Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book – With Tania McCartney

Today my very good author/illustrator friend, Tania McCartney is joining me on the virtual deck for a cup of tea and a chat about how to write and illustrate a picture book. At the end of this post, she’s also offering readers the chance to win some great prizes.

Check out Tania’s great writing and illustrating tips at the end of this post. image011

Tania, tell us about Australia Illustrated.

Australia Illustrated is the very first picture book I’ve both written and illustrated and it was an incredible learning experience. The process was unusual in that I had pretty much carte blanche (with a pre-approved outline from publisher, EK Books). You may already know that in publishing, this is highly unusual.

Having this freedom was a real gift. Having written, edited, laid out, designed, collected, studied, read and enjoyed picture books for two or three decades now, I had zero experience in the actual process required to combine my own writing with my own illustration. In fact, to give you an idea of up how-ended my process was, I did the book cover first!

With this lack of experience, it would have been almost impossible for me to take the ‘roughs, storyboards, mock-ups, colour-palettes, character studies’ route that most picture book illustrators undergo. I didn’t have the know-how or skill, and given that Australia Illustrated is 96 pages and I had scant idea of what I was going to include in the book, having to do all that would have been my undoing!

Thankfully, I muddled my way through, and the end result is something pretty unusual—and something I’m actually proud of.

DEE’S REVIEW OF AUSTRALIA ILLUSTRATED

If I could think of one word to describe Australia Illustrated … it’s joy.

T00a-cover-pastelhis book exudes joy on every page.

It’s clear that Tania enjoyed creating Australia Illustrated … and this book reflects her joy in being Australian.

Each page is full of vibrant, active illustrations that reflect well thought out and researched text.

Each state and territory of Australia is featured along with the food, flora, fauna, sport, customs people and places that make them unique … oh and did I mention food? There’s a lot of food in this book.

From the First People to washing lines and crocodiles, football and sunshine, koalas and akubras, skyscrapers and beaches that squeak, this 96-page picture book is a glorious tribute to this wide brown land and its rich and varied multicultural communities. Vibrantly illustrated with watercolour, ink and mono-printing, Australia: Illustrated not only celebrates the more ‘typical’ Australian flora, fauna and landmarks, it also showcases the everyday quirks and idiosyncrasies that make Australia unique: the many types of rain, Greek street food, Sydney ferries, cattle breeds, the plants of the Daintree. Even the quokka selfie epidemic is featured! 

One of the things readers will love most about this book is that it’s so relateable. For adults it will conjure up childhood memories, for young readers it will inspire them to create them.

Australia Illustrated is beautifully produced by EK Books. It comes in a hard cover and with 96 pages will provide hours of entertainment and joy for readers of all ages in the classroom and home.

TANIA’S WRITING & ILLUSTRATING TIPS
What I Learned During My Picture Book Muddle.

  1. I learned that the best way to illustrate a book is to have courage and not think about it too much. There were moments on this journey when I was filled with absolute terror over how my images would be perceived—in terms of skill, style, content.

au-diverse-kid-girl-japaneseI also began questioning how things were unfolding and if I was on the ‘right track’. Whenever this happened, I had to shut this thought down, otherwise, I probably would have given up. And how did I shut the thought down? I told myself what ALL creators should be telling themselves—that I’m creating this book for me first, others second.

Many creators will tell you that they write for the reader but we HAVE to write for ourselves first. If we don’t, we wouldn’t enjoy the process (sorry, but I don’t want to write about boy superheros who live on the moon, even though millions of kids might love that!). We have to write and draw what WE personally love—to give us creative satisfaction and to do our best work. Then, as a massive side-bonus, if kids or adults or monkeys fall into our stories or our images and have a wonderful time there—that is what makes it doubly worthwhile. In fact, they say that once a book is published, it ceases to be yours—it becomes the reader’s. So I say make it yours while you can, then let it go!

  1. I learned that a creative process should be an organic process, and that while having a plan or outline is important, allowing story and images to unfold has an intense magic in it. Good publishers know this. They know that stories can morph over time, and picture ideas can change and grow. The very best books come from trusting that organic process, and not stripping it of its essence with over-editing and over-thinking—or bowing down to what other people want or might expect.
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  1. I learned that illustrating books is an immense emotional, mental, physical and time investment (arguable even more so than writing one). You cannot be in this for the money. A hundred-thousand dollars probably wouldn’t cover the hours I put into Australia Illustrated, but the creative satisfaction and joy its creation brought me is priceless. It can’t be about money. If you make it about money, it will crush you with the fiscal unfairness of it all.
  1. I learned that children’s book illustrations really do need to be highly professional and beautiful. I mean, I knew that already, but I learned it all over again on a deeply personal level. I have only just rekindled my love for illustration these past few years. My skills were rusted over, and I’ve had to relearn so very much. During the twelve months it took to create Australia Illustrated, my skills, naturally, bettered themselves, and I found myself looking back at my first images with some disdain. Luckily, I had also developed digital art skills during that year, and I was able to touch up first images to the standard I knew the book needed.
  1. I learned that you Just Have To Throw Yourself In. During my [many] moments of self-doubt or angst of fear, I found the only way out was through. Just do it. When you do that, things unblock and flow. It worked for me every single time.034-vic-mel-icons
  1. Dee asked me for five points, but I can’t resist one more—sorry, Dee! I learned that I want to do things differently next time. There are some splendid illustrators who keep the same style of art their entire career long—and it works beautifully for them. For me, I think creating in the same style forever would send me to the loony bin. I still love the style I’ve done in Australia Illustrated, but I’m ready to try something new for my next book (in fact, I’m currently creating several fully-digital works) and I can’t wait to see what style that will be. I have some ideas but I’ve not settled on something yet. Perhaps I’ll just let it unfold—pretty much like Australia Illustrated.

act-arboretum-boy-3See more of Tania’s work at www.taniamccartney.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @taniamccartney

Australia Illustrated is published by EK Books and will be on sale 1 November in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with a release date of 28 November in the UK. Hardcover, clothbound, 96 pages, AU$29.99, ISBN: 9781925335217 www.ekbooks.org

WIN GREAT PRIZES

  • WIN a copy of the book (There three to give away, thanks to EK Books)
  • WIN an original watercolour image from the book (two to give away)
  • the chance to name some of Tania’s book characters!

Enter here at Tania’s Blog

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5 thoughts on “Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book – With Tania McCartney

  1. Fiscal unfairness, create for you first, monkeys! Tania’s ability to deliver adroit advice never fails. Infinite thanks to you both for a great and timely post.

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