Today I’d like to welcome Ester to my blog. Recently she tag-teamed with me to run an Author/Illustrator visit at Kosciuszko Street Primary School in Traralgon.
Since early childhood she has been an obsessive doodler. She still has old school reports with angry comments such as “it is impossible to read Ester's work as it is covered in scribbles!”
Growing up in Townsville, North Queensland, her imagination went wild with Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree and she obsessed over the details of the illustrations in the comic books Tintin and Asterix and Obelix, as well as the dark, elegant line work of Victorian illustrators such as Arthur Rackham.
Now, as a primary school teacher, she doesn't know who is more excited during storytime–the kids or her!
How many times have you done workshops with children in schools about illustration?
I did workshops at Morwell (Crinigan Rd) Primary School last year–also at OSHCare4Kids and I have taught elements of illustration informally as part of lessons in other schools where I have taught. Kids are amazed to discover that the illustrations in books aren’t just spat out of a computer program–someone actually creates them!
And there’s a big process to it–that’s another thing–it’s not instant! It’s fun to come into the classroom and not be the teacher–just have a bit of fun and give a bit of cheek–and let the teachers deal with behaviour management etc. As a teacher, I sneak in art anywhere I can–I have managed to get less confident kids to write by illustrating their stories in funny cartoons for every paragraph–good motivator – and it gives them a sense of their story being something worth sharing with others.
What was different about this one at Kosciusko Street Primary School?
This time I was tag-teaming, with you, Miss Meg! What was cool about this is that we are an author and illustrator team–so we were able to refer to each others’ work and how we are working together. One thing you and I have in common is a passion for inspiring kids to create–and that making stories is something they can do alone or with friends, and isn't just something you do in class.
What preparation do you do before the day?
Woooah... heaps! Illustration is a big process–and when you're demonstrating that process to all grade levels in a school, you really do need to show different things.
Schools are on a tight schedule so you have a small amount of time as well. I probably dragged the kitchen sink with me, because I wanted to show the kids the whole process, thumbnails, separating the text into pages, character sketches, and how you decide on the style and medium-(not in that order)–that's a LOT!
Everyone works differently. I am not a neat, systematic person, so my process involves messy scrap-folders of resources pictures, hundreds of very chaotic and scribbly draft ideas, and thumbnails that probably make no sense to most people at all (I am working on neatness...blah!)
I also wanted to show them the “bloopers”–that is, the pictures that don't end up in the book. They got a bit of a laugh out of those.
Years ago (when I was thinking about doing book illustration, I showed some early attempts to Australian author and illustrator John Winch while he was visiting the Australian Museum in Canberra. He commented “you seem to have a thing for bottoms–all your characters have big bums!” Funnily enough I realised that they do keep appearing–that gave the kids a bit of a giggle.
What did you do during the workshops?
I thought I showed them the process of illustrating a book, but looking back over the film footage, I realised that I leapt about like a hyperactive lemur, drawing crazy pictures while making odd sound effects... one day I will grow up...
How did the children respond to the workshops?
We had fun- lots of giggles and good interaction. Kids are an honest audience- they let you know if they are interested or not pretty quickly. I had a few children approach me during lunch to show me their drawings and stories, which is great–as the whole purpose for something like this isn't even so much to show kids how to write or illustrate, but to encourage them to give it a go themselves–like I said, to value their ideas and talents.
What was your favourite comment from the day?
Me: Does anyone have any questions about illustrating books?
Prep: My cousin has a guinea pig and his name is Charlie and he eats potatoes.
What has been some of the feedback from the day?
Cameron, Grade 5/6 teacher:
“Esters enthusiasm is infectious and her quirkiness was a real bonus. The students were absolutely enthralled by the detail in her fantasy pictures, and comments after the session had them thinking about how long they must have taken, and how many drafts it must have been. It has led to increased emphasis on illustrations for stories with varying sizes throughout the texts.”
Liz, Grade 5/6 teacher:
“Ester’s art work has inspired the students to illustrate picture story books after the workshop. All the students were very engaged and had lots of questions about Ester’s techniques, and they were in wonder of her beautiful art works. There was such a great variety - the students were blown away. They were really surprised at how hard an illustrator must work to illustrate a text by thinking out of the box and not just drawing the words - showing the students that the illustrations are their own text.”
Jacqui, Grade 2/3 teacher:
“The students were so excited that they couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom and begin their own illustrations. They were particularly excited to create their own ‘Imagine’ pages and everyone wanted to take home the amazing charcoal drawing they watched Ester create during the workshop!”
What are you currently working on for others?
I am seeing the first edits of Lily Fabourama Glamourama (Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!) which I illustrated for Emma Mactaggart, the author of Imagine.
I am in my final stretch finishing a book for singer/songwriter Merelyn Carter (of country music duo Carter and Carter) called To the Moon and Back–Granny's Space Rocket Adventure. The book accompanies the music album To the Moon and Back–and it's going to be great! I ran the text past a panel of kiddy experts (a few primary school classes) for ideas on what they would like to see in the illustrations, so I can't wait to go back into their classes with the book and show them their ideas as a finished product.
Merelyn's grandma character is based on herself, and she's a pretty slim, foxy and glamourous kind of gran. But the gran in my illustrations is rather portly and wears spotty undies. One of my grade 2/3 “panel” at St Mary's Newborough pointed out that “being in zero gravity would be very good for fat grandmothers with arthritis!” (Important to note!).
I am also working on what I intend to be a beautiful, highly detailed heirloom-style Christmas book called Shop on the Corner by Joanne Creed. I finally caught up with Joanne at the Meet the Publishers KidsLitVic2106 Conference in Melbourne in early May, and she is an amazing writing talent. I am a details person and this is an opportunity for me to go crazy on detail- it's that kind of book.
Do you have anything that you are personally working on?
I have my own story, Gnerk, which is a long-term project. You can read about it on my website. Everyone has at least one thing that they must must must create- this has sat in me for years, struggling to find its own voice. I finally began to really find it while studying art in my thirties. I began trying to write “for kids” and found myself sounding trite and cutesy- (vomit!) when I chucked away the rules and just let the story tell itself (or was it that spider that took over? You'd have to read it to know that one!), that it really took on a personality of its own.
So, what is next for you?
You know exactly what, Megan! You and I are going to create the wonderful Raymund and the Fear Monster! Like Gnerk, it's been turned over and inside out many times, and it's beginning to take on its own unique shape. I have designed the monster (even I”M scared!!!) and have my big, messy collection of resources, scribbles, thumbs, character sketches... and of course our best resource- our panel of kid- experts to help us along the way!
Thanks for sharing with us, Ester. It’s been a lot of fun. I am sure that many people wonder about illustrators and what they do. It's been enlightening.
If you want to know more about Ester and her work, head on over to her website.
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