HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Susanna Chapman, The Girl Who Ran
Illustration Inspiration Susanna Chapman The Girl Who Ran

Illustration Inspiration: Susanna Chapman, The Girl Who Ran

The Children’s Book Review | August 18, 2017

Susanna Chapman studied illustration at Rhode Island School of Design and now designs children’s books for a publisher outside Boston. She attends the Boston Marathon every year, not to race in it herself but to cheer on the 30,000 men and women who do! Susanna finds her own wind in the fire through drawing and painting, and going on bicycle adventures with her husband and friends.

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I make art because …

Illustrations stay with me my whole life! They give me a place to keep my own memories. The Runaway Bunny’s mother sailing with her pink sailboat ears will always bring me the comfort of my own mother, the Two Little Gardeners picking a bean off a pole remind me of the first time a vegetable tasted really good to me, Babar’s elephant king eating the bad mushroom brings me the sadness of losing a loved one, and the lilac bushes in the night rain outside the Napping House fold me into the deepest calm I know. Early on I was happy to make my own pictures as well as look at other people’s, and to this day I always aim to do what these beautiful illustrators have done—create a piece of art that can hold a true feeling in one place.

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My latest published book is …

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon, written by Kristina Yee and Frances Poletti and published by Compendium.

Art medium used …

Watercolor, gouache, and Adobe Photoshop.

Artistic process …

For The Girl Who Ran, I began by watching many eras of Boston marathon videos on youtube, looking at 1960s Boston photo collections on Flickr, getting schooled by my dad about 1966 cars and cameras, attending the Boston marathon itself and making notes, and talking to Bobbi about what her mom and dad were like. Then I did a lot of pencil sketching. My first ideas are always exciting to me, they are also a little weighed down by expectations, so I sketch and sketch and sketch until those first ideas fade away and I’m finding my truest ideas. Then I look for any areas in my piles of sketches that stand out as interesting and I cut out and tape them together into one sketch. I use this patchwork-sketch as my guide and place it on a lightbox with a clean piece of watercolor paper over it. I begin painting in a similar approach to my sketch process—painting and painting til I am past my first ideas. I make many iterations, using different paint techniques, varying the amount of water I paint with, sprinkling salt in the paint to get surprising textures. After a while I have sheets of paper covered in different approaches and pieces of ideas. The most compelling areas of paint always turn out to be things I couldn’t plan. After all the paint dries, I scan everything and piece together the liveliest bits with Adobe Photoshop. I delete what isn’t exciting and I go back and forth between painting more things and piecing and deleting and often adding a pen line layer with a stylus. It’s very much like puzzle-solving to figure out an ending to the illustration! For The Girl Who Ran, I was fortunate to work with art director Jessica Phoenix who also constantly encouraged me to toss the ideas that weren’t working and press on towards the lively and the true.

Watercolor paint is, in itself, very far from the joys and challenges of real life, but what I learn from art-making inspires me in general living: Control is largely an illusion, one small idea is enough for a starting point, staying open and trying things over and over leads to better outcomes, and talking with an honest friend is always good.

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I am inspired by …

Listening to interviews and podcasts, hearing other people talking about their lives. It is always hopeful to me and helps me.

My favorite place to create & illustrate is …

I love to draw in my home, but it’s also a special thing to make art in a very public place. For example, I worked through my most challenging illustrations for The Girl Who Ran in the waiting room at my doctor’s. My doctor’s office happens to be right beside my work office, and on my lunch hour I would walk over to the waiting room and sit down in a chair to figure out an illustration on my laptop—deleting things, rearranging things, finding what was working well. Illustration requires a lot of focused time alone, and being in a lively space with chatting people around me is soothing and helps me stay on track. I love that I’m not in anyone’s way, no one is curious about what I’m working on, I don’t need to buy a tea (as I would to sit in a coffee shop). It’s a wonderful hubbub-y solitude. I really wish to find a non-startling way of thanking people in waiting rooms who’ve helped me in this way. Lastly, I don’t like having checkups, so sitting in a doctor’s waiting room for an hour and then just getting up and walking back to my day job without getting a shot or learning about my cholesterol feels like a triumph!

My most used art supply or tool is …

A .5 bic pencil.

Illustrator idols …

Ernest Shepard, Louis Darling, Beatrix Potter, Saul Steinberg, Edward Lear, Hilary Knight, Christian Robinson, Suzy Lee, Leo Espinosa, Ping Zhu, Eleanor Davis, Lisbeth Zwerger, Dadu Shin, Lauren Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Wesley Allsbrook, Patrick Leger, Keith Negley, that’s a start.

All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate…

Ramona the Pest, illustrated by Louis Darling. The biggest aches and joys in the realest small moments of being a person are in Darling’s beautiful line drawings.

A literary character to create art with …

Winnie the Pooh. He would sing a song off the top of his head and it would give me the courage to draw just as fearlessly and then we’d eat some honey and go hunting for Woozles.

Currently working on …

A map about hyenas in the Masai Mara for Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop’s Spring 2018 book, The Hyena Scientist.


Connect with Susanna Chapman …


The Girl Who RanThe Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon

Written by Kristina Yee and Frances Poletti

Illustrated by Susanna Chapman

Publisher’s Synopsis: “She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.” When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set—she had to be a part of it. She trained hard, journeying across America to run on all kinds of terrain. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi.

This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. Created in collaboration with Bobbi Gibb and the perfect gift for would-be runners, kids of all ages, and everyone out there with a love of sport.

Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Compendium Inc | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1943200474

Available Here: 

Discover more picture book illustration inspiration and books like The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb. The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon, written by Kristina Yee and Illustrated by Susanna Chapman, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with ,, and

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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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