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Author and Illustrator Brings Life to Children's Books

Author-illustrator Susan Stockdale combines her fascination with the natural world, love of children, and artistic talent to produce beautiful nature books.

We're visiting the lovely home of artist Susan Stockdale, near Washington, DC. The home is warm and stylish and filled with color and art, much of it her own.

Susan is a successful author and illustrator of children's nature books, and is today beginning another of her unique illustrations.

Susan explains her technique. "So now what I'm doing... I'm doing a picture of an anteater with the baby on back. This is actually the first illustration in the book, so what I do is I have it on tracing paper, and I painted the background color which I did before you came and now what I do is I go over the tracing paper very, very hard with pencil, because what I do when I lift this up, I'll have an indentation where I used pencil, and that will be the guide line for the place in which I paint. Kind of a crazy technique but it really works for me."

Next to family and children, her passions are patterns, colors and the natural world.

"So, I learn a ton of stuff just while I'm doing the research for my particular subject area."

Even with a children's book there's more research involved than one might usually expect.

"I start by looking at a wide variety of animals that I’m interested in. I do some, you know, stuff on the Web, particularly getting images, but I would say it's just the old-fashioned going to the library and I go to lots of zoos to get ideas of what animals are most interesting, that would be great to illustrate."

In researching "Carry Me," she met with Bob Hoffman, a mammologist at the Smithsonian Institution, to be certain her drawings were accurate.

“Yeah, that part's fine and it's wrapped in kelp and that's fine. The thing that I see that is not quite right, is that the sea otter seems to be floating on top of the water and actually, pull the water level up some,” he told her.

To which she responded, “Okay, so maybe what I’ll do is kind of extend the water inside the kelp. Yeah, that's a great suggestion, this is wonderful, okay."

Susan is also very much an educator, and clearly loves children. Today she's visiting two elementary schools in Baltimore, Maryland, and is having fun with her first book, inspired by a trip to the zoo.

She spoke at a school assembly. "I went to the zoo one day. I'll never forget this. I walk in, and all these flamingoes are over on the left, and there was a flamingo that was like this, standing perfectly still. It had one leg tucked up underneath its feathers sound asleep, and my kids were saying that's so amazing that a flamingo can sleep standing up. Bing!! That was my idea for my book that I was looking for, and at that very moment I thought of the idea for my first book which is called "Some Sleep Standing Up"."

In "Nature's Paintbrush," her second children's book, she explores the patterns and colors in the natural world and the importance of those features for survival. Her regular trips to inner city schools are a fulfilling part of her sometimes-lonely work at home. "Carry Me," also written for young people, is her most recent book. It's all about the different ways animals carry their young. Her beautifully illustrated books have been well received by teachers, parents, and children.

To hear her say it, it's patterns and detail that make the work so fulfilling…

"They give me a lot of solace. Like I feel it's like a way to kind of explain the world. It makes no sense."

…But it's her love of life that fills these pages, each bringing vibrant attention to the wonders of the animal kingdom.