Archive for the 'Illustration' Category

Every Idea is Different (or how to make life hard for yourself)

It’s not possible to get overconfident as an artist. Because every time I feel a little like I know what I’m doing – every time I get the inkling that I may have something of this whole storytelling palaver figured out – an idea comes along that makes me a beginner again.

This is no coincidence. If I truly knew what I was doing, then the project would hold no challenge for me. It would mean I wasn’t learning, and such a project wouldn’t be able hold my attention. New ideas fascinate us because we have unanswered questions that float around them – things we don’t yet understand that we attempt to grasp by carrying the project through to its conclusion.

With Squish Rabbit, it was the first time my voice and visual style really started coming together, which was such a thrill. Of note is the fact that a significant feature of my illustration style is white space. Then along came Brave Squish Rabbit … which is set at night. So much for white space. I suddenly had to create spreads using full bleed colour – deep blues and blacks, which was a real challenge.

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Next comes my latest project. It’s about a little bird on an isolated island. It has a single character (the bird) and a single setting (the island). Not a lot to work with in terms of creating a rich visual world with variety enough to carry an entire book.

I’ve spent the last few weeks storyboarding it out, and it’s certainly tested my creative problem solving. I’ve used more playful perspective, point of view and colour schemes than in any of my books yet. It’s been challenging and mind contorting and wonderful, and I certainly feel like a better storyteller for it.

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Not that this will help me with my next project. Which, judging by my track record, will likely be about a limbless lion who lives in a tree…

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Ink (or literary tattoos)

Rabbit - floatAs an illustrator I work in ink every day. I’m very familiar with it as a medium. And while my canvas tends to be paper, some artists use skin.

I haven’t got a tattoo myself, but I’ve long admired them as an art form. And being a bookish type, I particularly like literary tattoos. There are some amazing tats out there, based on work by some of my favourite illustrators. You only have to google about to find them. There are lots of Shaun Tan tattoos, based on images from his beautiful and often melancholy books. Also Oliver Jeffers, with his ‘boy’ and ‘penguin’ characters popping up regularly.

In a way, someone choosing your character as a tattoo always seemed like the highest form of compliment – that someone could so connect with something you have created that they would get it permanently etched onto their skin. I always said that I’d know I’d ‘made it’ as an artist when this happened to me. But I imagined if it ever did it would be 10 years or so down the track. But earlier this year I got an email.

From Ben. This is what he had to say:

I am currently studying Primary Education, and intend to specialise in ESL (English as Second Language) work. As a part time job I provide teacher’s-aide support at a local primary school. Last year I had a magnificent experience with the first Squish Rabbit book. I was tutoring a South American boy in year 6 and we used his interest in art to render his own edition of your picture book (which was played on a power point as he read it to the class). Since then, the boy came out of his shell, started socialising and developed so much confidence that he is almost fluent. This experience was immensely rewarding and confidence building in terms of my own professional development.

Thank you sincerely for your book. It brought great joy to my life and at least one other child’s. In the future, I also aspire to write books for children with such fundamentally simple yet such eloquently expressed messages. I think the message in Squish Rabbit bridges all cultural gaps (it certainly won my heart).

Based on this experience he decided to get a tattoo. The pictures below are evidence of the first Squish Rabbit tattoo out there in the world…

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It was truly an amazing message to receive. Quite overwhelming to be honest. I’m constantly in awe of the work teachers do with kids, and feel honoured to have been a part of that in any small way.

But as to whether I feel like I’ve now made it as an artist? Well, no. But it does feel pretty awesome.

A Stampede of Books (or Bologna Children’s Book Fair)

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I’ve been wanting to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for several years now. It’s the biggest annual event in children’s books, making it an incredibly exciting place for a writer / illustrator. Now I knew it was a massive event, but this was purely an intellectual concept. It’s a bit like being told about a stampede, as opposed to standing in the middle of one. A glorious stampede, mind you. A stampede of colourful stuff from a child’s imagination.

The fair is “the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry”, and includes authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers and librarians, all meeting up to sell and buy and meet and produce and discover all things to do with kids books. Sound exciting? It was.

There were 1200 exhibitors. From 66 countries. With 5000 professional trade representatives. And the exhibition covered over 20,000 square meters of floor space. Plus the fair was celebrating its 50th year. Now I may specialise in words, but those numbers sound pretty impressive to me. Here’s the sight I walked in on – this is one fifth of one side of one hall out of four, on the first and quietest morning:

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I spent three inspiring days wandering around the fair and being involved in all its amazing busy-ness. I got to meet up with the head of my American publishing house (Viking / Penguin) who was passionate and humble and funny and charming and all things you would want from a publisher. I also had an amazing meeting with my American agent, talking picture books and characters and lots of ideas for new projects to come. I got to spend time with the incredible ladies from Books Illustrated, Ann James and Ann Haddon, who are super supportive of Australia children’s book creators and who ran the stand that became my home for fair. They ran a live illustration table where I made art alongside some very talented Aussie artists (Alison Lester, Isobelle Carmody, Briony Stewart and of course Ann James). While illustrating I got to meet passers by who stopped to chat – other artists and publishers from all over the world. But none of this quite captures the spirit of the fair. No, that is best done with photos.

Here’s my US publisher’s stand. It was full of books and well-dressed-important-types and take away coffee cups. This was a quiet moment captured on the first morning of an otherwise bustling stand:

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Here is the Books Illustrated stand, and the two awesome Anns setting it up. See if you can spot the Brave Squish Rabbit cover and the feature illustration from the book:

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Doing live illustrations (with my terrible paintbrush grip – such a lefty):

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More live illustrating, using papers I’d collected on the trip so far (you can just see a couple of the drawings I’d already done in front):

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One of my favourite stands, a European publisher called Edelvives who make gorgeous books:

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There were quite literally hundreds of different publisher stands. So many books! Some funny:

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Some sad:

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But mostly just awesome. Lots and lots of awesome books:

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And more:

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And more. How cute are these guys?:

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But it wasn’t all just a bunch of people standing around talking about books. Sometimes it was a bunch of people standing around drinking and talking about books. Here we’re preparing for the Australian Publisher’s Association party (while Boori gets in some sneaky self promotion):

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And here we might be at the Irish Publisher’s Association party drinking whisky (all in the name of being culturally appropriate and warming the winter chest plate):

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I’d heard about the famous ‘illustrator wall’, where you can pin an illustration that people peruse throughout the fair. All up there were actually about eight walls. Here is one on the very first morning:

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And here it is again on day three:

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And this is what an author looks like after three days of wandering halls, reading, illustrating, meetings, being inspired and overwhelmed and just generally feeling like a very small fish in a big pond:

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Luckily, we were in Italy, so there was always good food at the end of the day. Salute!

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Planes, Trains, Cars and Bounty Hunting (or an overseas trip)

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Yep, that about sums up the next seven weeks of my life. Three planes, two trains and over three thousand kms of road will take us through seven countries on a massive European adventure. At least I’m calling it an adventure – some would call it insanity, considering how much driving we’ll be doing on the wrong side of the road, but I wont let that deter me.

And the bounty I’m hunting? Ideas, inspiration, writerly knowledge, illustratorly experiences, oddities and a whole lot of mischief. Plus, of course, rabbits. I am always on the lookout for rabbits. I will hopefully capture a few European varieties (you can see the ones I captured on my last big trip to America here, including the strange pink demon rabbit pictured above).

While in Europe I will get to do some pretty amazing things as a writer and illustrator, including*:

  • Scotland: I’ll be spending nearly two weeks in Edinburgh and St Andrews and several small towns in between, researching a young adult novel that I’m writing which happens to be set there. So much to look forward to … seaside villages all scuddy with cliffs, gothic churches, crumbling castles, eavesdropping on local teens. But most of all just generally absorbing the feel of the place and letting the world of my story settle into my skin.
  • England: I’ll be doing a short residency at Seven Stories, the UKs national centre for children’s books. I’ll get to be a part of some amazing exhibitions they’re putting together, browse their archives of original literary artefacts, help run activities for young people and learn from their expert staff all about engaging children in the world of books.
  • Italy: I’ll be attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the world’s leading children’s publishing event. I’ve had an image chosen for the second year running to be exhibited by the Australian Publisher’s Association Stand, and I’ll be featuring on their table doing live illustrations each day. Bologna also hosts an exhibition of the world’s leading illustrators, a bunch of professional development talks and is the years biggest networking event for creators, publishers and agents.
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My travelling visual diary

I can’t really tell you whether I’m excited or nervous or completely overwhelmed by it all. The feelings are quite indistinguishable. But either way it’s going to be amazing.

It’s not all work type stuff though. We’ll also be seeing my family in England, heading to Berlin for my man’s birthday, off to Venice just because, then driving in a meandering style (ie. we’ll likely get lost) down through Italy, southern France and into Spain.

Needless to say I may not be around much over the next two months. If you do see me here, make sure to shoo me away from the computer. I’ll likely have other things I should be doing … like freezing my little cotton tail off in the biggest cold snap in Europe since the 80s.

Now it’s time to get packing, if my pup will ever let me…

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* A significant part of this trip is generously supported by a career development grant from Arts Queensland.

Inside an Illustrator’s Head

So I’ve been working on a new picture book. And for the first time in a while, this one is not about a little rabbit named Squish. The other day my mum asked me what Squish thought about being ejected from my mind for another character. I think he’s coping, but he’s definitely curious about ‘the new guy’ and is reserving judgement.

This is a bit what it all looks like…

It’s a strange thing to have a little blue pig romping around your mind. A strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure where he will take me just yet, but I’m certainly enjoying getting to know him.

I also thought I’d better put up another photo, in response to this one from my last post:

There’s been a bit of contention as to what’s real. I labelled it as Squish Rabbit reading his own book while wearing a giraffe beanie. After all, it was a cold weekend in Brisbane. Some questioned whether I was being ridiculous (and to be honest, this does happen sometimes) and felt that this was actually just a giraffe toy pretending to be Squish. But here is photo evidence that the giraffe beanie does indeed exist:

I wore it at the Ekka yesterday. In public. And took a photo. I suppose this also serves as evidence that I am sometimes ridiculous.

Brave Squish Rabbit

I love mail. Bills – not so much – but letters and postcards and invites and … packages. Oh yes, especially packages. Most especially those that come in the shape of books. Or those with little white rabbits tucked away inside. And yesterday I received just such a package.

These are the final print proofs of the Australian version of Brave Squish Rabbit, which will officially be released on October 1st, just after the US release date of September 14th. And this version has a very special difference. Something we’re super hoppy excited about. Which is…

It’s glow-in-the-dark

It was all my editor’s idea, who has been looking for the right book to use this effect on. Along came Squish with his second tale, set at night and with luminous little glow bugs on the cover. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s taken quite a mammoth effort to get the printing of this book just right, and the UQP editorial team and I have spent much time together in dark cupboards testing glowing samples. Not quite how I imagined this whole publishing thing would work. But a lot of fun :)

The glow effect is on the glow bugs on the cover and the little stars on the back:

l always imagine that because I have spent so long illustrating a project and have seen it every day on my computer screen, that I wont react when I see the final book. But it’s just not true. When I opened the package I might have been heard repeating the words ‘It’s a book! It’s a book!’ like some kind of neanderthal who has just discovered the written word. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. I’m really proud of this book, and so thankful of the support my two publishers have given me in helping bring it to life.

But I wasn’t the only one in this household who was excited about the arrival. You can see what happened below:

First, Squish (who has a giraffe beanie on – don’t ask) wanted to read his story

Then my pup, Frank, got jealous and wanted in on the action

Like all good siblings, they finally settled their differences and decided to share

Literary Festival Season

We have just entered literary festival season. Writers, usually quiet pyjama encrusted and tea toting creatures, suddenly start popping up all over the place. Books begin to grow on trees. Festivals bloom in cities like pubs (ie. one on every corner). It’s an exciting time of year.

So far I’m having a ball – I’ve met so many wonderful writers, teachers, librarians and little reading rabbits. These festivals are put together by an amazing group of people who love books and the kids who attend are wonderfully enthusiastic. On the flip side, sleep is suddenly hard to find and I’m living out of a suitcase, but that’s kind of an adventure in itself.

If you want to catch me over the next few months, I’ll be doing talks and workshops and readings at the following places:

  • Aug 8th: Voices on the Range, Toowoomba based youth literary festival
  • Aug 20th-24th: Book Week, at various school around Brisbane and Toowoomba
  • Sept 5th-9th: Brisbane Writers Festival, both WordPlay and the adult program
  • Sept 11th-13th: Write Around Qld, an amazing program organised by the BWF that tours children’s authors around regional Qld
  • Sept 14th-16th: Cairns Tropical Writers Festival, kid’s and adult program
  • Sept 29th: Brisbane launch of Brave Squish Rabbit, at Black Cat Books
  • Oct (date TBC): Melbourne launch of Brave Squish Rabbit
  • Oct 28th: Making Picture Books Workshop (for adults) through the QWC
  • Dec 27th-31st: Woodford Folk Festival, kid’s program

Here’s a photo diary of the festivals and such that I’ve been involved in this year that have already slipped by:

May: Darwin Writers Festival (WordStorm) where I did a number of school visits and adult writing workshops and didn’t get eaten by crocodiles

June: Out of the Box Festival, which celebrates children’s books in big circus tents by the Brisbane river

July: CYA Conference, for adult writers of children’s and YA lit. I’m posing with the delightful Penny Whitehouse in front of Craig Smith’s playful illo

July: Setting up for the Brisbane Square Library ‘Journey of a Book’ Exhibition

July: Squish Rabbit glass cabinet display at the Brisbane Square Library

July: Whitsunday Voices, Mackay youth literature festival. Dave Hackett did awesome caricatures for all the presenters (which were very accurate – I think he had secret intelligence on us all…)

July: Whitsunday Voices – life sized bird-monster I drew with the help of some creative kids in an illustration workshop

July: David and I with Peter Carnavas at the launch of his latest picture book, the delightful ‘The Children Who Loved Books’

But I wont be able to convince you it’s all just work. Here’s some evidence that relaxing happened too…

Beach and sunset in Darwin. There may also have been wine…

Post festival breakfast on my parent’s back deck in Mackay


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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