Posts Tagged 'beginning'

How to Make an Illustrator

Rabbit - balloonThe other day, Kathleen, a writing friend of mine, asked how I got into illustrating. This got me thinking.  My path has been quite a meandering one, which has happened in a few stages. I suppose it started back in the ice age (when I was at school):

  • School: I was always known as the ‘arty’ one, who people went to when they needed something drawn, designed or an assignment decorated (if I was more enterprising I would have started charging). However it took a new high school art teacher to really open up my creative mind – he pushed me to explore new mediums and techniques, and got me really excited about communicating visually
  • University: I considered studying graphic design, but for a creative person I’m also painfully practical. The thought of trying to earn a living creatively terrified me. So I took my love of people and science, and studied occupational therapy instead. At uni, where exams and assignments (and a little partying) took over, my art became more practical, only happening when specifically called on: ie. making people cards or creating posters for events
  • The Real World: I’d always wanted to work with kids, so as an OT I specialised in paediatric counselling and play therapy. For over six years I worked with children experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties, a job I adored, but it was draining and left me with no creative energy. I reached a point where I was working in my ideal job but just wasn’t happy. So I started drawing (and writing) again, and after a while realised that everything I was doing was aimed at kids. It made sense – through my work I was passionate about kid’s needs and their world, and had been collecting kids books for years. After dabbling in a few art courses, I decided to take the leap:
  • BACK to University: I studied graphic design part time at the QLD College of Art. It was strange to be back doing what I’d always imagined when I was growing up, but this time I had direction, and the thought of pursuing something creative no longer terrified me. I got to study art history, art theory, digital design, visual communication, typography and book design / binding, which only concreted my goal: I wanted to create books for children
  • Genes: There are a lot of creative souls in my extended family, which I only truly realised in the last few years. I grew up in a house with the art of my mum (gorgeous water-colours), grandfather and great-grandfather lining the walls. My brother had an instinct for music, and both plays the guitar and sings. My American aunt and uncle are children’s singers – The Battersby Duo – who have performed on Sesame Street and in the White House. My English uncle is a film editor and aunt is both a fine artist and author. My two New Zealand aunts are highly talented artists who work in oils, mosaics and jewellery. Even my dog is creative (see image below). So I suppose it seems obvious that one day I’d listen to the creative call of my genes

So that’s how this illustrator was made. Everyone’s journey is different: there are many ways to bake a cake. Personally, I prefer to think of myself more as a chocolate brownie, although I have in the past been described as a strawberry shortcake. Make of that what you will.


Where to Begin?

Rabbit - psychicHow often have you picked up a book, only to put it down again after reading a single page?  Children often don’t even give books that long.  Their worlds move so fast, with movies and computer games and the Internet, that they’re likely to put a book down after only a sentence or two if it doesn’t immediately grab them.

So for a children’s writer, this lends the first sentence and paragraph even more weight.  It’s rare to get this right in the first draft though.  I know I have a bad habit of meandering into my stories, rather than dropping readers immediately into the characters’ lives and problems.  I don’t mean you necessarily have to start with high action – there’s no need to go killing people off in the first sentence.  What I mean is conflict.  Even quiet stories need immediate conflict, even though it may be more emotional in nature.  And what I mean by conflict is those things driving the characters, hence the plot, forward.

For the fantasy novel I’m working on through the mentorship, in my second draft I discovered that my story actually started at chapter 15.  Luckily I didn’t have to scrap everything before that, but this is where the true conflict began.  In rewriting this as chapter 1, I thought long and hard about that first line.  I wanted it to reflect the ultimate conflict my lead character needs to resolve.  In brief: she comes from a winged tribe, and is the only one ever born into it that cannot fly.  Although she comes across many challenges on her journey, they all ultimately boil down to one problem – her lacking self-belief stemming from this inability.  She feels it defines her.  As such, the very first line sees her entering a situation highly dangerous for one who cannot fly.  So immediately her core conflict is challenged, just a taste of what she must resolve in the end (and while this is her internal conflict, her external conflicts are also introduced in the first page).

I find it interesting after finishing reading a book, to go back to the first paragraph and see how other authors do this.  Figuring out where to start is not always easy.  But if you can get to the heart of your character and your story – the heart of the conflict – then you have a pretty good chance of getting it just right.

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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