(Only picture of her art I am going to show because I do not have permission AND, I want you to go out and get the books and experience them the right way.)
I have a couple confessions to make before I start. One- I have not seen her books MIRROR or THE ZOO. Two- I will not be talking about Suzy Lee as an illustrator for other authors books of which there are few. Three- I have never spoken with Suzy Lee, though someday I would love to and I may even post a couple of questions in this review for her, should she ever come across it.
Suzy Lee was born in 1974, in Seoul, South Korea. And according to Wikipedia, she graduated in 1996 with a BFA in Painting from the Seoul National University, and earned an MA in Book Arts in 2001 from Camberwell College of Arts.
She has lived in Singapore and London, and currently lives and works in Seoul.
But enough about things anyone can look up using the internet. Let’s talk about Suzy Lee’s MAGIC!
I am going to put it in context. First as a fan girl, then as an author of picture books.
Suzy Lee presents a book in the way I see the world. In multilayered vignettes, so simple in concept but so deep voice. One of the most beautiful things about her books is that they are, for all intense and purposes WORDLESS! Yet, they are so full of voice.
I first found her when I discovered her book, Wave published 2008. I bought the book for many reasons (and I am picky when it comes to picture books). The first was that the book was wordless. I bought it for (at the time) my soon to be daughter, adopted from China and without language (wrap your head around that, good luck, I still am 4 years later).
Wave is a simple story. I girl goes to the beach with her mom and is given the chance to explore but is scared of the water at first. As the girl grows bolder, in conversation with the water through simple but stunning illustrations, characters like the five seagulls, the ocean, the sky and the girl fill the readers mind with such a strong voice, you would swear there were words on the page.
The stories magic starts on the cover. Then, rolls into the end pages awash in grey wave like patters. As with most Suzy Lee books, the story begins on the cover. She doesn’t wait until the traditional page 5 to get things rolling. Another thing I love about her books. With Wave, Suzy has chosen the simple splash of pencil, then what looks like water color, perfectly splashed in blue. It pulls you in. Even the shape of the book holds magic. It’s original. When it’s open it fills two laps—a long rectangle 7.25 by 12.25 then a full 2 feet when open.
The second work I am enamored with is Shadow, published in 2010. Suzy immediately throws the reader into the story as she has taken all of the pages up for the story, the end pages, the cover, the title, it all folds into the amazing “film” that is Shadow. Like a well-crafted Hitchcock film, as soon as the light goes out, the world changes and the reader must open their imagination to explore. Again, this story is pushed forward by the same precocious little girl as Wave. This time she’s inside either a closet or storage room full of all sorts of things.
What I LOVE about this book is the pacing of the fading of images. The way Suzy leads you just enough from a visual point then lets your mind start to tell the story, brilliant. No other word for it. As a dyslexic, the mirrored images on opposite pages took me time to visit. But, I found that with each page turn things get easier and easier. Somehow, I know she planned it that way. The execution of her art blows my mind. Again, so simple, but as we know, simple is the hardest thing to do and do well.
She uses color sparingly again, this time the black of the pen/paintbrush and a vibrant yellow then full on black. There are only two words in this book, “Dinner’s Ready!” and because she is so good at telling her story visually, it’s all the book needs. Plus, as a reader for my daughter this shift added a key moment of explosion we both enjoy.
Again, this book is a unique size 7.5 by 12.5, but this time you open it and it long your lap, not wide. 14 inches instead of 2 feet but to read it you must fold it up to open.
The third book I am going to talk about is Suzy Lee’s new book Lines, just out 2017. This book holds a very VERY special place in my heart as I used to be an ice skater, up at 5 am every morning for practice from the age of 5 until 11.
Color, let’s talk about what color Suzy is using in this visually poetic book—pencil gray and red for the majority of the book, then in a departure for her, layers of new color—yellow, brown and green and a splash of blue.
When I skated, my favorite thing was to be the first on the fresh ice. It was still wet from the Zamboni, it hadn’t enough time to dull in the cold, it was shiny and had a smell that in the cold of the arena felt fresh (even if in reality it was chemically). I loved being first because I could paint lines, drawing adventures with my blades, curves, and dots, swaths of stops, and holes from toe picks. Suzy Lee has brought that unbelievable moment for me back in a way it feels like I have never left the ice.
I sit with this book and I am alive in a way I only ever was when I was skating. To say what she has created is Magic, just doesn’t quite cover it. But, it’s all I have. I am not going to tell you the story. I am only going to say that her use of the page, of page turns is something I have never seen any other person do.
I would love to thank her, personally, for making my world a more magical place.
Now on to questions I would LOVE to ask her, if I ever had the chance.
- Do you see a book first? Is it one image that holds you hostage? Or a series of images? OR do you have a plot in mind first then get to the art?
- Did you set out to be, in my mind, the Queen of Wordless Books, or was it a natural progression for you as an artist?
- Tell me about the little girl in your books. I feel like I know her from toe to tip of her head, but I would love to hear who she is to you.
- Do you set out to use a small pallet of color for each both on purpose? If so, how do you choose those colors for each story?
- Can you tell me more about your choices for book size and shape? How early in the process for each book did you decide upon the shape?
- How do you get such a strong voice in your books without words??? I am truly impressed and have heartache over just how good that piece in each of your books is.
- And finally, what new projects are spinning around in your head?
You can find Wave on Amazon at Wave