Archive for February, 2010

Illustration Wednesday

To an outsider, my work methods may seem a little manic. It could look like I flicker between projects with no rhyme or reason, but it’s not true. Having several projects on the go at once not only helps me to stay fresh, but also provides me with time to think. I’ve learnt that much of writing and illustrating is thinking – allowing the stories and characters space / time to grow in my mind.

For instance, recently I drew little Piggy-Wilikins for the first time, simply to get him out of my head, but his story hasn’t arrived yet so afterwards I moved onto the next project. I know when I return I will have a story for him. The next project was the new rabbit story I mentioned below. I’d written a few drafts of the story and had some basic character sketches, and was finally ready to do the character designing (some of which you can see below). With that done, it’s not quite ready to be put to a storyboard yet as I want the story in my head a little longer, so I set it aside and took up the next project. So now I’ve gone back to a story that’s been around for a while – one I storyboarded out a few months back. I’ve just started the final art, which has to be my favourite part, watching the book appear in front of my eyes.

The other stories are still there, comfortably seated in my subconscious, mingling and growing and preparing themselves for the next stage. They’ll let me know when they’re ready.

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A Little Bit of Silliness

As I mentioned the other day, I’m currently working on a new rabbit picture book (not related to Squish Rabbit). I didn’t plan to do another rabbit book, but I suppose when there are always rabbits in my head it’s hard not to let them take over – they’re constantly bumping into other thoughts and sparking new ideas. That said, the main character isn’t actually a rabbit. Or at least he sort of isn’t. It’s hard to explain.

The idea came from an old uni assignment (interestingly enough, so did Squish). In my web design course I had to create a basic home page that linked to the four assignments I’d completed over the semester. Most people did a home page with reasonably generic buttons, however I wanted to do something that reflected my personality. Of course, it had to have rabbits. And so began the first stumbling idea that is now a picture book called ‘Rabbity George’.

I have put the original home page up on my website, although the buttons are now linked to a bit of silliness instead of my ancient assignments. Hop on over to my website if you’d like to check it out, and just look for the above image to find it. While you’re there, see if you can pick which rabbit is George, and why it is that he doesn’t always feel very rabbity…

Illustration Sunday

There seem to be two ways picture books develop for me:

  1. The story comes first: something triggers an idea for a story, so I write the first draft before setting out to design characters to fit it
  2. The character comes first: a vivid character turns up in my mind and demands to be drawn, and after a while their story becomes apparent

My little monsters are an example of the first, while Squish Rabbit is an example of the second (Squish was with me for about 2 years before his story turned up). Below are my latest sketches and another example of the latter. About a month ago I woke up with this character’s name and image firmly in the front of my mind. Even though I was desperate to draw him then and there, I didn’t. Just like with my story ideas, I’ve learnt that putting characters in my sketchbook too early can trap them on the page. If I leave them in my head for a month or so, they’ll grow and change. It gives me time to watch them gamble about; to observe how they move and interact with the world. Are they confident, shy, clumsy or zen like? Do they seek to be with others or prefer to wander alone? What do they look like from each and every angle?

Just yesterday I was finally ready to draw my new character. His name is Piggy-Wilikins, a tiny teacup pig with big ears:

His story hasn’t turned up yet, but I know it will – and I’m certain it wont take as long as Squish’s did! I’m starting to get a good sense of his personality already, and I think he may just be my very first confident protagonist (although he’s still a misfit, which seems to be developing into my trademark). Now I have him down on paper I can get back to the story I’m supposed to be working on – the storyboard of a new rabbit picture book. I’ll be posting character sketches from that project in the next few days.

Please excuse me while I hop off to dabble in some rabbity ink…

PS. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Word Clouds

For all the word nerds out there, I thought I’d share with you my new favourite toy. It’s called Wordle. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a website that describes itself thus:

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Sound like fun? Maybe not yet (unless you enjoy typography like me). But here’s where it gets really good: you can copy and paste your entire novel in there and in the blink of an eye you’ll get an analysis of which words appear most frequently. Here’s the word cloud for the junior fantasy novel I developed through the mentorship with Kate Forsyth, called The Black Luck Stone:

Pretty, huh? But it’s not just fun, it’s also useful. You can immediately see which words you use most in your work. The high use words in this novel are the character names (can you guess who my protagonist is?) and many words specific to the world I created (like wight, bloom and prophesy). But there are other words in there I find interesting. Like ‘face’ and ‘eyes’ – clearly character descriptors I rely on. But also ‘like’ and ‘around’. For this word cloud I turned off the appearance of common words such as ‘a’, ‘and’ or ‘it’, but looking at the frequency of those words can also give you a sense of which ones you over rely on. I’ve discovered I overuse ‘but’ and ‘then’ – something I never noticed before, but now that I have I realise it has the potential to drive others bonkers.

For comparison, here’s the word cloud for my junior adventure novel, called Harvey-Potamus Sid: The Not So Adventurous Kid:

Again, the character names are king, but notice any similarities? Eyes and face. Clearly descriptive vices of mine. Even if it doesn’t drastically change the way I edit, it has given me something to consider when I look over my work. And besides, it’s fun, and I don’t need a better excuse to Wordle around than that. Go on then – you know you want to.

Go and have a play

Where I Write

I’ve spoken before about how you need space to write – both mental and physical. Having just moved interstate I’ve been working hard to carve out a new writing (and illustrating) space for myself. The mental space is tough, because in a way the stress needs to leech from my mind before that will really begin to happen, but the physical – now that’s something I can control. Wherever I am in the world, I have three favourite places to write:

1. My Office

Includes the following necessities:

  • Computer – place to put ideas
  • Art desk – place to put paint
  • Art shelves – place to put junk
  • Ergonomic chair – place to put butt

2. My Lounge

Must include:

  • Laptop for writing
  • Mug of hot chocolate (brain food)
  • Large squidgy couch for curling up on
  • Puppy for company and emotional support

3. My Cafe

Being new to Adelaide, I haven’t found one of these yet. But what I need from a cafe is the following:

  • Room to spread out my laptop and books (so I look sufficiently arty)
  • Staff I can get to know, so I don’t have to do small talk (“How hot is this weather?”)
  • Steady supply of hot chocolate (Jules – I’ll never find another like Litse!)

I don’t ask for much do I? But in reality I could and would write without any of these things. Because, like all writers, writing is just one of those things I must do. But I’m also human and I like my comforts, so I’ll work to get them if I can. How about you? If you want to blog about your own writing space, feel free to link to your post in the comments.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, hosted by the delightful Lisette Ogg over on The Empty Page Blog.

Writing Mojo

I’ve lost my writing mojo. It’s gone. I’ve looked in all the usual places: under the bed, in the space below the fridge, beneath my pup’s cushion. In fact it’s so far gone, even writing this blog post is hard. But how did I lose my writing mojo, and even tougher, how do I get it back? It’s certainly not as easy as it was for Austin Powers, who only had to fight a few bad guys to win back his glass vial of mojo.

Losing your writing mojo is sadly easy. I’ve talked before about how writing is a rhythm, and anything that interrupts this rhythm can be the cause. For me it was moving interstate, which meant several weeks of having everything packed in boxes, living out of suitcases and being in unfamiliar houses. Finally my new office is set up, my computer is booted up and ready … but still I can’t write.

What I’ve discovered in the last few years is that writing is really about thinking. If you’re not thinking about your story, you wont be able to write about it. So when your rhythm is interrupted, by stress or change, other things fill your head that can evict your story. When your story isn’t in your head, ideas stop bumping into each other, your characters stop speaking to you and your subconscious stops working on those little bursts of inspiration. Knowing this, the answer to getting my writing mojo back is clear:

  1. Get my story back in my head
  2. Get back into my rhythm

To tackle number 1, first I have to decide what project I’d like to work on. Then I read what I’ve got – a first draft, character profiles, even just a few scratchy notes on the back of an envelope. Whatever it is, it gets me thinking about the story again. At first, when I’m just getting back into the flow, I find I have to remind myself to be thinking about the story. But after a few days my subconscious is doing it for me, ticking over characters interactions whenever I have a moment to think or even at night while I’m asleep.

Tackling number 2 is all about routine. I start back into those daily activities that remind my mind and body that I’m getting back into my writing rhythm. For me that’s getting up early and going to the gym, doing a few little chores in the morning, blogging regularly and taking my pup for a walk in the afternoon. These are things that make me feel good and productive, but also give me time and space to be thinking about my story.

Sometimes it can take days. Sometimes it can take a week or so. Either way, I just have to be patient. I know it will come back. Soon ideas will be bursting at the seams and you wont be able to pry me from the computer. But you’ll have to excuse me for now – it’s time to take my pup for a walk…


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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