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

Friday 7 February 2020

Look What I'm Reading! Leigh Hobbs

Leigh Hobbs is an artist and author best known for the 23 children’s books he’s written and illustrated featuring his characters Old Tom, Mr Chicken, Horrible Harriet, Fiona the Pig, Mr Badger and the FREAKS in 4F.

He was Australian Children’s Laureate 2016 - 2017 and in 2019 was honoured by Australia Post with a Leigh Hobbs Legend stamp.

Read this fascinating meander through Leigh's reading pile, the man behind the art and a sneak peak at his current work in progress with Anastasia Gonis.

Which children’s book are you currently reading?
I’m not currently reading any children’s books.  I take an interest in the illustrations sometimes but tend to find looking at other peoples work in kids’ books unproductive and distracting. I’ve always favoured reading non fiction books anyhow – even as a kid. I love biographies, and books about art, architecture and history, especially English history.

What titles are on your to Read Pile?
On my pile are two recent copies of The London Review of Books; a copy of Country Life magazine, Nothing if not critical by Robert Hughes, The Art and Architecture of London by Ann Saunders and a book about Ludwig Bemelmans – the creator of the Madeleine books. He and Ronald Searle are my favourite children’s book creators. Both were master graphic artists.

What do you see as your greatest achievement and why?
Probably that I’ve managed to, shall we say, 'keep the pilot light’ on for sixty years so to speak. 

Since I was about seven I've loved drawing and I wanted to be an artist and I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for England and wanted to go there. Jump forward sixty years and I’m still drawing enthusiastically and have been to London about thirty five times and still have a ‘thing’ about England – the ‘thing’ being a passionate interest and fascination for the place.

In spite of all that life throws at you, to keep alive a passion or even a sense of enthusiasm, is rather an achievement, I think.

What is the most unusual artwork request you have undertaken? How did this come about and was it an artistically fulfilling project?
For the Australian Bicentennial Travelling Exhibition, I was commissioned to create four life-size sculptural figures sitting in theatre seats who represented generic Australian characters. I was inspired by having worked as an artist at Sydney’s Luna Park in the middle 1970’s when some of the tradies there were old blokes who had worked on the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was artistically fulfilling but challenging as well.

What media do you use in your work and which medium do you prefer?
For the pictures in my books I use mainly pen and black ink for the line drawing, with gouache or acrylic colour. With my non book painting, I use oils.

As a creator, how important is having your work acknowledged in the way it has been through your life?
Only now do I feel a level of acknowledgement; now when it doesn’t seem so important. I think the importance of humour in kids’ books is under-appreciated. My books aren’t issues-based or issues-driven, which probably is why I’ve never got a gong from the Children’s Book Council of Australia.  

My books are character driven and in fact are character studies, so in a way issues like love, affection, friendship, mother - son relationships (Old Tom and Angela Throgmorton) are present. Mr Chicken Goes to Paris has been a constant seller in the Louvre Bookshop in Paris for ten years so that is a very satisfying form of acknowledgement. Plus I’m often invited to be a guest speaker at Literary Festivals in England.

Who or what has had the greatest influence on you/your work?
The greatest influence for me and on my work has been Ronald Searle.

Can you share with us what you are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a new Horrible Harriet picture book.

Do you have a favourite genre? If so, what is it, and why do you prefer it?
History would be my favourite genre. It always has been. Even as a child I adored reading about Kings, Queens, revolutions, battles, the plague, castles, pirates etc. My imagination has always been quite rich and active and so reading about history fed it.  All that reading about (and exploring on foot) Paris, London and Rome has come to life on the printed page, in words and pictures in my Mr Chicken books. Really they’re all about my affection for, and interest in, those particular cities.

Hopefully the kids reading the books will pick up on that and be happy travellers in their own way - either literally or via their imagination.

Do you read from printed books or some other medium?  
I always read printed books.  I enjoy holding a book and leafing through the pages. I‘ve always liked books. My 96 year old father is still an avid reader.

 If you weren't an artist/creator, what would you have chosen to do?
If I’d not been an artist I think I’d have liked to be involved in archaeology.