FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

(Trying to get it so you can click on these headings to take you to the answer, but haven’t managed it yet. So in the meantime just scroll through the answers below to find the one you’re after.)

Do you undertake commissions?

Do you sell original illustrations or prints?

Do you do school visits?

What were your favourite books as a child?

What was your childhood like?

Who is the biggest influence in your life?

Who is your favourite illustrator?

When did you start drawing>

When did you start illustrating books and how did you get into it?

How did working in film help you with picture book illustrating?

Where do you work?

Where do you get ideas for your pictures?

What is your process when creating a book?

Do you follow the same process for every book?

What is the hardest part of the illustration process?

How do you keep your characters consistent throughout a book?

Do you use models for your characters or do you draw from memory?

How do you choose which books to illustrate?

What materials and media do you use to create and colour your illustrations?

How long does it take to illustrate a book?

You illustrate both serious and light hearted books. Which do you prefer?

How many books do you work on at a time?

Which do you prefer, being an illustrator or being an author/illustrator?

What do you enjoy about being an illustrator?

What were your favourite books as a child?

My brother and I used to love visiting my grandparents because, among other things, they had a collection of picture books that was completely different from the collection we had at home. In amongst my grandparents’ books was a copy of Would You Rather by John Birmingham, and The House That Beebo Built by Philippe Fix. These were our favourite books by far. We loved Would You Rather because we had to interact with the story and think of our own answers. How fun (and horrible) is it to choose an answer for a question like this: "Would you rather eat spider stew or slug dumplings or mashed worms?" 

The House That Beebo Built was a favourite because it was full of amazing, zany, impossible details and adventures, like escaping by building stairs into the sky. It was the kind of book we could look at for hours, and still find something new and astonishing.

A favourite book at home was Could Be Worse by James Stevenson. In this story, Grandpa’s tall tales of terrible events are completely silly, but they are also a lot of fun.

Another favourite book in our collection was Bored Nothing To Do by Peter Spier. In this story two bored boys are sent outside to make some fun for themselves, find an old propeller, build an aeroplane and fly away … and then they get in trouble for doing this and are sent to their rooms, where they get bored all over again. 

And we loved Mr and Mrs Pig’s Night Out by Mary Rayner. This story is a little bit like the old folk-tale about the wolf in sheep’s clothing, except it is about pigs and their piglets instead of a sheep and her lambs. We loved the very real fear in this story, and the fact the pigs had bunk beds. All we ever wanted was bunk beds. 

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Orange, a town about four hours’ drive west of Sydney, in NSW, Australia. Orange is a country town surrounded by hills, farms and orchards, and is one of the few places in Australia where it snows in winter. My brother and I had a very creative childhood: my mother was a painter, jeweller and art teacher, and my father was an architect-turned-farmer. We were always encouraged to be creative and to not conform. Our lifestyle was a little unusual and eccentric, and this made me feel as though we didn’t quite fit in, because we were ‘different’ to most of the people in our town at that time. When my friends and their parents went to movies, musicals or the theatre, we went to exhibition openings. We ate strange healthy food. Chocolate and ice cream were an impossible dream, so much so that I used to make my own pretend hot chocolate drink out of ground up clay and Perkins paste glue mixed with water! We went on strange camping holidays for weeks on end at isolated beaches, picnicked at out-of-the-way places, and explored old dilapidated buildings. 

We lived in an cold and messy house that was built in the late 1800s. All my friends lived in shiny, clean, new houses … but not us! Our house was a bit like an art gallery. We had paintings all over the place, in the hallways, the dining room, the sitting room, our bedrooms and even in the kitchen. Both my mother and my grandfather were and are artists. My grandfather, Harold Greenhill, was an award-winning painter, and I’ve always admired his ability to draw and paint people. His most productive time was during the late 1940s when he was living in London and Paris, and many of his works reflect the art movements of that time. My mother and grandfather knew lots of artists and, because artists like to swap art or even give each other paintings, we ended up with the works of all sorts of people on our walls. Many of these paintings are imprinted on my memory, and I think they maybe sometimes even creep into my illustrations.

My mum introduced me to many artists and styles of work, materials and methods of working, and our conversations were often about colour, composition and balance. If we were ever bored, we were taught to create our own fun and, for me, this was drawing. So being an artist was part of my nature long before I grew up to study and find work as an illustrator. 

Who is the biggest influence in your life?

The biggest influence in my life would have to be my mother. She is the motivator in our family, the one who gets things done. Aside from being encouraging and simply wonderful, she is also an exceptional artist and being surrounded by her works all my life has been an enormous inspiration. Over the years I’ve also been greatly influenced by my grandfather’s work.

Who is your favourite illustrator?

One of my favourite illustrators of all time is Lizbeth Zwerger, from Austria. She has illustrated dozens and dozens of books. Many of her books are traditional folk and fairy tales, short stories by authors like Oscar Wilde, and picture books about ballets stories and operas. What I love about her work is that she makes pictures look real and magic at the same time, and she knows how to leave beautiful empty space on the page without it looking empty!

Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan is another inspiration. His books are like nothing I’ve ever seen and have helped me realise that children’s picture books can be great works of art. Armin Greder’s books, with their frightening, moody charcoal drawings, have inspired me to see how loose expressive line-work and unexpected composition can help to tell a great story. 

Maurice Sendak is another favourite. Like every other child, I once dressed up as a Wild Thing (the bird character, incidentally: my mother made me a fabulous papier mache mask for a book parade). 

And, of course, I keep finding new favourites such as Joel Stewart and my current favourite,  Swedish illustrator Eva Erikkson.

When did you start drawing?

I drew from a very young age. I was always up early in the morning, drawing. We didn’t have a lot of toys when we were children, so I drew toys instead - cross sections of houses with furniture and then little cut-out people to live in it. I made an entire family of people with moveable limbs out of fimo clay. But my brother and I did lots of other things – we made jewellery in our mother’s tiny jewellery room, cut wood and lino blocks to print with, tried batik and papier mache. We made our own Christmas decorations too, out of beaten copper or fimo. At some stage I had an obsession with crutches and broken legs, for some reason, so one year I made several Christmas decorations of people on crutches. 

When did you start illustrating books and how did you get into it?

I studied a bachelor of design (Visual Communications) at UTS. Even though I’d always enjoyed drawing, I become interested in film making at university and spent several years working on films. I found filmmaking such a huge and overwhelming process though and decided I would enjoy working on something smaller and simpler. In about 2001 I began drawing and discovered I loved it even more when there was a story to tell, so illustrating picture books piqued my interest. Picture books are a lot like little films, with a series of scenes within the confines of a cover and pages, and they are very satisfying to create.

In my mid 20s I put together an illustration portfolio and sent it to publishers throughout New Zealand (where I was living at the time), Australia and to my favourite publishers in the US and UK. So I asked advice and questions, and someone gave me the name of a friend who was an illustrator, and when I met him he gave me some people to talk to, and they gave me other contacts, and eventually I met a publisher who gave me a book to illustrate. 

How did working in film help you with picture-book illustrating?

In the same way that you enter the world of a film when you sit and begin to watch it, you enter the world of a picture book by opening the book cover. If you plan the book well, the reader is introduced to the tone of the story as soon as they open the book, and to the characters and the world, just like in a good film. I do think I carried some film inspiration to book illustration. I often like zooming in from afar to introduce a story’s setting, and moving between angles to reveal the story in the best possible way. There’s a similarity between film and picture books in the pacing, and the use of tension and space. I like to find different ways of depicting movement and time passing within a page, and often these feel quite filmic. I briefly studied production design, and really enjoy designing the world of the story in the same way I’d design a film. 

Where do you work?

I have a studio in my backyard next to the chicken coop (which has ducks living in it at the moment). My studio is really just a big shed, but I love the smell and feel of it (except when I’ve left a cup of tea in there for a very long time). It is a little sanctuary from the domesticity of the house, and a space that is all mine (although the dog does like it too, and keeps me company there while I work). The studio is quiet and smells really nice, like oil paints. It’s exceedingly messy, with piles of books, stacks of artworks and half-finished illustrations, big filing cabinets for each of my books, photographs for research and inspiration, paints, coffee cups, blankets, dolls, jars of pencils and brushes … but I just clear some space to do my work and that’s all I need. I feel completely at ease in there. In winter I can wear my dressing gown and Ugg boots to work. 

Where do you get ideas for your pictures?

I’m a parent, so my days are overwhelmingly domestic and chaotic. At the moment I do lots of ferrying from one after-school activity to another, and there isn’t much room for other interests. So most of my ideas come from our home life and the people we meet day to day on the street, next door, at the shops. For example, The Great Rabbit Chase was based on ongoing issues with our pet rabbit, which kept escaping, and on the hilarious attempts to catch it, and the people who often joined in to help. That experience morphed into a story about slowing down and enjoying the people and places in our lives. And because I lead a messy life, I often draw messy homes. There’s no fun in perfection, but there is lots of fun in the honesty of real lives. I think we love to discover that the slightly embarrassing little truths about ourselves aren’t unique to us: household mess, a character’s awkward expression or clothing, or their slightly ungainly posture, or their reaction to a situation are what makes us human and real and I love that..

What is your process when creating a book?

Usually the first thing that happens is my agent or a publisher send me a story. If I like the story and if I know I will be happy working on it and thinking about it and living with it for six months at a time, then I accept the job. But I’m often working on another project when I accept a text, so projects can spend a fair amount of time simmering on the backburner before I’m ready to start work on them. This is good, though, because I get lots of subconscious thinking done before I even start on a project. And rarely does a book turn out the way I first imagined it. 

Most of the work for me goes into planning a book. Creating the final artworks takes much less time than planning. I never immediately know what to draw so, instead, I gather inspiration such as images I admire, or that capture a similar feeling to what I hope to capture in my illustrations, as well as piles of reference material for settings and characters. I read the story through, over and over again, and as ideas come forth, I note them down on the manuscript. 

When I know what might be pictured on a page, I sketch up a storyboard image or a thumbnail. I scan these thumbnails into my computer and put them into a computer program called InDesign, set the type onto the images and send the whole thing off to the publisher. After I get the publisher’s feedback I go back through each page and draw it up larger, with more details, making changes, and gradually the overall design for the book becomes apparent. I’ll simultaneously design characters and experiment with materials to find a process that feels right for the story and develop a colour scheme that feels right. And then I’ll create finished artworks!

Do you always follow the same process for every book?

I have different approaches to starting each book, depending on the story. Sometimes I design the main characters first, and sometimes I get an overall idea for the style of illustration. I may have a colour scheme in mind that would suit the story, or I decide on a specific type of paper that I want to draw on. For example, for Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House by Libby Gleeson, I painted the final illustrations on heavy, brown envelopes, because this paper best suited the theme of the story. Mainly, though, I like to work out a setting for the story early on, so I know where everything takes place. After that I can begin to imagine how each page would best be designed.

What is the hardest part of the illustration process?

The most challenging and often the most time-consuming stage for me is deciding how to tell the story visually: what will be illustrated on each page and how these images could be shown. I don’t always immediately know what the book will look like, and I have to gradually build the story in pictures. This stage tends to be a process of problem solving.

I like having time for everything to be thoroughly digested. I’ve discovered this is the way I work the best – all problems eventually get solved if I give them time. Sometimes I’ll find a page impossible to solve, but a week later, or a month later I’ll look at it again and the solution will be obvious.  

Collaborating closely with an publisher, editor or art director is very important to me. I like to have someone to consult, and someone to provide feedback when I’m feeling unsire, confused or stuck. 

Of course I couldn’t do without my mother! She lives around the corner from me and calls around regularly, and is always able to help when I can’t work something out. (She always pulls me up on bad perspectives in my drawings.) 

And I definitely need a deadline!  

How do you keep your characters consistent throughout a book?

I’m not always all that confident that I manage to do this. I know that in Maudie and Bear, Maudie was based largely on my own daughter and because the job took quite a while to complete, Maudie grew older as my daughter grew! Generally, however, as you work on a set of illustrations for a story, the elements of the illustrations (the world, the colours, the feel and the characters) develop as a unit, and you develop a memory for the look each character has. I guess my drawings of people are also fairly simple and generic and could be anyone until their hair and clothes are added, so a lot of it is achieved in the additions to that figure, rather than in the basic figure itself. 

Do you use models for your characters or do you draw from memory?

I really love drawing and creating characters. I usually draw figures from memory, unless the angle I’m drawing is difficult. So I do have an odd collection of photos of Ivy or myself in various positions, or photos of my own face to help achieve an unusual expression. Often I don’t have an exact position or posture in mind when I’m drawing a character. I’ll start with very basic gesture lines to see if it feels right for the character and the moment. I’ll keep trying lines in different positions until I discover what looks right. I spend a lot of time sitting and imagining how characters must feel and how they’d be standing or sitting. I suspect I also pull lots of faces as I try to work out what their faces would be doing. 

How do you choose which books to illustrate?

Publishers usually send me a story they think will suit my style of illustration. Or perhaps they feel my work will offer an interesting or unusual perspective to the story.

I choose stories for different reasons. I often accept stories written by authors I’ve worked with before, especially if we have a good working relationship, and if the combination of the words and illustrations works. I’ve illustrated several books by Libby Gleeson and by Margaret Wild. Sometimes a story really resonates with me, and sometimes a story feels very important and I want to make sure it is published and shared with the world. Other times, a story looks like it will be commercially successful and that is also a factor!

What materials and media do you use to create and colour your illustrations? 

I choose different materials based on what I feel best represents the story. Choosing a medium is a big part of my process. I have used a lot of watercolour, but this can tend to be a bit pale, so when I feel the story needs more saturated colour, I use oil paint. Sometimes, depending on the underlying mood of a story, I use linework that is looser and stronger and more dramatic (Look, A Book! and Harry and Hopper). Other times, when the story needs a gentler approach (The Treasure Box), I’ll go for linework that is much more delicate.

How long does it take to illustrate a book?

I generally produce two books a year. Six months allows me plenty of time to research, experiment and create roughs, and then to create the final illustrations.

You illustrate both serious and lighthearted books. Which do you prefer?

I really love the balance of both types of books. I’d be very depressed if I only illustrated the darker stories, and perhaps a little bored if I only illustrated the lighter subject matters. Interestingly, my reaction to one book will affect the style of the next book. If I’ve done a very serious book, I always feel like following with something lighter.  After finishing the work for The Treasure Box, I was determined to never use payne’s grey and raw umber watercolour ever again, and to avoid anything delicate and fine. So for the next book, Banjo & Ruby Red, I used bright oil paint and drew rough, wild, black lines. The balance between different styles and different moods of story is very necessary for my sanity.

How many books do you work on at a time?

I usually work on just the one book at a time, as I find it much too hard to swap between jobs. I get quite engrossed in the world of a story and swapping between worlds is far too confusing for me! Sometimes, however, I’ll do the storyboarding for a new job or cover for an old job while waiting for feedback on the initial roughs for the next book. So there can often be an overlap between the end of one project and the early stages of another.

Which do you prefer, being an illustrator or being an author/illustrator?

Both! I love the challenge of adapting someone else’s story into pictures, and of contributing my own ideas to the story. The book becomes the combined effort of two people’s creative efforts. In fact, every book is actually a creative collaboration between three people, as both the author and illustrator work closely with an editor. I always exchange numerous emails and phone calls with the editor during the illustration process.

Being an author-illustrator is a very different story! It is scarier because I am solely responsible for the content, but it is also lovely because more of myself can find its way into the book. I always develop an attachment to the story and the characters, but I think that connection is a little stronger when I am the sole creator of a book. I enjoy the freedom, and the ownership, but writing stories and illustrating stories seem to use different parts of my brain, and I’m still not used to using the story part. Even so, illustrating my own stories is hugely exciting and satisfying, and I hope I can keep doing this, as well as illustrating other people’s stories, because I still love illustrating other peoples’ stories. They offer varied and unique concepts, and the challenge to develop visuals for someone else’s story is always exciting.

What do you enjoy about being an illustrator?

There are a lot of things to enjoy about illustrating. I get to work at home, I am my own boss, I can be messy or noisy or lazy, and I can come and go when I need to. It is also very rewarding to be engaged in creative work. Most of all, though, I love the creation of characters and their small, contained, picture-book worlds. Every little world is different, and I get to live in each of those worlds for a whole six months! Picture books also offer the freedom for experimentation. I can create different visual styles for each book,  as well as explore possibilities for the composition of each illustration and the layout of the book as a whole. This can be challenging, but is also exciting and fun.