Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Naomi Mairou

What's this illustration for?

This picture was from one of the final pages in my first book, 'The Dugong Meadow'. The viewer looks down over the seafloor and a section of boatwreck covered in sleeping stingrays as a dugong swims high in the water column above them. The book had a gently optimistic ending and I thought that the picture imparted a rather peaceful feeling once I'd finished painting it.

Do you have to wait for a flash of inspiration - how do you start?

My subject matter is nearly always a natural environment and the animals who inhabit it, so as I'm fortunate enough to live in one of the most lovely places on the planet I never have to wait long for someone furry, feathered or scaly to do something in front of me that makes me think it should be painted. The last job I did though was for a publisher in the U.S. which entailed doing a host of animals whom I'm not familiar with so I had to spend a lot of time initially scouring books and the internet for photos and information that at least acquainted me with the species. I usually prefer to work from sketches I've made using animal species I know well, so I didn't feel it was a natural way for me to work.

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

After many years of following the advice of well-meaning grownups to find 'secure' employment, and ignoring inclinations I had had since early childhood to follow a creative path, I decided enough was enough and made a conscious decision to pursue what I wanted and see what might happen. I won the Crichton Award for Children's Book Illustration with my first book so it was a huge encouragement to continue.

Who or what has influenced your work?

I am rather drawn to the work of illustrators like Ron Brooks. 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat' remains probably my favourite picture book, it has been since I was little, partly because of its quiet intimate domestic setting in the company of companion animals and partly also because I shared my own life with a Midnight Cat for nineteen years. This beautiful sombre, reflective cast is also something I like about a lot of Robert Ingpen's work, particularly some of his intuitive later images where studies of animals often form a subtle part of the composition. The colour range of my work is broader now and considerably lighter than it was when I was working in the Top End where I grew up but the close connection I feel with animals and their surroundings is still my major influence.

What's your favourite media for creating pictures?

Before I began to work in narrative art oils were my medium of choice, but the new generation of acrylics have kind of got me hooked. I like the vibrancy of the colours available nowadays and you can work areas for longer periods with the new formulations, much like the oils I started in. I tend to work in thin successive layers and build up a picture surface gradually - acrylics allow me to go through that process more quickly when I have a deadline to meet, so the immediacy of the medium works well for me also when I've got a job on.

Do you experience illustrator's block - if so, what do you do about it?

If I get bogged down I tend to get a bit obsessive and tenacious, sketching out a composition one way and another until it feels right, or is at least something that I can live with until the next time I work on that picture. Tackling it like that seems to work best for me, but I am told it makes me difficult to be around when something is bugging me: it causes quite a bit of consternation in our household and my husband lies low. I was really lucky with my first book - I had the immense luxury of being able to take my time with it and I spent more of my energy on observing subjects as a way of working out little problems and less time obsessing on roughs in the studio.

I also find a good supply of chocolate helps with illustrator's block - don't know why.

What's the worst thing about being a freelancer?

The worst thing is probably that once you decide to embark upon a freelance career which relies upon you having to have some sort of continuity of work in order to eat, you need to really learn how to sell your work and yourself effectively. I'm still a beginner at this so I don't eat very often, but I am hoping that as time goes on the periods between paid jobs will lessen.

And the best?

The response which you probably get from more creators when you ask this particular question than any other is that the best thing is being able to get paid for doing something which you love to do: the same goes for me. Not many people get that particular privilege with their job and after having worked through a number of jobs where your day is simply a means to an end (get your bills paid), to be finally able to do the thing that you adore as a profession is brilliant!. I find the other big bonus for me is being able to set my own hours. I am a night-owl and I get the bulk of my work done when my family is fast asleep down the hall and I have the quiet solitude of my studio for the night.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a commissioned painting at the moment, a pair of cassowaries feeding. It's a nice relaxing kind of job.

Where can we see more of your work?

The Style File is a good place to see samples of my illustrative work. Of course my books are a good place to look, too. Hopefully, soon, I'll also get around to arranging a dedicated website so that people will be able to view work more easily.

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