Congratulations on your new book The Tiny Star. What do you hope little readers and their parents will take away from this book?
The book provides a gentle and ultimately uplifting space for family to talk about death. Although the book deals with a sad event, it is filled with joy and life and ends on a positive note. I also hope readers will be enthralled by the characters and the details I have included in the illustrations.
What is your process when creating a book?
Usually the first thing that happens is my agent or a publisher send me a story. If I like the story and if I know I will be happy working on it and thinking about it and living with it for six months at a time, then I accept the job. But I’m often working on another project when I accept a text, so projects can spend a fair amount of time simmering on the backburner before I’m ready to start work on them. This is good, though, because I get lots of subconscious thinking done before I even start on a project. And rarely does a book turn out the way I first imagined it.
Most of the work for me goes into planning a book. Creating the final artworks takes much less time than planning. I never immediately know what to draw so, instead, I gather inspiration such as images I admire, or that capture a similar feeling to what I hope to capture in my illustrations, as well as piles of reference material for settings and characters. I read the story through, over and over again, and as ideas come forth, I note them down on the manuscript.
When I know what might be pictured on a page, I sketch up a storyboard image or a thumbnail. I scan these thumbnails into my computer and put them into a computer program called InDesign, set the type onto the images and send the whole thing off to the publisher. After I get the publisher’s feedback I go back through each page and draw it up larger, with more details, making changes, and gradually the overall design for the book becomes apparent. I’ll simultaneously design characters and experiment with materials to find a process that feels right for the story and develop a colour scheme that feels right. And then I’ll create finished artworks!
Where do you work?
I have a studio in my backyard next to the chicken coop (which has ducks living in it at the moment). My studio is really just a big shed, but I love the smell and feel of it (except when I’ve left a cup of tea in there for a very long time). It is a little sanctuary from the domesticity of the house, and a space that is all mine (although the dog does like it too, and keeps me company there while I work). The studio is quiet and smells really nice, like oil paints. It’s exceedingly messy, with piles of books, stacks of artworks and half-finished illustrations, big filing cabinets for each of my books, photographs for research and inspiration, paints, coffee cups, blankets, dolls, jars of pencils and brushes … but I just clear some space to do my work and that’s all I need. I feel completely at ease in there. In winter I can wear my dressing gown and Ugg boots to work.
Where do you get ideas for your pictures?
I’m a parent, so my days are overwhelmingly domestic and chaotic. At the moment I do lots of ferrying from one after-school activity to another, and there isn’t much room for other interests. So, most of my ideas come from our home life and the people we meet day to day on the street, next door, at the shops. For example, The Great Rabbit Chase was based on ongoing issues with our pet rabbit, which kept escaping, and on the hilarious attempts to catch it, and the people who often joined in to help. That experience morphed into a story about slowing down and enjoying the people and places in our lives. And because I lead a messy life, I often draw messy homes. There’s no fun in perfection, but there is lots of fun in the honesty of real lives. I think we love to discover that the slightly embarrassing little truths about ourselves aren’t unique to us: household mess, a character’s awkward expression or clothing, or their slightly ungainly posture, or their reaction to a situation are what makes us human and real and I love that..
Can you share with us some of your favourite picture books?
As a child, one of my favourite picture books was The House That Beebo Built, full of detail and with an ambiguous ending that always left me thinking hard. My brother and I loved Would You Rather by John Birmingham for the endless choices to be made and imagined outcomes. I also loved the books by Allan and Janet Ahlberg, especially Cops and Robbers and Burglar Bill.
Freya Blackwood is one of Australia’s most admired children’s illustrators today. Her stunning and iconic illustrations perfectly capture the warmth and complexity of growing up. While warm and classic, her style has a unique quality that renders her work instantly recognisable. The pathos of her characters is a joy to behold, and her work has deservedly captured international attention and a swag of awards and nominations. These include the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal (2010), which is the UK’s most prestigious award for children’s illustration, and the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award – Early Childhood (2007).
Her most recent books are Maudie and Bear (2010), Harry and Hopper (2009), Her Mother’s Face (2009) and Amy and Louis (2006). The Treasure Box is Freya’s first book with Penguin Australia. Freya lives in Orange, NSW, with her daughter, Ivy.