This is Banjo Paterson Day 4 - Christina Booth talks about her work

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Welcome to Day 4, where illustrator Christina Booth talks about her work in This is Banjo Paterson. 

Take it away, Christina!

I will confess ... the idea of collaborating with another author on a picture book used to send shivers down my spine. Not in a good way, but in one that I wanted to avoid. You see, as creators, most of us are control freaks, we have a vision and we want to hold the reigns tightly as we manoeuvre through the creative process. I had always thought it would stunt the natural evolution of creativity, the spontaneity of having things grow, if someone else was also holding onto the reigns. Which way would that horse go?

some of Christina's amazing roughs for the book

Then Tania contacted me regarding a book idea she had and that she wanted to work with me on it before presenting it to the publisher. I was just getting to know Tania and I was flattered when she said she had always wanted to work with me (I think she had me on a slightly higher pedestal than I deserved and I am afraid of heights!).

I looked at the story in progress and then, when a story is a good one, images and ideas started to grow. I drew up a sample image and we chatted about the direction we could head in and our horse seemed to be going in the same direction. I was relieved, I was in a collaboration and it seemed to be working. This was the beginning of This is Captain Cook.

You might ask, ‘isn’t any work with an author and an illustrator a collaborative work?’ Well, to a certain extent yes, but the communication once commissioned to illustrate a picture book is usually mediated through the publisher. The story is written, edited and ready to go. This is then offered to an illustrator (or two) to see what they can do with the text and bring to the visual story line.

When two creators collaborate, they work together from an initial concept and tease it out together. It works very well when there is a strong trust and when each creator respects the other creators ideas and direction. They then present together to the publisher, or sometimes, the publisher is a part of the collaboration from the early stages.

This is Banjo Paterson is our second collaborative work for the National Library of Australia. This is Captain Cook did so well, Banjo became the second child, and I suddenly did a little private panic. We had set a precedent with the Captain and now, we had to equal that. There can be no hiding in the shadows of an older sibling.

What were we to do? I knew it couldn’t be another play [This is Captain Cook's entire visual narrative is set as a school play]. Though that concept would still work well visually, it would be just a repeat of the last book. I wanted something else to make it shine but remain interactive with the audience. We went back to our childhoods, where playing dress-up and imaginative play happened in the backyard. Where story telling was practiced and role playing was fun. Banjo was an outdoor kind of guy so it seemed to be a natural fit.

Christina's hobby horse

Tania desired horses, I considered horses in a paddock next door but they would have just been observers. I always dreamed of owning a horse as a child, but alas, it was not to be, so we made our own. Along with cubby houses made of boxes and branches, flying on the clothesline, playing under the hose, chatting with our neighbours. It was so Australian and that was the feel we wanted. And the homemade horses were born. Brooms, hobbyhorses, human horses! Tania’s wish was granted.

Recently I have created a lot of my illustration work digitally. I love it but I do miss the smell of paint and the beautiful mistakes that you must keep and adapt on paper, I try to do that with my digital work but the undo button is very convenient, so it was delightful to pull out the watercolour paper and pencils and swim in erasings all over the carpet once again.

I chose to work in the same mediums as I did for Captain Cook because in a series we need a certain amount of consistency. It also lends itself to the airy outdoors, the clouds, the grass, the wind in the clothes on the clothesline. I also enjoyed placing backyard icons into the illustrations: a Hills Hoist (made like they used to), a dog, a neighbour over the fence and the kids jumping fences to play with each other. A paddling pool, the hose, and what a delight to discover when doing my research that what we now call Totem Tennis was first invented and was very popular in Banjo’s time. Perfect!

So, am I now converted regarding collaborations? Yes. Though I’m probably at my happiest steering my own horse, the beautiful thing is, Tania and I can go riding together, side by side as we support and share our careers.

We have just finished working on a third collaboration, this time a stand-alone book (you have to wait and see what it is!) but the best thing that comes out of a successful collaboration is that we are bonded for life as wonderful friends, and journey that creative path knowing we have help and support.

Stay tuned for Day 5, where you'll learn more about Banjo's poetry and his influences. You may be surprised! Click here for the full list of launch posts.

Join Tania on Periscope on Friday 17 February at 1pm AEDST, where 
she will be chatting about the book live from the National Library, 
and showing various priceless Banjo Paterson items, 
along with original artwork by Christina Booth!

And for those in or near Canberra ...
Book Launch - This is Banjo Paterson
Sunday 12 February 2017
National Library of Australia

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