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!


  1. Beautiful drawings!!!
    I'm inspired by you being inspiring!

    1. Oh Frank! How lovely to hear from you. I read it in what I imagined your voice to be. You are much better at it than me! Love to you three. (And my goodness - any chance of a photo of Faith - she's 7!)
      Freya xx

  2. Gorgeous! We've just been having printing at home lessons on my course. There is a lot of cool stuff you can do with just mono-printing. I love the prints Jim Kay did for A Monster Calls, definitely worth checking out.

    1. I seriously need to do some printing lessons. There is a fellow who teaches printing locally and I'm hoping to do a course this year. But I guess I could just try something at home. Mono printing you say? I'd say my mum could teach me - being an art teacher. Shall check out the illustrations in A Monster Calls.

      You back from wherever you went?

      Freya xxx

  3. Thank you Freya for sharing your creative process! it is very interesting and amazingly similar to mine :-) especially the "to coax myself towards a pencil" part....
    Two weeks ago, I came back from Italy, where i also went to Bologna children’s book fair. And with my own eyes saw your beautiful work! I was so excited when I recognized your illustrations, hanging on the walls of one booth (don't remember which one, maybe the Australian…). It was really big! I suppose bigger than the original ( am I right?) and really beautiful, so were your books. I was really sorry they didn't sell any at the fair.
    At the Australian booth were two illustrators, drawing some sketches....but it wasn't you :-(

  4. Hello Rita!

    Glad to hear someone else has the same experiences as me. It can take quite a bit for me to actually draw. Painting is easier, as it's all there ready to go, but drawing is hard!

    I have never been to the Bologna Book Fair. Every year I plan to go, I even went so far as to book accommodation one year, but again, I didn't make it. Maybe next year? Very excited to hear that you recognised my work. I didn't realise I had anything there! But another friend mentioned it too. I really should go next year!

    Thanks for reading my silly blog posts. Shall endeavour to occasionally post more!


    1. Please do post more!!! You are so talented and inspiring!
      for you the trip to Bologna is very long and probably expensive :-)
      It's good experience, but in my opinion, don't go just for the Fair. Have a really nice tour in Italy :-)(like I did with my husband and our girl)

  5. Beautiful, gorgeous and inspiring! I can't wait to hold this book in my hands and turn each page lovingly with my two young boys :-)

    I didn't know you were an Aussie, or that you live in Orange where I was born! I just always loved your unique style of illustration wherever I saw it. Now I feel all patriotic (the good kind!) and proud :-)

    Keep it coming! Now I've found your blog I can peruse my way backwards through it with a nice cuppa and enjoy it all :-)

    By the way - while you search for a block printing class, have you considered screen printing? You can get those lovely clean sharp lines with a little less work :-) If you cut your stencils from waterpoof paper you can re-use them too :-) The drawback is that you are limited by the fact that the paper has to hold together, so you can't always cut crossing lines...

    Thanks for sharing for all your beautiful work,
    Jess :-)

  6. Oh Freya, you continue to inspire me.

    I love your desire to grow professionally. I just can't wait to see what you have in store for us.

  7. Freya, your line work is so gorgeous, and your "tried and true" style is so lovely! It's YOUR books are those that I hold up and say to myself "next time, my lines are going to look like that," and inevitably I ended up falling back to my typical ways. It's especially hard when you're working with deadlines, and you are faced with the challenge that always rears its head while you're learning to spread your wings.

    Thank you for continuing to make such beautiful books. I can't wait to see your next completely different book. :)

  8. Great work! Do you use colored watercolor paper, and if so, how do you paint the white characters? Is Gouache used or white watercolor pigment? The background, both the green and brown, look so uniform, not sure if it's painted or the color of the paper, lol!

    1. Hi there! I normally use your average slightly cream watercolour paper, and in this case, after I stretched it, I applied a light wash of yellowy brown/yellow ochre mixed with a binder medium. Then I used oils! So the white you see is oil paint. It's heaps more fun than watercolour!