Sue Todd is a brilliant illustrator based out of Toronto and living in two worlds, the analog and the digital. She’s literally carved out a niche with her linocut technique, which she then colors digitally, thus enjoying a variety of activities to fire her passion for problem solving with imagery. Her client list includes Barnes and Noble, Crown Publishing, Pearson Education, Klutz Press, Andrews McMeel Accord, The Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Walmart Canada and more.
We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Sue about her art, her inspirations and her obsession with Marie Antoinette.
Tell us a little about what your process is like.
Everything begins in my sketchbook where I scribble ideas and develop characters. Once I have established a particular look, I create a small dummy, about half size, to keep a consistency and flow throughout the story. After approval of rough sketches, I begin my final art process.
My technique is linocut, which is a form of relief printmaking similar to woodcut. The medium is linoleum, just like the flooring material but without the finish. With relief printing you carve away the bits you don’t want and whatever is left will be the image that is rolled with ink and printed on paper. I have a table-top press for smaller images and use an old fashioned burnisher and lots of muscle for larger pieces. The black and white print is then scanned and colored in Photoshop.
How is Linocut Art Used Commercially?
Linocut art can be used in pretty much all the same ways as more traditional illustration methods. My work has been applied to all kinds of commercial products ranging from something as small as a flash drive to the children’s health-mobile that was wrapped in my art and driven all around Phoenix. I’ve had work in a TV commercial, on t-shirts, posters, signage, coffee mugs, shopping bags, pens, books, magazines and greeting cards.
How did you come to start working in linocut?
I had another career before illustration, as a layout artist in retail advertising. This was the pre-digital era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We designed and drew by hand every catalog, flyer and newspaper ad to create a guide or map for photographers, typographers and assembly artists. As digital technology took over, all of these positions eventually became amalgamated into one: the designer. While this change was occurring in the industry, I felt the need for a personal change and began looking around for a creative outlet. My husband introduced me to linocut and I fell in love with printmaking, a love affair that continues to this day. A friend saw my work and suggested I turn it into an illustration style. I took her advice and never looked back.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of what you do?
Undoubtedly the most challenging part of any assignment is the conceptual stage before the rough sketches have gelled. I sometimes call it the ‘drowsy rough stage’ because I feel an overwhelming desire to take a nap. Even after all these years there is still the nagging fear that the muses will abandon me in my hour of need.
But the whole process is incredibly rewarding and I love the variety that comes with this technique. I am working in an ancient analog medium one minute and modern digital the next. Carving is a bit like knitting and allows me to catch up on the news, listen to podcasts or think about the next assignment while working. My favorite task is adding color in Photoshop. It’s a thrill to watch what’s been a black and white process transform into full color!
What do you enjoy most about your career?
Art has been a lifelong passion of mine and now I get to do what I love and make my own hours doing it. I’m making a living doing what I did in kindergarten, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Do you have any new projects coming up? Anything exciting you’re working on?
Now more than ever, I’m inspired by strong women in history, ordinary women who have led extraordinary lives. I am working on a graphic novel series on this theme and enjoy re-telling stories in a way that is relatable to a younger audience. I’ve also fallen into an obsession with the period of the French Revolution and I can’t stop making images of Marie Antoinette.
I have a couple of big projects going on right now that are still mostly under wraps, but you might be able to catch a sneak peek at them if you check out my social media.