Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Suzy Lee

h1 August 12th, 2008 by jules

South Korean illustrator Suzy Lee is here this morning, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s joining 7-Imp for breakfast with her sandwich, apple, and whatever is left-over from her baby’s breakfast. I would venture to say that she’ll join me for some coffee, too, by the looks of her responses to the Pivot Questionnaire. Oh my, she’s a coffee-drinker after my own heart, I must say.

She’s also an illustrator after my own heart. Lee, who received her BFA in painting from Seoul National University and her MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College of Arts in London, shows us the world through a child’s eyes in ways I don’t quickly forget after putting down her books. We have Kane/Miller Books to thank for bringing Lee to our country’s attention in 2007 with The Zoo, first published in 2004 in Seoul, Korea. In this book, what starts out as a normal trip to the zoo turns into an imaginative romp for a young girl, whose poor parents are put through the wringer, to say the least, trying to find her. And it’s also a picture book in which Lee very much meets you halfway, allowing you to bring your own ideas and perspectives to the book in your hands. And what reviewers and bloggers saw in it varied quite a bit: “Personally, I think the book identifies how wonderful freedom feels to a child. You’re forever under someone’s protection. How cool would it be then to transfer that protection to the wild and wacky animals in the zoo?” (Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production); “a mix of reality and imagination…that suggests closeness to nature” (The New York Times); “{t}his is a book for any child who loves animals, and thinks that zoos are paradise. It’s also a book for any parent who has temporarily misplaced a child…All in all, it’s an unexpected and rewarding adventure” (Jen Robinson’s Book Page); or, perhaps the blog bloogs blowing by captured it best by saying the book is open “to a hundred and one creative interpretations.” What does Suzy say about it herself?

This book is about the zoo, a strange place where children and adults alike learn about nature, but also about its deprivation and despair. Curiously, children see the zoo differently from adults’ perspective; they know how to make friends with animals.

Here’s my favorite spread from the book—arguably, my favorite picture book spread from all of 2007—as a whole, but underneath it are larger images of each side of the spread so that you can soak in Lee’s gorgeous colors and the details to her art work:

And here’s the parents’ moment of bliss in finally having found their child:

This year, Lee wow’ed us again with this beautiful wave, as only she could do it:

Wave, a wordless picture book published by Chronicle Books, is stunning, one of my favorite picture books this year. It’s a sunny day at the beach. A curious young girl meets a playful, sometimes mischievous wave. With The Zoo, Lee gave readers a fine example (as I put in my February 2007 review here at 7-Imp) of how art and text merge to tell a story — in that case, actually, how the art predominantly tells the story in a grand defiance of what the text says. But with Wave, she shows us that words can be superfluous, that she can tell a story with striking color, shape, and line. It’s a book you don’t want to miss and that you will want to share with your friends—no matter what age—particularly those who have an allegiance to the rumble of the ocean’s waves where they meet the shore. Ah, there’s nothing like it, huh? And there’s certainly nothing it like it when you’re a wee child. Lee captures all the thrill and joy of a young child and ocean play.

And, as you can see below in Lee’s answer to the what-books-have-you-published question, she’s been published in Korea, Switzerland, France, and Italy, as well. And I’m here to tell you these are books that look mighty, MIGHTY interesting, including her own multi-media version of Alice in Wonderland. I’ll let her tell you about it. As she puts it at her web site,

Floating between a mixture of flat drawings and black and white photographs, this book explores the realm of illusion and reality. A book about the dream-within-a-dream, the picture-within-a-picture, and the book-within-a-book, was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s original.

Oh, excuse me. I had to take a moment to wipe the drool from my mouth. This book looks very intriguing, yes?

There’s also Lee’s 2005 illustrated short story, The Rabbit Hole, about a woman, bored with her routine office life, who happens to follow Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit through the hole on her desk.

…and oh-so much more, so I’ll cease my enthusiastic (read: nerdy) ramblings and get to the interview. Let’s get the basics from Suzy while we set the table for our breakfast…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Suzy: Book Artist.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?


7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

Suzy: Charcoal -– I love a charcoal, because it is able to express both contrary qualities –- volume & sharp lines, and calm & dynamic.

Illustration from The Black Bird (L’Oiseau Noir), published Chondung Books
(Seoul, Korea)/ Lirabelle (Aubais, France), 2007

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Suzy: Seoul, Korea> London, U.K. > Houston, TX, U.S.A> now live in Singapore. It’s been two years in Singapore.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

Suzy: Studied painting in University. Having some exhibitions as a painter and also working as a freelance illustrator, I got to be interested in a ‘book’ as art medium and decided to learn more about artists’ books. I did my MA in Book Arts in U.K. and started making my own picture books.

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?


7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Suzy: I am working on the book about a girl who wants to be an artist. The girl believes that she is more talented than any other person, because her drawings are always picked up and get complements in class. This pompous girl happens to meet an eccentric painter (she calls him as a ‘real artist’ because he looks like exactly an artist in her dream), and learns the world of art and how to truly appreciate it. I am both writing and illustrating this book.

* * *

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the table’s set, and we’re ready to sit down and talk more specifics over coffee with Suzy. We’ll adjust and make it Six Questions Over Breakfast, since she opted out of one question. Many, many thanks to Suzy for taking the time to chat with 7-Imp and for obliging my fan-dom, especially since she not only has a wee babe in her life now, but she is also pregnant with the second. I know this phenomenon and how it drains you, so I send her extra thanks for this interview.

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Suzy: There are certain subject matters or images I wish to deal with in my book some day. They are only the fragments of ideas at first — e.g., horizontal shapes of book, a stage, a dazzling cyan-color, crispy shadows, a book about a book, 2-color prints, flat surface of the pages, gutter of the book and so on. They don’t seem to be related to each other, but suddenly all of them turn into a book—this time, they become Wave, my latest from Chronicle.

When I make a story, usually the images come first. I draw first image popped in my mind, then I add more images before and after this key image. And I follow the story as these images lead me –- I guess that’s why my books usually end up as wordless books.

After all the storyboard is set up, I make a dummy book to see if the story flows well, then I start making the actual pages. I decide the format and size of the book, choose the art material which fits the images. And draw and draw and draw until I like them. When everything (including the endpapers and covers) is done, I scan> print > bind to make a (second) dummy book that looks like a finished product. I spend quite some time to do this final stage, because I need to see the ‘actual book’ to get the feeling that “I’m really done”. 🙂

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Suzy: I used to have a work space of my own, but now it turned into my baby’s room. I am working in my bedroom!

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

The Shrinking of TreehornSuzy: When I was a child, I had The Shrinking of Treehorn {written by by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated} by Edward Gorey, translated in Korean in my bookshelves. I don’t think I liked it very much at that time -– the illustrations and story were far too strange for a child, I believe. But I always read it again and again to figure out what it was about. I think I just liked the feeling of strangeness –- maybe I came to believe that the picture book should be mysteriously strange because of that book.

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Shinta ChoSuzy: Michael Sowa, Shinta Cho {pictured here}, Maira Kalman. They share two qualities in common that I think artists should have:

1. Their pictures are mysteriously strange.
2. I feel that they’re fully enjoying themselves when they’re working.

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Suzy: Roller Coaster, the Korean band. I like to listening nondramatic music when I am working. (Drama is already enough in my work.)

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Suzy: I would have more than one baby in my life. The second one is on the way.

Illustration from La Revanche des Lapins (The Revenge of the Rabbits), published by Editions La Joie de Lire [Minidrame] (Geneve, Switzerland), 2003

The Pivot Questionnaire

7-Imp: What is your favorite word? (Or, in Suzy’s case, words!)

Suzy: “A cup of coffee.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Suzy: Anything else.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Suzy: A long conversation with a cup of coffee.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Suzy: A long conversation without a cup of coffee.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Suzy: My baby’s laughter.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Suzy: My baby’s cry {at} 3:00 a.m.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Suzy: A singer, any type of…

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Suzy: A boxer.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Suzy: “A cup of coffee with me?”

* * * * * * *

Four close-up illustrations from THE ZOO: © 2007 by Suzy Lee. Published by Kane/Miller Books. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

Spreads from WAVE: © 2008 by Suzy Lee. Published by Chronicle Books. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

All other illustrations come from Suzy Lee’s web site. Posted with permission of illustrator. All rights reserved.

33 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Suzy Lee”

  1. HAHAHA! God’s Coffee Service! Oh, that’ll be good. Coffee is indeed Mama’s Little Helper, here!

    I love the colors and the movement in Suzy Lee’s work. Things are either abrupt and splashy — water kicking! — or smoothly graceful — birds flying, plumage and leaves, etc. She knows when to use each style, and minimalism in her hands is somehow seems… less than minimal.

    And La Revanche des Lapins would be something I’d want framed on a wall. ComPLETELY dark and menacing and so funny!

  2. Love the child and ocean illos, and the multimedia Alice! The flying bunnies scare me, though. Love that her reason for liking those 3 artists (yay Maira!), is a sense that “they’re fully enjoying themselves when they’re working.”

    Thanks for this!

  3. Jama, I loved that comment, too!

    TadMack, there are other images from La Revanche des Lapins at her web site. The title itself should link to it. I almost picked another image that I liked from over there.

    Oh, and Jama, I love Maira, too. She’s one of the reasons I initially got interested in children’s lit. I wonder if she’d ever be up for a chat? Maybe we could co-chat w/her? A joint interview!

  4. I knew there was a reason I loved Suzy Lee’s work: It must be the coffee!

    Also, the book she’s working on sounds amazing. What a great concept.

  5. I absolutely love “strangely mysterious” as a criterion for excellence in kids’ book illustrations. The only artist’s name I recognized was Gorey, but following the links made me realize I knew all the others, too. Shinta Cho’s The Gas We Pass was a favorite, predictably, with my nephews when they were little. And Maira Kalman, among other things, also did an illustrated version of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style — including a very cool movie.

    Suzy Lee’s Alice, the Rabbit Hole title, and The Black Bird all really appealed to me.

    Thanks for selecting her this time around!

  6. Kelly, I wish coffee made me that talented.

    JES, thanks for that link. I enjoyed that movie. Hadn’t seen it. And I STILL need to see her illustrations for Elements of Style. It’s about time already.

    I’m with you on the “strangely mysterious.” It could be a theme for Suzy’s work, and I love some good Strangely Mysterious in a picture book, too.

  7. I love Suzy’s texture in Waves combined with the expressive linework – such personality in that sweet lil’ girl chasing the waves. I’ll have to check out more rabbits; I think they’re hilarious.

  8. Kristi, I love how the girl and the wave’s relationship in Wave manages to mirror a friendship between children — or, even adults, for that matter. It’s a fabulous book, isn’t it?

  9. I can’t even fathom how cool it would be to chat with Maira. Co-interview? Definitely a very strangely mysterious prospect — count me in (though I need some leeway for babbling and mumbling)!

    I haven’t seen her Elements of Style yet either. Have been wanting to ever since Sara mentioned it. For now, I’m satiated with What Pete Ate from A to Z, for obvious reasons . . .

  10. I love:
    * The Zoo
    * Those pictures from Wave, which I haven’t seen in person yet but I must do so ASAP!
    * That little girl making a face
    * The fact that Suzy Lee might even be a bigger coffee addict than you, Jules.

  11. Great interview – I love the feel of her work, and totally agree about charcoal (sorry, that’s the art nerd coming out!!). Plus, the coffee thing… 🙂 🙂

  12. This post was a progression of beauty. The birds were beautiful and colorful, then The Wave images were even more striking, and then Alice! Oh, Alice! Thank you for sharing, Suzy.

  13. This is wonderful. I love her work! Thank You!

  14. […] but not others, and divide themselves in such a way that the nod goes to someone else, like maybe Suzy Lee for Wave (assuming that it counts as an American picture book, which I think it does), or to Kadir […]

  15. […] Last Night, set for a Fall release from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Hyewon contacted me after my Suzy Lee interview, and I’m so terrifically glad she did; I quickly went all ga-ga over Hyewon’s style as […]

  16. In terms of bonalnoy erudition – grammotno done!

  17. […] Suzy Lee (interviewed August 12), sorta pictured to the left here: “When I was a child, I had The Shrinking of Treehorn […]

  18. We are publishing Suzy Lee’s latest children’s picture book, MIRROR, in May 2010. I’d love to get Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a copy for review consideration.
    Please let me know where to send.
    Laura Downhour

  19. […] into my lap in one week: In May, a book that the ultra-talented Suzy Lee (who you may remember visited me in 2008) created in 2003 (I believe) will be published here in the States by Seven Footer Press. It’s […]

  20. […] about it back in March: In May, a book that the ultra-talented Suzy Lee (who you may remember visited me in 2008) created in 2003 (I believe) will be published here in the States by Seven Footer Press. It’s […]

  21. […] y’all know I’m a Suzy Lee fan something fierce (as evidenced by this ‘08 interview, this post, this post, this post, this post, and … shoot, I give up looking, but there are […]

  22. […] and awarded artist has been interviewed in two of our favorite Websites: PaperTigers and 7Impossible Things before Breakfast – so we would try as much as we can to put a different twist to our set of questions here so that […]

  23. […] Not your usual, run-in-the-mill, ordinary visit with the animals. In more ways than one. (Click here to be taken to more photos of The Zoo from the 7Imp Interview with […]

  24. I wish a contact with Suzy Lee because my son will go to Singapore next week and wishes to interview her about her vision about Domestic Violence against children and adolescentes.
    I am a researcher at São Paulo University Brazil and I work with this issue. My site:
    Please could you send to me the required information about the e-mail of Suzy Lee.
    25/5/2011 Best regards Dr. Viviane Guerra

  25. Viviane, I will be sure to notify Suzy about this note from you and encourage her to contact you. Thanks.

  26. […] this interview with her on Seven Impossible Things. Tagged with → Authors you should know • Fiction • Picture Books  Share […]

  27. […] […]

  28. […] (the amazing) Isabelle Arsenault; and Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and illustrated by Suzy Lee. And I can’t wait to read Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter […]

  29. […] a quick post to share a bit of artwork from Suzy Lee. On shelves now is a new picture book from Bernard Waber (published posthumously), called Ask Me […]

  30. […] intervista all’autrice sul blog Seven Impossible thing before Breakfast  (in […]

  31. […] Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel; The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall; Wave by Suzy Lee; and the poetry of Carl Phillips, Yehuda Amichai, E. E. Cummings, Issa, and Mary Oliver. And, very […]

  32. […] “This beautiful day …”(Click to enlarge spread)   I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Richard Jackson’s This Beautiful Day (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, August 2017), illustrated by Suzy Lee. […]

  33. […] week, I wrote here about Suzy Lee’s Lines (Chronicle, September 2017) and Kathryn Otoshi’s Draw the Line (Roaring Brook, October […]

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