Please describe your chosen illustration
This picture is of the Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux, in the Somme region of France. I based it on several photographs I took there, plus a sketch on the spot. I painted it in my apartment in Paris, where I lived for a few months in 2011 with an amazing view across the road to the golden dome of Les Invalides. It was done with acrylics in one day – I was on a roll! It’s one of 75 paintings I did for my book The Poppy, which is to be released in March 2014. Obviously, it’s a picture book, with a few hundred words, but it is principally the pictures that tell the story. I ended up removing 6 of the paintings from the final layout, about a week’s work. Oddly enough, it didn’t cause any angst – the book was much better without them. A whole book is the same as one illustration – knowing what to leave in and what to leave out can make all the difference.
When did you know you had a talent for illustration?
I was drawing 30 page comic books when I was 10 or 11, and dinosaur ‘books’ when I was 8. I always drew and wrote as a kid. I wasn’t really one for kicking the footy on the weekend – in fact I don’t ever recall doing it! The person who really gave me a shove was my HSC art teacher, David Williams. He took one look at my work and said that his art was nothing like mine, so he couldn’t help me – I’d have to work things out for myself. Of course, he actually was right there advising and guiding the whole time, but he made me really believe that I had it in me, and that all I had to do was find it myself. It gave me a huge boost of self-confidence at the same time as scaring the hell out of me!
Have you ever studied your craft at an institution of any sort?
Apart from HSC Art, and the normal school art classes up to Year 10, I never studied art. Everything after school was self-taught. There’s a lot to be said for going it alone – no danger of picking up a tutor’s style. But it can be slow. These days in particular, I think a course of some sort would be important for an illustrator just starting out, if only to learn a bit about the industry. It’s much tougher out there now than when I started out.
What computer programmes do you use?
I don’t do anything on computer at all, and I’ve never been asked to. The predicted demise of hand-rendered art never eventuated, except for things like maps, graphs etc, which are faster and better on a computer. Black and white seems to have also gone as colour printing is now relatively so cheap. Since computer art is so ubiquitous, and Photoshop lets anyone with half-decent art skills create good looking work, hand-rendered seems to have become more in demand, possibly because it isn’t something everyone can do.
Have you illustrated any books?
I’ve illustrated about 70 books, and lots of magazine articles and other odds and ends. I think Could a Tyrannosaurus play Table Tennis? is probably my favourite. It was the first major picture book that I wrote as well as illustrated. Like The Poppy, it wasn’t commissioned, but just an idea I liked and wanted to explore.
For commissioned work, it usually just starts with an email and me saying yes! It’s rare that I’ve turned down an offer, though it has happened. Then the manuscript is sent, and if I still think I’d enjoy doing it, I start doodles, then roughs, and hopefully something the editors like emerges.
It’s rare that I meet the authors; In fact, it’s only happened once, but we worked really well together and it was great fun to be with another creator. She was amazingly generous with letting me do my own thing, or maybe my vision just happened to match hers – her writing is visually vivid.
I’ve met a few of my editors, but many are just email addresses, and occasionally a voice on the end of the phone.
The time to do a book varies from a few weeks to several months. The Poppy was done over two and a half years, including planning and research and pauses whilst doing things that paid the bills.
Unless they are ridiculous, I like deadlines. I need a bit of pressure to stop me doodling and getting distracted, and just get on with it.
Who is your favourite Australian children’s book illustrator and why?
Shaun Tan is my favourite Australian illustrator; I probably don’t have to explain why. If I had to pin it down to one thing, I would say imagination – his is unique, coupled with fantastic skill.
What’s your website or blog address (if you have one)?
My website is www.andrewplant.com I don’t have a blog – I don’t think I’m really all that interesting. And I’m afraid from what I’ve read, neither are most people who have blogs! There are some outstanding exceptions amongst illustrators that I’ve found, but honestly, if you’re half decent at your job, who has the time to keep up a running commentary of their life? I’d rather be out doing something new, than writing about something I’ve already done.
Would you like to tell us anything else about yourself and/or your work?
New illustrators should bear in mind that very few of us ‘oldies’ get all our income from illustrating. I also do murals, and set design and construction and scenic painting. School and library visits to talk about a book often brings in more than sales of the book itself. Murals and sets are just really big illustrations, I guess, and working on an 8 x 20 metre picture instead of an 8 x 20 cm one is very liberating, except for the sore arms and neck! But I wouldn’t change it for anything!