Sunday, 4 October 2015

Blog Tour, Stop #5

I'm a little late in posting this, it's been a busy last few days, but Post #5 is up at the blog of Sci-Fi author Michael Brookes. Not only does he write his novels, he runs an online shop selling interesting sci-fi and horror t-shirts and is running a Drabble Festival in November (as well as doing his regular job). He's a busy man, but still found time to post my piece about the technical side of painting the illustrations for Famous Animals. You can read it and find out all about Michael's projects at this link

Monday, 28 September 2015

Blog Tour, Stop #4

Today, I've stopped by the blog of Rosen Trevithick whom you may remember stopped by this blog some time ago, nearly two years ago to be exact. She and I have worked together on numerous 'Smelly Troll' books. Rosen always asks interesting but hard to answer questions, but I've done my best to answer them.

                                                 Here's the link : Rosen's Blog  

From "Trolls on Ice" by Rosen Trevithick.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Blog Tour Stop #3

Third stop on the Famous Animals Blog tour is now up, this time at the blog of Australian author, Pauline Conolly. Pauline writes history (including 'The Water Doctor's Daughters') and her website is full of interesting information so make sure you take a look around if you're visiting for my post. Thank you to Pauline for inviting me to post and being so encouraging.

Here's the link: Pauline Conolly

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Blog Tour, Stop #2

The blog tour for Famous Animals Volume 1 continues. This time I've been interviewed over at Kath Middleton Books by the lovely lady herself. Kath used to be a reader, until she discovered she was a writer and since then, there's been no stopping her. You can check out her books here.

This interview is not so much about Famous Animals, but about my books and illustrations in general. I hope you'll support Kath by checking it out -

Kath Middleton-Books

Friday, 18 September 2015

I'm going on a blog tour...

Well, it has been a long time coming, but I'm thrilled to say that "Famous Animals" is now real and available all over the world. To celebrate, I'm setting off on a blog tour. I'll keep you posted here where I'm going to and I hope you'll support the people who've kindly let me onto their blogs to blather...ahem...I mean give really interesting information about my new book.

First stop is at the blog of Australia's own Sally Odgers, whose children's books fill a whole shelf in our school's library (and we don't have all of them). She's also an editor and you can find out about her services at Affordable Manuscript Assessments  . Even better, she's a dog lover, so she must be a good sort!

I'll write a long post, or maybe a book, some day about why it took so long to get Famous Animals off the ground, but for now, let's get the blog tour rolling. First stop...

Promote Me Please

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Coming Soon - "Famous Animals"

For those of you who haven’t heard, I have a new book coming out the next month or so anyway. Sorry, it’s not the sequel to Treespeaker (that’s still all inside my head), or even Larkspell, which has been patiently waiting to be finished for so long. No, this is a children’s book. Well, no, it isn’t really. It’s a history book. Well, no. it’s not really that either. It’s a book about animals. Er, well…it has pictures of animals. Sort of.

The above indecision about what the book actually is explains why I haven’t sent it to a ‘real’ publisher to try to get them to publish it. I just couldn’t think how to do it. How does one pitch a book that doesn’t fit anywhere? I couldn’t even tell you if it’s fiction or non-fiction. Librarians are just going to love it!

It all started with the 52-Week Illustration Challenge at the beginning of the year. The theme for the week was ‘Italy’. To me Italy screamed opera, so I decided to draw Pavarotti. However, I don’t really often manage to draw someone who actually looks like they’re supposed to. I prefer animals. Eventually, I hit on the idea of drawing a rat and calling him ‘Pavaratti’. When I’d finished, I realised that I could think of a whole lot of people whose names could be turned into animals. So I set to work and painted them. Soon I found I was thoroughly enjoying myself and making those I showed them to laugh. With the help of friends on the Kindle Users Forum, I made a long list of possible subjects. A book was born. “Famous Animals.” Not a very catchy title I suppose, but I wanted it to appear serious… but not.

In my dreams, the book would be a large coffee table book with just the high resolution pictures to keep adults and children alike amused. In reality, I can’t afford to print something like that without the cost to the customer being astronomical. Hence the confusion about what sort of book it is. Apart from each picture, there will be a short, hopefully witty comment about the animal persona, a short biography of the real person on whom they’re based and an interesting fact about the animal. So for Pavaratti, there will be something about Pavaratti, something about Pavarotti and something about rats.

Before I get it to the book launch which someone has kindly offered, there’ll be a series of adverts and hopefully a blog tour (thought that may come after). So expect to hear and see more of this in coming weeks. If I start to bore you, let me know?

By the way, I already have enough ideas for Famous Animals Volume 2 (Musicians), Volume 3 (Artists) and Volume 4 (Entertainers), so this could go on forever!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A tribute to a hard-working lady: Jackie Hosking

I don’t know how many people who read my blog are children’s writers/illustrators or Australian or both, but there’s a lady who has helped me a lot in the past and I’d like to pay tribute to her and her work today.

 I don’t remember when or how exactly I first came across Jackie Hosking, but I’m pretty sure it was when I’d just finished “The Dragon Box” and was looking around for some way to get it published. In my hunting, I came across a useful little online magazine called ‘Pass it On’. It contained all sorts of information about children’s publishers, competitions, writing opportunities and more. Even better, it came out every week, straight into your inbox and for a very low cost. I couldn’t believe how much work this lady must put into it every week.

Needless to say, I signed up and started to use the information I found – writing for and getting paid by places advertised in Pass It On. But the e-zine is not just about writing. Twice Jackie has featured me in interviews – once as an illustrator, once as a cover designer. It was the first interview that actually got me one of my first book cover jobs, the author having seen my work and liked it.

The most recent ‘big thing’ for me also came about through Jackie’s magazine. I’ve long known about the ASA’s ‘Style File’. It’s a showcase for Australian Illustrators, with portfolios easily accessible to publishers around the country. I’d looked at it and thought, ‘that’s for real illustrators, I’d never get accepted into that.’ At the end of last year, I saw an advert in PIO for The Style File, calling for submissions and with my new-found ‘I can do it’ attitude, I submitted 8 illustrations. As everyone on Facebook knows, I found out recently that I’d been accepted. If I hadn’t been a subscriber to Jackie’s magazine, and if Jackie hadn’t gathered that information, I wouldn’t have thought about submitting. As it is, the Style File site is being relaunched in a couple of weeks with promotions to publishers etc. There’s a lot of really brilliant work on there, so I may never be picked up by a publisher, but I have more chance than I ever had before.

Speaking of the great work on The Style File brings me to Jackie’s other talent. She’s a pretty great children’s poet herself and has a fantastic book out, “The Croc and the Platypus” (Walker Books). It’s beautifully illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, who also has a portfolio on The Style File.

Jackie also helps out other would-be poets. It beats me how she finds the time to do all the stuff she does.

So if you’re an Australian children’s writer or illustrator and you want some way to keep your finger on the pulse (sorry, I’m tired, clich├ęs happen when I’m tired), get over to Pass It On and check it out.
If you’d like to know a bit more about it from Jackie herself, there’s an interview here about the magazine and how she gets it together.

Thanks, Jackie!

(And in case you haven’t seen it, here’s my portfolio on The Style File. Have a look at the other work, too!) 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Fantasy Art - from the ground up.

Someone asked me the other day, if I use actual photos when I'm designing a fantasy landscape and I had to admit that, yes, I often do. In Photoshop, there's a wonderful tool called the 'mixer brush' which picks up pixels and mixes them up, just as if you had a wet paintbrush and stirred it in the paint. So I can get a photo and mix the colours so that it looks painted. What I have as a result is never anything like the original photo because I 'sculpt' features out of the landscape to make it fantastical. It's just a lot quicker than drawing a picture first and I like it better because the whole process is a voyage of discovery. I don't really know what I'm going to do, until I start, and I don't know what I'll get until I'm finished.

A while ago I read of someone who takes 'macro photos' - very close up photos - of things in nature, to use as part of her fantasy book cover designs. So rocks become mountains etc. I wish now that I'd kept the link so that I could let you see. That got me thinking and I took my daughter out for a walk armed with my camera. The reason I took my daughter was twofold - firstly, she has a far steadier hand than me and secondly, she doesn't mind getting down on the ground to take a photo. (I don't mind getting down either, I just have great difficulty getting back up.) We came back with a supply of good and not-so-good photos. I've let the 'simmer' on my computer for a while and a few have given me ideas for landscapes. Today, I'm going to show you how I work, from start to finish.

1.The orginal photo. Probably a mouse hole, or maybe the den of a bearded dragon. I lengthened the photo to give better perspective and cut out the 'sky'.

2. Initial smudging stage. Still very rough, but gives an idea of where I'm going.

3.That dip begged for a waterfall and if there's a waterfall, there has to be a river. I've no idea where the river goes after it heads under the hill, but this is fantasy! Maybe there's a huge, subterranean lake?

4. I began to sculpt the rocks. I did that by dragging the dark shade from the cave and by adding lighter colours and smudging them in.

 5. The squarish bump on the flat on the right suggested to me that there needed to be some sort of access from the middle ground to the hill in the background. So I added the road. I was toying with the idea of blending the layer onto a coloured background, hence the background colour change, but I thought better of it.

6. Added sky and did some more rock sculpting.

7. I liked the shape of the landscape, but not the colour. So I made a multicoloured filter layer and put it on as a soft light. Far more fantasy worldish. The new road was leading to nowhere in particular, so I drew a castle to sit on the hill.

8. The pale rocks on the left had no real purpose, so I decided to make them into a pathway.

9. If there's a pathway, someone has to be seen to use it. I drew the figure as a separate painting so that I could put in as much detail as I like and then resize it. (It also means I have a figure I can adapt for other pictures!) 

10. Final product. Well, until I decide to change it again. I can already see lots of possibilities. But I'll keep this one intact as it is. 

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. It was all done on a Cintiq 13HD, by the way... a little something I bought a couple of months ago and which I don't know how I ever worked without. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A New Year, a New Start

Before I begin, I'd like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. I hope it turns out to be all that you wish for.

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook or other forums will already know that I handed in my resignation at work at the end of last year. I am no longer a library assistant. Instead I am a freelance writer and illustrator, with some relief teaching thrown in to help the coffers. The question remains, why?

The impetus came from two directions. Firstly there was what a friend euphemistically called ‘stuff’ at work. Because of the ‘stuff’ I found I no longer loved the job as much as I did a few years ago. Of course, every workplace has ‘stuff’, and on its own it probably wouldn’t have been enough to make me leave. I still loved the kids, and the teachers, and support staff were wonderful people to work with, but ‘stuff’ was the grain of sand that overbalanced the decision-making to the leaving side.

It really all started when I discovered the work of Sir Ken Robinson. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up (or, at the very least, watch the video below). He’s an education expert, gives inspiring talks, makes more sense than all of the other so-called experts I’ve met put together. He believes in creativity, he believes we all have it and he doesn’t think modern day education recognises that fact. As someone who at school, was told by the Principal that I was being lazy choosing Arts subjects for my final two years rather than the Sciences as my two older sisters had, and by a science teacher, that I would never amount to anything because I didn’t possess an ounce of logic (he was joking, but it stuck with me), the idea that creativity could actually be a good thing resonates with me. Creativity is not just the arts, though. That’s why I've always been a fan of Einstein. He recognised that creativity was important, whatever walk of life you were in.

Without creativity, nothing changes.

Back to Sir Ken. He wrote a book called ‘The Element’. I read it at the end of last year and loved it. It’s about people who struggled in life until they found (or someone showed them) the one thing that made them really come alive. They weren’t necessarily ‘arty’ types. They were from a whole range of professions, but their lives had changed with the decision to leave what they were doing and start being who they really wanted to be.

What Sir Ken wrote wasn’t really new to me. I’ve done courses: ‘discovering your true self’, ‘discovering your hidden talents’ sort of things, but with the ‘stuff’ at work, it really got me thinking. This wasn’t just about talent, it was about passion.  In the library, I’d be looking at my watch regularly, hanging out for the next bell, the next cup of coffee. At home, working on a book or on illustrations or book covers, I can sit down at 9am thinking ‘I’ll just do this for an hour’, and be surprised by my husband coming in wanting to know what he should have for lunch. When I’m writing or designing, I zone out and time vanishes. I’m in my element. Interruptions are often annoying. I’ve always known it. Until now though, I’ve pushed that fact aside and done what I ‘needed’ to do – originally whatever I thought my parents expected and later, whatever I needed to do to support my family.

My family still need supporting. Eldest is still at University, Sausage has just discovered violin and apparently has potential and Dynamo is being a teenager with all the attendant costs that involves. We need money. The fact is, though, that I was not enjoying life much. I’d come home grouchy from work, have three days of relative happiness and then feel grouchy all weekend, knowing that I had to go back on Monday. It wasn’t good for me or my family. Yes, it was a regular income, but at what cost? In the end, I decided that a happy mother with less money was really more beneficial than a stressed-out mother bringing in a small but regular pay-cheque. Magic Owl Design is bringing in income, albeit smaller than I earned in the library. I’m getting more work as an illustrator and my books are trickling out of Amazon slowly but surely. I really think that I can make a living and be happy. I’m going to give it a jolly good try anyway!

(Quite long, but well worth a listen.) 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Oops, sorry...where did that time go?

So what’s happening? Nearly another year has passed and I’ve not written a single blog post. Does that mean I’ve been doing nothing? Well, no, just the opposite really. I’ve been very busy. Unfortunately that business hasn’t included much writing. Here’s a rundown of where I’m at…

Writing: I have done some writing. It’s not been neglected altogether. I even have a title for the book now – “Larkspell”. As of this weekend I’m up to Chapter 20 and I’m estimating there’ll be about 26 altogether, so the end is in sight. I think I might have missed writing a few chapters though, because the story swaps and changes between two threads and I got carried away with one thread and neglected the other. It will all start tying together soon, though, so I’ll have to get back to those chapters. Then there’s that lovely thing called editing to do. Groan.

Art: On this front it has been a very busy year. Magic Owl Design has built up and I’m now getting work on illustrations, maps and book covers very regularly. So regularly, in fact, that I got brave and handed in notice at school so that I can concentrate on that as my main income. It had got to the stage where going to work was interrupting what I was doing for clients and so making their wait longer. I’ll write more about my motives for quitting at another time, but that’s the big news for now. I’ve expanded into doing illustrated covers, too, which I love doing. I’ve even done a few original pre-made fantasy covers in the hope they’ll sell.

Apart from the art I’ve been doing for Magic Owl, I’ve also been taking part in the 52-Week Illustration Challenge 2014 run by Tania McCartney on Facebook. It started off as quite a small group, but it has grown and now there are lots of people involved. Each week we are given a word and have to do an illustration for that word. There is some huge talent amongst the participants and I’ve learned a lot from seeing what they do and just from having to do something every week. I’ll definitely be taking part again next year. 

My last piece of art news is that I did end up buying a Cintiq. Just a small one, but I've bought a large screen to attach to my laptop so the smallness of the Cintiq doesn't matter. It's wonderful, fantastic, magical! Being able to draw straight onto the screen is just unbelievable. It's like 'real' art without the mess or the smells. I'm loving it...that's another blog post.

I know I said this at the beginning of the year, but I will try to blog more regularly from now on…