I am excited to share a virtual cup of tea with author/illustrator Tania McCartney to celebrate the launch of her latest book Australia Illustrated. I have known about this project for such a long time and I am thrilled to see it finally be produced into the most beautiful printed book.
Not only is Tania is an award-winning author of books for both children and adults, she is also the founder of Kids’ Book review and 52-Week Illustration Challenge. The list of her talents is endless and to top it all off, Tania is a beautiful person and a treasured friend. Even during her busiest time (getting ready for her book launch), she he has been ever so kind to share a ‘virtual’ cuppa with me as we chat about all things creative.
(You can read more information about the gorgeous Tania HERE.)
I received my very own copy yesterday and this book is the most amazing collection of gorgeous illustrations and factual information about our land far and wide. There is not one tiny detail that hasn’t been well considered and exquisitely executed.
Living in Melbourne, I drooled over the ‘Victoria’ pages, immediately resonating with ALL of them!
I have my own little ‘tram nut’ at home, and given I rarely drive in the city, the hook-turn signs make me immediately feel anxious!
After looking at every single detail over and over again, I was overcome with emotion by Tania’s gracious thank you note on the very last page. Tan, we should be thanking YOU for creating such a beautiful keepsake not only for those who are blessed to live on this land, but those who visit and taste the uniqueness of our country that you have most certainly captured.
Enough from me…… back to our cuppa and chat!
I love the title Australia Illustrated, where did the idea for such a unique book come from?
This was one of those ideas that sort of semi-forms in the mind over a long period of time, yet isn’t really sharp or focused—it’s just sort of ‘an idea’.
It was during my reconnection with illustration after a 25+ year hiatus (in which I founded the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, which was instrumental in re-honing my skills) that the idea came surging forward with more clarity, inspired by the rash of ‘global’ and atlas-style picture books that have been coming onto the market these last two years.
It was also pushed forward by an artsACT grant opportunity. I had a really short time to apply and as the grant required an in-place publishing contract, I mentioned the idea to my publisher Anouska Jones at EK Books. I sent the email at 5pm on a Tuesday and at 8am Wednesday morning, the Exisle Publishing boss called to say he loved the idea and would have a contract in my inbox by midday. It was there at 11am.
If only all contracts happened like that! (And yes, I got the grant, thanks artsACT. This entire process is proof that we just have to GO for things.)
EK, of course, required a general book outline so I wrote one, it was agreed upon, and then I spent the next 12 months opening myself to the ideas that formed the book. As a result, the process in creating Australia Illustrated was virtually inverted—I did everything back-to-front. I even did the cover first!!
It has been fabulous watching your illustration style develop, how does it feel to be both the author and illustrator of this book? How would you describe your illustration style?
Oh goodness, it feels SURREAL! Truly amazing. I’m still stunned. Even 18 months ago, I would never have believed I could illustrate my own books, even though I’ve long desired it. I just didn’t think I had the skills. Just goes to show what hard work and persistence can do. Practice does hone skills.
My style—I would have to say it’s whimsical and modern and ‘layered’ in that I use a lot of patterning, filters and differing illustration techniques. For this book, I used watercolour, gouche, ink and pencil to hand-render. Then I used digital art, retouching and filters. I even created my own fonts for this book using iFontmaker. I also used mono-printing to create some of the backgrounds, which I then scanned in and pasted into Adobe Illustrator to form the pages.
I think my work is quite neat and controlled and ‘pretty’. I’ve tried to go fluid and free-form. I’m not very good at it. I might stick to neat. I think it’s really important to understand our illustration strengths.
One thing I did realise in creating this book, is how very much I want to try a different style next time. Many artists build their brand on one style, but I think I’d curl up in the foetal position if I couldn’t try new stuff. So my next books will be very different. I’m working on three that are fully digital and they look nothing like Australia Illustrated.
There are so many beautiful pages – do you have a favourite? Why? (or a few??)
I love this question! I have a fondness for the Italian Caffè page (Melbourne) because it was the very first page I did. And I included a waiter that I painted for the 52-Week Illustration Challenge two years ago!
I love the Great Barrier Reef page because it was incredibly difficult to make it look natural in terms of layout, and took a lot of work. So, I’m proud of it. I was also surprised how much I fell in love with drawing fish!
Similarly, my Birds of Kakadu page was a joy to create. I adore birds and these were some of the first birds I’ve ever drawn. It was such a joy.
My other personal favourites are the Uluru page (it makes me cry!), Quokka Selfies, Sydney Icons, Sydney Ferries, Tassie Honey, Adelaide icons, Butterfly Gorge, Daintree Leaves, Tassie Chocolate Factory and Canberra Hot Air Balloons. You’ll have to read the book to see those!
Your love of non-fiction books undoubtedly influences your projects, what other genres do you work in also?
Oh gosh, I SO love non-fiction books. From picture books to YA non-fiction. So many of my books are non-fiction and I have six or seven more in the works. Adore! But I also adore fiction/narrative picture books, and want to do some more of those.
Right now, I’m branching into junior fiction and hope to move to middle fiction as I gain more footage in this genre. I might have some news on a JF book soon … fingers crossed.
I’ve also written historical fiction (also adore! Okay—let’s just say I love kids’ books in general…), adult memoir and non-fiction, short stories, and craft and lifestyle. On top of that, I have over 1000 magazine feature articles and reviews in print and online. When I was in my twenties, I wrote a stack of adult fiction, so maybe I’ll turn to that again one day. Right now, it’s kids’ books all the way.
Could there be a series in the future? Of other countries perhaps?
Interesting you mentioned this, because this is what my publisher was getting excited about! But honestly… no. This took SO much work and there are other projects I want to work on now. I get bored very easily and want to try new things.
Having penned 7 books in the A Kids’ Year picture book series (books 6 and 7 out next year), it’s also really tough to write about other countries, especially those you haven’t lived in or spent time in. I’m a pretty fastidious researcher, and used several native advisors for each of these books, yet small things still slipped through the cracks. You MUST get books on other countries infallibly accurate. It’s all too fraught.
Being an author and illustrator of your own book has always been a dream of yours – what do you dream about now?
Isn’t it wonderful that we work in an industry that allows us to consistently move the goal posts? So lucky.
My dream is to continue to create several different styles of picture book—I have so many ideas. But I also want to move into junior and middle grade fiction. I’d like to have some series going, and to illustrate the younger junior fiction I’ve written.
I think historical fiction and picture book biographies are fascinating and enriching genres, so I’d like to do more in this vein.
Down the track, I dream of doing graphic novels (though this really feels like a pipe dream right now) and some adult fiction.
Do you have any future projects that you can share with me? (please tell me there are more exciting things on the horizon)
Well, other than potential junior fiction news, I’ve received my first illustration commission with the National Library of Australia. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s a really exciting book with a prominent writer I really respect. I’m a little daunted and a lot of thrilled.
I’ve also been working on an infographic-style picture book which has been so much fun, but I’m yet to place it with anyone. We’ll see what happens… a four-word phrase every author says 100 times a day!
Check out Tania’s interviews, book giveaways, trailer launch and fun activities celebrating the release of Australia Illustrated.
This is one book every household in Australia should own!
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
I would like to take this opportunity to boast that I am the proud owner of some Tania McCartney original artwork, and they proudly hang in my art studio giving me constant inspiration. Thank you again Tania for sharing your amazing talent!