How I work

Like all kids I had dreams and wild ideas. My heroes were Bugs Bunny, Dr Suess, Walt Disney, Santa Clause and Samantha from a show called Bewitched. I wanted to be like them, especially Samantha because I thought if I were a witch I could wriggle my nose and make everything happen just the way I wanted it to. All of my life I have drawn pictures and had stories to go with them. I love making up stories or just sharing stories about my life with other people. As a teenager I had thirteen penfriends all over the world, in far away countries like Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and Sweden. Those countries seemed like such far away places; they could have been the moon. As I got older I added to my list of heroes, Picasso, Sydney Sheldon (writer) and Matisse; I still add heroes, but now I am lucky and get to meet most of them – and YES I have met Santa Clause, he’s a lovely old fellow.

Most of my dreams and ideas, like other kids dreams were out of this world. Unlike most kids, as I got older, the dreams of what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ didn’t change to the more realistic goals suggested by adults. I kept writing, drawing and dreaming. I have been drawing as long as I can remember and feel comfortable in saying I am pretty good at it. But writing is a different story, I didn’t do really well at school and English was not a strong subject (so my teacher told me when I told her I wanted to be a writer) confidence in myself was sadly lacking. My first children’s book was written in 1997 and I am both astounded and over the moon people want to read my stories. I can’t believe how many people write to me and tell me how much they love my books. I should send copies of these letters to my old English teacher – if only I knew her address.

It just goes to show, you can do or be what ever you want, as long as you REALLY want to.

Creating story books

When I am writing a story book the initial idea of the story seems to be the easiest part, it generally hits me like an electric shock. I can be driving my car, talking to a friend or reading and all of a sudden something triggers an idea. That idea then grows as I think about it for a while, when it’s almost formed I have to write it down – generally in a note pad I carry with me not my computer. Ideas I have quite often disappeared in my computer. Like the ‘other’ sock that goes missing in the wash.

SEE! there you go, an idea… maybe the little pixie or whatever it is that for years has lived in the washing machine stealing socks has moved with the times and evolved into a thing that lives in computers stealing words. MAYBE these critters weave the words into something useful, like maybe a blanket… or socks! HMMM now this idea is worth thinking about…

After I have decided on the story I then would write a ‘first draft’ and re-read it. I find it a good idea to put it away and stop thinking about it for as long as I can – usually until the next day, though other people recommend about six weeks. I re-read it again and make changes if it doesn’t flow properly or if parts don’t make sense. Another good idea; if you have a recorder read it to yourself and play it back. You will soon find any boring or confusing bits. Once it is perfect check it for spelling and grammar errors.

Pictures for books

The type of picture all depends on the story I am illustrating. If the story is a true account or ‘real’ like my ‘That’s not a tractor, raincoat, milk carton…’ series the illustrations need to be quite realistic and although I love drawing and painting I wouldn’t call these a ‘fun’ drawing. To do these drawings I rely on drawing on site, this can be tricky if it is too hot or raining, also it is tricky if what you are drawing keeps moving. This is when photographs are handy.

BUT if I were illustrating a story about a sock stealing, word stealing something that lives in a washing machine… my pictures would be exciting. They would be colourful and dramatic and maybe quite ‘unreal’ looking. I would think about how this creature, the thing that steals socks might look, how big is it – or small. Is it scary or cute, hairy and scruffy or neat and tidy? The name and personality of the critter would determine quite a lot about its appearance.

Once I have thought about looks I would then think about the type of artwork would best suit this story and the characters in it? Would it be a watercolour painting – soft and gentle? Or would it be better to use pastels, or maybe a collage with acrylic paint? There are so many decisions to make BEFORE you set the story out in pages. Most picture books have 32 pages, so the story and illustrations get set out in a ‘dummy’ book. Breaking the story into pages will tell you how many pictures you need to produce. Your dummy book is like a map it will tell you where to go. Each page of one of my dummies will have text and a rough sketch of the artwork to go on that page. Sometimes I move text around as I decide on pictures or even delete text if the picture tells enough story and the words aren’t needed. When I am working on the artwork for the book I don’t start from the first illustration to appear in the book and work in order. I usually do the one which takes my fancy, then, I will do a detailed one followed by a simpler one to give my self a break.

Artwork

There is ‘fine art’ like you find in a gallery and illustration which is found in books.

I do both. Illustration is different from fine art, although both can tell a story. Some illustrations could easily hang in a gallery beside fine art but mostly illustrations are a series of simple pictures (quite often coloured drawings) which tell a story. Fine Art usually makes a statement, it is meant to encourage the viewer to ask questions.

How

I believe learning to draw before painting. I could be wrong but that’s what I think is important. All great paintings aren’t great just because the artist knows about paint and colour. Drawing is like a skeleton; it is the foundation and holds up painting. If we didn’t have a skeleton inside us we would be blobs, unable to walk and jump. Being able to draw well relies on the artist being able to ‘see’ what he or she is drawing, by this I mean seeing the important bits and getting them on the canvas without getting caught up with what you THINK it looks like. We all have preconceived ideas on what most objects look like; and even when that object is sitting in front of us, most people would draw what they THINK they see and NOT what actually is there.

A really good exercise is to draw and not look at your paper AT ALL. Your drawings won’t look too great at first but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE!

While learning to see, I would suggest you stay with graphite (lead) pencil for a while and learn as much as you can about shading. Graduated shade creates the dimension and depth for an object. Whilst you are practicing this learn more about perspective, composition and balance. Graphite pencils have numbers and letters on them, the softest pencils have the letter B on them and harder pencils have a H. the pencil most school children use is a HB pencil it is in the middle. Pencils get softer as the numbers get higher – 2B, 4B, 6B etc and harder 2H, 4H etc. The softer pencils are best for shading and drawing, the harder pencils are better used for light line work.

Once you are drawing confidently think about colour. Colours can be tricky; they do funny things when you put them next to each other. Some look close, some look far away and some can look as though they are moving! Colour helps create the mood of a painting (so does shading), try colouring the same picture in a few different ways, restful, angry, or playful.

All of this has to be learned BEFORE you really decide what medium (type of paint) you might like to paint in. I use nearly every medium – not all at once though.

Watercolour can be the most difficult, but now you can buy watercolour pencils it has been made a little simpler for beginners. Oils also can be difficult but for different reasons, they take a very long time to dry and each layer HAS to be dry or the artwork will crack. Ink can be fun and takes a little getting used to. Acrylics are the most versatile; I would always recommend acrylics to a beginner. Well I would recommend acrylics to anyone, you can use them in a variety of ways and there are many different mediums (impasto, crackle, satin etc) that can be mixed with the paint for different finishes. Pastels, although they are not paint are also a good medium for beginners as they are very controllable and colours can be mixed reasonably easily or purchased. With pastels if you use good paper any bits you don’t like can be erased with a good quality rubber. When you have a few different materials feel free to experiment as the different paints react when put together.

While you are considering medium think about the style in which you might be painting… abstract, photo realism, graphic, manga style, or maybe you might be impressionist or traditional? So much to think about!

As I said I use nearly all mediums, I also can paint and draw in any style. This comes in handy sometimes and is quite a lot of fun because I am NEVER board. I have also been known to draw in the dirt or sand when no pencil and paper is handy.

Writing

Like story book ideas, ideas for short stories (and that novel simmering away) strike at the strangest times. I keep a note book with me all the time. My old notebooks are stored away for future reading, there will be heaps of ideas in them that I will have forgotten about.

People write for all different reasons, some write very serious stuff that would make my hair curl. Others write for relief – I guess they believe they have had tortured lives, and maybe most of them have. I write because I want to tell a story. Whether it is a true story or made up doesn’t matter, I just like to tell stories. If I do make a story up it always has a lot of truth in it, I research my ideas so I get the facts right first. I am lucky and have a vivid imagination, in my head I can see what I am writing. Colour, size, movement, I can even smell and hear what is in the story as though I am there myself. Daydreaming is a big part of writing.

When I work

Well I don’t jump out of bed at 3.00am like some other writers and illustrators; in fact I’m not a morning person at all. I crawl out at about 6.00am to get my children ready for school. My poor big boy Cambell has to hop on the bus at 7.00am, luckily it stops at our house – it takes one and a half hours to get to school, poor kid. Lachlan is younger and still at primary school, I drive him at about 8.00, so he gets to sleep in. I basically think I am a lazy person; I’ve been brainwashed to think if your not working you should feel guilty. But as I am constantly day dreaming which is how a writers ideas and stories evolve I guess if I am awake I must be working. Wow look at that, I’m not lazy at all.

Once I am home again from the school trip I turn on my computer or look at the painting I might be working on. Depending on what frame of mind I am in I might procrastinate a little or put on some 80’s music and jump around a little before starting to work. I generally have two or three paintings happening at the same time and several writing projects. When I am working on the same thing for a long time it can feel as though I have used up or emptied my brain. That’s when I go and do something else to give that part of my brain a rest and fill up again. Different types of stories use different parts of my brain too, some require imagination and others require patience and diligence. Sometimes when I am researching a story I need to rest because my brain feels like exploding. My brain becomes a sponge that has absorbed too much; it feels like it goes hard and could shatter into a gazillion pieces. That is another time when a good dose of 80’s music or even current stuff like Pink and Christine Aguilera gets my head going again.

Where I work

As daydreaming is a big part of creating, I work everywhere, on the toilet, driving my car, even when I am talking on the telephone (sorry Dad). When I get ‘down to it’ and really work I have a studio. Before my studio was built I worked on the kitchen table and shared a computer with my husband so my ‘working’ time was restricted to times we weren’t eating or my husband didn’t have to do his work (he gets paid more than me so he gets preference). My studio is great it’s really big; I teach art classes five times a week and still have room to leave my work all over the place.

When I say I teach art classes I should say I DID teach art classes; on the 20th March 2006 a cyclone called Larry blew our house away. Larry blew away half our town; there were no buildings that weren’t damaged. So since then my family has been living in my studio. Once again I am reduced to working on the meal table in a confined area, I don’t have to share my husbands computer any more because he bought me a laptop for one of my birthdays, but it’s not always easy at the moment to be creative. THERE IS NO QUIET TIME. Our new house has been started and I will put updates on the progress in my blog.