Posted in illustrator, interviews

Cindy Lane and Great White Shark

MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Cindy Lane is an award-winning artist and illustrator who loves the ocean. She was born and grew up by the sea in Sydney, lived by the Great Barrier Reef in FNQ, and now has her studio by the Indian Ocean in Perth. Cindy loves to make her own paints with materials she finds in nature, and collects waters from all over the world to use in her paintings. Seawaters from across Australia were used in Great White Shark, her first picture book, written by Claire Saxby.

From the publisher:

In Great White Shark we follow a female shark on her way to warmer waters to give her pups the best chance of survival. Set in a stunning underwater world, Claire Saxby’s signature poetic prose and Cindy Lane’s sublime illustrations showcase the grace, majesty and power of one of the ocean’s top predators.


Can you tell us a bit about how you created the illustrations for Great White Shark?

It all starts with a sketch – pencil on paper. I like the scratchy feel of graphite on a surface, with sound and feel for feedback as you create. I do also draw digitally, but it can be quite a clinical process, not what I want at this stage. It can be all too easy to erase the less-than-perfect lines when drawing on a tablet­­­­­­­­­ – a double tap of your fingers and it’s gone! I like seeing the messy, roundabout road maps of initial sketches, the sparks of ideas, and where they led.

From pencils sketches to a pencil thumbnail sheet! Once this was approved by the art director I went on to do some sample colour illustrations from the text, just to determine a style that the publisher, author and I were all happy with. This was a combination of pastel on sanded paper and watercolours on cotton paper, both with digital sketching over the top.

Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for her picture book Great White Shark
Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for the picture book Great White Shark

Once these were approved, I was let loose on the double page spreads, cover, title, index pages and the endpapers. There was still lots of research to be done, and luckily the PLANET SHARK exhibition was visiting Fremantle. I got to see so many sharks, including multiple Great White models up close, the preserved body of the massive Megamouth shark, plus the HUGE Megalodon jaws!

Using sea waters from my collection, I started watercolour painting the backgrounds and creatures that feature in the book. They were then photographed or scanned individually, then collaged together digitally to create the scenes.

Did you discuss the story/illustrations with the author (Claire Saxby) while illustrating the book?

No, I had no direct contact with the author during the illustration process. Claire Saxby’s feedback was always via the editor and art director.

How long did it take you (from signing the contract to going to print) to illustrate Great White Shark?

14 months.

Were you already interested in sharks before you were asked to illustrate the book?

Definitely! I’ve always had a love for the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Even those that get bad press. Especially those ones!

Great White Shark is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.

Back and front covers of Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane

AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Claire Saxby & Cindy Lane talking about Great White sharks. [YouTube]

Watch Cindy Lane painting pages from the book here and here. [Instagram videos]

Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.

Learn more about Cindy Lane’s art & illustrations on her Instagram account.

Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Peter Carnavas and My Brother Ben

MEET THE AUTHOR

Peter Carnavas is an award-winning author-illustrator. You might have read some of his many picture books, such as The Children Who Loved BooksLast Tree in the City and A Quiet Girl. His novel The Elephant won a Queensland Literary Award and was shortlisted in four other national awards. Peter lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, two daughters, a dog and a cat. Today we’re thrilled to have Peter Carnavas visiting to talk about his latest children’s novel, My Brother Ben.

From the publisher:

Luke and his big brother Ben spend the summer on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. Quiet Luke sketches birds, while Ben leaps off the Jumping Tree. The boys couldn’t be more different but they share the same dream: winning a boat so they can explore the creek properly. Then Ben starts high school and the boys drift apart. When Luke catches Ben sneaking out at night, he knows his brother’s up to something, but what?


When you were growing up did you have a big brother or sister?

I have two big brothers and one big sister. One of my brothers is just a few years older than me so we grew up doing everything together: playing backyard cricket and soccer, playing computer games and drawing silly pictures of each other.

In the book, Luke chooses soul birds for himself and considers soul birds for his various family members too. Which bird would you say was your soul bird?

I tend to do things slowly so I think I’d be a slow-moving water bird, like a white-faced heron.  I’m not a very good swimmer so it suits me that these herons only go ankle-deep into the water.

How long did it take you to write My Brother Ben – from the start of the first draft to the final draft?

It probably took me about year from start to finish.  Every time I thought I’d finished it, my editors pointed out ways to make the story even better, so I did many drafts. That’s the great thing about editors – it’s similar to the way teachers show you how to improve your stories. The illustrations didn’t take too long – probably only a few days to draw all the birds – because they are black and white pen drawings, and I didn’t have to paint them.

Do you have a tip for kids who might be interested in watching birds?

The main character, Luke, has an aunt who teaches him all about birdwatching.  She tells him to keep still and let the birds come to him, and this is something I’ve discovered when birdwatching myself.  I’ve found that if you walk through a bush track or a forest, you probably won’t see many birds straight away. But if you slow down and keep quiet for a while, you’ll notice small movements and sounds, and then you’ll notice more birds. Also, when you keep still, birds will be less afraid. Another tip is to start by looking for water birds in lagoons or ponds, as these birds keep quite still themselves, so they’re easier to watch and identify.

Could you nominate a children’s book you’ve recently read that you would recommend?

I have loved reading Sara Pennypacker’s books this year, particularly Pax and Here in the Real World. Pax is a wonderful story about a boy trying to reunite with the fox he once raised – great for upper primary students.

My Brother Ben is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Peter Carnavas talking about the book (YouTube)

Download the Teachers’ Notes for My Brother Ben

Read two more interviews with Peter Carnavas here and here

Visit Peter Carnavas’s website for more about him and his books

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Anna Ciddor and The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

MEET THE AUTHOR

Anna Ciddor has always been fascinated by the past. It would be her dream come true to step through time! Instead, she immerses herself in research and hunts out the tiniest details so she can bring the past to life in her imagination. Anna has written and illustrated over 50 books on topics as diverse as Vikings, Irish druids, Australian history, travel, and toilets. Today we’re thrilled to talk to her about her latest book, The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.

From the publisher:

When Perry steps into a crumbling ruin while on holiday in France, he is not expecting to be transported back 1700 years to Roman times. While he hunts desperately for a way home, he must blend in as a slave in a grand villa – even if it means eating mice for dinner! He dodges the perils of Roman life. And all the time there is the danger that he will be trapped in the past forever …


How did you come to write a novel about Ancient Rome?

Well, it’s a long story because I actually started writing it when I was ten years old! You see, I read a book about Ancient Romans and I was fascinated by the idea of people lying around on couches eating with their fingers and spitting out their pips and bones on the dining room floor! I decided to write a novel about a boy from Roman times. I described him running down a stone-paved street dressed in a tunic. (A tunic was a type of dress that Roman boys used to wear.) I got stuck trying to work out what would happen to him though, so I stopped writing and went back to playing with my sisters. When I grew up, I became an author and illustrator, but it wasn’t until nearly fifty years after I started it, that I finally went back and finished the story about the Roman boy.

You joined forces with a researcher to help you with the accuracy of historical elements of the book. Could you tell us a bit about how you worked together?

I really needed help with the research because Roman times were so weird and different from the world we live in now. Romans cleaned themselves with olive oil instead of soap, they ate food like peacocks and dormice, they all got in a huge bath together, and they even went to the toilet together! The researcher and I worked for about a year researching the book and planning what was going to happen in every chapter. When I started writing and picturing the scenes though, I discovered I still needed more information. What sort of spell words did the Romans use? What medicine did they use to cure a sore throat? I kept sending the researcher text messages and she found me the answers but sometimes they were a big surprise. One Roman spell word was ABRACADRA. And one cure was to drink horse saliva!

You also illustrated the book. How did you go about the illustrations?

Again, the researcher helped me by finding Ancient Roman sources of things I was illustrating. For example, my granddaughter asked me to put a cat in the story so of course I did, and when I wanted to draw the cat, the researcher found me mosaics of real ancient Roman cats. They turned out to look exactly like my granddaughter’s two cats. Hers are tiger striped – one is orange and one is brown.

Is there an aspect of ancient Rome that you wish was still around today?

No! There are lots of things I am glad are NOT around today. The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is about a boy called Perry who goes back in time, and one of the things he hates most about Roman life is the toilets. The first time he needs to go, he opens the door and sees there are three toilet holes all in a row on a wooden bench, and a woman is sitting using one of the holes already. Even worse, instead of toilet paper they all share a sponge on the end of a stick.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

At the moment I am planning a sequel to The Boy Who Stepped Through Time. You can enter a competition for a chance to win your name in it! Click here to enter.

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

Download the Teachers’ Notes for the book

WIN your name in Anna Ciddor’s next book!

Visit Anna Ciddor’s website for more about her and her books

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Kylie Howarth on Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Kylie Howarth is an award-winning, internationally published children’s author-illustrator from Western Australia.

Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle
Author-illustrator Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle.

Kylie has swum with whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales in Ningaloo, piranha and pink dolphins in the Amazon, braved scuba diving with lionfish in Egypt, marine iguanas and hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands and encountered great white sharks in South Africa!

Kylie not only draws inspiration from her underwater travels but also her own two fish-kids who are ocean explorers too. The textures in Kylie’s book illustrations are created during their backyard art sessions. 

We’re pleased to have Kylie visit Alphabet Soup today to talk about her latest book Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo.

From the publisher:

Fish Kid’s friendship with bestie, Emely, soon hits a snag during a tricky sea turtle rescue. Secretly wishing for powers of her own, Emely’s strange behaviour leaves Fish Kid wondering if their friendship and the super-sick turtle will survive. And if things weren’t bad enough, another turtle from the sanctuary goes missing. Can this super hero-in-the-making use his fishy powers to save the day?


Have you been to all the places Fish Kid visits?

Yes! It’s tough work having to visit amazing places like the Galapagos Islands, Ningaloo Reef and the Maldives! Visiting these places allows me to meet the sea creatures that feature in my books. It was my scuba dive with 20 hammer head sharks that actually inspired the Fish Kid series.

Do you have a favourite sea creature?

I LOVE humpback whales. I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream recently, and swim with humpbacks as part of my research for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray. I collect humpback whale sculptures, books, paintings and my favourite pair of earrings are humpback whales!

Each book in this series includes some featured pages with Fish Kid Facts about sea creatures. How do you go about researching for the books?

I try to meet all the creatures in my books face-to-face to learn about them. If I’m on a snorkelling tour, I’ll quiz the local instructors and underwater photographers to find out what they have observed about each sea creature. I then follow up with library and internet research, checking several different sources to ensure each fact is correct.

The Fish Kid books also include black-and-white illustrations scattered through the story. Can you tell us a bit about how you create your illustrations?

For the first book I used pencil and ink to create the illustrations. I’ve since taught myself to illustrate on an iPad using a program called Procreate. You can use pencil and ink looking ‘brushes’ drawing directly on the screen, so the second and third books in the series were done using this technique on my iPad. See if you can spot the difference!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I have just completed final illustrations for a picture book I’ve also written, which will be released next year. Although most of my books have an ocean theme, I’ve branched out a little and this one features some Australian bush animals!

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo is out now! Ask for is at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Kylie Howarth share some facts from the Fish Kid books (YouTube)

Learn how to draw a Hammerhead shark (YouTube)

Download some classroom activities

Make a woven turtle torpedo!

Visit Kylie Howarth’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, illustrator

Rebecca J Palmer on Monkey Mind

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

 

Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.

From the publisher:

Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey!  Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey. 

Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper? 

Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.

On with the questions!


Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerMonkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.

Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!

  • I start out with a copper plate.
  • Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
  • My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
  • Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
  • The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
  • Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
  • Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
  • The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
  • The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
  • Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.

How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.

Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!

But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.

Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!

  1. Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
  2. Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
  3. DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!

Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.

Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉

Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library. 


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerTake a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website. 

Watch a 1-minute YouTube video showing a drypoint etching print of a page in the book.

Watch a 35-second YouTube video showing the process of making Monkey Mind.

Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book. 

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Chickensaurus

MEET THE AUTHOR

James Foley. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography.
James Foley (photo by Jessica Wyld Photography)

Chickensaurus by James FoleyJames Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.

From the publisher:

Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.

On with the questions!


Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.

Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
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Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
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Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
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Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!

 

Chickensaurus is out now! You can buy it from the publisher’s website, find it at your favourite book store, or ask for it at your library. 

Chickensaurus by James FoleyAWESOME EXTRAS:
Click here to watch an interview with James Foley for Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)
Posted in illustrator, interviews

Tom Jellett on Shoo You Crocodile!

MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Tom Jellett, illustrator
Tom Jellett at work (photo by Alexander James)

Tom Jellett is a Sydney based illustrator. For over twenty years he has illustrated a number of books for children including My Dad Thinks He’s Funny by Katrina Germein, Why I Love Footy by Michael Wagner, Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and the Besties series with Sporty Kids author Felice Arena. His latest picture book is Shoo You Crocodile! (with text by Katrina Germein).

Shoo You Crocodile! by Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett

From the publisher:

Shoo You Crocodile! is a fun, raucous tale for imaginative young readers and small, brave adventurers. The story offers space for play, real and imagined stories, and families can use the book to play their own make-believe monster games and learn about rhyming words. 

On with the questions!


What’s your favourite illustration tool when illustrating picture books?
It has to be pencil. Prismacolor ones are my favourites … I go through a lot of them, though I found sharpening them by hand slowed me down quite a bit. I only recently bought an electric pencil sharpener ($10 from Officeworks! Insane!). It has changed my life.

When you agreed to illustrate Shoo You Crocodile! what was your first step when you sat down to get to work?
The first step, after having read the manuscript a few hundred times is to start figuring out the story within the story, for example, where the story is set, who is being chased … is it a real crocodile or is it a game? Is it set in a zoo? In a jungle? I was pretty certain early on I wanted a ‘real’ crocodile in there so I started with that and ended up with museum … once these things are decided then I can start drawing.

Did you like to play monster games yourself as a child?
I’m not sure about games, but I used to like old scary movies when I was younger. When they were in black and white they were even scarier. I was probably a bit of a scaredy cat … even Doctor Who used to scare me … still does, actually …

Do you have a tip for children who would like to try drawing ‘monster-type characters?
SHARP TEETH BIG CLAWS. The other good tip I find helpful is to start with real animals, and take bits from here and there. I think I stole this tip from Sendak’s drawings in Where the Wild Things Are. If you look at the wild things they are all sorts of bits and pieces … I think one had a parrot’s head, another looked like a bull … all mixed up!
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
It’s not out for a little while yet, but I just finished a book which has no story at all, but is all about funny sounding words. (Some rude ones possibly … )

.

Shoo You Crocodile is out now! Ask for it at your bookshop or order it from the publisher. 


Shoo You Crocodile! by Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett
AWESOME EXTRAS:
Read our 2017 interview with Tom Jellett (his comic-book style answers are fantastic!)
Visit Tom Jellett’s website for more about him and his books.
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gus Gordon

MEET THE AUTHOR

Gus GordonGus Gordon grew up on a farm in northern NSW Australia and, after leaving school, worked on cattle stations all over the country before deciding to pursue a drawing career. He has since illustrated and/or written nearly 80 books for children. His writing is always anthropomorphic (animals take the place of humans in his stories). Gus lives in NSW with his wife and three children. His latest book is Finding François.

From the publisher:

Alice wishes she had someone her own size to talk to. Then one day her wish comes true.
Through hope and chance, love and loss, two little ones who need each other find each other.
A heartwarming story from award-winning author and illustrator Gus Gordon about loneliness, saying goodbye and the value of life-affirming friendships.

Finding François by Gus Gordon


Alice Bonnet (the main character in Finding François) lives in Paris. Are the places where Alice lives and visits based on places you’ve visited in France yourself?
Yes. It’s no secret that I love France, particularly Paris. It is an incredibly inspiring city. I have spent a great deal of time there, wandering the streets aimlessly. Much of the story is based around the river that flows through Paris; the Seine river. In the background of many of the illustrations, you can see the historical buildings that sit beside the river, including the Institut de France and the Musée D’Orsay. The bridge Alice throws the bottle from is the famous Pont Des Arts pedestrian bridge.

Alice and her grandmother live up the hill in the 18th arrondissement village of Montmartre. It is where I always stay when I’m in Paris. It is well known for its artists community and many famous artists have lived and painted there.

The illustrations include snippets that look like they’re cut from the pages of French catalogues, magazines or books. Do you cut up real pages, or do you find these images online?
Most of the images I use are from actual old French Catalogues. Sometimes I source material online if I can’t find what I’m looking for in my collection. Very rarely do I actually cut or tear the pages out of the catalogues. They are far too old and precious (many are well over 100 years old). I also used old postcards, receipts, stamps, letters, labels and advertisements. I scan the image I need into my computer, essentially ‘cutting’ out the image (or paper) and ‘pasting’ it into the artwork. This is all done digitally. Aside from this, every element of each illustration is hand-drawn, painted and collected, then scanned-in, bit by bit, into my computer. I assemble the whole thing, like a glorious puzzle, on the screen. This is good and bad (but mostly good). It allows me to move things around and change my papers and tweak my colours if I need to. Unfortunately I’m not left with any originals so I do prints instead. Everything takes an awful long time but it seems to work out in the end so I’m happy.

Alice likes to write lists of what she plans to do each day. Are you a writer of lists? What’s on your list of plans for today?
Like Alice, I love writing lists. I have to really as I forget things otherwise. Today I am filling out questionnaires like this one, emailing my publisher and others, collecting a framed print and hopefully I’ll have time to do some writing later today.

Have you ever sent (or found) a message in a bottle yourself?
No, I haven’t but I’d love to find a message in a bottle on the beach one day.

Do you have a tip for young artists/illustrators?
My tip for young artists would simply be to keep doing what you’re doing. Do what feels right to YOU and no one else, no matter how unique or peculiar your art is. Stick at it and good things will come your way in time.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
My next book is about an anxious robot named, Gerald.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Finding François by Gus Gordon

See Gus Gordon working in his studio (YouTube – Paper Bird Home club video)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Finding François

Visit Gus Gordon’s website for more about him & his books

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gavin Aung Than

Gavin Aung Than with some of his charactersMEET THE AUTHOR

Gavin Aung Than is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist. His current project Super Sidekicks is a fun-filled action adventure series. Book 3 in the series, Trial of Heroes hit bookstores in April 2020.

From the publisher:

The Super Sidekicks just saved the world and now they’ve been invited to join H.E.R.O. – the Heroic Earth Righteousness Organisation – an exclusive club for the planet’s most famous superheroes. But before they can become members, the team must pass the hardest challenge in the universe, a test so scary and difficult only the truly heroic can survive.

The Super Sidekicks are back! Prepare for another amazing adventure from New York Times bestselling Australian author, Gavin Aung Than.


Did Super Sidekicks Book 1 start out as a standalone book or did you plan the series before you started?
I always planned it to be a series. So No Adults Allowed is all about how the sidekicks meet each other and become a team. Ocean’s Revenge (Book 2) is their first big adventure together, and Trial of Heroes (Book 3) is another big and exciting challenge for the heroes.

How do you create your comics? Do you draw by hand, or onto a computer?
I use both methods. So I draw all the pictures in black and white on paper first. Then I scan those drawings into my computer and add all the grey colour and words. You can see my full process on my website here: https://aungthan.com/ssprocess

Do you have a favourite sidekick to draw?
Wow that’s a hard question! I love drawing all of them, they’re like my kids. If I had to pick just one, then i’ll say Goo is my favourite. He’s so lovable and can literally be drawn into any shape or size which is always fun!

Trial of Heroes is the latest book in the series. How long did it take you from first draft to final draft?
Each book takes about 6–8 months to complete. It’s a lot of work but I absolutely love it!

Do you have a tip for young comic creators?
Practice, practice, practice! The only way to get good at drawing or making comics is to practice all the time. Start making your own mini-comics. It’s also okay to copy your favourite artists, even to trace their work when you’re just starting. The great cartoonist Chuck Jones said that every artist has 100,000 bad drawings in them, so the quicker you get those done and out of the way, the better!

Three books in the Super Side Kicks series are out now – ask at your bookshop or library.


Super Side Kicks Book 3AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to peek inside Book 1

Click here to peek inside Book 2

Click here to peek inside Book 3

Click here to watch Gavin at work in his studio as part of Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Karen Blair

Karen BlairMEET 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 FarmWhen 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!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)


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. 


Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback.

Read our Q&A with Raewyn Caisley, the author of Meet Eve in the Outback

Watch Karen sketching & talking about her book creation (YouTube)

Visit Karen Blair’s website for more about her and her books.