Liz Anelli is the author and award-winning illustrator of many, many colourful projects including children’s books, magazines, advertisements and educational websites. Her stunning artwork extends to printmaking, graphic design, watercolours, gouache and collage. Howzat!, View From the 32nd Floor and One Photo are a few of the picture books she has illustrated. Today I am thrilled to welcome Liz to Boomerang Books to tell us more about her art work, research and the illustrative creation of her latest gorgeous book, Desert Lake.
Desert Lake is a fascinating story of survival and prosperity amongst the flora and fauna inhabiting the seemingly barren land of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
Presented with two narratives, Pamela Freeman‘s text poses as both a lyrical and animated format and opposite, a smaller font with interesting facts. She tells the story of the rains as they arrive from the north to awaken life beneath the salty surface and enable a propagating community of birds and other wildlife to the area. Liz Anelli‘s brilliant illustrations beautifully depict this contrast, intensity, warmth and spirit with her multi-textured and layered paint, lines, pattern and complementary earthy colours. Even as the birds migrate to more plentiful waters when the lake dries, Anelli’s images carry forth the promise and richness of this outwardly desolate world.
Desert Lake literally thrives on its magical presence. It is captivating, rewarding and exquisite on so many levels. This is one information book that all primary classrooms would benefit from in their studies of Australian topography, climate change and the arts, and for the simple pleasure.
Welcome Liz! You have a style of art that has a distinctive flair yet is diverse in its themes and technique. Did you always paint this way or has your art changed over the years?
My style has certainly evolved over the years. I started out as a line and watercolour wash girl, then discovered how beautifully gouache paint sits on grey paper and gravitated towards dabs of bright colour within a black ink line (which I still do now for some illustrations). About 15 years ago I started incorporating collage and printmaking and learnt Photoshop so that I could choose which elements to cut and stick manually and which to add using my computer. Now I dip into materials and techniques depending on the age audience, subject and purpose of the illustration.
Do you have a favourite piece or project that you have worked on? Why is it special to you?
SO hard to choose! I think I love my illustrated maps above anything else, especially the first one I made of Newcastle, NSW because it was my way of befriending my new city (and country). I cycled around the Port-side suburbs for weeks with my camera and sketchbook, stopping to record every interesting building and industry and asking millions of questions. I found myself helping a prawner boat unload its catch, scampering up the side of a grain ship, in awe under the massive stacker-reclaimer wheel at a coal terminal and whizzing round the docks with a minibus full of excited school children who all wanted to show me their ‘best place to play’.
How did you come to illustrating books for children? What do you love most about this industry?
I illustrated (and wrote) my first picture book whilst still an art student way, way back. But as a child I was much more into reading and writing stories than drawing. My sisters, brother and I indulged in hours of imaginative play. My favourite was the one where we acted out snippets of radio programmes, pretending the stations were tuning in and out as we drove on long car journeys… must have been VERY irritating for our parents (but they never did replace us with a real car radio). I got hooked on drawing at Art School. You walk along the street and see stories being played out all around you. I draw what’s going on and voila… a picture book emerges.
The texture, depth, symmetry and combination of colours and media in Desert Lake are simply divine. How did you plan your process? What were the most challenging aspects in creating this book?
The hardest thing is knowing when to stop. I try out colours and textures on separate bits of paper (and sometimes scan them in when they work better than the ’real thing’). I do a lot of research drawing at the ‘roughs’ stage but then clear my references away to make the artwork more intuitively. There are so many choices to make but in the end each spread has to work as a whole picture in relation to its neighboring pages.
What was it like to collaborate with author Pamela Freeman? How much creative licence did you have working on Desert Lake?
Walker’s ‘Nature Story Series’ allow author and illustrator a more poetic approach than other picture books and I had the sense of a huge amount of freedom. The manuscript changed a lot along the way and although this entailed more work for both of us I think it made the book even better in the end. Our editor played an expert role as catalyst. My compositions come from a lot of real life observation (I had an ASA Research Award to visit the Outback) mixed up with a good shake of imagination. It was cold and dry when I went to the Lake so I also spent hours drawing and watching the colours on the water here in Newcastle Harbour.
What little secrets can you share about the making of Desert Lake? Any minute details that your audience should particularly be aware of?
An insect (that triangular shaped back and white one who appears on several pages) crawled into the seat of my jeans while I was drawing at the lake, I swallowed more than one bush fly and I went to sleep at night with all my clothes on… it was very, very cold. Can you see the little bug hiding on the night-time scene near the end of the book? Tracing paper collage makes very good frogspawn – just the right translucency.
Fun Question! If you lived in the desert which animal would you choose to be and why?
Hopping mouse – so sweet! NOT a bush fly.
You have recently launched a marvellous exhibition of your artwork at the Lovett Gallery in Newcastle. Congratulations! Please tell us a bit more about it. What have been the highlights so far?
We wanted to allow viewers inside the process of creating a picture book so have included the story of our research trips and examples of my storyboards as well as all the original paper artworks. Visitors can spot the variations between these and the printed pages, working out for them selves what parts I ‘collaged’ on screen. We deliberately asked the framer to include all my rough notes and workings around the edges of each piece and I love it when children ask me if I know there is an apple sticker on one… yes, I eat a lot of apples when I’m working.
I’m also enjoying watching another piece of desert floor come to life. We created a 4 metre long panel of one of my sketchbook paintings of the sandy ground with cracks and a few scrubby plants on it and I’ve been helping children make creatures using collage, paint and print in workshops. I think there are over 100 creepy crawlies on there already.
What would be your greatest piece of advice for emerging artists wanting to succeed in illustrating children’s books?
Don’t give up! Network, work hard and make pictures about the things you love not just what you think publishers would like to see. Be yourself, that’s the thing they won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Liz! It’s been a real pleasure! 🙂
Her Desert Lake exhibition displays original artwork, sketches and studies of Liz’s research in the outback. It is being held at the Lovett Gallery in the Newcastle Region Library until May 14. Click here for more details.
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