PASS IT ON is a weekly, interactive, networking e-zine for anyone interested in the children's book industry. Thanks to the lovely Jackie Hosking, I'm super chuffed to be featured in their "Illustration of the Week" column. Here's the interview...
This is the cover illustration for “Tales of My Uncle Bob”, written by Tasmanian writer Chris Robinson and published by Xlibris. One day, late last year my lithographer friend K.K Green called me and vaguely said, “there’s a writer across the road looking for an illustrator”. So I called him and he sent me his manuscript.
I was captured immediately by the words. He told stories that were slightly unbelievable but that I wanted to believe were true. They were about a character I felt I knew, who had travelled across roads I had been in my five years living in the desert.
It was thrilling to work with someone I had never met but could draw what he could speak. He wanted ten black and white drawings plus a coloured cover illustration. I had an idea for the cover in my head but I had put off starting it because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it right. One day as the deadline loomed another writer friend rang me in a state, “Help! Can I come over? I can’t work at home by myself today”. It was kick up the bum I needed. She came and I set up two desks side by side. I cut and stuck and threw paper around the room and when I came to the hair, I cursed that I had no wool in the house….so I trimmed my unravelling carpet!!
How long have you been illustrating? How old were you when you started?
When I was 6, my dad who had a community theatre company did a production of “The Little Prince”. My sister and I learnt the story off by heart from cover to cover. We loved the boa constrictor digesting the elephant, how grownups never understand children and how tiresome it is for children to explain things to them all the time. I think we grew up trying not to, creating games and stories and disappearing into other worlds. Somewhere in this the illustrating began.
Did you study art beyond high school? Where did you study?
I grew up in the country, in a family of theatrics, with gypsy artists and musicians growing in our backyard. My parents coloured our life with imagination and storytelling so “study” happened both in school and out in the world. After school, I grew to love everything about colour and texture while studying Fashion Design at Canberra Institute of Technology. Later, I fell in love with the magic of moving pictures and animation at RMIT studying Electronic Design and Interactivity. But best of all, I discovered people you who inspired and drove me to be a better artist. Recently, I have considered studying again but nothing about it really excites me. Somehow, I have gone back to my roots, surrounding myself with a unique and exciting bunch of characters. Every week we gather, chatter, scribble and scrabble. We talk over one another, invigorating, debating and making. It’s who I am right now.
What made you decide that you’d like to illustrate for children?
I’m not sure I ever thought there was another option. That is where stories begin. Children believe anything is possible and the more outrageous the story the better. They inspire me and challenge me. My own children especially, who constantly tell me they can draw better than I can (and secretly perhaps they can!)
How do you source illustration work?
Every time I see a book I wish I’d illustrated or a magazine I wish I’d made, I scribble down the publisher and go home and send them an email with my portfolio. It’s taken me a long time to be confident enough to introduce myself as an illustrator but you just have to get over it and be brave! Work doesn’t find you, you have to find it.
Do you have an agent that represents you? If so, how did you go about the process of finding an agent?
Do you attend conferences? Which ones stand out? Where they helpful in advancing your career?
CYA Conference is fabulous! But when money is tight going to gallery openings, book launches, film nights are the way to go. They are all great networking experiences.
Have you illustrated any picture books?
At the moment I’m loving doing a lot of collaborating. Last year I worked with Newcastle based writer, Kim Miller on his book, “Brendan, his knees, his bees, his mysterious disease.” I also have written and illustrated two unpublished children’s books that both won prizes at the CYA Conference and I have made several handmade books.
I also illustrate kid’s birthday cards for For Arts Sake in Sydney.
Could you share the story of how you published your first picture book?
My sister and I were big entrepreneurs as children. She is younger than me and has generally always been the brains of any operation. Being the eldest though, I would always insist on being in charge and taking all the credit for the idea (she graciously always let me!). We started a photographic business from our lounge room when I was about 8 where we would take photos on an old broken camera of my fathers and then draw the photos while our models waited for the result. In the backyard we had the very exclusive Tree House Club that produced a “Save-the-Planet” type zine. We created a mini-village with all our friends, had a car detective agency, were frequently fashion police and when we were older we opened a Dating Agency. None of this might seem relevant but in a world where self-publishing, e-zines and internet start-ups are the way to go, it gave us the hutzpah we needed to try anything. The actual answer to the question…I was ten, it was about mermaids and it was for a correspondence school assignment…but you wanted a story!
Have you done any illustrations for children’s magazines? Which ones?
No, not children’s but I have illustrated for Alien She Zine and Threaded.
Have you worked with educational publishers? If so, which ones?
No, but I work at lot with schools and children as an artist-in-residence. I currently work at Challa Gardens Primary School in Adelaide, mentoring young artists to design and paint all the Stobie Poles around their school.
What materials do you use to paint your illustrations?
I generally always start with black fine liners but when I feel that I’m getting too uptight and need to shake loose, I do a lot of collage. I use everything around me – serviettes in restaurants, the leaves in the garden, jelly crystals that my children have scattered all over the kitchen bench, potato peelings and yes…my unravelling carpet.
How much time do you spend illustrating?
I illustrate with my printing friend Robyn on Mondays and that always starts the week off with a bang. If we are still creating by Friday without having been distracted, we are allowed to eat ice-cream!
How has the Internet been helpful for you?
I love the internet and I am nuts about researching new ideas. After working with a mad clever computer tech in the desert, when I am stuck, I always utter the words “What would Rongamai do?” – he literally googles everything!
It’s also absolutely the best place for networking. I am a big fan of Illustration Friday, Doodlers Anonymous, The Doodle Theory Club and They Draw and Cook (that’s my favourite!).
Do you use much technology with your illustrations? Computer programmes or drawing tablets?
It is true, I love my scanner. I have friends who take to their computer like an obsessed cult fan, but I try to never forget that my computer is only a tool. My scanner allows me to put the real me into my illustrations. It keeps them rough and unpolished and as a result my scanner is very scratched and dirty and has a short life span.
What are you working on now?
If you ask my friends they’ll say, she’s catching cockroaches…which is true. I am making a kind of graphic novel zine based on a newspaper article my dad sent me years ago about cockroaches escaping from a farm in china.
Where you can find me....