The Basics

drawing exercise.jpg

Today was the first time I presented as a writer and illustrator of picture books at a secondary school. My presentation included a short talk of how I make picture books and a follow-along activity demonstrating the techniques I use to create an illustration.

Here you can see how I built up an emu and a cassowary. Starting with some basic shapes (ovals, triangles, and lines) to form the outline of the birds, I added distinguishing features to differentiate between the two using reference images (e.g., the cassowary has a big casque on its head and extra neck skin similar to a turkey), applied shading or hatching to give the birds some greater definition, and finally, introduced a bit of colour to make them pop.

The highlight for me was to hear some of the students be so surprised that they could draw some pretty amazing birds by the end of the activity. It just shows that we can all draw.

Thanks so much to Ms. Yoon, her teaching colleagues, and their year 7 students for being so welcoming and enthusiastic. I wish them all the very best as they put together their own picture books.

City of Lights

Paris (small).jpg

I haven't spent enough time in Paris to think of it as a place that has shaped me. It does hold a special place in my heart though.

Paris is where my husband spent two years working while I was studying in Melbourne. During that time, if I couldn't be in the same city/country/continent, I hoped that he would be surrounded by good people who'd look out for him. Paris turned out to be just that and so much more. The people he met were warm and funny, patiently helped him become semi-fluent in French (from speaking none!), and made Paris feel like a second home. They made Paris the City of Lights for us.

Sudan

sudan rhino with pen.jpg

This is a small stippling I did while taking a break from writing earlier this week. I was saddened by the news of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino's, passing. Having collected his genetic material, hopefully conservationists will be successful in preserving this subspecies with IVF techniques.

The Firsts

Nova Scotia blog.jpg

Another place that shaped me was Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is my city of firsts: the first city I moved to away from any family and friends, where I experienced my first hurricane and Atlantic snowstorm, and the first time I realised that I could stand on my own. It was a tumultuous but invigorating time. I don't think I ever felt alone in Halifax, thanks to the love from back home and great cheer from the incredible people I met there.

I allude to some Atlantic seabirds in this illustration: the puffin, osprey, little auk, eider duck, double-crested cormorant, black-headed gull, and American golden plover.

By Request

Laura Murray poster.png

This is a poster I've just completed for the fabulous Laura Madonna Murray, a musician hailing from Newfoundland, Canada. She is currently in Melbourne so be sure to stop by and get swept up in the music, laughter, and love of one talented performer.

You can find out more about Laura here: http://www.lauramadonnamurray.com/

City of Extremes

City of extremes (small).png

There's a column in the travel section of The Age newspaper where different people (scientists, athletes, writers, architects, etc.) list five places that made them. In that same vein, this is a follow-up to my Durham illustration. Here is Melbourne, my city of extremes, where I have experienced some of the best and worst moments in my life thus far. This illustration features the beautiful stained glass pattern by the late Leonard French, that spans the ceiling of the Great Hall in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Three Bears

three bears.png

I'm converting a graphic short story I created a few months ago into a children's picture book for this year. The bear on the left is an example of my graphic ink style, the middle bear is a manuscript sketch, and the bear on the right is an example of the final picture book illustration style. Is there a bear you prefer?

Warm Up

four cards square.png

I'm getting back into the swing of things with some small ink drawings. Here are a few of my favourite animals to visit at the nearby zoo: a platypus, Tasmanian devil, koala, and wombat.

Happy Holidays!

dingo sledding.jpg

Like the wild dingoes that I've encountered on Fraser Island, I wish everyone a bit of excitement, adventure, and pleasant surprises, but also the chance to relax and simply enjoy the surrounding scenery and good company this holiday season. All the best!

Memories

memories.png

Someone asked me when I first began to create picture books.

When I think back, it was a few years ago. I was in Durham, North Carolina, at the time and my most vivid memory of the place is taking a walk in the suburb I was staying in. There weren’t any footpaths so I had to walk on the edge of the road in the shadows of the tall pine trees lining both sides. There was little traffic so it almost felt as though I was completely cut off from the rest of the world. There was only the changing colours of the sky framed between the tree tops to indicate the passing of time. It was in that space that I’d reminisce about moments in past places and imagine adventures in new lands.

This is when I began to write and illustrate.

Keeping it Simple

minimalist owls colour.png

Compared to a previous owl posting, I've tried to keep it simple here. How? By limiting my actual drawing and colouring time to 30mins/owl and by parring down my range of tools to a pencil, an ink pen, two colours (compared to my usual blend of five or more) to distinguish them as short-eared owls, and a small paintbrush to smooth out the edges.

Owls

owl.png

I recently learnt that owls have really long necks! They have 14 vertebrae compared to our 7. This allows owls to turn their heads 270 degrees, tilt their heads 90 degrees, and bob their heads up and down without moving their shoulders. This is really useful for them since they have tube-shaped eyes that are locked in place by bony sclerotic rings. They can't roll their eyes like us but can move their whole head to see what's around.

Make A Wish

Botanical.png

For the Botanical category for #CreateArtHistory, this is "Make A Wish", featuring some Australian flora: broad leaved lilly pilly, billy button flowers, dandelion fluff, dawson river weeper, golden wattle, grasstree, grevillea orange marmalade flowers, midgen berry, moonlight delight waxflowers, notched bush pea, red flowering gum, and winters light lilly pilly.

Friend of Foe

friend or foe.jpg

As part of #CreateArtHistory with the State Library of Victoria and Redbubble, here is Friend or Foe, an illustration inspired by their category: Weird and Wonderful Creatures.

For anyone who's wondered how I create a picture book, here is a quick summary of my process:

Book making process colour.jpg

It begins with a story idea. The story takes shape through numerous drafts of text and storyboard sketches. These are improved time after time with research into factual information, finding image references for my drawings, and input from friends. I am very fortunate to have an amazing group of editors to review each draft - Chrissy, Athena, and Rob. They challenge my story-lines and debate my word choices, all the while helping me keep my voice and style but making it better with each rewrite. For example, Simone in France had 8 drafts.

Once I am happy with the story, I begin the final illustrations. This is where the story starts to become a book. Storyboard sketches are redrawn at a larger size and with greater detail. These drawings are inked, scanned, cleaned up, and vectorised using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Turning the ink drawings into digital files makes it easier for me to cut and paste in small amendments. I find it easier to draw by hand versus drawing by computer and have redrawn full illustrations two or three times to correct bigger mistakes.

When I'm satisfied with the digital image, I print the illustration out on watercolour paper. Using image references, I pick and choose colours for each element of the illustration. I mix and blend different watercolour pencils (from a set of 72) on scrap paper until I reach a desired effect and record each colour combination. I can now apply colour to the final illustration. If any colour mishaps occur, I will either reprint the illustration to start again, or reprint sections of the illustration to recolour and paste in using Photoshop. Simone in France has 28 illustrations but I probably completed closer to 40.

When all 28 illustrations are complete, they are scanned, cleaned up, and sized in Photoshop. I then import the illustrations into InDesign and format them with the text. Sometimes the text doesn't fit quite right in the illustration and I have to go back and do a redraw of part, or all, of an illustration. When the formatting is done, I share the file with my editors for a final proofread. With their approval, I assign a new ISBN and add a barcode to the cover. For the French versions, I mail a hard copy of the book to Mathieu, my French translator, who then sends me a brilliant translation in keeping with the spirit of the story.

The final file is sent to a local print company to print and bind hard copies of the book. I receive a mock-up of the book to okay before printing the final product. This usually takes 2 weeks. Once I have the books in hand, I visit local bookstores to see if they will stock copies on their shelves.

And that is how I make a picture book.

Simone in France is Here!

Simone in France.jpg

Simone in France has finally arrived!

While Simone in Australia highlighted the beauty of Australian beaches and amazing wildlife, Simone in France is all about exploring and enjoying French food. Read more about Simone's new adventure here.

I've started taking her around Melbourne bookshops so you can expect to see her pop up on shelves, beginning with Readings in Carlton, Collins booksellers in Croydon, and the Younger Sun in Yarraville.

Damsels to De-Stress

damselfish.jpg

The past few weeks have been quite stressful as I prepared Simone in France for print. There were the usual last minute revisions to the text and minor additions to the illustrations. An added spanner in the works is my decision to do a limited print of Simone in France locally and then transition to print-on-demand (POD) in order to make Simone more easily accessible around the world. This will be especially useful for the, soon to be available, French version of Simone in Australia, as I haven't quite figured out the market for French books in Melbourne. Of course, the book dimensions have to be slightly different for POD so I have to go back and resize all the illustrations again. In the meantime, here is my collection of happy damselfish to hopefully brighten your day.

Test Printing

Simone in FRA cover formatting.jpg

I'm now at the stage of formatting and test printing Simone in France. Doing test prints of the illustrations are important as the colours on a computer screen can look quite different when printed on paper. Here is a test print of the book cover. I'm not 100% happy with the colour so will have to go back and do a bit of tweaking in Photoshop. While I finalise the book layout and look of the illustrations, this is also the time to review the text and triple check grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

The Full Moose

full moose.jpg

Here is a snapshot of one of the completed illustrations from Beaver, my graphic short story submission to the Lord Mayor's Creative Writing competition that closes this month. The story had to be formatted to fit a maximum of eight A4 sheets so now comes the challenge of reformatting it for a future book.

Happy Friday

rainbow lorikeets.jpg

Here is Cheers!, featuring a pair of rainbow lorikeets, a thank you card design I did for my grandpa. These colourful birds often stop by on the tree near my window and can make quite the racket. They certainly help keep the grey winter months a bit more cheerful.