first “studio” was portable - a tartan picnic rug on the floor where I
could work in any room and all my creative mess could be wrapped up at
the end of one day, for opening the next. I used it for most of my
childhood years. The dining room table was another “studio place” where
many paintings and drawings were executed, plus the illustrations for my
first picture books. Much later in Ballarat 2008-2013 the table once
again became my main working surface – illustrations for Phar Lap, A Crash of Rhinos and Lightning Jack were all created on this old blackwood table – under a beautiful, even light from the south window in the living room.
Collage crocodile with printed textured skin – Crocodile Beat
In the Fitzroy years (1980-2008) the studio was a mezzanine floor with
north facing windows above. In summer I was constantly trying to
shield the work area from direct sun while in winter the sun and clouds
were always changing the light. Many picture books from The Magic Saddle (1984) to Only a Donkey
(2008) were illustrated here exploring all sorts of mediums – textured
paint, watercolour, inks, crayon, fabric and tissue collage, lino
prints, rubbings and pastels. A constant process of working through the
things that didn’t work to get to those that did. Results always seem
clearer the following day!
As an art student at RMIT I was encouraged to experiment with many
different mediums in illustration - and taught the importance of
drawing! One student who shone was Ron Brooks who was a year ahead of
me. At that time the graphic design floor was part of the Art School
where painting, textile design, typography, photography, industrial and
fashion design, jewellery, ceramics and sculpture were all contained in
one building on various floors. No lifts – just stairs between floors
where students could mingle and get to see what others were doing. Hands
on, the smell of oil paint, a computer nowhere in sight…
The way I work is what some often view as a chaotic mess – or a creative
mess. Maybe it has something to do with spreading everything out on a
rug… anyway I have always worked like this. Only when a job, or a book,
is finished does the major clean up occur ready for the next clean page
Wrens and honeyeaters love this garden just down from the current Studio-workshop
Collage can be as frustrating as it is fun...
Collage detail from a page in Lightning Jack
Collage pigeons, sample illustration
I go from applying large areas of paper to sometimes pieces as tiny as
1mm for the detailed illustration work. My mother’s frequent expression:
“you’ve made a rod for your own back". I love the feel of working with
paper, I can’t get that with computer screens and keys. Finding a
certain paper can often be the beginning of an illustration idea. I also
like building an image fairly quickly with collage and assembling it
all, moving things around, making changes. The detail work takes time.
It happens the old way, after many drawings and studying of form.
Can you pick the well-worn sable brush? (Used on every collage book that I've done – with a very gluey handle)
I have used the same two sable hair brushes for all the collage
illustrations I’ve done over the years. Pretty simple – a larger one for
broader work and smaller for the details. Today they are very worn
looking – one appears on our Cabernet Sauvignon wine label the Scarlett Davis named after an early 19thC English painter, John Scarlett Davis who was my Great x 3 grandfather.
I love paint brushes. I have lots and each has its own use. The natural
hair ones I still prefer, can’t resist, they just seem to hold the paint
better and keep their points. It’s taken me some time to accept
synthetic hair brushes although now I’m finding useful ones while there
is less and less choice of natural hair ones. The ritual with brushes is
the cleaning of them after their work is finished, every time. Although
I have committed the sin of forgetting and leaving the odd one in
solution for too long. Resurrecting them can sort of work but they are
never quite the same. (I have a friend who is a traditional signwriter –
he leaves his sable lining brushes lying in oil which is also good.) I
can’t tolerate turps or other solvents any more so I use St Luke’s Safe
Gel Clean-up, much kinder to brush and nose! Secret passion – art shops
in France (fave: Sennelier opposite Le Louvre, Paris).
And then there are the horses ...
So I admit I’m obsessed. Britain's model horses and making felt horses
were my passion when young, all the time longing to own and care for a
real horse. Then I found wooden rocking and carousel horses while at Art
School and for some reason wanted to paint one. That was the fork in
the road… isn’t a collector someone who sets out without any notion of
collecting? My interest in old wooden horses and where they came from
kept me on a trail. Happy trails! That was how I found Jack Bartlett,
who had made rocking horses since being apprenticed in his father’s
Clifton Hill factory in 1923. In 1974 my rocking horses were spilling
out of the bedroom that my sister had vacated in our family home. Jack
came to help identify the horses – some of which he recognised as his
father’s, others from a rival Sydney firm and some from London.
I worked alongside Jack on a casual basis restoring rocking horses over
13 years. He showed me the craft of rocking horse making from the basics
through to the finer points, a craft that dates from the early 19th
century in England. It was some time before he allowed me to shape a
horse with gouge and chisel, then wood rasp, known as “filing" up in his
factory. His father, Robert, adopted the methodology from the English
company G&J Lines, famous for its carved rocking and carousel
horses. This method did not change in the 60 years of Bartlett’s
operation. For Jack, money was not the objective, he was a craftsman and
insisted on 'a proper job'.
A precious brush is one that Jack gave me – a brush of a few hairs,
handmade for the purpose of painting rocking horse eyelashes. It was
used in his factory for years. It’s on display in his special cabinet in
the EQUUS Museum at Moonambel.
Part of the French-USA exhibition of horses in the museum
Apart from Jack, I could never find reliable information on rocking
horses so I set about writing a book and sought examples to photograph.
It took seven years to write and visits to other countries to view
special horses in England, Europe and the USA, all self-funded. My
partner since school years, John Kirkpatrick, came on this journey, too.
Later when I wrote the chapters of a growing book, he sharply edited my
text that he insisted had to be on computer – an Amstrad for starters! The Rocking Horse, a History of Moving Toy Horses was finally published in London in February 1992. Jack passed away in October of that year.
These three 'horse' books and others can be seen at the Cellar Door
The years from 1998 – 2005 were dedicated to the restoration of two
heritage carousels and their horses from Luna Park, Melbourne and the
Melbourne Zoo. Both were major projects involving Heritage Victoria,
several contractors and cost over $2.5 K. John and I established Equus
Art Pty Ltd and varied careers a little. To start, both carousels
required research into their history, manufacture and painting methods.
This took me to the USA twice and a tailored workshop with a top
carousel restorer who I’d met in 1994.
Back in Melbourne the studio was transformed from a place of book
illustration to a decorative art workshop from 2000 – 2005, where 98
carousel horses in need of restoration were returned to their original
Gilded and hand-painted horses on Luna Park Melbourne's carousel. The whole carousel was returned to
its original appearance of 1913.
Luna Park’s carousel horses had been covered in white enamel for several
decades. Under the layers of this paint, down to the crevices of
carving, we found evidence of an original paint scheme of astonishing
complexity: gilding, glazing, lining and scrolling, pinto and dappled
horses done by the hands of skilled artisans. For me, it was like owing
it to these artisans to understand and meticulously reconstruct this
scheme matching the colours, scrolling designs, hand painting style and
methods they used. Each horse was different, yet the herd and carousel
were united in a “limited palette” of colour. When it was made in
America by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company it was a top-of-the-range
carousel. It remains the finest one in Australia.
Picture book work was put “on hold” over this time until 2007.
Illustrating a 32 page book usually takes me 8-12 months, including the
research, design/layout, preliminary sketches and finally the
Vineyard, wine and wooden horse museum...
Fast-track to 2019 where John and I are based in the Pyrenees wine region of central Victoria – some tree change!
EQUUS building on the hill, green in winter!
Early dawn light over the dam. – John calls it 'Moonambel magic'!
On 60 acres with a shiraz vineyard, we opened the EQUUS@Moonambel Cellar Door in 2015 selling our wine made by Owen Latta.
EQUUS@Moonambel Wines in the Cellar Door. French tricycle horse in the museum.
We call it “Wine and Wooden Horses”, a unique place where people can
come and taste EQUUS Wines and view the collection of rocking and
Horses in various stage of conservation and restoration
My crammed workshop is currently being transferred to the “new shed”
where visitors will soon be able to see for themselves Behind The Studio
The new Studio, south light through translucent poly carb.
Carousel horse in for repair from Melbourne Zoo; made by G&J Lines, London c1885.
Looking down from the wall, my great x3 grandfather, artist John Scarlett Davis (self portrait, 1827)
Awards: 1982 - 2014
Picture books published by Scholastic Australia:
- Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA): Winner –Younger Readers (inaugural award) for Rummage, C. Mattingley (1982)
- CBCA: Commended - Book of the Year for Rummage, C.Mattingley (1982)
- CBCA: Shortlisted – Picture Book of the Year for The Magic Saddle, C.Mattingley (1984)
- Parents Choice Award, USA: Winner – Hattie and The Fox, M.Fox (1993)
- CBCA: Shortlisted - Eve Pownell Award for Dinosaur Encore (1993)
- Australian Book Publishers' Association: Best Designed, Illustrated Children's Book for V for Vanishing (1993).
- Wilderness Society of Australia Award for Children's Literature: Best Picture Book for V for Vanishing (1993)
- Hong Kong Book Awards (PRC): Winner - Best produced English Children’s Book for Dinosaur Encore (1994)
- CBCA: Winner - Eve Pownell Award for V for Vanishing (1994)
- 6th Dimensional Illustrators Awards Show, New York USA: Gold Award, Paper Collage for V for Vanishing (1994)
- 10th Dimensional Illustrators Awards Show, New York, USA: Bronze Award, Paper Collage, for One Horse Waiting For Me (1997)
- National Centre for Children’s Book Art, Victoria: Dromkeen Medal (2012)
- CBCA: Shortlisted – Picture Book of the Year for Lightning Jack, G. Millard (2012)
- International Board of Books for Young people (IBBY): Australian nominee for illustration for Lightning Jack (2014 )
- Hattie and The Fox by M.Fox (1986)
- Shoes From Grandpa by M.Fox (1989)
- Crocodile Beat by G.Jorgenson (Omnibus) (1988)
- The Sea Breeze Hotel by M.Vaughn (Margaret Hamilton Books) (1991)
- Dinosaur Encore by P.Mullins (Margaret Hamilton Books) (1992)
- V for Vanishing by P.Mullins (Margaret Hamilton Books) (1993)
- The Dream of the Dusky Dolphin by J.Harlen (Omnibus) (1995)
- One Horse Waiting For Me by P.Mullins (Margaret Hamilton Books)(1997)
- Lightning Jack by G.Millard (2012)
For a complete bibliography of works go to www.patriciamullins.com.au
Wooden Horse Museum
106 Black Mares Lane
Moonambel, VIC 3478
email – email@example.com