and welcome! I am opening the black wooden door of our studio to show
you around. We are nestled in the basement of an old shirt factory with
windows at street level. The environment is cosy and inspiring. I share
the space with a lovely printmaker and artist. On my desk are my inks,
brushes, a hedgehog, plants and paper all waiting patiently for me to
finish my coffee and begin!
Room with a view. My studio desk
Next to my desk are brown paper pockets full of rough sketches from Mr Huff, my
most recent picture book published by Penguin and coming out in late
June 2015. The idea began in my visual diary, a pocket size moleskin
that I carry with me everywhere. I was exploring how it feels when the
clouds visit me and wondered whether I could tell the story as a picture
book. I was not sure how the story would be received being about
anxiety and sadness, but I felt it was an important story to tell. I was
fortunate to receive a grant from The Australia Council managed by the
Australian Society of Authors in support of developing the storyboard
into a picture book. I studied print making techniques at The Australian Print Workshop so that I could use etching, woodblock printing, ink and collage in creating the illustrations.
Sketches from Moleskin visual diary.
Happily I have access to a small press in
the studio where I was able to experiment. Printing requires so much
patience! After many trials and tribulations I finally printed the
backgrounds for the picture book by scratching drawings into plastic,
inking and printing them on the press. The outcome of printing is a
constant surprise for a novice like myself, too heavy, too light, upside
down... just right! It becomes a lesson in mindfulness. I find it
fascinating letting the process lead you, when mistakes are made they
sometimes lead to a new path in which you can find unexpected joy in the
Printing press in studio.
On my bookshelf are stacks of wood, used for printing trees that line the streets of Brooklyn - the setting for Mr Huff.
I looked for an urban landscape with muted colours and a strong
structures to contrast against the cloudy translucency of the character
Mr Huff. A dear friend of mine and her two little girls live in
Brooklyn, I follow her on Instagram, which is how I stumbled across the
perfect backdrop for the story.
Woodblocks with test prints on rice paper
I have been remiss in mentioning that I
also share my studio with wooly and furry friends! I enjoy creating
characters from felt and wool. This is an early knitted version of Mr Huff.
Knitted Mr Huff
Translating characters into other mediums
is something I have always loved. Whether itâ€™s printing a huge poster
or making teeny tiny button badges, I delight in seeing the characters
change shape. When I picked up a leaflet at my childrenâ€™s school for
animation classes last year I was VERY excited. I initially thought my
children would love the class but it turns out I was the one who whoâ€™s
heart beat faster at the thought of making characters walk around! I
spoke to Alex Machin from Animachin and he kindly agreed to tutor me through the steps of creating a stop motion - a book trailer for Mr Huff.
Studio set up, animation in progress.
After I finished illustrating the picture
book, six months were spent (in between other projects) building an
animation table, setting up lights, creating puppets, making buildings,
sewing tiny clothes, discovering animation wire, playng with Sculpey,
watching You Tube tutorials, meeting with Alex to show my progress and
finding long cords so that my camera would not run out of batteries
while I filmed two steps over three hours. It was a steep learning
One of the hardest things I discovered was making those little puppets stand up without falling over after two seconds!
Bill made from Sculpey, animation wire and fabric dyed to match the colour of his clothes in the book
During filming I found myself walking around the studio like big Mr Huff,
and pacing tentatively backwards like Bill to work out how their legs
moved and where their arms would be. There was the small matter of Bill
having to go to hospital during the shoot with a broken leg and arm. We
had to carefully rebuild his body and I stitched his clothes back on. I
held my breath a week later while I wriggled him into the same position
on set, and the show rolled on.
Mr Huff and Bill finally standing without falling over on the cork paving.
The music teacher at my childrenâ€™s school
recommended Pinch Hitter, the band responsible for the beautiful music
accompanying the video.
As I prepare for the next picture book, I glance at Mr Huff on
my desk and remember the journey that brought the book to publication.
Even with all the worry and waves of self doubt it is a proud moment
holding the book in my hand. Thank you for dropping by and having a
look behind our studio door!
Scene from the Mr Huff book trailer.
To celebrate the launch of Mr Huff,
the original artwork from the book will be exhibited, accompanied by
new paintings and three dimensional characters and set from the story.
Join us on opening night, Thursday July 9th, 6 -9 pm.
Mr Huff. Published by Penguin. July 2015
â€˜He wited for it to go awayâ€™ Mr Huff. By Anna Walker