30 October, 2010

In praise of dragons

Dragons have tended to receive bad press over the centuries.

I'd like to concentrate on their good points. Despite somewhat fiery temperaments, dragons are relatively peaceful and generally keep a low profile, going about their work guarding their treasures. Their aggression only rises when confronted with a threat.

But isn't this what you would expect from a loyal dragon doing his job?

I'm sure the working conditions are less than ideal.  And what does a dragon receive for his stoic efforts in battling his enemies and protecting his treasure, be it money or maidens?

These days, I think small dragons could make good house pets.  They would be fairly low maintenance, although toenails would need clipping regularly, could light the barbecue on command, and be a great watch dragon for the whole neighbourhood.

Artists and illustrators have always been inspired by the myths and legends surrounding dragons.

Dragon from Korea, artist unknown
Netsuke with tiger and dragon, artist unknown
St George and the Dragon, artist Paolo Uccello
Another St George and the Dragon, artist Deborah Niland
Chinese dragon, artist Libico Maraja
Dragon Boats, artist Libico Maraja

10 October, 2010

The magic of twins

I enjoyed the opportunity to portray a day in the life of twin toddlers in my book Double Trouble.

Being a twin I can well remember the sense of unity our twinship had.
Always someone there to share the good times, and always someone there to commiserate with you during difficult times. I saw it as an advantage in my life and never envied the status of the 'sole trader'.
There is a special bond between twins.

Double Trouble was published as a picture-book by Penguin Books Australia in 2008. The story and illustrations were great fun to do.

Some of these illustrations are shown below.

Who can jump higher?

United in purpose

Feeling proud and pleased with creative work

Equally matched

01 October, 2010

More about wombats including a certain Muddleheaded Wombat

A brand new edition of the adventures of The Muddleheaded Wombat will be on the shelves from today!

Wombat and his two friends, the prickly, over-sensitive cat Tabby, and the calm peace-loving Mouse have been entertaining children since they began their lives on radio in the 1950's. They first appeared in book form in the 1960's and have been in print ever since.

What makes this new edition so special is the quality production. It includes four humorous Wombat stories, notes from Ruth Park, the author, a section about the life and work of the author, and biographical notes on Noela Young, the illustrator of all the Muddleheaded Wombat books.

Noela Young is an immensely talented and versatile illustrator, who throughout her long career has produced illustrations of superb quality and apt perfection. I cannot envisage the characters of Wombat, Tabby and Mouse being created by anybody else.

This is a book to treasure.

On my shelf I have other beautiful books which feature wombats.

The gorgeous artwork of Kerry Argent is a delight to look at in her picture book, Sebastian lives in a Hat.  Written by Thelma Catterwell, the story tells of a baby wombat orphan, his rescue and care.
This book was first published in 1985 by Omnibus Books.

Illustration by Kerry Argent
I was pleased to read recently of the magnificent donation of funds to a wombat sanctuary which is devoted to the care and health of injured and orphaned wombats. This will go a long, long way to assist the sanctuary's valuable work in wombat welfare and protecting this endangered species.

The author Jackie French has had a close and personal association with wombats for many years.
One of her books is the best-selling title Diary of a Wombat.
The illustrations by Bruce Whatley perfectly capture the charm and stubborness of this marsupial doormat.

 An equally delightful follow-up book by this author and illustrator team is Baby Wombat's Week.

18 September, 2010

The way of the wombat

Hairy-nosed Wombat. Illustration by Gordon Lyne 1967
Who is not captivated by the charms of a wombat?  He's a stumpy legged animal, blunt at both ends. The wombat is a herbivore, who feeds at night and sleeps it off in his burrow during the day.

Common Wombat.  Painting by Jean-Charles Werner 1847
The Australian wombat is a solitary marsupial. The female produces one baby and totes it around in her pouch for at least six months. The pouch, like the koala's, opens backwards. Otherwise the pouch would fill up with soil and debris when on burrowing expeditions.

Over two hundred years ago the explorer, George Bass, was fascinated by the discovery of the wombat.  He wrote to Sir Joseph Banks back in England.

‘It is a squat, thick, short legged, and rather inactive quadruped with an appearance of great stumpy strength. Its figure and movements, if they do not resemble those of the bear, at least remind one of that animal. The head is large and flattish and when looking the animal full in the face, seems independent of the ears, to form nearly an equilateral triangle. The hair on the face lies in regular order, as if combed.’

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the English poet, painter and illustrator, was the proud owner of a menagerie,  including two wombats.  In 1869, he acquired the first wombat, naming him Top.
"The wombat is a joy, a triumph, a delight, a madness," he wrote. Top was much loved. He followed people around the room 'nestling up against one, and nibbling one's calves or trousers.'
Unfortunately, Top was short-lived. In his grief, Rossetti drew the self-portrait above and wrote this verse.

I never reared a young wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he most was sweet and fat
And tailless, he was sure to die!

08 September, 2010

The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies

The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies is the title of a new children's book I have illustrated.  Published by Allen & Unwin, it will be out in the shops in November 2010.

And what a fun book it is!

Drawing and painting twelve babies on nearly every page of the book was a challenge. Throw into the mix, a Tall Man looking after a houseful of babies and coping with the cacophony of domestic life.

Waiting for breakfast

I've created the illustrations digitally, incorporating various patterns that are repeated throughout the book, on the babies' clothes and the backgrounds.  However with all my digital work, I aim to have the finished illustrations look as 'hand-done' as possible.

The wonderful story for this new book was written by my talented nephew, Tom Champion, and his mum, Kilmeny, my late sister. Together they have produced a sweet and funny tale which will be well-loved by babies and children and many, many tall people.

Look out for it this November!

Still waiting for breakfast

22 August, 2010

The Children's Book Council of Australia

The annual awards from The Children's Book Council of Australia have been announced!
There are many fine books which have earned a gong. One of my favourites this year, is Bear and Chook by the Sea.

It's published by Lothian Children's Books, Hachette, written by the award-winning Lisa Shanahan and illustrated by the very talented Emma Quay. This book is a sequel to the equally delightful Bear and Chook. 
Who could resist that lovable bear and rascally chook? Check out both!

Talking of poultry,  Mr Chicken Goes to Paris  was also a contender for an award but alas, didn't make it this year.  This fabulous picture-book about a feisty worldly chicken, is a definite award winner in my view.  Written and illustrated by the amazingly creative Leigh Hobbs and published by Allen and Unwin.

15 August, 2010

Gustaf Tenggren

Gustaf Tenggren was born in 1896 in Sweden to a family of artists. He showed early aptitude and began thorough training as an artist.  His early illustration work shows an influence from his contemporaries, mainly John Bauer, and decorative styles of the day.  The subject matter was often mythological in nature.

Tenggren immigrated to the US in 1920. He opened a studio in New York  and began a prolific output in children's books and magazine illustration. His style changed to adapt to the requirements of the market. In 1936 he was hired by Walt Disney to work on the first feature length animated film, Snow White.
He also worked on Pinocchio,  Fantasia, Bambi and others, as a concept artist and designer. His Scandinavian background is evident in the artwork for these films.

From the 1940's to 1962, Gustaf Tenggren was a major illustrator of  Little Golden books.  One of his best known titles from these books is The Poky Little Puppy. He was amazingly successful and produced art for a wide range of subjects and age groups.

One of my favourite books from childhood is called Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights with superb illustrations by Tenggren. His approach is more stylised than his Disney work.

Gustaf Tenggren died in 1970 and his widow donated much of his artwork and papers to the children's literature research library at the University of Minnesota,

Early works from the 1920's.

Little Golden Book titles illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights. Simon and Schuster. First published in 1957

For further information and more of his artwork, there is a great site devoted to Gustaf Tenggren. Take a look here.

08 August, 2010

Annie to the Rescue

My book is now in glorious paperback!  Originally published in 2007, Annie to the Rescue is a companion volume to Annie's Chair.
Both books tell stories of a small girl who likes to do things her way. She considers herself resourceful and brave. Sometimes things don't go to plan in Annie's world but she always faces the challenges.

The artwork in these books were drawn and painted in the traditional method on watercolour paper, with some digital input.
Both books have been incredibly popular. I often get lovely letters telling me that the Annie stories have been very much enjoyed by the family.

More about these books on my website. (see side panel)  Also click on the books' covers to read more from the publishers at Penguin.

01 August, 2010

Korean folk art

Here are some gorgeous examples of Korean folk painting.  The dexterity and economy of line and colour is beautiful and so effective in depicting the subjects of birds, butterflies and insects, fruit, fish, foliage and one lumpy toad.

25 July, 2010

Black and white illustration

I've always enjoyed drawing with pen and ink in my sketchbooks and my finished art. It's a good idea for artists to sketch straight in pen sometimes, and not always rely on the trusty pencil.  If you are not worried by mistakes in your sketchbooks, and of course, you shouldn't be, then your hand-eye co-ordination will improve in leaps and bounds and you will acquire a confidence in quick sketching.
There are many styles and techniques artists use in monochrome art.  Some of my favourite artists are Gustave Dore, Leonardo da Vinci, Honore Daumier, Peter Bruegel, Hans Holbein and so many others.
Some favourite illustrators are William Heath Robinson, Edward Gorey, Aubrey Beardsley, Robert Crumb, Alan Stamaty, the list goes on.
My illustrations below have been taken from a variety of my previously published books.

Garden goat

Jubilant gnome

Gnome concentration

Giraffes in knots

Irate fortune teller Madame Fratlin

A conference of elephants