A showcase of Australian Children's Book Illustrators who have appeared in the Industry Newsletter PASS IT ON
Sunday, November 9, 2008
What's this illustration for?
This cover painting in acrylic was for Antarctic Dad written by Hazel Edwards. It was interesting in that it was the third cover picture and by far the best. In my initial painting I had used pictures from people in the Antarctic cold and their faces were somewhat "scrunched" up. Hazel wanted a more positive look, in accord with her theme of families apart but in touch. The skies were authentic, but perhaps a little optimistic, you would not often have such clear weather. Maybe they were lucky!
The boy in the image is my son Jim.
Do you have to wait for a flash of inspiration - how do you start?
In this instance the idea was clear from the start: people in different places, but together, so I used my background in collage to combine separate images in an informal manner. There is also a cross-over in the colour used for each character. The warm yellows reflect the comfort of home and safety, the cool blues reflect the cold Antarctic. Dad's yellow suit is a tone of the boy's background, the boy's blue jumper reflects the blues of the Antarctic scene; the images are thematically connected. (I really do construct images like that, it reflect my interest in cinema studies).
How did you get your start as an illustrator?
What start would that be? No really, I arrived back in Australia in 1985 with a folio full of images from my study in children's book illustration at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. I also had freelance work. It was enough to make me memorable at the time. I would have drawn anything!
Who or what has influenced your work?
Too easy: Warner Brothers cartoons, Alfred Hitchcock's movies, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, and Pablo Picasso. Also, my mother was a fine art restorer, so I was up close and intimate with paintings from a young age. To see work being restored is to see it naked.
What's your favourite media for creating pictures?
Pretty well the one I'm using at the time. I have a commitment to recycling, so will re-use stock, stick things down and sculpt with discarded packaging. B is for Bravo, my book on Australian aviation had dioramas that were constructed completely from the recycling bin. Only the cardboard is artist's quality and that was discarded at the local framers. A highlight is stealing my son Jim's plasticine to mould an engine block and cylinders for an aircraft engine. (He was finished using it!)
For Antarctic Dad I used recycled A3 paper for the dummies and sketches.
Do you experience illustrator's block - if so, what do you do about it?
I have always found masses of whiskey works well. Otherwise a rapid bike ride is marvelous. There is always a moment of trepidation when beginning, this can be larger or smaller according to the moment. It is important to go back to basics; clean brushes, clear the work surface, go back to researching the illustration, do thumbnail sketches to reduce the stage size and fear factor. If you live near the Gold Coast go surfing. Keep surfing. Go surfing again. I don't live near the Gold Coast.
What's the worst thing about being a freelancer?
I hate working on my own. Your own "head tape" can be very negative at times. It is important to see exhibitions, and experience things like live theatre to fire you up. Interesting movies offer great alternative approaches to visual story telling. Do coffee with friends. Do more coffee with friends. It is important to keep a perspective.
And the best?
I was at home all through my son's primary school time. I took him for injections, made him breakfast, got to know the crèche staff and when he was older, I took him to school every day. It is an unforgettable experience, he is my treasure. I had the same joy with my step-children, I was there when they came home from school and heard about their day.
Jim slept like clock work every day, so I had 3.5 working hours as well as having him.
We would charge around like lunatics in the morning having fun, he would drop like a rock in the arvo, and I would start work. I could hear him sleeping. It was the best of times. What are you working on at the moment?
I have committed the folly of starting an adventure novel. It moves at a cracking pace and is really frightening, and centres around a cautious kid called Tim (timid?). I am also trying to resolve a picture book about the experience of young men and women in the Second World War. It was such a massive era of transformation for Australian families, it set the tone for modern Australia.
Where can we see more of your work?
I make work in many mediums, I have worked as a collage artist, sculptor, freelance writer, even briefly as a freelance motoring journalist. I'm mad about machines and movement. A highlight was testing a Ferrari down Punt Road: the traffic just parted.
We had a Porsche as well, it was a really memorable morning.
I visit lots of schools and do presentations at libraries and TAFE colleges. I am working at getting my website up and I will soon have a gallery of images and writing for free download. The electronic age has been the most profound change we have experienced. Despite ups and downs it is still my dream job. My only frustration is not getting my writing out there at the moment.
I have illustrated two books by Lucy Farmer in a new series about a character called Uncle Eddie who manages a game reserve in Africa. They are produced by Black Dog Books and are due in February 2009. Eddie has to work out how to deal with difficult customers like Hippos, crocodiles and Killer Bees. It was great to draw these amazing creatures (Hippos are NOT cuddly!) and challenging to get the feel of the African setting. Order your copies now!