Book Covers for Stories Written and Illustrated by Susanna Fields-Kuehl (ages 10-13)
Growing up as an only child, I developed a rich inner life full of curiosity and fantastical worlds. Never the princess, instead, I was the castle servant escaping through my bedroom window and jumping from tree to tree. I could always be found with a book or crayon in hand. By age 13, I had written and illustrated 18 books (some favorites are pictured above). Telling stories through words and pictures was a place where I could truly be me.
As an adult, I use my younger self as my audience as I seek to transform the depths of everyday experiences into imaginative and beautiful worlds of opportunity and hope through the art of children’s picture books. Written and illustrated in a playful yet sincere and accessible way, I hope other children can find connections to their own life, comfort that they are not alone, acceptance of their and other’s uniqueness, and joy in finding their own creative path to self-expression.
After graduating from college in 2004, I decided to go on an adventure somewhere very different from the Maryland suburbs of my childhood. I wanted to fully immerse myself in a culture through learning a traditional art as well as contribute to the community. I found this perfect combination at the Vijnana Kala Vedi School of Traditional Art (Center for Knowledge & Arts) in the village of Aranmula in Kerala, India. I taught English to children through the language of art, song, dance, and writing. In exchange, I trained in the traditional techniques of Kerala Mural Painting.
Since the 9th century, these highly-detailed and vibrant paintings have told epic tales of Hindu gods, goddesses, demons, and animals on the walls of temples and palaces in South India, particularly in the state of Kerala (hence the name, Kerala Mural Painting). Since paint tubes didn't exist, colors were made by grinding neem (hardened tree sap used to bind paint to the wall) with minerals and leaves using one’s index finger against the inside of a hollowed-out coconut shell. Soot from lamps was used for the final black outline applied with a paintbrush made from river grasses attached to a bamboo stick. Instead of one or two coats of gesso applied to the surface before painting, 25-30 coats of crushed limestone and sand mixed with coconut milk appears under numerous layers of these natural pigments (click on the image to the right for more information).
I learned the style of Kerala Mural Painting first by producing copies of famous Hindu images onto cardstock using a mixture of acrylic and watercolor applied by brush. After a few months of intense study, I began designing my own paintings on canvas and learned how to make natural paints in the traditional way, which I demonstrated at the South Indian Traditional Arts Festival. By the time I left after five months, Aranmula felt like home: full of laughter, love, creativity, music, and supportive people in my teachers, students, and fellow travelers that will always have a place in my heart.
Now, over a decade later, I continue to paint in the Kerala Mural style, adapting it to my own personal style. All my illustrations are based on these techniques I learned in India. More recently, I have adapted my carving skills (also learned while in India from a woodcarver) to linocut prints. Since linoleum blocks are softer than wood, this has allowed me to experiment with translating my painting style to relief carving and hand-pulled prints.