“I guess it’s not completely horrible, for a first attempt”
What items are an essential part of your creative space?
My tilting drawing table. I’m not sure what the tilting is for, but it definitely makes me feel like a real illustrator person. And my big silly beanbag. Without it, the cat would never visit me while I work.
Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
Watercolours! There’s nothing so magic in all the world as the way paper drinks up water and pigment, the weird fractal blooms of a wet wash painting, clouds blotted away with wadded-up tissue, the transparency, the perfect white of the paper, AAAGH, THE CAT JUST WALKED ACROSS THE WET PAGE (so that’s what the tilting table is for!), it’s alright, I’ll just touch it up with gouache, no, no, that’s much worse, just so much worse.
Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Freya Blackwood, in a heartbeat. Whenever I’m stuck, or something isn’t working, I go lie down and pore over all of Freya’s books. And then I steal, steal shamelessly!
And Jillian Tamaki. Every comic I own of hers has pages warped from tears and effluvia.
And Armin Greder. Who still hasn’t responded to my invite on Xbox Live.
Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
Palaeolithic. They shared my difficulties with perspective, had creative solutions to how tricky hands are to draw, and, above all else, they worked in caves. Like Batman.
Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
Well, there was the sudden realisation in the 6th grade that it was somebody’s job to draw the X-Men. And then there was film school, which I was dreadful at, but where I really enjoyed drawing other people’s story boards. But more than anything else, I credit Allyx Lathrope, my bookshop boss and dear friend. Honestly, the only reason I got into picture books at all was to make her like me.
Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often?
Yes, so long as I don’t have to tidy anything.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
Painting the sky. Most of the time, I don’t paint like a traditional watercolourist - I fastidiously reserve areas with masking fluid, I favour tiny little detail brushes, and work with all the speed and haste of a relocating starfish. But when I paint the sky, I go nuts, and work impulsively - I use ALL the brushes, racing against the drying water, throwing down salt crystals, I get out the blowdryer, the sponge, the cat, it’s some real sorcerer’s apprentice stuff. I never know what I’m doing, and it’s more fun than just about anything.
What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Draw for at least an hour every day, keep a sketchbook with you at all times, and never throw away old artwork, even if it’s horrible. Develop your portfolio, hammer down doors, be kind to yourself and never give up! Full disclosure, I don’t actually do any of these things. But I feel like they would have been helpful.
More than anything else, my advice would be to find your equivalent of painting the sky, the subjects that turn you into a chaos magician and a chronomancer, time disappearing when you’re at it. When you find that, nobody needs to tell you to work an hour every day and keep a sketchbook. This is a very roundabout way of saying paint what you love.
Share your work, often, always. It can be hard to show stuff around when you’re developing and learning, it’s hard to feel like you’re ready. But you’re never ready, and you always were.
Read widely! No, wider than that, those are all CBCA books. Read illustrated books from other countries, read comics, read airplane emergency landing instructions, read Tumblrs and zines and concept art books and especially read Freya Blackwood. People are making some amazing stuff, and so are you.
And tilt your drawing table all the way up, it stops your cat walking all over your work.
Phil Lesnie is an Australian illustrator, cartoonist and writer. His work includes the picture book Once a Shepherd, written by Glenda Millard, and the newly published A Solider, A Dog and a Boy, written by Libby Hathorn and published by Hachette. Visit Phil's Tumblr and Facebook pages for more information about his illustrations and other projects.