From Mark Wilson...

Welcome. Come into my studio, which is an old garage, and I love it. There’s plenty of natural light and a high ceiling for big canvases. The walls are covered with half finished paintings, pictures, postcards, photos and inspirational things - again, some very old things. I have children’s art up all around me. It inspires me. Children naturally experiment with colour and pattern without even knowing it. Pick a colour – any colour. They don’t care if purple shouldn’t go next to dark green or whatever. I spent so many years following the colour and design ‘rules’ of my teachers. Never again! They should have six year olds teaching painting at art school. (Image 2) I think that is why I like painting big abstract canvases. There is a freedom of expression and technique that is liberating. No pre-conceived ideas. No visual constraints. Pure self expression, like a child doing finger-painting!

Image 2: Painting, The World Within, Mark Wilson

Getting my first book published was very good Luck, and a lovely person called Ann James.  I was in the rock band Pirana at the time, but not making much money. I had a weird collection of surrealistic black and white drawings (see Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte) and applied for an illustrator’s job on Pursuit Magazine where Ann worked. I got the job (still don’t know how). My first published illustration was a little pen and ink drawing of Cootamundra Wattle for a story about a little country school with only 14 students. Ann also asked me to illustrate a book for a Greek language project. The book was called Drenched.

I don’t have a ritual when I start work, but I usually play music which gets me started. I work with my drum kit set up behind me, as my band practices here in the studio.  Rock’n’roll has always excited me and it really inspires me. Other times, I just stand in my studio, doing nothing, just being there. Perhaps for half an hour, but it varies. You have to empty your head of thoughts to let inspiration do its bit, whether you are writing, painting or illustrating. Often, ideas will come when I’m walking the dog. The fresh air and nature are inspiring in themselves. That’s how I came up with the narrative for The Last Tree. Tree, dog – get the picture! (Image 3) 

Image 3: Painting, The miracle of Life, Mark Wilson

Many of my paintings and stories are about conservation, which I am passionate about. Children are so aware today about conservation and the need to take positive action to save our native habitat and wildlife. Children also expect more sophisticated and informative picture books on the subject, and you know they are taking that inspiration - to do something positive, away with them.  

Inspiration is a strange thing. It can come from just about anywhere - word, a poem, a tree or a feather.  A button from on old army coat was the inspiration for My mother’s eyes – the Story of a Boy Soldier, which led to the Children in War Series for Lothian. The button was given to me by an old soldier at the Frankston RSL.

Words inspire me. They are precious, and powerful. They will bring you to tears, lift you up again and make you smile. When illustrating I try to pay them the reverence words deserve. Every illustration has a purpose. I try to leave the words alone with the power they have to stimulate imagination on their own, and create a whole other (visual) narrative with the pictures (Image 4). 

Image 4: Viet. Digger, the Dog Who Went to War, final Page, Mark Wilson

A single photo in a museum was the inspiration for Digger, the Dog Who Went to War. It is based on a true story about a dog that was smuggled onto a troop ship in WW1. The dog was a Silky Terrier, just like our dog Couta, so Couta became the model for the paintings in the book. Sadly, Couta died last Christmas, before the book came out, so the book is not only a tribute to all the animals that have gone to war, but also a tribute to my old mate (Image 5). 

Image 5: 'Digger with the stretcher bearers' from Digger, The Dog Who Went to War, Mark Wilson (Hachette Australia)

In the book, the letters Matthew wrote to his sister had to look authentic, so I rubbed them in sand, dirt and water to make them look old and authentic to the period (1917) as possible. There are also a lot of pencil drawings in the book (all my books). There is something I love about simple pencil drawings, so they often become finished art for me.

The main technique I use is acrylic paint on canvas, but I don’t use brushes (Image 6).

Image 6: From, The Horse Soldier, Beersheba, Mark Wilson (Windy Hollow)

Backgrounds are done with a rag dipped in paint and wiped onto the canvas, and detail is done with a pencil dipped in paint. I usually don’t even mix water with the paint, so it builds up a nice texture (the opening pages of Digger - to set the scene). The spread has a little pencil sketch of Digger chasing an ant in the middle.  It’s the roughest sketch I did of Digger, so it matches the rough painterly background. I don’t use any photo-shop or other computer programs. Everything is paint, ink, pastel etc. on canvas or paper, with drawings glued down where you see them in the book. (Image 7). 

Image 7: 'Boy and his horse' from The Horse Soldier, Mark Wilson (Windy Hollow)

The painting technique I use is inspired by the Australian Impressionists, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts. They had a superb atmospheric use of colour to create the impression of light, in an attempt to get the effects of warm Australian summer days. I try to do the same (8), but I mix the technique up with an almost super-realistic style to emphasise particular parts of the narrative (p. 24, when Digger realises his master has accidentally left his gas mask behind in the tent) (Image 9). 

Image 8: 'Lost Boy' from Ben and Gracie's Art Adventure, Mark Wilson (Lothian) with reference to Frederick McCubbin

Image 9: 'The Decision' from Digger, The Dog Who Went to War, Mark Wilson (Hachette Australia)
The illustrations (in all my books) have direct reference to actual events. I try to bring to life the little things in the stories, but I isolate them in the illustrations so they stand out, to have importance in the visual narrative. I also use symbolism a lot. Firstly, the music box with an angel on the lid, and secondly the butterfly in Angel of Kokoda, both create their own visual narrative that brings the readers imagination into play. What do they mean and why are they there? (Image 10) 

Image 10: 'Final scene' from Angel of Kokoda, Mark Wilson (Hachette Australia)

My mother served in the RAAF during World War 2, so did my dad, grandfather, uncle and great uncle. My books tell their stories so they can be passed on down to future generations, as they were passed down to me. I’m not glorifying war, far from it. War is about sacrifice and loss. It is a tragedy that we never seem to learn from. The men and women who serve give up everything to fight for belief in family, country and the future. I pay tribute to those who served by telling their stories, and especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Every one of them have left behind loved ones – parents, sons, wives, husbands and daughters. In my books, in some little way, I pay tribute to all of them (Image 11). 

Image 11: From A Day to Remember (with Jackie French), my mum in uniform, top right, Mark Wilson (HarperCollins Publishers).
Welcome. Come into my studio, which is an old garage, and I love it. 
Mar Wilson reading at the State Library as part of their 100 readers 2013 program. here.
Books Illustrated offers a range of limited edition prints and signed books by Mark Wilson. 
Mark's work will be exhibited at: 

13 March - 2 May: Newcastle Region Library, NSW
18 April - 26 April: Seachange Festival, VIC
2 May - 3 May: Clunes Back to Book Town, VIC

This exhibition is available for hire.
View limited edition prints available for sale by Mark Wilson.
View signed books available for sale by Mark Wilson.

My website:
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