PASS IT ON: Illustration of the week


“If babies were apples, dangling from a tree...”

This week I chatted with Jackie Hosking at PASS IT ON, about apple babies in particular and my work as an illustrator in general — from my first published picture book to my newest title — in an interview for the children’s book writing and illustrating e-zine.

I think the apples might be one of my favourite spreads in My Sunbeam Baby, with its autumnal colours and textures, but I really couldn’t pick a favourite baby from the book. It was important to me that I gave each and every one of those three hundred little babies the same attention and lovejust like being a parent, really! It took a long time, as you can probably imagine (what a challenge I set for myself when I wrote it), but it really was a joy to illustrate. I’m excited the book is finally in real babies’ hands, but I miss painting those little apples, sunbeams, lollipops, kites,  treasures, moonbeams...



Please describe your chosen illustration. Is it a personal piece or is it for a particular project?

This is one of the illustrations from my new picture book for very young children, My Sunbeam Baby, published by ABC Books.

The figures are drawn in pencil, and I used every art material under the sun (well, nearly) to add colour, pattern and texture to my artworks, applying them to the paper in all sorts of ways. In this illustration I used a roller for the background, applied paint with a chopstick for some of the finer twigs of the apple tree, clad the babies in apple green, red and yellow, and painted onto and printed from real apple leaves for the foliage. Photoshop helped me bring the various elements together, as a digital collage.

My Sunbeam Baby is a book for sharing with babies, however, with so much detail in the illustrations I hope the book will grow with the developing child, and they will enjoy finding things in the pictures as they begin to explore books on their own.

MY SUNBEAM BABY by Emma Quay (ABC Books) -

Did you study art beyond high school? Where did you study? and what did you learn there? Tell us something you’d learned there.

I studied Graphic Design at Northumbria University in the UK, specialising in illustration, and used printmaking techniques to illustrate Inuit poetry, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Surprisingly, the only time I illustrated a children’s story during my three years at college was for a short project interpreting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (one of my favourites from childhood). I remember the tutor saying my pictures of Alice were charming, but quite static. I’m glad he did! That comment stuck with me, and since then I’ve tried to inject more movement into all my illustrations.

Could you share the story of how you published your first picture book?

The first trade picture book I illustrated was Champions by Jonathan Harlen, about a contest between a tiger, a stingray, an emu, a python and a grizzly bear; published by the Mark Macleod Books imprint at Random House Australia. I’d prepared a portfolio to show Mark, full of sample illustrations for a variety of texts, including the folk tale Kate Crackernuts, Mona the Vampire and The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I made sure I included both human and animal characters in my artworks, and showed I could maintain continuity of character through different angles, positions and facial expressions. I was very lucky Mark had just contracted a couple of picture book texts and was looking for a new illustrator. I was so happy he saw potential in my work; I’d dreamed of illustrating in full colour for a picture book for a long time. I learned a great deal from Mark over the years and the many books we worked on together, and still apply his advice and feedback to my work every day.

CHAMPIONS by Jonathan Harlen and Emma Quay (Random House Australia) -

Do you have a piece of advice for to illustrators or writers trying to find a publisher?

I’d say to always continue developing your work and try to keep a student mindset, hungry for inspiration and willing to try new things, because we’re all still learning. I hope it’s okay to say I feel new illustrators and writers can sometimes become fixated on finding a publisher for one project, and put all their energy into that instead of continuing to nurture the rest of their work. I have a first picture book that was never published; most of us do. Sometimes we need to let something go, or put it away for a while, in order to make something better. When you share your project with a manuscript assessment agency or with a commissioning editor, it’s good to remember they’d really love to like what you’re showing them. My advice would be to take any feedback on board with grace, and if it isn’t something you wanted to hear, perhaps to sit on it, give yourself a little time to recover and see it more objectively, roll it around in your head for a while, and then decide whether you’ll apply it to your work… or not. I find a little distance can help — I still apply the same advice myself, because we all have to listen to things we don’t want to hear about our work from time to time. The trick is to keep going, and make more.

What materials do you use to paint your illustrations?

For the illustrations in My Sunbeam Baby, I used acrylic paints, watercolours, gouache, oil pastels, chalk pastels, inks, cardboard, pencils, marker pens, wax crayons, sponging, dip pens, chopsticks, potato printing, rollers, toothbrushes, feathers, toilet rolls, rubber stamping, drinking straws, wooden skewers, corks, Biros, charcoal, leaf prints and Photoshop.

For my next book, I’m just using a blunt pencil and my computer!

How has the Internet been helpful for you?

It has been a lovely surprise to discover one can have such delightful exchanges with book-loving educators, readers, parents and children on social media. I work alone in my studio, spending months creating a picture book. When the books are sent out into the world, it is a joy to see them in people’s lives, being shared and enjoyed in so many different ways — a wonderful reminder of what it’s all about.

Do you have any tips you can share with us?

People often comment on my line work for the illustrations in Rudie Nudie, and ask how I make it so sketchy. I find it helps to draw the images very small (at 50%), with a soft, blunt pencil, and then enlarge my drawings to achieve a grainy, loose line. A blank sheet of paper can be scary, so I also like to draw a character over and over again until my lines become more dynamic and lively — these little tricks help me to loosen up and relax.

RUDIE NUDIE by Emma Quay (ABC Books) -

Do you use much technology with your illustrations? Computer programmes or drawing tablets?

I make all my marks by hand, and the results are then scanned with an EPSON Perfection V6000. I manipulate the scans and build up digital collages with Photoshop CC on a Macbook Pro, using a Wacom Intuos tablet. I can carry most of it under my arm, from the house to my garden studio. It’s a far cry from the whizz-bang old enlargers we used at college, which I seem to remember one almost had to climb into.

What are you working on now?

I’m illustrating my first Christmas book, and having a lot of fun with it!

Apple babies illustration in progress, from the picture book My Sunbeam Baby by Emma Quay (ABC Books)

PASS IT ON is a weekly, networking e-zine for those involved with or interested in the children’s book writing and illustrating industry. Thank you to Jackie Hosking for providing such a valuable resource, and for the opportunity to chat about all things picture books!


MY SUNBEAM BABY is a new picture book written and illustrated by Emma Quay, published by ABC Books

MY SUNBEAM BABY is a new picture book written and illustrated by Emma Quay, published by ABC Books