approaches! Just like people who use watercolor have very different styles, so do artists who use clay. Some use polymers to be baked, some make jointed dolls and make 3D sets. Some use low relief; I happen to love high relief, and I use plasticine for most of my illustrations. I think one thing a clay artist has to realize is that there are SO many steps to the process… research, drawing, clay work, lighting, photography, and photoshop.
OUaS: Thanks Susan for stopping by to answer some questions! In April, we’ll talk with Susan about her collaboration with 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge founder, Julie Hedlund, on My Love For You Is The Sun, a picture book published by Little Bahalia Publishing. The book is being published under the “hybrid” model, which is a blend of all aspects of the traditional and self publishing process including financing, contract negotiation, marketing and editorial. Have a look at this video as Susan creates an illustration for the early Kickstarter campaign.
As I was finishing this blog post, this illustration was deemed a finalist for the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery at the Bologna Book Fair! Susan and her ducks will be traveling to Bologna, Italy in late March to meet book buyers from all over the planet at the world’s biggest book expo. Join us in April to hear more of the story.