What’s this illustration for?
Our new book “Ned Kelly and the Green Sash”. I have a favourite piece in every book and this is mine from Ned. Henry Miller once said, “Paint as you like and die happy”. The composition, colour and subject matter of this piece sums it all up for me.
Who or what has influenced your work?
I especially love this Illustration because it’s influenced by all the great artists who I admire. First off, Sidney Nolan was my constant muse when creating Ned. We can see Ned floating between a Marc Chagall painting or perhaps reclining as in Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy. The palette of Henri Matisse is prevalent as is the flatness of colour by Paul Gauguin.
Do you have to wait for a flash of inspiration - how do you start?
I have a highly visual imagination when I read a story. What I’ve learnt over the years is to sketch my first impulse, but then explore how many different ways I could draw the same scene. At the recent Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I was asked to illustrate in public while the author of my next book read the story aloud. I had to create a page plan live while attendees stopped to watch. Talk about inspiration and pressure!
How did you get your start as an illustrator?
Luckily, my high school art teacher thought I was completely hopeless when he couldn’t teach me perspective, so he left me alone. My school wasn't progressive enough to recognize primitive painting as a legitimate art form. Later on I moved to the small Caribbean island of Montserrat where I began my career as a painter. My good friend on the island was an aspiring journalist named Shona Martyn who had a column in the weekly paper, The Montserrat Times. She interviewed me and asked what I’d like to do next. The power of the spoken word because I said, I would love to write and illustrate a children’s book. I wrote a story entitled “My Little Island” and went to see 20 publishers over the course of a year. Macmillan, who had a successful Caribbean division, eventually published the book in England and the West Indies. The following year HarperCollins released it in USA. The book is still in print twenty-seven years later and Shona Martyn went on to her own success.
What’s your favourite media for creating pictures?
I’m loyal to Windsor and Newton gouache on Arches paper for illustration. I can get a range of depth from flat opaqueness of colour to a wash. They dry really fast, come in any colour and they’re non-toxic, important as my cat likes to drink my paint water. If I’m painting for an exhibition, I tend to work very large in oils.
Do you experience illustrator's block - if so, what do you do about it?
I love illustrators’ block. I go shopping and play with my friends and after a few days I feel so guilty, that I just need to get back to work.
What’s the worst thing about being a freelancer?
Zero zip nada nothing. I feel blessed and appreciate every moment.
And the best?
Taking a break when I want and picking projects I adore.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently creating the preliminary art for “The Drummer Boy of John John” that will be published by Lee and Low in the US. The book is inspired by Winston "Spree" Simon; at the age of seven he was a drummer in a steelpan group called the John John band. He made ‘noise’ and began playing melodies on empty biscuit containers during Carnival celebrations. The proud villagers of John John, Trinidad believe that he was the first person to play the steel drum.