Archive for the 'Picture Books' Category

New Year, New Adventure

2014 has brought some big changes. Big, but exciting.
The short story is … I’m going to be dividing my time between Australia and Canada. But that’s a bit too short.
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Our snowy house

The long story is this: The only regret I’ve ever carried in life is that I’ve never lived overseas. Growing up, my head was filled with travel tales told by my mum, who shifted around the globe through her 20s and 30s. My parents met in Africa, travelled across Europe, got married in England and I was conceived in Oman, all before they settled in Australia to raise my brother and I. As a family we did many overseas trips to visit relatives and friends. When I left home I always intended to move overseas after uni, but life kind of got in the way. Fifteen years later and, well, it’s about time.
I was considering England when the opportunity to spend some time in Canada came up. I spent all of December over there, having myself a white Christmas and exploring Ottawa and the surrounds (which is where I’ll be based). There’s much to love about Canada – so much about the country and the people that have stolen my heart. It’s already left an imprint on my creative mind: I’m currently working on a new picture book about a big brown bear and a small wild girl. Plus I have a sudden urge to end my sentences in ‘eh?’ and I’m getting insatiable cravings for maple syrup.
While I’m hoping to spend more time over there than not (starting early March), I’ll actually continue to divide my time between Canada and Australia. It’s really important to me to keep in touch with my Australian readership and to continue to develop links with local schools and festivals (not to mention visiting family and friends!). I’ll be back in Australia over July and August for a packed two months of speaking engagements, however I still have days free in both months so contact my speaker’s agents if you’re interested in a visit from me or Squish Rabbit (links on the right).

Based on the photos, I keep getting told I look as though I was born in Canada. I think it’s the fair skin and pale eyes. I’m really excited about the change and love the idea of being closer to all sorts of other unique travel experiences. We already have two trips planned, first to Cuba and then in summer to the Moraine Lake Lodge in the Rocky Mountains. But instead of trying to convince you as to why I’m setting out on this adventure, how about some photos so you can see for yourself?
Ottawa city and its frozen canal (perfect for iceskating)

Ottawa city and its frozen canal (perfect for iceskating)

Amazing museums and art galleries (I love this sculpture by Bill Reid)

Amazing museums and art galleries (I love this sculpture in the Museum of Civilisation by Bill Reid)

Lots of time to read and eat French pastries (in the inner city industrial style cafe 'Art Is In')

Weekends reading and eating French pastries (in the inner city industrial style cafe ‘Art Is In’)

Writing by the fire

Writing by the fire

Gorgeous outdoor installations (this lonely wolf haunts my dreams)

Outdoor art installations (this lonely wolf still haunts my dreams)

And another, this time in Montreal (called 'Light Therapy')

And another, this time in Montreal (called ‘Light Therapy’)

Did I mention the food?

Did I mention the food?

And the salmon (I could live on smoked atlantic salmon)

And the salmon (I could live on smoked atlantic salmon)

Loving the graffiti art (snow makes the bunnies a little mad)

Loving the graffiti art (turns out snow makes the bunnies kinda crazy)

An Aussie style barbecue (clearly)

An Aussie style barbecue (clearly)

Icicles taller than me

Icicles taller than me

REAL christmas trees (and all decorations I collected locally)

REAL christmas trees (and all decorations I collected locally)

Christmas morning sunrise from a cabin in the woods

Christmas morning sunrise from a cabin in the woods

Finally, I was lured to Ottawa with the promise of divine hot chocolate. And they didn't disappoint...

Finally, I was lured to Ottawa with the promise of divine hot chocolate. And they didn’t disappoint…

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…

European Non-Rabbits

It is a well known fact that I have a bit of thing for rabbits. What is lesser known is that I actually love animals of all kinds. All picture books I write feature animals, usually as the main characters. In fact, recently I have begun working on my first picture book featuring kids, but even then they are all dressed as animals.

A few posts back I did a photo diary about all the rabbits I encountered during a recent trip across Europe. As rabbits feature a lot on this blog, I thought I owed it to all the other animals to give them a bit of blog time. So here are some of the non-rabbits that crossed my path in Europe:

These suspicious geese on a Scottish loch:

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This dog (dug) at an Edinburgh pub:

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Dogs could go anywhere in Europe. In pubs, banks, on buses and the underground. I wish Australia was more like this.

This grumpy bird (eyeing all the Geordies in Newcastle):

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This graffiti pig in Venice:

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This bizarre bronze zoo in the misty hills of Eze (France):

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Over 50 animals. Can’t imagine how they got them all the way up the mountain.

This snarly lion:

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Roar

This Scottish house for elephants:

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Actually, this is an obligatory children’s author shot (the cafe where J.K.Rowling penned her Harry Potter series)

This most enchanting stray dog on the drive from Barcelona:

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He so stole my heart I spent several days trying to figure out how to adopt him & get him back to Australia. But he was well looked after by the town & had made his home in a fuel station, greeting all passers by.

These fish in a Berlin blizzard:

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This delightful stray cat in Niguelas, Spain:

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We fed her and loved her and called her Peppi.

These noble once-dogs at Edinburgh Castle:

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These hungry goats and sheeps in a Spanish village:

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These wild-eyed things:

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You can be sure there will be picture books to come inspired by these animals. They were all quite unique characters in their own ways.

Especially the cranky bird. He had spunk.

 

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.

I’m No Poet (but here are some haiku anyway)

Rabbit - floatIt’s so important as a writer to stretch your writing muscles. To step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Maybe even a little frightening. That’s what I did this Sunday, all in the capable hands of Graham Nunn, an incredible writer often referred to as Mr Poetry in Brisbane. He’s running a year long ginko course, a Japanese tradition where writers go on seasonal walks in natural landscapes to inspire and write haiku*.

Haiku have always fascinated me, but outside of the obligatory attempts in high school English, I’ve never tried them. As a children’s writer I have heard it said that a great picture book creator crafts each page like a haiku – quietly capturing an image or sound or thought, pinned down on the page in just a scatter of words. This is how I like to write. As you may have noticed (in my New Years Resolutions) I’m also interested in becoming more mindful in my writing practise, so this course seemed perfect.

For our summer ginko we all gathered at Karawatha Forrest and spent over an hour (longer for an unfortunate pair who got lost…) walking through the bush alone, taking down observations. It was such a great practise in stillness – in staying present and writing down what the world offered up. Words started to feel new again. Afterwards we all gathered to work on turning our observations into haiku. Here are some of my first attempts:

heavy sun

crow pleads

with the rusted tap

^ Crows appeared regularly in other writer’s work too. Although the crows themselves seemed indifferent to what we were doing.

leaves gather

dead trees disapprove

of movement

^ This is an example of not letting automatic thoughts intrude. I went to write about gusting trees, as I’m so used to them blowing about outside my home office window. But when I really looked, in truth I’d never seen such still trees.

summer ginko

must walk

to keep still

^ This one was inspired by Mr Poetry himself. He suggested we do a bush walk, but recommended spending most of our time sitting still. I found I had to walk a long way in order to do one of the walks within the hour, leaving little time for sitting :)

fresh air

city girl

trips on pollen

^ The world tells us we should make the most of fresh air. However this girl suffers allergies.

A couple of other snippets:

an intrusion of crows

watch grass die

.

flys ignore

personal space

.

twin trees

argue

A final thought on haiku and why I love them. It is said they often explore the concepts as captured by the Japanese words Wabi and Sabi:

  • Wabi: a sense of loneliness or solitude
  • Sabi: the suchness and beauty of ordinary objects

Now doesn’t that make you want to go out and write a haiku? Or read some?

* We were practising the more modern form of haiku, which doesn’t need to adhere to the 5/7/5 syllable structure

Launching Brave Squish Rabbit (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second launch in all its rabbity glory:

Melbourne Launch

Held at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North, on not just any day but the store’s 52nd birthday! It was incredibly special to be a part of their celebrations. Believe it or not, they are the world’s oldest children’s bookstore, and in my opinion one of the most warm and beautifully designed stores. They also did a lovely post about the day over on their blog. It was a surprisingly chilly Spring day in Melbourne, but that didn’t stop the little rabbits coming out of the woodwork…

A brave and squishy window display

Look at those decorations!

A very special rabbit hopped along to help us celebrate

The brilliant and cheeky man of children’s lit, Andy Griffiths, launched my brave little rabbit

In a demonstration of what it means to be brave, Andy unleashed a crawling hand into the little audience (and they were brave indeed!)

Pretending I can stil fit in a mini children’s chair…

Book signing (no spelling mistakes this time)

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A ‘secret treehouse’ image the kids and I created together – click to see a larger version (see if you can spot Andy’s signature ‘bum’)

A final callout to my wonderful man. He manages to love and support the strange lady that is behind Squish Rabbit, help put together these launches (ie. arrange the whole thing) and somehow still be smiling by the end of it all. You are truly inspirational.

Launching Brave Squish Rabbit (Part 1)

It seems like only yesterday I was playing around in my art room, finishing the first ever full colour image of my wee rabbit. But that was back in 2009. Now it’s nearing the end of 2012 and little Squish Rabbit has two books out in the world. I have to pinch myself sometimes.

Squish’s second title, Brave Squish Rabbit, was lucky enough to have not one but two lovely launches, in Brisbane and Melbourne. Thank you to all those who made them such special days – to the bookstores and writing community and family and friends and little readers and especially to all those wearing rabbit ears. Squish and I had a ball, as you can see from the photos below…

Brisbane Launch

Held at the delightful Black Cat Books in Paddington, on a bright September morning out on their back deck.

How to prepare for a starry night book launch: glittery cardboard, star stencil, scissors and (40 stars later) tenacity

How to prepare for a rabbity book launch: carrots, thread and a precise hand

The wall of Squish (and someone in the way)

My two favourite bunnies

The lovely Steph from Black Cat, getting serious about books!

Chris Bongers, teen novelist extraordinaire, did a beautiful job of launching my little rabbit out into the world of books

Those pesky chickens (Richard Grantham understands, who is playing his wonderfully moody sound track behind)

Some floppy eared bunnies – even rabbits feel sad sometimes (although one looks a little cranky)

Glittery cupcakes to cheer up the bunnies!

Skye Staniford did a beautiful set of songs for the little-uns while I signed books

With my lovely smiley publishers, Cathy and Kristina from UQP

My pup couldn’t come, but we still celebrated with him when we got home

Keep an eye out for my next post, where I’ll put up all the photos from the Melbourne launch…


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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