I’ve been very quiet on this blog lately – life has been throwing itself at me all over the place. How delightful it is to finally be able to share some really exciting news with you all. Please welcome Tania McCartney, who has come along with tea, to help celebrate the launch of her brand new picture book Australia Illustrated. Welcome Tania!!
Australia Illustrated is a hefty 96 pages long. How long did this book take you?
A long time! Around about a year—including research.
The book is divided into state and territory ‘chapters’, and the first chapter header I did—of New South Wales—took me four solid days of work, ten hours a day. It’s a fully digital map done in an unusual way. The other maps took a lot less time because I was more familiar with the process … but they still took a lot of hours.
I hand-drew and watercoloured over 1000 images for this book before scanning them and finishing them in Photoshop. This was before even placing them on pages, so yes, it took a long time!
How did you conduct your research?
It was a pretty typical blend of internet searches, books and encyclopedias. Of course, much of it I already knew as fact, and because the book is predominantly visual, it was more about visual research than text research. I nearly broke Google, searching for reference images!
What was the inspiration behind this work?
It was born of my return to illustration after almost three decades off. I was a prolific drawer through childhood and into my early twenties, but adulthood kind of got in the way. It’s been a secret dream to illustrate my own books, but I truly believed I’d lost the ability, and even now, I can’t believe I’ve actually illustrated a book.
I started the 52-Week Illustration Challenge in January 2014 as a way to force myself to practice drawing every week, and it was pretty much responsible for my reconnection with art. I practiced night and day for almost two years, and was stunned how it all came flooding back.
I’d had a seed of an idea for a book about Australia that was nothing like any other books done on the topic, and this seemed the perfect way to try my hand at an illustrated work. My publisher at EK Books, Anouska Jones, championed the idea from the start, and before I knew it, I was contracted and embarking on an extraordinary journey.
Pretty much the entire book was done organically, and I’m really aware what an opportunity that was. It also helped me ‘ease into’ this new artistic challenge. I’m beyond grateful.
What mediums did you use to create the pages?
Lots! I sketched in pencil, inked with fine-liner than used watercolour and gouache to colour. I also mono-printed colours to use as backgrounds (an example of this is the chalkboard-style backgrounds and the orange ‘dirt’ of the chapter headers).
At least half of the book is digitally-rendered. I used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to do this, and I also used digital patterns and filters. On top of that, I created my own fonts and added them to the pages.
It was crazy good fun. In fact, a friend looked at the book recently and she kept saying: ‘I think you had a lot of fun with this.’
I know the book doesn’t contain a lot of text and relies on visual literacy, but what did you do first? The pictures or the text?
You’d think it would be pictures first, but it wasn’t always that way. For each chapter header, I have a ‘capital city icons’ page, so I spent time researching the most known and most popular icons for each city, listing them and editing them. I then drew the pictures to match.
Another example is the Native Animals page—I wanted to, again, research the most iconic first. Ditto place names and plants and people and other specific topics.
Sometimes, though, I would just operate on one idea—like Tasmanian chocolate factory, for example—and I’d come up with the imagery first. Even in this instance, though, I still had to research the chocolate-making process first—so in a way, pretty much all of the pages were at least initially text-driven, including those with barely any text.
I love the cover. Why yellow?
I actually designed the cover first—which is really unusual. It inspired the rest of the book. And I created the background colour in a dozen different hues, from black to pale blue and bright orange. As soon as I did the yellow, I knew it was perfect. It just looked the best.
A secret regarding the colours in the book—they were taken from old Bewitched reruns. I took photos of some of the clothing and room settings on my TV then scanned the photos into Adobe Illustrator and eye-droppered the colours I wanted. I simply adore the colours of the ‘60s!
What pages did you find the easiest and the hardest?
The hardest, for me, were the layouts that—for some indefinable reason—just weren’t working. Some examples were the Wildflowers page in WA, the Cattle page in Queensland, and both Precious Rocks and the Diverse pages at the front of the book. These, and a few others, went through many incarnations in an attempt to get them right—with colour changes, layout changes and more.
I also struggled with the endpapers. I had several designs and they were just ‘okay’ in my view. I’m so much happier with the final design but it took a while to get there.
The easiest pages were the ones that seemed to fall into place immediately.
Do you have favourite pages?
I do. They include Uluru, the Tassie chocolate factory, Butterfly Gorge and Tassie honey. Also love Darwin icons and Canberra hot air balloons. The food icons spread is a lot of fun, too. Makes me hungry.
I really like the maps, too—they took so much time and energy and I’m pleased with how they look against the orange ‘dirt’.
Will there be more books in this style?
Not exactly the same. I really want to explore different styles now—and I enjoy collaging and layering variant styles and techniques. I get bored easily and couldn’t imagine doing the same style forever. I have several books I’m now creating digitally, but even then, the actual style can really differ. It’s going to be fun exploring!
Australia Illustrated is published by EK Books and will be on sale 1 November in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with a release date of 28 November in the UK. Hardcover, clothbound, 96 pages, AU$29.99, ISBN: 9781925335217 www.ekbooks.org