Archive for the ‘illustrator’ Category

Today we welcome Frané Lessac to Alphabet Soup. Frané is an illustrator and author — she’s the illustrator behind Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, Midnight, and The Greatest Liar on Earth (and many, many more books!).

We asked Frané if we could talk to her about A is for Australia: A factastic tour — her latest book. Here it is in all its glory:


a is for australia

What is the Fremantle Doctor? Where is Qui Qui? And why are some islands named after days of the week? You’ll uncover these exciting facts when you explore the A to Z of Australia — from Bondi to Kakadu and all the way to Taronga Zoo. Discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world …




Frané Lessac

Can you tell us a bit about where you live?
I live in the port city of Fremantle in West Australia. From my front porch, I can see a sliver of the Indian Ocean and Rottnest Island. Our house is over 120 years old and we’ve built an art studio in the back garden where I paint.

When you were working on A is for Australia, what came first — the artwork or the text?
Location came first. We had to decide what locations would be depicted for each letter of the alphabet. There were incredible alternatives and that made it hard to choose, but what made it easier was the need to represent all states narrowing down the locations. Next came the text, then art.

How long did it take you to create the book?
I first approached Walker Books with the idea over seven years ago! They were familiar with my other alphabet books based on New York, Washington D.C., Texas and the Caribbean. They knew the format and the market. I wasn’t sure if I was going to write the book myself initially, but with a twist of the arm, I did it!

What do you like to do when you are not illustrating (or writing-after-your-arm-has-been-twisted)?
Over the years I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and the Caribbean before settling in Australia twenty-five years ago. My closest friends and my family are spread right across the globe and l love to visit them as much as I can. When I’m home in Fremantle, I like to walk along Dog Beach.

What sort of books did you like to read when you were growing up?
My mother was an avid reader and placed an importance on reading and books. She took me to the library at an early age to pick out my own books. I started with Beatrix Potter and moved onto The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew mysteries.

What led you to create A is for Australia?
A is for Australia is a celebration of Australian people, places and culture. I wanted to create a book for children so they could discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world. I hope that visitors from overseas also grab a copy and share it back home.

Do you have a preferred medium?
I use gouache paint on watercolour paper. There’s an enormous range of colours and they are also easy to mix. The paint dries fast and I can paint in layers, which allow me to make any changes easily.

Do you have any advice for young artists? 
Believe in your art and don’t compare what you create to anyone else’s. Everyone draws differently. Be confident. If I worried about what other people created, I never would have created one single book. I never went to art school and I was never the best artist in the class, but I always loved to draw and paint.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
I recently received a folktale from my UK publisher that’s set in India. It’s called Pattan’s Pumpkins and it’s right up my alley. Jungles and animals and bright pumpkins!  Exciting to work with this publisher again — I met the editor over thirty years ago and we created three folktales together set in West Africa, Papua New Guinea and Polynesia.

For a peek inside the pages of A is for Australia, visit Frané’s blog. And you can hear Frané talking about making the book on the book trailer:

 You can find out even more about Frané Lessac and her books by visiting her website: www.franelessac.com.

(And teachers will be interested in these A is For Australia Classroom Ideas.)





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Tottie and Dot cover

Tina Snerling is an Australian illustrator with a brand new picture book — Tottie and Dot. Today Tina is visiting us to talk about how she starts illustrating a new book project.

When the publisher gives you a picture book text, what’s the very first thing you do?

I start to think about the colour palette, style of drawing, characters and the actual scenes to be illustrated. This can take days, weeks or months, depending of the depth of the book. For Tottie and Dot, the colour palette was very important to the storyline given the intensity of the scenes. They needed to be completely contrasting in every way.

Once you had the story text for Tottie and Dot, how long did it take you to complete all the illustrations?

This is a little difficult to answer as the process is quite long! I usually start developing the characters first, like this:

Tina's sketches for Tottie and Dot


Tina snerling sketches 2

I created around 10 different ideas and ‘girls’ in this case before I came up with the ‘final’ Tottie and Dot! Then once the girls are drawn, I work on different poses and facial expressions I might need. Then comes the fun part of illustrating each page! This took around 6 months full-time illustrating to complete the book ready for printing. Some days I can work 15+ hours illustrating — it depends how creative I am feeling!

Can you draw whatever you like?

I get given an illustration guideline from the author. They usually have a general idea of what image will be illustrated, then I get to the fun part and add my own personality and humour to the illustrations! Working with Tania is amazing, as I get to go crazy with my imagination, and add my own quirky details. In Tottie and Dot I loved the incorporation of the cats — it was so enjoyable creating crazy things for them to do in each scene.

Did Tania (the author) see any of your illustrations before the whole book was finished?

Tania and I work very closely on our books. We are a little bit different to most illustrator/authors where we work as a team. We are in constant daily contact (sometimes until all hours of the night) and bounce ideas off each other.

Do you decide where and how much text goes on each page, or does the publisher decide that?

The text is already set out on each page when I receive the manuscript. This was part of the author’s role and is important especially in picture books as we are usually limited to 32 pages. As the book designer, I do get to decide the font, size and position of the words though!

Did you do the cover first, or last, or somewhere in the middle of all the illustrating?

Our publisher usually likes to see the cover fairly close to the beginning of the book. Once the characters have been decided and the scene is set, the cover then usually comes next! I still tweak a few things later on once the book is coming to an end though! With Tottie and Dot, we actually had another cover:

Alternative Cover for Tottie and Dot

… which we stuck with for some time, but at the final hour I changed it to be the current cover you see today:

Tottie and Dot cover

Tottie and Dot is published by EK Books. You can find out more about the book (and the author and illustrator) on the Tottie and Dot website. This blog post is part of a Blog Blast — for more interviews, giveaways, book reviews and news on Tottie and Dot, check out the participating blogs

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Gabrielle WangToday we are thrilled to have Gabrielle Wang visiting Alphabet Soup again — we’ve talked to her before about her Poppy books (in the ‘Our Australian Girl’ series). Her latest ‘Our Australian Girl’ series is about a girl called Pearlie who lives in Darwin in the 1940s.

Our editor Rebecca was enchanted by one of Gabrielle’s books published in 2013 — The Wishbird. And Gabrielle was kind enough to take time away from her writing to talk to Rebecca about writing and illustrating the book.

The Wishbird is woven like a fairytale or folktale. As a child did you have any favourite fairytales, folktales or fables? 

My favourite fairytale was The Little Green Road to Fairyland by the Australian sisters, Annie R Rentoul and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. They were born in the late 1800s. I loved and still do love Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s illustrations. As a child I was forever copying them.

The pen-and-ink illustrations in The Wishbird are intricate — how long would it take you to do one of these drawings for the book?    

The Wishbird cover

At first I didn’t know what style to use. But then I saw some Indian folk art and I loved it.

I did many roughs in pencil on layout paper.

When I was happy with a drawing I traced it onto lunchwrap. This is much cheaper than buying tracing paper.


For the final illustration I used water colour paper, a rapidograph, which is a pen with a fine nib, and a lightbox.

The lightbox has a light inside it.


Mine is very old. I had it made when I lived in Taiwan many years ago.

I placed a sheet of water colour paper on top of the traced drawing and used a rapidograph to make the linework.

Because The Wishbird illustrations are so fine I had to look through a sewing magnifying glass.

Some illustrations took longer than others because when I made a mistake, I’d have to start all over again. Probably on an average, from concept to finished product, each one took about a week to complete.

the domed room

© Gabrielle Wang

Was it your own idea to include illustrations in The Wishbird or did the publisher suggest it?

I wanted to include illustrations not only because I like to draw, but also because these were the types of books I used to love reading as a child, especially books like The Magic Faraway Tree.

Do you sing or play an instrument yourself? What led you to write a book where music features so strongly?

I learnt the piano and took piano exams up to Grade 5. I began to love classical music then especially the works of JS Bach. In high school I took classical guitar lessons. I still play the guitar and used to compose my own pieces. When I was living in China, I also learnt the Chinese bamboo flute but I’m not very good at it.

Imagine if all the singers and musicians disappeared, never to be seen again. Music is outlawed. Even birds are killed because they sing. And because birds live in forests then the forests all around are burnt to stumps.

Music is an integral part of human existence. Every culture in the world makes music. Without it, the soul dies. This is at the heart of The Wishbird.

Did you write a plan before you began writing The Wishbird, or did you just start writing and see where it led you?

I hardly ever write plans for my novels. I like my story to grow organically. The only books I have written plans for were the Our Australian Girl books. Because they are historical fiction and in a series of four books I had to know where each story was going and how it fed into the next before I even sat down to write them.

Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?

I’ve just finished the final edit for Pearlie’s Ghost, which is the fourth and final book in the Pearlie series.


I’m glad to have finished the series because they are hard work. But I’m also sad to leave Pearlie. Now she will have a life of her own out in bookshops and libraries.

I have started a new novel with another author. This is a new experience for me. It’s a very exciting way to write and we’re having lots of fun together. I can’t reveal much about it yet except to say that the working title is The Map of Tiny Coincidences and it will be filled with maps and drawings.

Find out more about Gabrielle Wang and her books at her website and her blog.

And LOOK! LOOK! You can even LISTEN to Gabrielle Wang reading the first two chapters of The Wishbird here

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A Bird in the Hand - Bob Graham retrospective

If you love picture books and you can get to Canberra — here’s an exhibition you really must see!

Bob Graham is one of our favourite illustrators. You’ll recognise his artwork from picture books like  How to Heal a Broken Wing, Let’s Get a Pup, Max … and heaps more. Now you can see his work in an exhibition, including sketch books, manuscripts, memorabilia and illustrations. Items in the exhibition have been selected from his studio and from the Lu Rees Archives at the  University of Canberra.

Where: Canberra Museum and Gallery, cnr London Circuit & Civic Square, Canberra City

When: From Sat 17 May until Sunday 24 August

Over the next few months, you can meet Bob Graham, take art workshops and sign up for school holiday workshops. Find out more at the Museum and Galleries website

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Stephen AxelsenToday we welcome Stephen Axelsen to the blog. Stephen is here as part of a blog tour to celebrate the launch of his new graphic novel The Nelly Gang — you can read a review of the book hereWe asked him some questions about how he goes about creating a graphic novel.

The Nelly Gang (cover)How is creating a graphic novel different from writing and illustrating a picture book?
The biggest difference is that a graphic novel has a lot more pictures in it than a regular picture book, so they take much, MUCH, longer to illustrate. The writing takes a bit longer too. The Nelly Gang took more than a year to make. Also in graphic novels the story is mostly told in speech balloons. These balloons have to be designed and positioned so that they are nice and clear and don’t interfere with the pictures.

Why did you choose to tell this story as a graphic novel rather than a picture book or otherwise?
The story would not fit into a picture book, unless it was a very, very thick one. (There are up to 25 pictures on some double pages.) The Nelly Gang could have been a novel, I suppose, but I love drawing the old costumes and wagons and things too much just to use words.

How did you go about creating The Nelly Gang?
The story plan was the first thing put down on paper, but the very, very first ideas were pictures in my head; vague images of things I wanted to draw. Then I wrote the first story plan or plot, after which I began the rough drawings. The drawings would suggest new story ideas, and while rewriting the story NEW picture ideas would pop up, so I’d change the story again. The writing and drawing kept changing each other in an endless loop until I nearly went mad (or maybe I did go mad) and it was time to STOP and call the story finished.

What sort of tools do you use?
I used a mixture of ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ media, which means that I did the drawing outlines with old fashioned pen and ink on paper, then scanned these into my computer where I tidied things up, added the colour then the speech balloons and text.

The Nelly Gang is set in 1860. How did you go about researching for the book?
A lot of my research was done online, but I also travelled to old goldfields, visited Sovereign Hill at Ballarat (which was excellent for picture reference) and even had a paddle steamer ride at Echuca. I had to have a paddle steamer in the story because they are such wonderful things to draw!

Now that The Nelly Gang is out, are you working on something new?
I am working on two big books at once now – a picture book for an American publisher about Joe Dumpty, P.I. (Humpty Dumpty’s brother, who is a Private Investigator.)

AND the sequel to The Nelly Gang, called Nelly and the Dark Circus. As the title suggests it is set mostly in a circus, and Nelly is in it. So is her goat, Queen Victoria, of course. 

Do you have any tips for young graphic novelists?
The best thing to do is look at as many graphic novels as you can find, choose the ones you like best and copy bits of them. Very soon you will start having your own ideas and awaaaay you’ll go!

You can find out more about Stephen Axelsen (and the books he has illustrated and written) when you visit his website. Check out the other stops on his blog tour for more news and information about The Nelly Gang and graphic novels:

Nelly Gang Logo

THE NELLY GANG Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday September 14th  — Launch at The Story Arts Festival, Woodlands of Marburg.  (Launched by Megan Daley)

Monday September 16th — Children’s Books Daily  

Review and Book Launch update + giveaway

Tuesday 17th September —  DeeScribe Writing

Review + five tips on graphic novel making 

Wednesday 18thSeptember — Kids Book Review

Review + giveaway

Thursday 19thSeptember — Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

Writing and Illustrating Graphic Novels

Friday 20thSeptember — Soup Blog [You’re here!]

Review + interview

Saturday 21st September —  BuzzWords

The Value of History + review

Interview with Stephen Axelsen © 2013 Stephen Axelsen and Rebecca Newman http://soupblog.wordpress.com

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Remember to stop by on Friday — we’ll be talking to Stephen Axelsen, creator of The Nelly Gang. See you then!

The Nelly Gang Blog Tour banner

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 Cartooning Around with James Foley

In the Lion (cover)Join cartoonist James Foley for an introduction to creating your own kooky comic strips. James drew the cartoons in the Quokka for many years. He also illustrated The Last Viking, and wrote and illustrated In The Lion.  While you are at the Arts Centre, you can check out James’s illustrations from In the Lion in the heARTlines exhibition.

When: 1pm – 4pm, Tue 9 July 2013

Where: Mundaring Arts Centre, 7190 Great Eastern Highway, Mundaring WA 6073

Ages: 9 – 13

Cost: $20 (or $15 members of Mundaring Arts Centre)

Bookings essential, places are limited. To book, ring Mundaring Arts Centre on 9295 3991.

To download the full HeARTlines program for 2013, go to the Mundaring Arts Centre website.

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