All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is Mark Wilson, author and illustrator of many books, including Ben and Gracie’s Art Adventure and The Little Wooden Horse.
1. Where do you like to write/do your artwork?
At the beach or around the coast somewhere. I love rock pools and rocky headlands.
2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?
The Mr. Badger series, by Leigh Hobbs. The most brilliant little pen and ink drawing on page after page!
3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s or illustrator’s block?
In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine we interview an author or illustrator. The trouble is, we can only fit some of their answers in the magazine. So we print the full interviews on the blog—we wouldn’t want you to miss out!
In issue 12 we talked to Briony Stewart, author & illustrator of Kumiko and the Dragon, Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret, and Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers.
Where do you live?
In a house! But I wish it were a tree house.
What do you love about being a writer-illustrator?
I’ve always enjoyed being “away with the fairies,” (as my mum used to call it,) I love daydreaming! Imagining things, solving problems and inventing are some of my favourite things to do. When the things I dream up make other people happy, make them laugh or have a good think, then it makes me happy too.
Was it easy to get your first book published?
Hmm … a tricky question … Can I say yes and no?
Yes, because I was lucky enough to have a book editor ask to publish my first book before I had even started to try to find someone to publish it! That doesn’t happen very often—even J.K Rowling was rejected a few times to start out with …
But I’ll also say no, because the truth is, even though I ended up in the right place at the right time, I had done a ton of work to get there in the first place. I studied fine art and writing at university, and I wrote and drew every day from the age of fifteen because I decided I wanted to publish a book one day.
I used to say I got lucky, but then someone said “you make your own luck,” and I think that’s kind of true too.
What do you like to do when you are not writing or illustrating?
I love movies, especially but perhaps not surprisingly, kids movies, sci-fi and adventure films. I also like making things—anything. Right now I am trying to make a hexagrammic antiprism lampshade out of cardboard for the kitchen. I also like long chats over a cup of tea, cycling (lazy cycling that involves scenery, short distances, and ice cream), pottering about in my kitchen cooking with music turned up loud enough to sing along to, or sitting on the back steps patting my rabbit Winston, whilst quietly observing the garden.
What made you become a writer-illustrator?
These three things:
1. Other people’s books and stories. I wanted to live in their worlds forever, so I started extending and exploring their stories in my head. For instance, I would take myself on walks through Misselthwaite Manor as though I was Mary from The Secret Garden. Soon I started coming up with my own stories and worlds too.
2. When I was 15 I started catching the train to school. It took half an hour and it was boring, so I started writing journals (and dreaming) to pass the time.
3. My English teacher started reading my journals, then the English department, then my friends. I liked having readers to write for. My teacher told me I should publish a book, which was great because I secretly wanted to anyway. Having people who believed in me helped me decide to do it.
Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly I come up with ideas from things I see or hear or feel in everyday life. Sometimes they morph with some of the daydreams that have been floating around my head for a while, and mutate into a story. I have always been inspired by old stories, myths and folktales too, I’m not sure why. Anything that sounds mysterious and possibly real gets me pretty excited.
Do you have any advice for young writers and artists?
Keep practising, and trying new things all the time. Art and writing is something that for the most part, you have to teach yourself because unlike a lot of other subjects it’s individual. Collect authors and artists that you really like, and study the things you like most about their work. Keep making your own stuff and stick at it. If it really means a lot to you, there’s no way you won’t get really good at it.
Are you working on a book at the moment?
Well, I have just finished my last Kumiko and the Dragon book, and have just begun a new novel for teenagers. It’s about growing up, and graffiti. There’s another novel I am working on too, its for upper primary school students and it is to do with time travel. I think it’s going to be awesome … so awesome that I can’t say any more!
Are there any writers/illustrators who influence your writing/artwork?
Shaun Tan showed me that illustration and art are the same thing, and I admire that. I love fine art illustrators, like CM Barker, Mucha, Searl, Rackham and Dulac. I like the animated work of Miyazaki and the written work of Tim Winton and poet Robert Frost. But songs and scientific drawings—even beautiful packaging—influence me! I find something to love in the work of most authors and illustrators.
When you were working on the Kumiko books, which came first—the artwork or the story text?
Kumiko definitely started out as a story that I wrote down, but for me images and writing are closely linked. I see the events of a story vividly as I write—almost like watching a movie. I would have loved to have painted all the scenes from Kumiko and the Dragon but the story was too long to be a picture book. Because I knew there would only be 20 black and white pictures, I actually turned many of the images into description instead! So the story is more vivid because I absorbed a lot of what would have made great pictures into the writing. Also, as I am writing I often draw the scenes and characters as references while I’m writing. So the text and art in this book really grew together at the same time, though the text was completed before the final illustrations were done.
What materials do you prefer to use in your artwork?
I am more of a drawer, so pen and pencil are my main tools. But I like using gouache and watercolour paints too, and have started using them more.
Does the story influence your choice of materials?
Of course! Kumiko and the Dragon had to be black and white, but I chose the style and materials because they reminded me a bit of traditional Japanese wood block prints, and Manga, which are both inherently Japanese. But I would equally use soft, watercolour washes for a gentle story, or bright bold, gouache for an action packed adventure!
Do you mostly write in a paper journal, or on a computer?
Time wise I mostly work on the computer, but paper journals are special. I like making covers for new journals, and collecting them. They remind me that I am working towards a book, not a blog or email. They also keep better records of all my more random thoughts (from the doodles in the margins to the shopping list in the top corner). I use my journal for all the real creative work, and only use the computer to pull all the little pieces together, to begin the long process of editing.
For more information about Briony and her books, check out her website.
We’re into our second week of authors and illustrators visiting — they’re here to celebrate the launch of the Undercover Readers Club. Today we have illustrator Chris Nixon stopping by to tell us what he used to read under the covers after ‘lights out’. Chris Nixon is a WA artist and illustrator. Books he has illustrated include Jake’s Gigantic List, Jake’s Monster Mess and Crocodile Cake. He’s currently working on even more Jake books!
Oh the places you’ll go!
My Dad used to tell my brother and I stories of him and his brothers growing up, only he’d slip our names in, which we loved — and couldn’t believe there were kids doing these wonderful things … and they had the same names as us! He would tell us about all kinds of adventures living on a farm and getting into all kinds of mischief, it’s one of my favourite memories growing up. Afterwards he’d turn the lights out, but I always wanted more and couldn’t sleep after all that excitement so I’d bring out my little nightlight and look to books to keep the adventure alive. I loved reading Dr. Suess, in particular Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who, and I always loved the other world it would take me to. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and I still love it today, it never gets old. I always wanted to be Max joining in on the wild rumpus with the wild things howling at the moon. I’d tuck under the blanket and make a tent with my knees to try to hide the light (although Mum and Dad would have been able to see it through the blanket), I didn’t care because I felt like I was off on an adventure. Occasionally I would get caught and because my brother and I shared a bunk bed in a big room we would get separated as we were always getting each other involved.
After lights out now you could still find me reading Where the Wild Things Are or some of Shaun Tan’s books, admiring his great illustrations. However if I had to pick one book to read it would be Oh, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Suess. I read this book every time I go travelling or if I’m down or any time really and it inspires me every single time. I love travel and adventure and I think of myself as a bit of explorer, I always have and always will, and the book really fires me up for more. I really like this bit:
Alphabet Soup magazine is celebrating the launch of Undercover Readers (our new reviewers club for kids)! If you’d like to join the Undercover Readers Club, you’ll find an information pack you can download from the Alphabet Soup website. As part of the celebrations, we have a different children’s author or illustrator visiting Soup Blog each day until 29 June 2010 to talk about what they used to read after ‘lights out’ when they were growing up. So be sure to check back tomorrow!
In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine, we interview an author or an illustrator. We can’t include all their answers in the magazine (we only fit so much into two pages!) and we like to put the whole interview on Soup Blog so you don’t miss out! Issue 6 of Alphabet Soup magazine includes a Q&A with Chris Nixon.
Chris Nixon lives in the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is a freelancer for a design studio and has also illustrated Crocodile Cake, by Palo Morgan, and Jake’s Gigantic List, by Ken Spillman. Jake’s Monster Mess will be published in May 2010.
When did you start drawing?
My earliest memory of drawing is when I was 5 or 6 and I was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved drawing and painting animals and things outside so I started taking art classes painting in oils and sketching in charcoal and pencil. Most of the time the classes were outside so I would get to go on bushwalks and go exploring, which was great fun.
Did you have a favourite artist/illustrator as a child?
I wouldn’t say I had a favourite artist, but I did love the book Where the Wild Things Are. I loved the artwork and story then, and now Maurice Sendak is one of my favourite illustrators.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Apart from Where the Wild Things Are, I loved Winnie the Pooh and all the Disney books that were adapted from films. I really liked 101 Dalmatians.
Why did you decide to become a children’s illustrator?
I was always interested in art but I
didn’t know how to turn it into a job. I studied design and illustration at university and in my last year I wrote and illustrated my own picture book. I researched a lot of kids’ books and found I really liked the characters. Up until then, I hadn’t picked up a children’s book since I was child. I really enjoyed them again and saw a good outlet for my artwork and passion for bringing good stories to life.
Was it easy to get your first job as an illustrator?
I have been very lucky and haven’t had to go looking for work; it’s always come to me. Fremantle Press saw my work at my graduate exhibition from uni and saw that I had illustrated a crocodile in one of my designs. They had a story called Crocodile Cake and needed an illustrator, and that was enough for them to pick me … very lucky! A few weeks later, I was working on my first picture book.
Do you have a preferred medium? Why?
I have found a medium that really works for me and my style and that is a blend of traditional and digital techniques. I use pencil and watercolour as an under painting and then I finish the work digitally. This allows me to make easy changes on the computer, but allows the work to have a traditional hand painted and drawn look to it.
What do you like to do when you are not working on your art?
I love being outside and traveling so I love surfing, kayaking, mountain biking and seeing as much of the world as possible. I’ve played basketball since I was 6. I also like music, film and cooking, so there is never enough time to fit it all in!
Where do you get your inspiration?
I watch a lot of films, particularly animated and kids’ films. They are like kids’ books brought to life and I always look to them for inspiration. I plan to work in the film industry one day, making movies and bringing great stories to life with my artwork.
Are you influenced by anyone’s work?
The artists working in the film industry are some of the best artists in the world, particularly the artists from Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios. I follow all their work and use it as a goal for my skill as an illustrator. In the book world, I really like Shaun Tan’s work. His career path is something I follow closely as he is also from Perth and now working as an artist making films.
Do you need to meet with the author when you are illustrating their books?
I never met the authors until the books were completed. I worked closely with the publisher to make decisions on my illustrations.
Does the story influence your choice of materials?
Absolutely. If the story is set outside with a more natural setting I will use more traditional materials like watercolour to create a more flowing illustration. If the story is more energetic and fast paced, I might use effects on the computer to make it more convincing.
How long did it take for you to illustrate Crocodile Cake and Jake’s Gigantic List?
Crocodile Cake was my first book so it took a lot longer to finish. From start to finish it took a little over a year. Jake’s Gigantic List took about 3 months.
Are you working on illustrating a new book?
I just finished my third book, which is called Farmer Mick: Harvest Time Havoc, which is all about farming with some really fun characters including talking horses and tractors. I’m also finishing off my own book I started writing and illustrating in uni. It’s called Chasing Zach and I hope to have it finished this year.
Do you have any advice for young artists?
Find a certain artist or style, or even part of art that you really like and research it to find out what other people in the world are doing. Other than that; practice and more practice. Take a sketchbook and pencil with you in case you see something that inspires you. I have a sketchbook in my car, in my bag and next to my bed in case I dream about something really cool and I need to draw it so I don’t forget it.
The current issue of Alphabet Soup includes a review of Jake’s Gigantic List. And today I came across a book trailer, made by Chris Nixon, the illustrator. (We’ll be interviewing Chris Nixon in the autumn 2010 issue of the magazine, so stay tuned!)
We’re very pleased to introduce you to Annette Flexman, the newest member of our illustration team! Annette joins Greg Mitchell, who has been our sole (and hardworking!) illustrator since issue 1.
We asked Annette to tell us a bit about herself. And here’s what she said:
I discovered I loved drawing in early primary school. I remember drawing lots of farm animals, as we had lots of pets at home, and then moved on to space ships and space creatures as I got older!
I recently discovered watercolour pencils which are just fantastic to work with. I’m very excited about joining the Alphabet Soup team, especially because I get to read all those fantastic stories and poems from the young readers out there!
You can see a sample of Annette’s artwork up at the top of the post there. She’s been very busy with pencils, paper and scissors flying – getting pages ready for issue 4 (out mid-August 2009). Don’t miss it!