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Illustrator on L Plates

So how does a page about illustration end up on a website about writing?

It’s a question that has to be asked

why, thank you for asking

and will now be answered in a round-a-bout sort of way because it starts with some quiet persuasion that took me, erm... years to respond to.

It starts with an egg and the beginning of something that became quite an institution – the 52 Week Illustration Challenge founded by Tania McCartney – and my complete failure to get on board until it was in its final weeks.

The egg was a drawing, one which I thought was quite amazing and wonderful and was on show at one the SCBWI meetings that I was attending some x number of years ago along with the gorgeous aforementioned Tania, author illustrator Tony Flowers, and a couple of other of us authory-type people. The event is memorable for two reasons: the discussion between Tania and Tony about how generally awful the egg was (it was?) and my refusal to join the illustration revolution that was taking place around me.

an egg... not the one in question but an egg nonetheless

I – I pronounced – was not capable. This was the stance that I stuck to like glue while Tania gently chipped away over the following few years. I knew I was not capable because, long, long ago, on a planet far, far away, aka my teenage years at my small rural-coastal high school, I was thrown out of art class because I was no good at Art. To give the teacher her due, there were 40 would-be artists clamouring to be in her class and she only had room for 30. I and nine others were not deemed worthy, and were cast out.

I ended up in something awful called Commerce, which turned me off ever completing a tax return in my life, and generally gave me writers’ cramp as I, along with the rest of my class, hurried to complete board after board of written scrawl under threat of having to copy it out in triplicate at lunchtime if we failed to get it done during class. The teacher had a great process. He divided the board in half and would fill each half several times, rubbing out as he went. I learned to write very quickly although possibly not intelligibly.


And certainly didn’t learn anything.

The journey of the words from blackboard to page bypassed my brain. Yup, I certainly didn’t learn anything. I learnt nothing.

Except how to fill out tax return forms, of which I completed hundreds, none of which were anything even mildly resembling the horrific pages of paperwork that torture the non-financially literate (financially illiterate?), aka me, today.

In retrospect, twenty-twenty hindsight, and the maturity of old age, I realise that what I had was a stylistic difference with the Art teacher, who was big on Abstract and Cubism, whilst I liked Impressionist Art and something a bit closer to realism, with a healthy dose of admiration for the Old Masters and a peculiar penchant for medieval art (which is quite hilarious). And Snoopy. We were never going to see eye to eye.

At the time, as an impressionable youngster, I believed her.

I was No Good at Art.

For years the only thing I drew was horses and that was more about my obsession with that noble creature than being artistically inclined.

And then I stopped drawing altogether.

For a long time.

And then came Tania.

Who quietly cajoled.


A little over a year or so ago, I bought the obligatory Ikea trolley and a modest collection of art supplies, which included some cheap watercolours from the dollar store and some coloured pencils, and I trepidatiously attempted some scribbling for the challenge. Which closed forthwith.

Undeterred, I joined a different challenge that sprang out of its demise, followed some classes on Skillshare, discovered groups like Sketchbook Revival and Project Portfolio, and started learning new skills and trying new things.

And bought more art supplies.

obligatory ikea trolley

My trolley overfloweth.

my desk

The watercolours are now Winsor & Newton, and the dollar store specials will never fit the bill again. I even have preferences in watercolour papers. Who knew?

I regularly head along to our local Children’s Illustrator Group meet-ups to learn and to share and to talk all things illustrator.

But, the big thing was joining Nina Rycroft’s Picture Book illustration Course. It was too soon, skill-wise, and not soon enough, enlightenment-wise. There, I learned the secrets of reading between the words, and seeing the story as a flowing river of pictures, creating characters and worlds and thumbnails and storyboards, long before the artwork takes shape and breathes new life into the story. I will do it again one day....

Between Tania and Nina, my reverence for picture book illustrators has exploded exponentially, and my understanding of story has widened in a way that is so difficult to explain, but is all about seeing.

Story will never be the same for me again.

The writing of picture books still eludes me, but now I know why (other than my inability to write anything in under a reasonable amount of words!), and the writing of fiction – which has always had a sort of cinematic undercurrent for me – will be forever enriched.

Now I see.

So here I am – Illustrator on L Plates. It is part of me. Part of my art as a writer.

And a dream for the future.

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