Firstly, I was fortunate to have a publisher (Anouska Jones of EK Books) who was gave me enormous creative scope to produce this book in an A-typical way. Other than an outline of ideas, the entire production (which took around a year) was a process of osmosis... I sort of knew what I wanted to do, but allowed the actual creation process to be very organic--oftentimes surprising even me. Another surprising thing was that this meant few changes along the way -- I think a lot less than a typically-produced picture book. At 96-pages and minimal changes, that was some feat.
I was also fortunate to achieve a considerable grant for this work, thanks to the ACT Government--artsACT. This allowed me to focus on the book and not worry so much about having to focus on tasks that make money! Grants and funding are so important for creative people who dedicate weeks, months and years of their life, unpaid, to projects.
But back to le book! It actually all began with the cover (again, A-typical when it comes to picture book creation). It was the first thing I did, for some reason, and the rest of the book kind of morphed from that original look. The silhouette/papercut style of the signage is modelled throughout the book, as is the colour palette, though I did initially have several cover palette ideas.
Below are some of the background colours I played with, when the cover was still being crafted. The final yellow was by far my favourite.
Colour palette is something that's very important when it comes to illustration. It sets my teeth on edge when illustrators use un-blended colours in their work, whether hand-rendered or digitally. A good/unique colour palette is EVERYTHING! My friend and illustrator for many of my books, Tina Snerling, is a master of colour and I have learned so much from her over the years.
For Australia Illustrated, I wanted to use retro-inspired colours, so I photographed scenes from one of my favourite 1960s TV shows, Bewitched, pasted the photos into an Adobe Illustrator file, and eye-droppered the ones I wanted to use, making custom swatches. I tried to colour-match this colour palette when producing items with watercolour, too, and if they didn't quite match up, I'd touch the colours up in Photoshop.
It may sound like a lot of work, but the end result is so worth it.
Footnote: On the draft covers above, the little fellow with the umbrella was one of the very first characters I drew in the style that would eventually dominate this book. He didn't make it to the final cover.
And now for some pages!
Each 'chapter' in Australia Illustrated covers a state or territory, and I had to, of course, include Sydney Ferries for New South Wales, as I spent so many years gadding about on them when I lived there. It was important to include some iconic elements in the book, but it was just as important to cover surprising elements, or elements that were deeply personal to me (after all, it is my personal creation!).
This is one of the first pages I did in the book. Half was done digitally and half with watercolour and ink. I wonder if you can delineate what's what?
For Victoria (specifically Melbourne), I had to, of course, do coffee! As the coffee capital of Australia (and my home town), I wanted to recreate the fabulous Italian caffès I loved so much during my years in the capital. This was actually the very first page I did for the book and it was a lot of fun. Most of this is hand-rendered, with the cake stands, sign and table/chairs done digitally, along with the background wall and floor.
The waiter is one of the few adults who appear in the book. He first appeared in the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, for a week with an Italian theme, but I simply had to include him here. With each page, I wanted to try to think outside the square--not just line up a bunch of coffees and desserts on the page, but think of a way to make them more dynamic. Here, the waiter is the perfect foil!
It surprised me how much fun I had creating animals for Australia Illustrated. I'm more comfortable creating people but I had a ball painting all manner of flora and fauna for the book, especially birds and fish, which--let's face it--are soooo pretty, especially in Australia.
The Great Barrier Reef for Queensland was a wonderland of production. I hand-painted each of the fish and then copied and placed them digitally on a hand-painted background. You can see the texture of the blue background--this is highly textured watercolour paper, painted then scanned into my computer.
Birds of Kakadu for the Northern Territory was done in the same way. hand-rendering each bird and placing it digitally onto a digital background. In the end, I created over 1000 separate watercolour images for Australia Illustrated, and that doesn't include the digital pieces.
I absolutely loved the stunning capabilities of working digitally, and blending this with hand-rendered imagery. I enjoyed, for example, being able to create realistic reflections (below) with the touch of a button or three.
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek at the book. I'm going to reveal some 'before and afters' of my illustrations during this virtual launch, and also the book trailer with even more page peeks, so stay tuned!
Click the poster below to go to my Virtual Launch
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