Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview - Anna Walker

Anna Walker is a renowned Australian children's book illustrator whose work is loved by adults and children alike. Anna originally trained in Graphic Design and then worked for many years as a freelance illustrator before eventually moving into picture books. She has now written and illustrated the incredibly successful I Love Ollie series (of which this household has several) as well as other wonderful stories. She has also collaborated with other writers to illustrate a beautiful range of books including Little Cat and the Big Red Bus and All Through the Year with Jane Godwin. I have been a huge fan for several years and so I'm thrilled to bring you this interview today. Welcome, Anna!

Anna Walker (photo by Olga Bennett)

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.

I am an illustrator and a storyteller. I work from a basement in Melbourne which I share with friendly souls and wooly creatures. At home I have three children, a dog, a chook, a budgie and three fish. My latest books are: ‘Peggy’ by me, (coming out in September 2012), and ‘Today We Have No Plans’ by the lovely Jane Godwin and illustrated by me (coming out in October 2012). I tap dance and hope to visit the Galapagos Islands one day! I love illustrating children’s books.

All images sourced from Anna Walker's website

Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator or did you come to it later?

Apart from wanting to be a Dolphin Trainer for a while when I was 5, I have wanted to illustrate children’s books since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

What steps did you take to make it happen?

After secondary school I spent a year building up a folio in Art and Design at Tafe, and then went on to complete a degree in Graphic Design. I worked as a freelance illustrator in editorial, packaging and advertising. During this time I spoke to children’s book illustrators, I haunted book shops, I read articles on publishing children’s books, I wrote stories, I pursued publishers, drew pictures and kept knocking on the door of the children’s book publishers until I was finally let in! I worked as a freelance illustrator for ten years before I was accepted to illustrate a children’s book.


Could you give us a quick rundown of the book creation process from initial concept to finished product (including how long the process takes)?

For me the book journey usually takes one year, sometimes two. I work on a few projects at once at various stages. The journey begins when I have a story to tell and a publisher would like to publish it or alternatively I am asked to illustrate a story. Even if the book is to come out in 18 months time, I begin sketching and thinking about the book immediately.

I collect images that reflect the ‘feel’ of the story. I work on a story board which then becomes small black and white roughs and then bigger detailed roughs. I sometimes knit the characters. During this time we go back and forth between the publisher, author and myself with ideas and drawings. One spread may be drawn eight times, mainly because I keep drawing a picture until I am happy with it and feel it is playing its role within the story. This stage takes around 5-8 months. When I have approval on the final black and white roughs I enlarge them to full scale and begin the final colour illustrations. The final paintings for a picture book take approximately 6 months. While I am painting I find it difficult to think about other projects. My complete focus is on the book. I am aware that, as I write this rundown, the process sounds fairly straight forward, but in reality the path is very wiggly and sometimes I feel lost...but eventually I find a way to express what I want to say in pictures.

I anxiously show the final illustrations to the publisher and then the pictures are sent away to be scanned. The design and layout of the book is finalised. I think carefully about the design and layout of the book in the very beginning, so this stage is more about finesse and tweaking and takes around one month. The files are sent to China to be printed...and six months later the books are shipped back in boxes. Finally the book is on the shelves. The kids and I delight in discovering the books in shops!

What is a typical day for you? How do you balance different tasks (eg. creative work, administration, parenting, etc)?

Hmmmm, the search for balance will be never ending. I am a busy bee, but now and then I am able to achieve some kind of balance by making lists, using my diary, getting up early and trying not to go to bed too late, going for walks and remembering to sit once in a while and watch the world go by.

Most of the time though I am rushing from one thing to another...up with the birds, feeding the dog, attending to school lunches, kid’s homework, chickens, rabbit, popping on a load of washing and checking the time! By the time I drop the kids at school and arrive at the studio (with Sunshine our dog), I breathe a sigh of relief that I have made it there. The studio is very calm, I put the kettle on and prepare to draw or paint. I try to not to spend too much time on the computer, so that I can concentrate on painting for the day. Once I settle in, I barely get up. Lunch is eaten at my desk while I work. Most days I leave at 3 to pick up the kids from school and then it is busy until 8.30pm when the kids go to bed. At 8.30 I often begin work again, but with lists, ideas, emails, checking things, research, collecting reference and maybe having a little look on Pinterest!

How do you go about developing ideas for new work?

I keep with me a small visual diary most of the time, in which I try to note down ideas or things that amuse me. You never know when you may find a small idea. I think the secret of discovering ideas is making sure you are not too busy to see them when they patter past.

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating?

I love painting with ink, drawing with conte pencil, knitting, woodblock printing, embroidering and using fabric in collage. I enjoy exploring mediums that feel as though I am crafting an illustration. I am old fashioned in the mediums I use but there is something special about the honored tradition of ink and pencil which I love.

Thank you for joining us today, Anna. I'm so happy to feature you here and to learn more about the process of book illustration and how you work. Very much looking forward to your upcoming titles!

Please check out Anna at the following links:
Anna Walker's website and blog
Anna on Facebook and Twitter
Anna's Pinterest

Also check out this wonderful post on Anna's blog about the process of making her upcoming picture book Peggy. It's fascinating! And as a very special bonus, watch this short and fabulous little video about Anna! (Also find it here).