A Celebration of Australian Picture Books

On Thursday evening I attended my second inspiring author event offered by @thekidsbookshop.

‘A Celebration of Australian Picture Books’ brought together four talented picture book creators – Ann James, Anna Walker, Marc Martin and Jane Godwin. Their books are a joy to share with our students in the LRC so I knew I was going to be in for a treat!

Kristen from The Kids Bookshop did a fabulous job leading the panel discussion to give us a sneak peak into the lives of this creative quartet. I didn’t manage much tweeting or note-taking as I was hanging on every word so I’ll write about the parts that stuck with me and hope they’re reasonably accurate…

What does your work space look like?

It was interesting to see each person’s work space. Both Marc and Anna travel to their studios, whereas Jane’s work space is at home and Ann’s was at her dam in Castlemaine! (she also works at her studio at Books Illustrated). Marc has quite a few other creative people working in a shared space. I love the light and airy feel of Anna’s studio. Jane explained she is very protective of her little space that she has managed to carve out for herself in her busy home. 

Marc Martin’s work space

 Jane Godwin’s work space

 Anna Walker’s work space

Ann James’ work space

How did you become an illustrator or author?

Both Anna and Marc began their careers as graphic designers and this background is evident in their work. Jane was working as a publisher for Penguin before following her own love of writing. Ann was an Art teacher who she said ‘spent many hours haunting The Little Bookroom and collecting picture books’.  She entered some of her work into a competition with a publishing company and her dream to become a picture book illustrator began.

What process do you follow in your work?

Anna and Jane have collaborated on quite a few picture books including Today We have No Plans; All Through the Year and Starting School (they also have a Christmas book coming out in November)They both enjoy the shared experience of collaborating and creating the book together.

Jane explained how she feels she has now come to the right place as a writer. As a writer though she has to remember that once she hands her story to Anna she has to ‘leave space for Anna to work’. As they work through the process some of the words will slowly be removed as the words and pictures come together to tell the story.  I was really interested to hear this because I don’t think this level of collaboration between author and illustrator is the norm.

Anna says that she sees a book as a film and tries to create a story that the reader can see themselves in. She is meticulous in the detail she uses to create her illustrations. When Anna was researching for the book Starting School, she spent a lot of time observing Prep students in the classroom so she could capture their mannerisms and make her characters easy for young children to relate to when reading. She also made each of the student’s uniforms – such patience! For her latest book, Mr Huff, Anna learnt stop motion animation so she could create her own book trailerThis Behind the Studio Door interview with Anna courtesy of Books Illustrated explains the process further.

Ann explained that she prefers illustrating other people’s work. She likes collaborating with others, using a variety of mediums and growing through the process. Her recent use of mud to illustrate Janeen Brian’s books I’m a Dirty Dinosaur and icing to illustrate I’m a Hungry Dinosaur are evidence of both her creativity and willingness to experiment with different mediums.

Marc has written and illustrated Max, A Forest and A River. He explained that it’s not the illustrating that takes the time but the ‘distilling’ of his ideas to get to the story and illustrations he wants to create. It took over twelve months for him to complete A River, but only 3-4 months were actually illustrating. (I really like the concept of ‘distilling’ as I think that’s how I do my planning for the library!) Marc was honoured when asked to illustrate Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book and was relieved when he could illustrate it in his own way.

How do you feel when your book is finished?

Anna said she felt relieved when a book was finished. Marc responded that it was quite painful as he remembered the pain and time involved in creating the book. Each person said that when the book was finished they found it difficult to look at their work without finding something that could be improved. Jane commented she had read that it takes about 6 years before you can look at your work and appreciate it. Ann agreed with that time frame and explained that when enough time had passed she could then look at the book and appreciate the story…

What an amazing evening! We are incredibly lucky to have such talented Australian picture book creators whose books light up the world for their readers both young and old…

You can discover more about Anna Walker, Jane Godwin , Marc Martin  and Ann James. I guarantee you will lose hours browsing through Anna and Marc’s Instagram accounts Anna and Mark