So, it was announced last week that The House on the Hill, written by the rather brilliant Kyle Mewburn and illustrated by some woman wearing mismatched socks has been shortlisted for the New Zealand Children's Book Awards in THREE categories - Picture Book of the Year, The Russell Clarke Award for Illustration, and the Children's Choice Awards. That's a bit good. Thanks so much to the judges and everyone involved - organising awards requires a lot of effort and investment from a bunch of dedicated people who are mostly volunteers, and they do wonders for keeping children's books alive and kicking, and children happily reading. To celebrate, I thought I'd make a Behind the Scenes blog post and tell you a little about how the book came together. It's long and self indulgent, so proceed at your own risk.
An unexpected, delightful side effect of illustrating picture books is that I get to go and visit schools all around the country speaking to students about illustration and visual narratives, which involves a lot of telling bad jokes and drawing strange pictures. I'm usually invited to visit by the Teacher Librarian - a rare breed of human who dedicates lots of time and energy to fostering a real love of reading in their students. The buzz that they generate around books and learning is really something to behold, and I'm constantly amazed by the creativity with which they approach their job. So I thought it might be nice to shine the spotlight on some teacher librarians - they deserve some applause!
I've had my eye on Schoolism courses for a while now, so when they launched a Kickstarter campaign allowing people to buy subscriptions and get access to all their courses, I jumped at the chance. But the end of last year was a bit of a mad flailing scramble (in which no dignity was preserved) so I had no chance to even look at it. BUT! It's a new year! New Year = New me, ammirite? So I've got started on Stephen Silver's fundamentals of character design.
I thought it might be fun to share some of my favourite drawing gear - I know some of you are as obsessed with art supplies as I am. Everyone walks into art supply shops and starts licking and fondling the coloured pencils and has to be removed by police, right? Right. See? I knew I wasn't alone. Anyway, my discovery du jour is Spectrafix...
I've just packaged up some roughs and working drawings for The Fierce Little Woman and the Wicked Pirate, and sent them off to take part in a very special exhibition. It is near and dear to my heart because I know if i could get my hands on a time machine and tell ten-year-old-me that one day I'd be part of this exhibition, my ten-year-old head would explode with excitement. Which would mean I wouldn't grow up to illustrate the book, which would mean I'd never take part in this exhibition, which would mean... uh-oh. Paradox. Quick, reverse! Let me explain this in a slightly less quantumly-entangled way.
I've decided to make more time to sketch randomly, both for Rest & Relaxation (because when you can't be on a beach on your own private island with an endless supply of Margaritas, sketching is the next best thing) and because it will, of course, help me get better at drawing. So, I came up with an entertaining way to fill one of those blank pages which didn't involve a lot of brainpower, and ended up juxtaposing some fairly strange ideas. I thought I'd share it in case anyone else wanted to try it. I call it "Handpainted Smithereens"
This is a quick and shameless public opinion poll. Whenever I'm designing a character I usually start with fairly realistic drawings, and then try to feel my way from there. That's what's happening with this little guy - my initial sketches have quite realistic proportions, but I'm leaning towards stylising him and making him cuter and stumpier. The final book is aimed at preschoolers, so I want my pig to be as appealing as possible for small people. Which look do you think our piggy rocks best? More true-to-life, or slightly cartoonified?
We drew anything that stayed still long enough to be drawn. It's so relaxing to occasionally take time to do some observational sketching out in the real three-dimensional world.
I also discovered that the Alligator Snapping Turtle is one of the most intimidating life forms on the planet. Every line and spike of it says "Mess with me and you'll lose one of your soft pink appendages." I would have sketched it, but turns out it's also angry and disinclined to cooperate, so here's a photo instead.
For those of you who use acrylic paints, you'll be all too familiar with the heartbreak, anguish, rending of vestments and wailing unto the Heavens that accompanies the feeling of mixing the perfect colour and watching it almost instantly dry and become unusable. Or is that just me? Anyway... no more of that! Here's a fantastic way to keep your acrylics workable.
Step One: Buy yourself one of those solid plastic A4 document cases from Officeworks or wherever you get your regular office supplies fix. (Go on, own up. If you're reading an illustration blog I'm almost certain you're addicted to stationary. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem...)
Step Two: Layer some thick kitchen towel in the bottom, topped by a piece of greaseproof kitchen paper (not the waxed kind). Soak the paper towel with water, and set out your paints on top of the greaseproof paper.
Step Three: Well, that's it, really. The case is hinged and has convenient clasps so that you can shut it up when you're not using it, and the moisture in the paper keeps the acrylic workable for weeks. Huzzah! You save a fortune in paint this way, too. You're welcome. Maybe you can buy me a beer with all the money you saved next time we see each other.
He'll dance all over you if you give him half a chance. And, what's more, he knows kung fu. Plus he's got a lot of charisma, so he's pretty hard to resist.
Toucan Can, written by Juliette MacIver and published by Gecko Press, is turning into a book even as you read this. The illustrations are all done and dusted, the amazing designer has worked her magic with the cover and text layout, and the whole shebang is being sent away to be magically printed with whatever arcane leprechaun-powered devices they use to do that sort of thing. I thought that now, in the midst all the therapeutic things I do to aid my recovery after meeting a tough deadline, in between sips of champagne, during the pauses in the interpretive dance routine devised by a troupe of intelligent Himalayan Mountain Ponies and a dozen carefully trained chickens, while the orchestra in my bathroom is pausing to tune the double bass and my personal French chef is sauté-ing more truffles for the souflee, NOW would be the perfect time to write a blog post about why Toucan nearly killed me.
new illustration for the School Magazine
The Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators is staging an exhibition at The Brisbane Library "Journey of a Book: Celebrating Books from idea to publication", a series of glass cases in which authors and illustrators display paraphernalia from the process of creating one of their books - early drafts, letters to publishers, inspirational objects and images that first got their imaginations sparking
Right now I'm working away, illustrating the American Girl "Girl of the Year" books for 2013. I can't tell you anything about them, but I can show you the Girl of the Year books I did for 2011 - Aloha Kanani! and Good Job Kanani!
Just like Jack Kerouac, only much less hip... I'm on a road trip around New South Wales running illustration workshops in rural schools, accompanied by the glamorous Chris Cheng and my two lovely assistants, Nikau and Zoe.
Nikau, Zoe and Chris at our first cafe stopover.Our trip is funded by the Country Area Program, which provides opportunities for isolated schools. Together we'll journey almost 3000 kilometres, and speak at 12 schools! It's a wonderful chance to see the lie of the land, explore NSW, and drop in on schools that are so far flung that they don't often have visitors. Look how much ground we're covering! If you stretched that blue line out straight, I think it would almost reach New Zealand...
View CAP author/illustrator tour in a larger map
Two great school visits - Highfields is a lovely little kinder to Year 2 primary Reggio Emilia school in Lindfield - they even had three school chickens who got carted round by the kids all over the playground and into the library! Ginger was my favourite, but she didn't lay me an egg. I don't have any photos from Highfields, sadly, but I do have a couple from my visit today to Maryong P.S. Lots of lively kids, great questions, and lots of crazy collaborative illustration... Thanks to Sue and Ann for their AMAZING hospitality, which included caramel slice and berry crumble! here are the 15 minute drawings we did together at the end of each session - the kids invent the story, and I carry out their orders like the obedient minion I am.