Day 10 Evening Panel Discussion: ‘READING PICTURES’ at Toorak/South Yarra Library

This event was a new edition to the Literature Alive Program and was an eagerly anticipated panel discussion.

Mandy Cooper, the curator of GALLERY FOR A DAY, was the M.C for the evening and she spoke briefly about what picture books mean to her, that the narrative is in the artwork and that it’s a unique skill it is to make this relationship work. She quoted Children’s Writer and Illustrator Ann James:

The illustrator must not merely echo the words, they must illustrate between the lines. So the story is like a song -lyrics and music. Each has it’s own voice and part to play. But they must be in tune with one another. They can be discordant but discordant on purpose.

Mandy then introduced Kevin Burgemeestre to talk about his thoughts on this topic.

Kevin thinks he has the best job in the world. He can’t believe he’s paid to play, that he does all the things he once got into trouble for at school. Kevin tells us how the reader always brings something to the work, whether that is based on their own experiences or their imaginations.

Text gives impetus for drama. It creates sequence. You establish a shot, a scene and you have action and reaction. And it has to be dynamic on the page. There are a number of points of view that create the reaction.

Kevin likes to use metaphor. Through gesture and body language, his character is telling us something symbolic and he reminds us of how religion always used over-wrought alter pieces to get the message through.

Composition is important. For example, how you divide the paper? This connects the art to the narrative particularly well if there is conflict. A fence maybe…

In Kevin’s book, ‘Thunder Mountain’ he deliberately drew his illustrations increasing in size across the page to relate to a counting narrative.

In ‘B for Bravo’ Kevin’s dioramas create drama through shadow and depth and shape and in the mountains scene, the emptiness creates possibility for the plane to fly through.

In regards to point of view, Kevin quite rightly states, the mouse has a different view to the eagle.

In Kevin’s new book, (it’s YA fiction) called ‘Kate’, Kate is protected by ‘Spirit’ the dog and the artwork has deliberate elements of tribal spirit symbolism that relates to the text. Very cool stuff from Kevin.

Elizabeth Honey was introduced next and she spoke about using less words and letting the picture do the talking. We were honoured to see the roughs for a new book. She was in a dilemma and asked us our opinion on the medium she should use. Wow!

It’s a picture book about all the things parents say to children. Families have a way of communicating, they use words that deal with situations or ‘wrangling’ as Elizabeth put it. It was a delightful story.

Hop up, wriggle over, snuggle in.”

Elizabeth wanted to use the right medium to covey the mood of the book: soft, fluffy and how big should the book be? These were all valid questions.

Elizabeth also showed us how she wrote and re-wrote ‘Not a Nibble’. When you work with water, double spreads are the order for the day.

Elizabeth writes and paints at the same time when she’s creating a book as this allows an economy of words. It also allows her to make pictures intriguing and to not give it all away too early, such as in her book ‘That’s not a Daffodil’

Elizabeth chose to work in gouache on rough watercolour paper that has a deep tooth so she could then layer with oil crayon. There were some difficult perspectives to deal with as the Turkish man next door was huge and trying to fit him in the artwork with the little boy took some time. It’s all about angles…

Mark Wilson works completely different to Kevin and Elizabeth. Yay!

Mark uses dual narratives in historical based stories. By this, I mean he used his illustration and the text to tell the story, all adding a different perspective.

For example, in ‘Angel of Kokoda’ Mark used the illustration of Kari and certain birds, lifelike and carved, that were important to his tribal belief systems as well as the text that was telling the story and a letter from command that described the state of the battle. This layering is really effective storytelling, allowing the reader to put all the pieces together. And there’s so much information here.

‘Vietnam Diary’ used two narratives through illustration. On a double page spread, there are two brothers on opposing sides. On one side of the page, one brother is protesting against the war in Vietnam and Mark has painted this in a dropout, tonal effect. It’s very 60’s in style, representing that era. On the side, the other brother is painted very life-like, clean cut; almost like a photo. This young man (which just happens to be Mark himself) has had his name drawn out of a tattslotto type of machine ordering him to do National Service and join the Army. The illustration is ‘realist’, reflecting his situation at the time. Very cool Mark.

In the book ‘My Mother’s Eyes’ Mark used colour to represent the horror of war, rather than draw that detail for children. He is allowing the reader to use their imagination and through the emotive use of colour: red for fire, anger, blood.

Several people in the audience then had an opportunity to ask our panelists questions and one absolute beauty, which was directed to Mark was: “What artists have influenced your careers, obviously Turner has?”

Mark nearly fell off his chair, he was flattered Turner could be seen in his work. I can see it too now, in the way he uses light to illuminate certain illustrations. Mark rattled off a few other admired artists such as Tom Roberts, whom he has written a book about, ‘Ben & Gracie’s Art Adventure’ & ‘Inside the world of Tom Roberts.’

Kevin loves the artwork of Max Meldrum and Ken Avery (of Bugs Bunny fame), Rembrandt for humanity, Goya, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester, Fred Williams.  Quite a list, but I will have Google Max Meldrum and Ken Avery.

When Elizabeth Honey was asked about admired artists she immediately answered Matisse, and that he strongly influenced her in ‘I’m still awake, Still’. You can see this this in Elizabeth use of long lines and flowing movement. How cool is that!

Overall, the READING PICTURES discussion panel evening was deemed a success and will remain on the agenda for the festival next year. What a great night!

 

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2 thoughts on “Day 10 Evening Panel Discussion: ‘READING PICTURES’ at Toorak/South Yarra Library

    1. A little Birdy told me... Post author

      It was a fascinating evening. I learnt so much about the process of writing. I realise now that for picture books, I’m using way too many words. I really need to tighten them up. Numbers were a bit disappointing at the panel. I’s say there was about 20 people. It was a very cold night. I really think it needed to be advertised a bit more as it was a wonderful evening 🙂

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