MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR
Karen Blair is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books. She loves to draw characters that are young, old and in between, as well as Australian wildlife – in the bush, the sea, the outback, or at home. She has a background in painting landscapes and loves incorporating this into her illustrations. You might recognise her work from Baby Animal Farm, When Billy was a Dog (written by Kirsty Murrray), the Lemonade Jones books (by Davina Bell), Hello from Nowhere (by Raewyn Ciasley), and many more. Her latest book is Meet Eve in the Outback (text by Raewyn Caisley), which is part of the new Aussie Kids series. Raewyn visited Alphabet Soup recently to talk about writing the text. And now it’s time to hear from Karen about the illustrations!
You illustrated Meet Eve in the Outback, written by Raewyn Caisley. How is illustrating a junior fiction book different from illustrating a picture book?
This was my first junior fiction book, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. In a picture book, I have almost unlimited space on the page to do my visual story-telling, and the words usually fit in around the images. In a junior fiction book, it’s the opposite, with a higher word count, smaller pages and much less space. It makes you really crystallise what you want to add with the illustrations, and it comes down to how can I show an interesting part of the story – the action, the emotion, or even some visual information. That might be showing some of the Nullarbor setting, and the characters’ reaction to being in that part of the story. The shape of the illustration is also more limited, and needs to be varied throughout. It was an interesting process.
What are your favourite art tools/mediums?
I love illustrating with line, and I felt brave enough to try the very traditional dip pen and ink for this book for the first time. It’s slightly unpredictable and does some great things with a big brush and just a little water. I also love drawing with charcoal, it has a life of its own, I think because it used to be twigs it is not a uniform material and can also be a bit unpredictable. I like how you can get a line that will move from delicate to strong with the slightest change in pressure.
How long did it take you to do the illustrations for Meet Eve in the Outback?
I think it was about 3 months, but I work part time. It was a 2 part process – I had to do ‘spot colour’ digitally, which I had never done before. Also nerve-wracking and I was very grateful that my friend, and brilliant author-illustrator James Foley, helped me. His knowledge of digital illustration is phenomenal. Mine is not!
Do you have a tip for budding illustrators?
So much of illustrating is about process. Find a process that you enjoy. In the beginning I would do every part of the process – character sketches (hundreds), visual research (how DO you draw a car graveyard, or a truck, a camel etc), storyboard, dummy, roughs, colour roughs, and final artwork. I still do most of those for each book. You really have to love the process, which also includes getting feedback from the publisher, or it all might be torture. It’s a bit of torture, here and there but worth it. I would also recommend playing a lot with style and materials.
Can you tell us a bit about your next creative project?
I have started writing again, which I haven’t done properly since I had children. I’m working on a book called Train Party which will be published with Penguin next year. It’s set at the miniature railway, and is a rhyming text. It was inspired by some toddler birthday parties I went to last year, including the son of my friend Briony Stewart, another incredible author-illustrator, and incredible train-cake maker! It’s such a fun experience that I think many generations of Australians have enjoyed, and I love the community aspect of the train-drivers sharing their trains with children. There’s heaps of visual research for this one, I am realising that I don’t know much about trains …
Meet Eve in the Outback is out now! Available from book stores and libraries.