Under the Moonlight with Illustrator/Author Susannah Crispe

I've had the pleasure of spending time with Susannah during my Animal Character Design Course and my most recent Picture Book Illustration e-Course. Susannah's illustrations are standout and full of clever ideas, so I was interested to hear why she decided to take part in PBIC, even after landing six picture book contracts. 

Susannah shares how she "fell into illustration backward", she talks about her (many) picture book projects and how the PBIC experience and community gave her the confidence to finally call herself an illustrator.

Susannah Crispe is an Australian children's picture book illustrator and author. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, she spent her childhood in Bowral, Australia, studying art history and zoology at university and volunteering with native wildlife throughout Australia. Susannah worked in museums and bookstores for about 15 years until she discovered her passion for creating books. She currently lives with her young family in Canberra, Australia. 

There's quite a number of people in Canberra that are into picture books; we've got a vibrant scene here. It's very supportive. 10-years ago, nothing was happening, but now, there are so many contracts and picture books coming out of Canberra, it's great! I recently landed six picture book contracts, which is huge! But I didn't know where to start. 

I had two picture books published in 2021, Cookie (Isabelle Duff, EK Books) and Where the Heart Is (Irma Gold, EK Books), and my first as an author/illustrator Under The Moonlight, came out earlier this month. It was such a steep learning curve for me! 

Under the Moonlight is the tale of Moose who is an enormous, brave and solitary animal whose sleep is shattered by a fright in the night. The story is told in rhyming couplets and follows Moose as he investigates the source of the noise in a fearsome nighttime adventure.

Getting angles right on the antlers was incredibly tricky with all the different positions and points of view so I made a model of the moose's antler made out of polymer clay. (See bottom left photo, "the white blobby thing" next to the teacup).

Why did you join the Picture Book Illustration e-Course?

I felt like I needed PBIC personally for my career. You see, I fell backward into illustration. Being self-taught, I wasn't sure that what I was doing was the correct way. The fact that the publishers never said anything particularly negative about what I was doing, I was like, okay, well, this must be right.

I've had a lot of that imposter syndrome. Because I hadn't studied any of it, I felt like everybody around me knew so much more than I did. I decided to do the Picture Book Illustration e-Course to feel more like I deserve to be called an 'emerging illustrator'. 

My grandmother was an incredible artist; she was exhibited all around New Zealand and internationally. She was very well known and continued taking art classes until she was in her nineties. That's the thing. I never want to stop learning. I need to make sure that I continue to work at my best. I'm going to keep going back to the PBIC coursework, reminding myself of the things that I learned because there is just so much content in there.

What did you get out of the picture book illustration course? 

Having stepdaughters, a young son who's almost four, and working in bookstores (for about 15 years), has given me exposure to millions of children's books. Visual communication comes quite naturally to me, but this also means that I don't have to work for it. I had never sat down and processed my concepts very well. I would draw up a sketch, and I would be like, okay, I'm done. That's it. 

The course showed me if I just took the time to sit down and keep working—reworking and looking at the image from different angles, just how much better I could make my character designs and illustrations.

I found the community part of PBIC fascinating because, in the beginning, I thought that everyone was going to end up with the same work because how can we all get different things out of the same course manuscript. But really, that wasn't the case. I was really impressed at the breadth of designs that others came up with for their characters and layouts. 

Above: Susannah's character design for Florence Fox.

I loved the weeks spent working on drawing the characters in different positions and the movement, this made an enormous difference in my design process. At first, I felt like my Florence Fox character didn't have enough personality (Above, Susannah's Florence Fox character). I think I simplified her a bit too much; she just wasn't alive on the page. I revisited my character designs a couple of times after seeing everybody else's work. I thought to myself, you know, I can do better. 

Was there a specific goal that you wanted to achieve?

Finishing the course was a big goal for me. Having a young family and book projects, and a difficult home renovation. I usually don't finish courses. I go into them enthusiastically; then I find it too hard to keep up. I hope to go back to it someday, and I never quite make it. So actually finishing this course was a massive achievement for me. 

Above: Susannah's character design for Mrs. Clack and her thumbnail sketches for "Florence Fox Goes To School.

What was it that kept you going? 

The community and seeing what everyone else was posting was the thing that motivated me. I was like, 'Why can't I find the time to do this? I've just got to do it.' The community made a huge difference.

Another thing that kept me going was that I wanted to see my final artwork in colour. I'd be disappointed if I didn't complete my final piece. My final artwork is now a portfolio piece, and I've already sent it to a couple of publishers.

Above: Susannah's page layout for "Florence Fox Goes To School.

What results did you get out of the eight-week course? 

The character design was the biggest thing for me. The character mapping and working out who the characters are before even starting to draw them was something that I've never even thought of doing—taking the time to get to know the characters so that they can break through on the page. 

Above: Susannah's final watercolour illustration for "Florence Fox Goes To School.

What are you currently working on?

Two out of those six books are not done yet. I've completed the storyboard and the character development for the main character, but I haven't gotten any further, so I'll be working on that. 

I was super lucky with (the publisher) Hachette Australia. When they picked up my story "Under the Moonlight", they loved my writing so much that they asked me to write and illustrate another picture book story. I've written a couple of stories that they like but aren't quite there yet, so I'll be working on that.

To follow Susannah's picture book journey and to find out more about her books, visit 

I am always excited to share other illustrators' journeys in the hope that their stories inspire you. If you know of anyone who might be interested in character design or picture book illustration, please share this blog with them.

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