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

Thursday 7 March 2019

Meet the Illustrator: Liz Duthie

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less. Intuitive, loose and scribbly, with line being the strongest element.

What items are an essential part of your creative space? Time alone, an unoccupied mind, art books, my light box and my computer, which I mainly use for research or for playing music or podcasts - I listen to a lot of Conversations on the ABC with Richard Fidler.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium? I like to use a range of media – gouache, watercolour, pencil, pen and ink, acrylic, oil or dry pastel, charcoal and sometimes a little collage - as I find this is the best way to keep my drawing loose and spontaneous. I also enjoy the mark-making aspect of drawing and I like my work to have a wide variety of line work and plenty of energy. Sometimes, however, the result is just a mess and I have to either start again or try to pull it back from the brink somehow. The trick is trying to teeter along the line between chaos and control, and to stop short of overworking anything. This is where Richard Fidler comes in, or music, as I find my best work seems to happen when I’m relaxed and only semi-conscious of what I’m doing!

Name three artists whose work inspires you. Only three? There are SO many! Brian Wildsmith, Toulouse Lautrec and Quentin Blake.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why? The Post Impressionists in Paris – I think Toulouse-Lautrec taught me the most about drawing as I love his luscious, loose, sensual line work. I also love their heightened colour pallet and atmospheric, sometimes seedy but compassionate, portrayal of ordinary life.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator? I spent a lot of time at the library as a child, engrossed in fairy stories and Greek mythology. I also drew all the time. When I was about five, I began to write and illustrate my own books, and I remember thinking then this is what I want to do. This was cemented in grade five, when I attended a special camp for kids interested in writing. I met real writers and illustrators and learnt that it was in fact possible to write and draw for a living.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.  My husband walled off a corner of our shed to make a secret room. For as long as possible, I didn’t let my kids even know it existed! I love getting away down there –Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about!

What is your favourite part of the illustration process? I love that first read of the manuscript, when the images and mood first comes to mind. I also really enjoy the research aspect and thinking through imaginary worlds. For example, the first book I illustrated was about a girl who was born without a nose, who went to a place called Norbett’s Nose Emporium to buy one. I had to imagine what a nose emporium would look like, how would one display a nose in a shop to its best advantage, keeping it fresh for the customer? The word 'emporium' had an old fashioned vibe which led me to research vintage shops. Very fun! Then, of course, the actual drawing is great fun, exhilarating - when it’s working that is!

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator? Draw as much as you can and have faith in your ability. Research art directors, publishers and editors and send postcards of your artwork to those you think will be interested in your style, perhaps three or four times a year. If possible, attend children’s book industry conferences, such as CYA, SCWBI or KidlitVic and pay to have a meeting with an editor or art director so you can speak to them directly about your work. I also did some fantastic online illustration courses called Make Art that Sells, with Lilla Rogers, an art agent in the US, which taught me heaps about professional illustration. Breaking in can be a really hard slog, so remember to enjoy it and draw for your own pleasure.

Liz Duthie specialises in illustration for picture books and middle grade chapter books. Recent projects include: a picture book for the City of Greater Bendigo, which she wrote and illustrated; cover and internal illustrations for a chapter book by Tony Hassall, called The Chosen Children; and a self-published picture book called Rose Vickers and the Nose Pickers by Jeffrey McCubbery. She is very excited to be working on two projects this year for Walker Books and Little Pink Dog Books. Liz has a BA Fine Arts, Bendigo CAE, receiving the Inaugural Peboe Painting Award and a GradDip Special Education from La Trobe University, Bendigo. She is a member of SCWBI and has enhanced her skills and industry knowledge through ASA, CYA, KidLitVic and Illustrators Australia, and numerous other workshops and courses.
You can follow Liz on instagram and find out more via her website