studio is an ‘attic’, which is actually converted roof space in our
little Blue Mountains miners’ cottage. It’s under a tin roof, at the top
of a three-metre high stair-ladder. It gets hot up there in summer and
it can get very cold in winter. Sometimes snow settles on the skylights!
There's not a lot of space, but it’s functional enough and I’ve managed
to pack it with all kinds of art-making treasures.
Some of these treasures include two chests of letterpress type that I
bought from a retired printer in Katoomba; other kinds of rubber
typographical stamps; a chest of about a hundred pictorial stamps from
the 1950s; a folder of antique postcards; an old five-nibbed pen for
drawing staves, a 1970s typewriter, a little box of old Dresden doll
heads … and much more.
For reasons I’m not quite sure of, I also have little figures and
objects around my studio and desk that appeal to me. They’re usually
just things I find in op shops and markets. Each one has something about
it that sparks my thinking in a good way.
As an illustrator, I’m very interested in finding new ways to make ideas
visible. In fact, in most cases I only draw when I need to see my ideas
on paper or to work them out. There’s a thrill in seeing something
appear out of nothing.
My book The Greatest Gatsby: a visual book of grammar took this
interest to another level. The challenge was to picture
grammatical concepts, which are typically expressed verbally in
small black type on a white page. The fun of it was that I got to use a
lot of my ideas, techniques and studio tools to create this book.
Fundamental to this process was treating any words as images, and
My artwork techniques often vary from book to book. I think this is
because each technical approach has its unique strengths for capturing
ideas, emotions and atmosphere. For instance, the style I used for Yahoo Creek: an Australian mystery
allowed for otherworldly, apparition-like ambiguity in the forms and
lighting, which I felt best suited the mysterious content. That artwork
technique for Yahoo Creek employed hand-cut stamps and stencils, and two ink pads: one black, the other blue. It produced many nice surprises.
Another feature of the artwork for Yahoo Creek was my return to
entirely non-digital artwork. Something about being on the computer a
lot was bugging me. As an artist, it began to feel increasingly
unnatural. There’s no ‘Undo’ in real life! This also coincided with a
return to painting, which I hadn’t really done since art school. So far,
my paintings have been for walls not books, but whatever I’m doing I’m
always learning new things about how to make images that communicate
something, if only moods and feelings.
1. Approaching the Corner (acrylic on board), 2. Burning Kombi (acrylic on board),
3. Caravan Heading North (acrylic on board), 4. Saturday Night Takeaway (acrylic on board)
My general approach to illustration techniques is that anything goes –
the only rule being so long as it works. I applied this especially to
the artwork in my picture book Nobody Owns the Moon, which
employed a wide-ranging jumble of media and collage. I hoped this would
convey something of the actual mixed-media nature of cities themselves,
with their glass, concrete, timber, steel, paper, asphalt, paint,
For better or worse, I tend not to do much preliminary work before I
attempt an artwork – usually just a quick lead-pencil sketch in a cheap
pad of bond paper. Even though I know what the basic idea is, I like
there to be a sense of discovery or surprise in the process of making
the final art. (Though, because I’m learning as I go, it’s true that
sometimes I have to do multiple versions of an illustration to get it
right! Not every battle is won.) This is rather like the way I write,
which is to find out what will happen. I never know how a story will
unfold until I write it.
My influences can come from all areas of the arts. For example, Erik Satie, whose sheet music for Gnossienne No. 3, Lent appears in My Uncle’s Donkey.
His distilled simplicity, his wit and his uncanny originality are
inspirational. Other influences can be quite unconscious and therefore
harder to pin down.
Some of my favourite illustrator/artists include nineteenth-century
Aboriginal pen-and-ink drawer Tommy McCrae. He would have been an
incredible book illustrator! His subjects have a Caldecott-like energy
and animation, as well as being very fine, precise and informative.
Dick Roughsey, is another, for his vibrant, dynamic illustrations of Dreaming stories such The Rainbow Serpent and Turramulli the Giant Quinkin. Then there’s Sidney Nolan, especially for his Ned Kelly series. I’ve loved his work since I saw Pretty Polly Mine
as a child in the Art Gallery of NSW. Of course there are many
others too: such as Sendak, Steig, Seuss and Steinberg, just to run
through some S’s!”