Sunday, 3 November 2013

Inspiring Illustrators - Part One

I often get asked about my favourite illustrators. So I've put together a list, starting with two illustrators I have loved from the very beginning, Lisbeth Zwerger and Armin Greder.

Exploring other picture book illustrator's work was an important part of starting out for me, as I'd had no training in illustration or picture books and therefore had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing.

I discovered the work of Austrian illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger early on and collected many of her books, mesmerised by so many elements within her illustrations. I've really enjoyed the evolution of her work; for although the work becomes brighter and sharper, it is never tight and contrived.

I've taken a photo or two of her work and hope she doesn't mind me posting them here.

I love the way she interprets a story, her subtle, yet quirky characters, the intricate patterns in her work, the inspired composition of each painting and use of negative space. I have always been intrigued by the way she puts colour on, especially in the earlier illustrations (see above) where the colour seems to have a mind of its own; it bleeds and crosses the drawing lines but makes the illustration all the more exciting and free. But most importantly for me, it is the way she draws people that is so enormously inspiring, full of movement and so much life they nearly make me cry.

I have many of her books but that which I held very close to me for some time is The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger. It is an absolute visual feast. You can get it on Fishpond. Click here.

Armin Greder is another illustrator whose work I have watched closely, particularly his books with Libby Gleeson. His illustrations work so perfectly with her words and this relationship was something I definitely aspired to. Uncle David is one of my favourites, combining Armin's iconic flowing charcoal line work, areas of bright colour and these brilliant page designs! I love the way he frames and crops images.

His drawings of people are wonderfully fluid and expressive. I'm particularly fond of this one here (below) as it is none other than Libby Gleeson and her husband, Euan, standing amongst the parents.

I love the way his illustrations sometimes just engulf the written story, especially in An Ordinary Day and The Great Bear, where the pictures take over and the words never return. What perfect picture books! The Great Bear has recently been republished by Walker Books in Australia.

Thank you to Armin Greder for allowing me to post photos of your work.

Part Two of Inspiring Illustrators coming some time soon, but possibly not that soon...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Freya's Four Stages of Drawing

There's nothing better than knowing you've got another job to start when you finally finish the one that's running late. And I really can't imagine a better job than being an illustrator of children's books. But I've been noticing a bit of a cycle developing, and it seems to be spinning slower with each rotation.

I'm currently working on the first book in a series called "The Cleo Stories" written by Libby Gleeson and due for publication in 2014 by Allen & Unwin. This 64 page storybook was going to be quick and easy, but woah, there's a lot of drawing in a 64 page book. And I've rather extended the work load by having many full page colour drawings and a detailed aerial view on the endpapers (something left over from the 'anything is possible' period - see below).

I've noticed a series of stages I go through when illustrating a book. The first stage- the early excitement that comes with starting every new book when anything is possible- has well and truly passed now. This stage is characterised by scrawled interpretations of the interesting things you imagine in your head. They don't make any sense, but editors will pretend they understand exactly what is depicted.

Following this is the creation of 'roughs', which is simultaneously my favourite part of the process for the expressive and free drawings that result, but also the hardest because it can be so excrutiatingly difficult to solve the various problems creatively. This stage is where the first ideas are drawn up in slightly more detail to see if they work alongside the text and alongside each other. This is always much harder that expected. The lovely thing about this stage though is you don't have to draw the details you can't be bothered drawing - you only have to convey the general feeling. And there is a lovely freedom in this. Without exception, these drawings are always nicer than the next in the process.

Following this stage is the mind numbing period when everything must be drawn for the THIRD time, all the while trying desperately hard to pretend that it's the first time. Everything becomes slow and even though I sit at my desk and work, days pass without a useful line drawn. It's very hard to dodge the inevitable tightness that these drawings tend to have.

This stage can feel like an eternity but suddenly it morphs into a much more frantic period when I just need to get the blasted book finished. By this stage I'm left with all the drawings I didn't particularly like, and all those I couldn't work out in the earlier stages when there was some creativity flowing somewhere. And through sheer desperation, I make marks on the page that just have to do.

This is where I am at the moment.

But following this stage is the wonderful moment when colour is introduced and remnants of that early excitement return. I'm happy to say that I'm very, very close to arriving there. And so, I will return, in colour and full of positivity!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Lovely Cartwheel - Characters Who Design Themselves

I've been really enjoying this little character called Cartwheel, from a book I'm doing called My Two Blankets, written by Irena Kobald. Cartwheel is a very timid little girl, sheltering next to or behind her aunty. She's moved to a place that is so strange to her that she no longer feels like herself.

I don't tend to spend all that much time designing characters. I don't know whether I'm supposed to do more or not, but they seem to sort themselves out while I work on the rest of the book. I might do some quick initial character sketches, like these ones I did back at the beginning of the year when I started the book.

It's an especially lovely moment when a character gets colour for the first time. And Cartwheel was no exception, with her warm, saturated colour against a cool and pale background. It took me by surprise when I discovered Cartwheel had developed into such a beautiful little child, full of subtlety in her posture and expression. Here she is with her aunty.

Cartwheel seemed to have designed herself and was in complete control.  In some drawings of her, I couldn't even really remember drawing them - it was all her, quietly reworking a drawing until it expressed exactly how she felt.

Cartwheel and her aunty have been my work companions for six months now. They've been very quiet and shy but I'll miss them dreadfully when I've finished. Only a few more days of their company left...

My Two Blankets will be published some time in 2014 I guess, by Little Hare Books.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

BANJO & RUBY RED Becomes A Book

Look what has become a real book! 

You can open it, smell it, turn the pages and READ it!  

It's got a quarter binding that looks and feels really nice. And the cover has my two favourite colours on it. 

And so far, there's nothing about it I don't like. 

Banjo & Ruby Red, written by Libby Gleeson, is a lovely story about the antagonism and eventual friendship between an old farm dog called Banjo, and a haughty chicken called Ruby Red. 

My dad, who isn't one to come out and say anything too gushy,  got a bit emotional at one point in the story and I deduced that he really liked it! 

Banjo & Ruby Red is coming out in August, but I believe my local bookshop unpacked some today. 

Here are some of my favourite images:

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Horizontal Surfaces

A book can be all encompassing. I work for months, half a year, a year on a book. Everything else falls by the wayside - the lawn doesn't get mowed, the cobwebs build up, the dust bunnies take over.

And it can feel like I've achieved nothing in a long time. Then all of a sudden I turn a corner and discover a stack of watercolour boards with paintings on them and realise that the ideas I've had in my head actually might work on paper. It feels pretty good.

Of course, everything else looks like this:

And this:

And even in the house every horizontal surface is littered with stuff.

It's all good stuff though, and I'm certain it's better to have a table covered in creative bits and pieces than devoid of anything. That's what I tell myself anyway.

It's been an ongoing problem. Here's a drawing I did several years ago of this horizontal surface syndrome. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Strange People on Trains

Enjoyed drawing these people...

Close ups from a page of a new book called My Two Blankets, written by Irena Kobald.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Runaway Hug in Japan

It's always very exciting when one of your books finds a publisher overseas. Last week the Japanese version of The Runaway Hug arrived on my doorstep.

The covers of overseas editions can vary from the original, sometimes quite a bit! Countries have different aesthetic values, or the market calls for a different approach. (See the Korean cover below, with bright yellow hearts for added appeal...)

The Japanese version is a lovely edition of The Runaway Hug, with a different image on the cover, a snazzy dust jacket and a fabulous picture on the back. Thumbs up to the Japanese designer!

I particularly like the title font.

And a friend sent a photo of the book in the Kinokuniya bookshop in Tokyo. Thanks Owen!

The Runaway Hug can now be found in Japan, Korea, the United States and Canada (in French and English). Here's the Korean version, sporting some yellow hearts!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Miss Quick Snout Strikes Again

Art Alfresco is on again in Orange in conjunction with Food Week and this year, for the first time, I attempted a painting for the outside exhibition. Forty local artists were given a collection of still life images to use as inspiration for a large painting (1m x 1m). All forty paintings have now been hung on the South Court Wall of the Orange Regional Gallery and the collection look fantastic! If you live in Orange you should pass by the gallery to have a look. 

My painting titled "Miss Quick Snout and the Fate of the Lone Lamb Cutlet" features our lovely but very sneaky whippet, Pivot. That particular lamb cutlet, cooked the night before to use as reference for the painting, was stolen before I'd even finished painting it. And later that day she also stole four banana muffins. She's one seriously fast but extremely naughty dog. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Quest to Create Something Completely Different

I often get asked about my creative process, so thought I'd put together a post on this topic. It also seems to have become about my recent desire to branch out and create varied work.

I recently finished the paintings for a book called BANJO & RUBY RED, written by my lovely friend Libby Glesson. I always start out a book thinking I'll try to do something COMPLETELY different. And then of course it gradually works its way back to being something not that different at all. BANJO & RUBY RED was going to be an utterly different book! It was going to be a combination of printmaking and stencil techniques and expressive, uninhibited drawing.

Of course, as it is with many grand plans and exciting schemes, the final illustrations ended up nothing like this.

Funnily enough, I find it difficult to start drawing - it takes me quite a while to coax myself towards a pencil. So I start the illustrations for a book by writing notes and brainstorming. I don't always (or perhaps ever) 'see' a book the first time I read it. Or if I do have a visual style in mind it will be the work of another illustrator whose work I admire and secretly wish was mine.

At this early stage I like to gather images I find inspiring, fully intending to produce something along the lines of this inspiration. I wave the inspiration around and say, the book will look like this. But inevitably the final product bears no resemblance to it at all!

After a lengthy period of anguish and uncertainty, I produce a storyboard, a series of small sketches that show a basic representation of what I imagine will be on each page.

Here's the storyboard image for the first page of BANJO & RUBY RED.

The storyboard sketches always look wonderful - free and wild and inspired. Then you begin the process of basically ruining each page - cleaning them up, fine tuning them and adding details.

Since this book was going to include printed elements and be 'completely different', I had to do some tests to figure out exactly how completely different it was going to be. I really liked the first result - perfectly messy and different in feel from anything I've done before.

But actually, that was the only one that did look any good and I discovered that what I was hoping to achieve was fraught with complications. Would I be able to sustain an entire book using my very limited lino block print skills? Should I print it all traditionally or composite parts on the computer? Would I therefore have to actually learn how to use photoshop properly? Where on earth do you find a decent A3 scanner? Particularly in Orange? 

In the end I gave up, scared of failure and a looming deadline, and went back to my old faithful paint on paper, something I had complete control over, that wouldn't let me down. To spice things up a bit I used oil paints rather than watercolours and loved the process and the result.

Luke Kelly, the best designer in the world, did a FABULOUS job designing the book. I'll be very excited when the advance copies arrive. 

The end result of all of this is that I desperately want to do a print making course and one day soon create a book that really is completely different!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

My New Storage Device

As I'm seriously behind the times and produce my illustrations on paper rather than a computer, I'm faced with the difficult quest for physical storage space. If only it was as simple as buying a new external hard drive.

Plan drawers are a dying commodity, so when an enormous set of metal plan drawers comes along, I'll do almost anything to get my hands on it. Luckily there are plenty of strong, helpful people about.

This is my new set of old drawers... in my studio!

They have come from my dad's office. He was so determined to fit them into his office that he took the old sash window out to get them in. (Similar to the story of the dining table which wouldn't fit into the house and had its legs hacked off).

Of course, the metal drawers needed to be removed the very same way and wooah, they were heavy! 

I'm very happy with my lovely old storage device and the huge horizontal surface it provides me with. Let's see how long it takes to fill it!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Print Madness

Finally! There is an Etsy store up and running where Giclee prints of various drawings of mine can be purchased. Take the quick trip over to my little store at or just click here to view the collection of prints currently available. 

And should you feel inclined, please do share this link with anyone you think might be interested. I'd be so extremely, enormously grateful! 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Banjo & Ruby Red Get Packed

Today was one of those rare days, filled with desperation, pride and a teensy bit of sadness, when I have to get my finished book to the courier before 4.30 pm. Of course, I'm not completely finished - there is always one page that needs a bit more work and a cover to do. But the rest went off today!

This is a nice moment:

This is a nicer moment:

Here is a sneak peek at some of the paintings for the new book, written by Libby Gleeson, called Banjo & Ruby Red.