'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 9 July 2010

Author/Illustrator Interview: David Miller

Today we are joined by picture book author and illustrator, David Miller. David's books are amazingly unique, with his illustrations being paper sculptures. Let's hand the reigns over to David to tell you more...

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I’m the son of a sculptor and calligrapher. After studying advertising design at Swinburne I worked in Advertising Agencies before establishing my own design and illustration studio. My house and studio are in the bush in the beautiful Yarra Valley in Victoria. I write and illustrate picture books. My illustrations are 3D paper sculptures.

What genre do you write in? My picture books range from Carousel, which is a very simple story about the fantasies of children riding a carousel, to Refugees which explores the troubled journey of two ducks made refugees when their swamp is filled in and Big and Me which is a story about a child living with a adult suffering from mental illness told through the metaphor of two machines.

What other genres have you written in? You Can Make Paper Sculpture and You Can Do Thousands of Things With String are how to do it books. I have illustrated two After Dark books.

What do you love about writing and illustrating for children? Well to start with I just love picture books. So to be making something I love is very satisfying. I also love the journey from inspiration through to the book being published. The part of that journey when the words have been written, either by myself or by another author, when I am imagining how I can turn the ideas behind the words into pictures is the best part. Where sheets of white paper are turning into drawings from which I will make the sculptures.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? No I don’t, however I do remember writing and illustrating some children’s books when my children were small. I was not successful in finding a publisher back then.

Big and Me is for children living with an adult suffering from a mental illness. Is this an issue close to your heart? The inspiration for Big and Me came from a conversation I had with my cousin Kay who is a doctor. Kay and I were talking about a family we know in which the father is suffering from a mental illness. Kay was telling me about some of the difficulties his children have because of this and said that she often sees other families like this one. Kay said, ‘David, you should do a book that would help children like these understand what was happening to them’. So I did.

Your 3D illustrations in Big and Me and the upcoming Rufus the Numbat are quite unique – can you tell us about them? Instead of drawing or painting my illustrations onto flat paper, board or canvas like other sensible illustrators do, I build mine into 3D paper sculptures. They are made from many, sometimes thousands of pieces of coloured paper that I have cut to shape, folded and glued into place.

The finished sculptures are usually about twice the size of the printed book. When I have finished making all the sculptures for a book they are photographed, a graphic designer adds words and the books are printed.

How did the idea for your latest book, Rufus the Numbat, come about? I know children love things that are funny and one day I was talking to a friend on the phone. He was having trouble hearing what I was saying because his children were laughing so much. After he had moved to another room I asked him what they were laughing at and he said Funniest Home Videos. I thought that’s mostly about people falling over and into things. Actually that’s slapstick, I should do a slapstick picture book.

Rufus the Numbat is due for release in August 2010, published by Ford Street

Tell us about your path to having your books published. In 1995 I wrote and illustrated You Can Make Paper Sculptures, which was published by Allen and Unwin. Because of this, Hodder Headline asked me to illustrate Boo to a Goose by Mem Fox. They then asked me to write and illustrate my own book, What's for Lunch, which I did.

What’s a typical writing and illustrating day? Well first I get up, and if it is winter, like today, light the fire in our kitchen stove. Do some stretching exercises. Have breakfast. Walk to my studio. Not very far. Check my emails. Work at writing, drawing or making a paper sculpture, stopping for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, finishing work between 5 and 6pm. In the warmer months I often ride my bike for an hour along a nearby rail trail. In the colder months I cut firewood before dinner.

What advice do you have on writing and illustrating? Read a lot, listen a lot, write a lot, look carefully and draw a lot.

What books did you read as a child? Secret Seven, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peanuts, Wind in the Willows, Biggles, lots and lots more.

What else do you like to do, other than write and illustrate books? I am a volunteer fire fighter and I love driving, walking and camping in the mountains and outback.

What would be your perfect day? It would be in late spring; the sun would come up over the mountains and warm me as I ate my breakfast outside. As I worked in my studio making a paper sculpture I would hear the birds calls through the open windows. Roxy the red kelpie dog would come over for a bit of Frisbee catching. I would go for a walk with my wife to the Pooh Sticks Bridge. Or perhaps I would ride my bike to Yarra Junction and back. We would have a BBQ on the deck between the studio and the house watching the mountains change colour as the sun set.

What five words best sum you up? My wife says quiet, calm, thoughtful, fun. Yes I know that is only four.

What’s next for David Miller? I have a book at the dummy or draft stage and am working with a publisher to get it right. I am writing and drawing another book. But I am not telling what either is about.