TINEKE: Hi, Susan. It’s lovely to be featuring you on the One Year Adventure Novel today. For those who don’t already know you—you’re both a writer and an artist. Tell us a little about the type of art you do.
SUSAN: Hey Tineke! Thank you for inviting me, it’s an honor. Right now, I work almost exclusively with digital media (though if somebody commissions a traditional piece, I still offer them) and my art style is heavily influenced by Japanese art styles. I do a lot of character designs and concepts and even full illustrations both for my own personal projects and for others who have ordered pieces from me.
T: What even many of your friends may not know is that you did some of the artwork for Byline, our most recent curriculum! The video for Lesson 19 features your animation! Can you tell us a little about what went into that project? Is it fairly representative of the animation style you usually use?
S: It was definitely a big project. I completed it back before I was as comfortable with digital drawing as I am now, so all of the inking (or line art) was done on paper. Then I would scan them and add depth with greyscale shading with an art program I used to use. I would definitely say it’s fairly representative of my style, though I believe I’ve improved quite a bit since.
T: That’s really cool—that it served as a kind of stepping stone for you. I love that. Those of you who want to have a look can find this lesson on the Byline website. It’s one of the free sample lessons we offer to families who are considering using Byline! And—fun extra reveal: the pianist and voice recording are our own Sarah Noé on our staff!
S: I didn’t know that was Sarah! That’s so cool!
T: Was it weird for you to play a role in creating curriculum for a company you used yourself as a student? How did that impact the experience for you?
S: Honestly, it was just such a big honor to be invited to be a part of the project in the first place. I feel like I owe so much to OYAN, you know? It’s impacted my life in a lot of big ways, I really wanted to do the best job I could for Byline. It felt like the least I could do to repay the company for doing so much for me as both a writer and a person. I still wish I could’ve done more!
T: Wow. That means a lot, Susan. We definitely love the work you did for us. It also adds to the meaningfulness of the whole undertaking of producing Byline. It’s great that it’s part of your OYAN story, too, even though you’re now beyond high school. You first took OYAN back in 2010. Is that right?
S: Yeah, that’s right. I got the curriculum in 2010 and then managed to make myself join the forum in early 2011. I was intimidated. I didn’t have a lot of online experience at that point.
T: Aww, yeah, I can imagine that would be intimidating! I hope that intimidation disappeared quickly for you! Do you happen to remember who was the first person to reach out on there? Are you still in contact with any of the students you first met?
S: I think the first people I really connected with were my mentor, Liddy, and Whispering_Shadow. Whispy became one of my best OYAN friends to date. Our lives diverged quite some time ago, but they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I’m still in contact with Nairam and Music=Life now and then too, both of whom were my character-lounge comrades for the longest time!
T: How did you first learn about OYAN? What’s your OYAN story?
S: We used to attend an annual (I think it was annual, anyway??) homeschooler roller-skating rink party. Some acquaintances of ours told my mom about this writing curriculum their daughter had recently started. Since I was already interested in creative writing (thanks to a middle school English course and reading The Hobbit for the first time), Mom got it for me and I dove into it like some kind of Olympic swimmer.
T: Back then, did you already know that you’re both a visual artist and a word artist?
S: I had been drawing for years before that, though my art style has changed drastically. And by the time I got the OYAN curriculum, I’d already written one full length “novel” (it was… painfully bad. And yet I still have the original Word document for it) and been through one other novel-writing course. I drew illustrations of all my characters and creatures! So I definitely had experience and interest well-established in both fields.
T: Have you experienced tension between these two interests? Have you ever felt as though you would have to choose between them?
S: Interest-wise, no. I’ve always wanted to use my art and writing to augment each other. However, time-wise is a different story. Now that I’m freelancing, art is my primary source of income. My commissions consume a large portion of my time and unfortunately, I sometimes feel like it’s pushing aside my writing.
T: It’s refreshing to hear you say that you consider them to enrich each other. But, yeah, dividing time must be difficult. Do you ever have OYANers pay for your commission work?
S: I’ve had a few over the years, yes! It’s been a while, but it’s always a pleasure to work with them.
T: If you’re willing, I’d love to hear about one or two of your favorite projects you’ve worked on.
S: Hmmm, that’s a difficult one to answer… My very first commission, which was for Kinti, back in 2016, comes to mind for several reasons. A set of fantasy triplets that I got to design based on text descriptions alone! That was a lot of fun. More recently, I’d say one of my favorite projects was commissioning myself to redraw Nairam’s Robin Hood in my new art style, since my last drawing of him was very old and I recently changed the way I draw people, so wanted to test it with one of my OYAN favorites.
S: I used to attempt to compose my own music, back when I had the software for it. Then I went through a phase where I thought maybe I wanted to get into audio drama. I’ve written one (1) script. And for a little while, I thought I could tackle a webcomic, which… didn’t last very long, if I’m being honest. I’ve come to the point where I acknowledge there’s some things I can’t do right now, and that’s okay! I haven’t branched out a lot, but it’s allowed me to hone my core skills really well.
T: Would you say the Story training in OYAN applies directly to animating stories?
S: I would definitely say that! OYAN is primarily about the storytelling craft, how to make good characters and an interesting frame to fit them in. I think animating just has additives, slight adjustments to perspective, like how the writers for animation have to think about camera angle and lighting and consider dialogue in a different way, because they can’t rely on internal monologue (usually) or setting description to enhance their story like prose can.
T: That makes a lot of sense! Are there other resources for story that you’ve found to help in your artistic training?
S: Now and then, I run into little organization tools here and there, like Scrivener, Toyhouse, and Notebook.ai. I don’t use the latter so much anymore, but I still think they’re great resources. My amateur study of MBTI (and similar things like enneagrams) has been a huge help for creating and developing characters for me, as has been finding and reading character or movie/TV show analyses in places like Tumblr or YouTube.
T: I’m also curious how you might describe the difference between your writing when you first used OYAN as compared to your writing today. Do you still write in the same genre, even? What’s one area of writing weakness you’ve focused on in the intervening years? And what’s one writing strength you’ve been able to grow more confidence in since then?
S: Oh boy, a lot to unpack with this one. I’ll try to sum this up succinctly! My preferred genre has always been fantasy, and that hasn’t changed much. Compared to when I first used OYAN, I feel like the most marked difference from the way I approach story now is my focus. I used to think I wanted to write grand tales that held some kind of great wisdom and showed people “the right way” in the form of theme and lessons I wanted the characters to learn.These days, I think I’ve come down from that lofty goal and instead, I just want to tell human stories. The good, the bad, and the ugly, I want to portray humanity as it is, as it has been, and sometimes maybe even as it could be. I think this has helped with my previous tendency to be somewhat on the nose when it came to themes and emotion.
And as far as strengths go, I feel like my confidence in my ability to show instead of tell has definitely been cultivated. That and fight scenes, which for some reason have never given me trouble like they seem to for others. Can’t say why, but given my chosen genre, I’m not complaining!
T: Just for fun, would you share with us a story world you would love to enter and why? Let’s say the rules of this question are that you would not be invisible there but you would only be able to stay for 7 days—and you would be fully aware that you were a visitor from your own planet and time. What about an animated world? [It’s okay if you pick 2.]
S: This is a fantastic question! Let’s see… I hate to be predictable, but I’d love to visit Rivendell. Or maybe I could go see Wakanda; that would be cool… or Hogwarts! Um, an animated world… Oh, I’d say that’s a close tie between the worlds of Avatar: The Last Airbender and My Hero Academia.
T: And another fun question: If you could be an invisible observer in any one visual artist or animator’s workspace for 7 days, whose would you choose?
S: Hmmm… Weta Workshop. Seeing all the creative spaces in the behind the scenes content for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it’s just so enchanting! I’d love to hang out and wander around all the different areas of creative production for a week. Armor-making, weapons forging, makeup, prosthetics, sets, miniatures, character design and costumes… Yeah, that would be incredible.
T: Finally, if our readers want to get to know your work, how would they be able to do that?
S: Well, aside from just up and asking me (I don’t bite, I promise!), I’m currently most active over on my deviantArt page: https://www.deviantart.com/
Though due to upcoming platform changes, I might switch to Tumblr at some point, for now, that’s where most of my work is stashed. That’s where you can find me!
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites and blogs do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.