Monday, 17 October 2016

Colouring Molly & Mae

This post, the first for the year 2016 (and it's October!) concerns a book I illustrated that has just come out, called Molly & Mae. It is written by the extraordinary Danny Parker.

Molly & Mae is the story of friendship told like a train journey. It is utterly unique, poetic and really appealed to me. The story is broken into little moments, and has headings throughout to represent different stages of a train journey: platform, timetable, journey, signal failure, destination. And all of these relate to the stages of Molly and Mae's friendship. The blurb on the back of the book describes the book better than I can:

Friendship is like a train journey. 
There are happy moments, boring moments, and exciting moments. 
There is anger, and loneliness, and there is forgiveness 
and the thread of friendship runs through everything, 
like rail tracks through the countryside. 

I had longer than usual to complete this book and I suspect that because of this, I deliberated, and experimented, and queried and basically just made problems for myself.

Having chatted with my publisher about landscapes appearing in the illustrations, I decided to use oil paints. I assumed it would be fairly simple to paint a landscape just like those by Roland Wakelin or Roy De Maistre. Hmm. I also liked the idea of those excellent, expressive oil painted brushstrokes, which was also harder than I assumed!

Here is one of the early attempts to illustrate the friends, using really thin oil paints and pencil. For some reason I didn't go ahead with pencil linework like this, but looking back on it, I really like it.

Our characters, Molly and Mae, board a train together. Having found reference of some beautiful wooden train interiors, I felt determined to see the inside of the train as a burnt sienna. I wanted the interior to look warm and inviting and these initial colour tests seemed to work. I was feeling confident...

My plan was to cut out the foreground and insert a landscape behind the characters and train interior. So here it is with a different background out the window. I was still feeling confident...

But when I tried it on the final it didn't feel right:

I tried another page and it didn't feel any more right. I think I did five pages like this, and none of them felt right. 

In fact, when I looked at the works lined up in my studio it was like listening to music ever so slightly out of tune. It was grating! Finally, my dear publisher agreed that it wasn't working and I needed to start all over again.

The burnt sienna became a kind of mauve, which is weird because it would have to be one of my least favourite colours. But with the mauve, the characters and their little splashes of colour stood out.

Then I inserted backgrounds behind the train windows and suddenly the book felt like it might work. I began to feel the despair ebb.

I played with different coloured landscapes and eventually found a solution, but goodness, it was hard to find something that worked both for single illustrations and the full book. It's all a good learning experience, but sometimes I really wish I'd gone to art school and learnt how to do it all properly to start with!

Molly & Mae was designed by Vida Kelly (and she did a beautiful job as always) and is published by Little Hare Books. My mum had to explain a lot of colour theory, which may have gone in one ear and out the other.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Perfect Background

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. One reason for this is that I've been really busy working on a book written by Danny Parker, called Perfect

Danny tells how the idea for Perfect came about when his daughter asked for 'a crayon and somewhere to scribble'. Danny was immediately drawn to the simplicity and beauty of this statement and developed an evocative text based around this one line. It became a collection of idyllic moments in the day of a child, and it's beautiful. 

I think we have a pretty idyllic life here in Orange, about four hours west of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. We go on picnics, explore caves and swim in creeks, dams and water holes. Soon after reading Perfect, a group of my friends and our kids had lunch by a creek that runs through my dad's farm. We watched the kids, insanely happy just getting their feet wet in the creek and hanging out on a pile of dead wood. I hadn’t started the book at that stage, but stored that moment in my mind as that of utter perfection for a child.

Three of my friend's children were there on the day of the Perfect epiphany. Together they explored the creek and looked after each other.

I was certain that these kids were the ones to tell the story.

This day reminded me of my childhood, the picnics we went on and the adventures we made for ourselves, on a log, around a creek or up a tree. 

I began my illustrative process by going through photos that my mum had taken during my childhood and therefore developed a very personal response to Danny’s text.  

Then, based on Danny's text, I created a list of moments I considered perfect – sitting on our back verandah, 

drawing everywhere, 

getting to make whatever you want in the kitchen, making a huge mess and not having the clean it up, going for a walk, stopping whenever you want to look at things and then walking along someone’s stone wall, reaching farmland, seeing cows, crossing a creek and going to the beach, essentially the freedom to do exactly as you please, but with the safety of a home to go back to.

I found the rough storyboard combined with Danny’s text quite joyous. Reading it was like taking a deep calming breath and a bad mood was instantly alleviated. Hopefully it will have the same effect on anyone who reads it! And hopefully families will read it and be reminded to slow down and do something so ordinary it feels magical!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Cleo Stories

My daughter has always provided such brilliant inspiration for drawings. I don't know what I'm going to do when she grows out of her childhood creativity. Luckily I can record some of her childhood in my books. And the first of THE CLEO STORIES, written by Libby Gleeson, is one of those books that has benefitted from Ivy's wacky creations.  

The first book in this series contains two stories: The Necklace and The Present and are all about lovely little Cleo and the wonderfully simple, creative solutions she finds to the problems of a five year old girl.

These stories were written in part with my daughter, Ivy, in mind. Libby had seen quite a bit of her when she was in her preschool years and I guess it had served to remind Libby of her own daughters’ childhoods.

Like Cleo, Ivy has always had a lovely creative streak, so these stories became a vessel for me to remember and record some of her little creations. She is most content when surrounded by toilet rolls and sticky tape and has been known to return triumphant from the bathroom, waving a toilet roll 'trophy' about. 

Ivy’s favourite time is spent in her playroom making enormous mess and beautiful creations.

So Cleo’s bedroom is littered with similar creations – a teddy bear with a paper mane or a beak, toilet rolls with wings attached (never butterfly wings, always bat wings), a mask.

Cleo often wears a set of rabbit or cat ears, just like Ivy did for several years, and an odd assortment of garments - she's not into pretty dresses, but the mismatched and inappropriate:

I was thrilled to read that Cleo's Uncle Tom has tattooed arms and that Cleo’s friend Nick wants tattoos when he is older. I have a good laugh when I think what some parents’ reactions to that will be!

I enjoyed finding interesting solutions to page layouts and the challenge of dealing with a lot more text that I was used to. 

For me, the value in these stories is that Cleo is encouraged to be resilient when she doesn't get everything she asks for, and creative, as she inevitably finds her own solutions. Parents are faced with constant requests for things and saying no can bring about ingenious solutions. I see it all the time in Ivy’s playroom!

THE CLEO STORIES, written by Libby Gleeson and published by Allen & Unwin, will be out on 1st October 2014. 

Monday, 14 July 2014


A friend recently bought me a working overhead projector from the tip shop, and projectors only mean one thing to me - murals! I haven't shown the previous mural on this site, so figured it was a good opportunity to show some other work of mine and make sure everyone hears about The Agrestic Grocer on Molong Road, on the outskirts of Orange.

Last year, my brother and his partner were helping a group of Orange locals set up a cafe and produce store at the old Totally Local site. It seemed like a great opportunity to help a worthwhile local business and work with some nice people, so I joined in and painted a very simple, subtle rural scene in silhouette on the back wall of the cafe.

An old school overhead projector was tracked down and put to good use to transfer the sketch up onto the wall:

The final painting is so subtle it looks like a shadow and you can eat an entire meal there and not even see it, which I personally see as rather a success!

If you haven't already visited The Agrestic Grocer, head out there for your weekly grocery shop or a very tasty meal of local seasonal produce. More information about them can be found here.

Now that I have my own overhead projector I suspect it's time to start thinking about painting another mural...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Orange Tourist Guide for Research Material

Orange has some wonderful places to visit: Mount Canobolas and Federal Falls, Ophir and Summerhill Creek, Borenore Caves, and a multitude of lovely parks, vineyards and restaurants.

But one of my favourite places to visit is The Recovery Centre at the Orange tip, where you can remind yourself and your children, of the repercussions of consumerism while partaking in a satisfying and ethical dose of retail therapy.

The tip shop, as we call it, is always inspiring...

... and provided brilliant reference material for Look, A Book:

It's worth visiting for other reasons too. I have picked up some of my favourite Woodsware crockery out there, a beautiful West German jug, and not so long ago I was lucky enough to inherit a working overhead projector that a friend found at the Recovery Centre. And this brings me to my next planned post, which may or may not, appear soon...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Adding Colour

I've been meaning to write something about how I use colour for quite some time now, and finally have something I can show with a bit of colour theory behind it.

I must have learnt something about colour theory in my first year of university, but haven't retained the knowledge. So when a friend suggested she'd like to learn some colour theory, we began attending special private colour theory classes taught by my mum at the dining table in my parents' back room. In actual fact, I've only managed to make it to two classes so far, but in the second class we made this colour wheel:

I particularly like how you can turn the arrow around to show opposites and triads.

With my colour wheel on my desk before me, it was time to put the theory of colour opposites into practice with a book called Go To Sleep, Jessie written by Libby Gleeson.

Baby Jessie has moved into Jo's bedroom, but she won't go to sleep. She just screams and screams, and keeps Jo awake. Nothing either parent does seems to work. But eventually, of course, Jo knows just the thing that will settle Jessie.

In my illustrations I tried to create two distinct worlds; that of 'upstairs' where the two children are supposed to sleep and 'downstairs' where the parents read the newspaper, watch television and eat chocolates. It provided the perfect opportunity to test out colour opposites.

So, upstairs in the bedroom it is predominantly blue. While downstairs, where the lights are on and parents are still up doing things, it is orange, the opposite colour to blue on the colour wheel.

Here's the colour test I did...

...a finished upstairs scene...

...and a finished page showing both upstairs and downstairs.

The aim was simply to create contrast between the two opposite environments: upstairs, downstairs; dark, light; quiet, noise; asleep, awake. Regardless of whether it worked, the exercise showed me how I can create a really strong colour scheme for a book.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

My Two Blankets

Due out in February this year (2014) is a book by Irena Kobald called My Two Blankets. An advance copy arrived late last year, amidst the flurry of end of year deadlines and activities. But today, just as I was considering posting something about the book, a whole box of them arrived!

My Two Blankets is the story of a young girl called Cartwheel who leaves her own war torn country for somewhere safe. But the new place is so foreign to her she no longer feels like herself. Cartwheel seeks comfort in a metaphorical blanket of her own words and sounds. When a young girl shows her friendship and begins to teach her new words, Cartwheel begins to create a new blanket from these words and sounds she learns.

The metaphorical blanket was a difficult concept to illustrate and took me a long time to solve. But I was really attracted to the idea of a visual interpretation of feelings, sounds and words. As with any concept requiring interpretation, there are endless different visual solutions and everyone has a different idea of what works the best. This would have been a great book to give to several illustrators to see what each came up with. I'd love to see other peoples' takes on the concept.

Eventually Cartwheel's old blanket became a simple design that Cartwheel was an integral part of. It contains symbols based on African weavings, fabrics and sculptures.

I often use colour to help convey a concept and with this book I used colour as well as the medium to differentiate between Cartwheel and this new country. The new place is pale and cool and painted in watercolour, whereas Cartwheel and her old home are warm and saturated and painted in oil paints.

The story discusses the sensation Cartwheel feels when surrounded by the unusual sounds of this new country. She describes it as a cold waterfall of strange sounds. Initially I intended this 'waterfall' to be thick with symbols that represented words. Like this:

In the roughs, I just showed this as a messy scrawl because I couldn't be bothered drawing these precise little symbols over and over, and the scrawl seemed to work better than lots of symbols. So this is how it ended up:

Here is the beginning of Cartwheel's new blanket, built on a diagonal spiral form:

Published by Little Hare Books, My Two Blankets is out in February 2014.