Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Member Interview: Mary Sullivan


This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Mary Sullivan to our interview series. From a child who considered her sketchbook her best friend, to a talented writer/illustrator who won an Honor Geisel Award for her book BALL, Mary cares deeply about her craft and the creative process. Read on to discover how soaking tubs and trampolines are all part of getting the job done.

ballWhere did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?
Because my family moved so much, I grew up in many places. As a result, I became overly attached to inanimate objects, probably because I was able to take them with me when we moved. My sketchbook was one of the things I became very dependent on. It literally became my best friend. Drawing in my sketchbook in a closet by a lamp was where you could usually find me. Making friends was way too hard.

Did you always want to be a illustrator, or did that come later?
I have been drawing and writing pretty much my whole life. I cannot remember not doing these two things. As a child, I never said “I want to be an illustrator”. But I was practicing it all the time, without knowing what I was doing. A game I used to play with myself was pretending “my boss” told me to draw something…and then I’d draw it. I had no idea at the time that what I was doing was illustration.I remember wanting to be a nun for a few days. And before entering college, I considered being an archeologist. In the end, I studied Fine Arts and Art History. I never formally studied illustration. Which, I think, has really had a positive effect on my art/illustration in that I am able to create unencumbered by any rules.

If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would see me drag out of bed at around 7:30 not wanting to talk to anyone. First thing, I make some dark roast coffee with cream. I use the pour over method. 1 cup. I start writing right away….first in my head as I stare out a window…and then on paper. When the writing winds down, I walk my two dogs, Nico and Gemma. We walk for about 3 miles. After my walk I LOVE getting in the soaking tub that I have outside. It’s pretty chilly in the morning. It feels so good. I eat some eggs. I always eat 2 eggs. I turn on Loscil radio on Pandora. And then begin work on whatever current book or illustration I have due, taking breaks every hour at least. I jump on the trampoline. I eat some lunch at some point, usually some cheese or hummus or soup. Hot green tea at 3:00. I work for an hour or so more. Maybe cook, maybe not. Mostly I just snack around at night instead of dinner. I eat a lot of popcorn. I try to turn everything off at least an hour before bed, and go to bed around 9:30 or 10:00

137b2dd99451d9ef-Screenshot2015-08-21at120853PMHow does your everyday life feed your work?
I try to leave space in my head for new ideas to take hold, which means not talking on the phone. Not meeting friends during the day. Not watching too much TV. I really need to be alone without distraction in order to create.

Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
You know….I just don’t think like that. I don’t feel pride. I don’t know why. I just don’t. My book BALL won a Geisel Honor award….I was really happy and shocked….and I tried to find that feeling of pride and accomplishment. But I’m usually so busy with the next project that I don’t have time to think about it. I don’t know…pride and sense of accomplishment…it’s just not something I feel.

What surprises you about the creative life?
You can be overflowing with ideas for a period of time, and then all of a sudden, BAM…’s like you’ve never written or drawn a thing in your life. The creative faucet is off. And you may suffer a lot while it’s off. You feel kinda dark and empty inside. It’s very scary. But then, all of a sudden, it’s back! It always comes back. It’s very mysterious how that happens. You have to be patient and kind to yourself during that time.

Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find? 
I want kids to feel that it is possible to go somewhere else…without leaving the room.

e51ce56c176937bb-Screenshot2015-08-21at120821PM (1)Author Bio: Mary Sullivan lives in Austin Texas. She is constantly inspired by her dogs. Her days are spent working on her many book ideas. She does not care for travel. Instead she prefers to be at home, hunkering down with some hot green tea and her dreams. Outside of her books, she loves drawing spaceships, cliff houses and Hidden Pictures for Highlights magazine. Her books include BALL, A Geisel Honor winner 2014, TREAT, Spring 2016, FRANKIE, coming spring 2017, and NOBODY'S DUCK fall of 2017.See more of her work on Instagram @sullivandraws or at