Illustration Workshop

Yesterday was a gorgeous day here in Melbourne, crisp and clear. The morning was cool but the sun was shining and the breeze gentle. I went to CERES (Community Environmental Park) for an Illustration Workshop with illustrator Elise Hurst. This was a SCBWI-organised event but open to interested others.

The workshop was primarily pitched at writers who wanted to understand a little more of how an illustrator works, including basic drawing, watercolouring and storyboarding. It was hands-on with participants having a play in pencil and paint at shaping images. We saw how some realistic images easily lend themselves to adaptation as book characters.


We learnt about ‘happy accidents’ in painting and how illustration often uses empty space to indicate personality eg placement of a character on a page can indicate their state of mind.

The workshop was three hours but this was a whistlestop tour and I’m already keen to go back for a longer play.

Last Friday was the Spring meeting of the Victorian SCBWI group. We had two member speakers (both illustrators) Marjory Gardner and Andrew Plant – and a guest speaker, Kaye Keck who is the Director of Dromkeen. Usually we hold these meetings on Saturday afternoon and this was our trial of a Friday night alternative.

Marjory and Andrew inspired us with their passion and their experience and then once more with the examples of their work. It’s fantastic to hear how others work, how they started, how they continue. It’s also interesting to learn of the myriad pathways into our industry, Marjory through Graphic Design, Andrew through Zoology.

We build in a long break in the middle to facilitate that wonderful beast ‘networking’. Call it what you will, there’s a chance to catch up with familar faces, match faces to known names, and to meet new people. At this meeting we had visitors from NSW and New Zealand and a medical illustrator in addition to mostly familiar faces. And sometimes, as occured this time, attendees happen upon people they’ve known in a ‘previous life’.

Kaye Keck spoke about Dromkeen, wonderful house and gallery in Riddell’s Creek, just out of Melbourne, and their collection of children’s picture book art. The collection includes more than 7000 items and includes sketches, roughs, dummy books, storyboards as well as finished artwork. Kaye brought some amazing miniatures (detailed dummy books, sometimes in colour) that stand as art pieces in their own right. Dromkeen is well worth a visit, with sculptures scattered around the grounds and galleries inside. Kaye also mentioned they are establishing links with ‘Seven Stories’ in Newcastle UK and the Eric Carle Musuem in the US.

…and the point of the pic above? None really. I just like it.

Morning Tea

I occasionally host a writers and illustrators morning tea at my house, including one this morning. There is no agenda, and it’s not a crit group. There is no prerequisite publication history to limit attendance.

We talk about the industry and various projects. We talk about marketing and how to do it better. It would be challenging to measure ‘outcomes’ but it’s always great fun. I think it’s the sense that we’re all doing the same thing, and that so many of our experiences are similar.

I like to think it’s the writer and illustrator equivalent of gathering to sew a friendship quilt.

Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs

Touring a new book can be difficult, particularly beyond the area where you live. Try to cover four states in a week, while still maintaining a home presence, that’s almost impossible. But a virtual tour…now that’s not so hard. My interview with Jacqui Grantford is part of such a tour. Six blog stops in six days, this is Day 5.

Claire: Today, I’m ‘talking’ to Jacqui, illustrator of the newly released, ‘Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs’ written by Peter Whitford and published by New Frontier Books.

Welcome to my blog and Day 5 of the Blog Tour. Jacqui, as previously mentioned you’ve illustrated 12 books, 6 of them picture books. Which elements of the process become easier with experience, and which, if any, become more difficult?

Jacqui: It becomes easier to let go the more you do….sometimes. With my first book I fussed with tiny little details to an obsessive degree, often with things that weren’t important. These days it’s much easier to evaluate what’s important.

You also understand more quickly what will and won’t work to keep the flow and momentum of the story going.

Claire: You’ve worked with New Frontier on other picture book projects, as well as with other publishers, where presumably your contact with the author was less. How is this experience different, where the author is also the publisher?

Jacqui: It hasn’t been greatly different. Peter very much kept his roles separate. His book was entered into the slush pile without a name, so it had to get past Sophia unbiased. He also didn’t tell me it was his manuscript when he approached me with the project, although I sort of guessed when I started working on it.

I was given as much freedom to give my input as an illustrator as on other projects. Although I must admit that the anxiety levels about not mucking it up were higher than normal.

Claire: Wishes for One More Day, which you illustrated, was for a US publisher. Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs and your other books have been published by Australian publishers. Did that have any impact on your illustrating in any way?

There are odd little things that you have to change when working for the US. I had to lower the girls skirt on the title page of ‘Wishes’ and there was a huge attention to the tiniest of details in every spread. As far as style, however, it didn’t change anything. They picked me for the book based on some of my examples, so I really had to draw how I normally do. That does of course, leave less room for experimentation. I have since decided that I should be experimental anyway.

Claire: You’ve illustrated your own work as well as illustrating the work of others, as in Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs. How does the process differ?

Jacqui: The advantage to illustrating your own work is that you can change the text slightly if you have a great idea for an illustration and it doesn’t quite fit. Very handy. I think you create a more complete creative package when you’re the sole creator, but you can get too insular and not see the bigger picture. I would be more aware of that next time I illustrate my own ms.

Claire: Are your illustrations the same size as the books they appear in? What do you do with the artwork once the images have been scanned?

Jacqui: It depends on the project. The illustrations in my earlier books were much larger than in the book, but in my later books I’ve tended to illustrate size for size, mainly due to time constraints.

Also, it gives you a more realistic idea of how the illustrations will look in book format. I’ve discovered that some very detailed illustrations that look amazing large, lose a lot of power when they’re reduced. If I do it size for size then I know exactly what I’m getting.

I exhibit and sell the art after it’s been reproduced. Although there are always one or two from each project that I can never bear to part with.

Claire: The process of illustrations fascinates me. How do you move from reading a text to visualising what illustration style you’ll use, and what characters will look like? Do you do detailed storyboards?

Jacqui: I start with thumbnails that involve stick figures as a guide. I’m about the only person who can actually tell what they’re meant to be showing. After that I move into storyboards that show where the text will be and in this way I’m able to see if the flow of the story works. I also do character sketches and play around with clothes, hair etc. It’s a fun process and always involves input from family and friends.

Thanks so much for the interview Claire. Lots of fun.

Thank you, Jacqui. It’s been fun to learn more about how it all works. Good luck to you and Peter and ‘Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs’.

Tomorrow, Jacqui will appear on Tina Marie Clark’s blog:

Day 6 – Thursday 15 November – Tina Marie Clark’s “What is Happening in my Office?”

And in late-breaking news, we now have a seventh blog-stop:

Day 7 – Friday 16 Nov – Sally Odger’s http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com/

Previous blog-stops on this tour:

Day 1 – Saturday 10 November – Bren MacDibble’s “Beast of Moogill”
Day 2 – Sunday 11 November – Sally Murphy’s “Scribblings”
Day 3 – Monday 12 November – Robyn Opie’s “Writing Children’s Books”
Day 4 – Tuesday 13 November – Pemberthy Bear’s “Pemberthy’s Ponderings”