Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

6 Young Adult Books That Use Illustrations

Is it possible to grow out of picture books? Because I HAVEN’T YET. The highlight of my week is taking my pre-schooling niece and nephew to the library and getting to reread all my favourite childhood picture books. Young Adult books are totally missing out. Seriously.

But there are some YA books that make use of art and illustrations to help tell the story. And I praise the bookish universe for their existence. There should be more of this! Huzzah!

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  • ILLUMINAE: This book is brand new (released just a few weeks back!) and it. is. amazing. It’s a sci-fi but it’s told purely in transcripts, instant messaging, emails, and diagrams. Yup, that’s right folks. SOLELY. So there are pictures of space ships in here. Space ships I tell you. It’s glorious! Plus the book felt like reading Star Trek but with sassy teens and zombie-viruses.

 

  • INK: I raved and hugged this book in a review a few weeks back, and I pointed out (um, basically I screamed about it) the fact it had illustrations! Not many! But every few pages we got an inky, calligraphy sketch that just added to the story so, so much. Particularly since Ink is focused on Japanese culture and art — it just worked SO WELL.

 

  • A MONSTER CALLS: Oh this book has some of the most beautiful illustrations of ever. The artist is Jim Kay, who also does copious illustrations for Harry Potter (!!). I just love his depiction of the dark tree monster. Also, fair warning, but this book will probably make you cry.

 

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  • THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET: This book is a great big blob of WOW. I’m particularly fond of that reaction to books, I might add. And you might have heard of it from the movie?!? The movie is only called “Hugo” (and stars Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Mortez) but it’s exceptionally beautiful and I recommend you go swallow it immediately. Go! Go! NO WAIT…finish this post first because I have more picture-y goodness to show you. But The Invention of Hugo Cabret is set in Paris and is about clockworks and orphans. Quite a huge hunk of the book is told solely in black-and-white pencil drawings!
  • THE MARVELS: Speaking of HugoThe Marvels is by the same author. But this time it’s not just a smattering of pictures…HALF THE BOOK is done in pictures!! The first 400 pages are drawings! It flows so seamlessly and for a while I forgot I wasn’t even reading because the pictures told the story so strongly and well. Also you might want to take a moment to admire the cover. Pet it a little even. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. It’s gorgeous.

 

  • MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: This is kind of cheating because the illustrations are photos instead of drawings. But just pause with me for a second — PHOTOS. The photos play a huge part in the story and they’re absolutely…weird. They’re really old vintage photos of “freaks” and human oddities. Like just check out the girl on the front cover who is levitating…okay. YAY. And freaky. Definitely an illustrated book to snabble up!

 

Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Peter Allert Part One

I struggle to decipher my own handwriting. I can barely make a stencil look decent and my attempts at creating hangman stick figures always fills my opponents with pitiful glee. This is why I admire anyone who has even an infinitesimal amount of artistic flair.

The process of anything emerging be it writer, illustrator, butterfly, and to a lesser degree, human baby is a beautiful thing and deserves some examination.

Peter Allert IllusOur doodler today is Peter Allert, whose artistic flair, I am happy to announce is anything but insignificant. In fact Peter’s drive and dedication to his craft are so great; they have filled more than one post can cope with alone. So here is Part One of my interview with Peter Allert, illustrator of children’s books (Long Live Us!) and bona fide gentleman to boot.

Q Who is Peter Allert? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

I was born in South Australia and moved up to Queensland in the 1980’s with my parents, I spent time living in Sydney but have made Queensland my home for the last 13 years. I have always illustrated in one form or another but have become quit driven in my 30’s to discover my potential.

ill-animals-frog3I believe I am an artist at heart who has found I express myself best through illustrating with watercolour pencils and ink. My strength is illustrating animals, capturing their fur or feathers, bringing their eyes to life as if they were looking at me. I am most proud of this work. I have also illustrated a variety of other subjects including fairy tale and children’s book characters and Science Fiction themes.

I think what sets me aside is that I use watercolour pencils rather than straight watercolour paints, therefore I am able to apply the detail I am comfortable with. I also mix my love of photography with my work so I can capture a natural realism in my subjects. I like getting out and about and seeing the world, I feel this helps bring perspective to your illustrations. I am still finding myself as a writer and poet but draw inspiration from my other writers and close friends.Peter Allert Possum

Q What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I guess like a lot of illustrators it is hard to choose just one but if I had to it would be green. To me it’s a very nature colour with so many ways it can be applied. It can be applied to illustrations not just as a straight green but also through using other amazing blues, yellows…etc. It influences my work as I like illustrating natural subjects and I find they always have an element of green in them. It may however restrict me if I had a dark subject matter, I would always want to add a brighter colour to inspire hope.

Q When did the coloured pencil drop for you? What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When growing up I guess coloured pencils were all around me, in school, at home, they were inexpensive and there was always a colouring book that needed my attention. After seeking feedback about my work I found the straight pencil a little limiting. With water coloured pencils I could enhance and bring the colours to life, with the right paper I could add other dimensions and finishes to my work. It just displayed and continues to display great potential. I also like detail and I can accomplish that with pencils.ill-book-mr-q

Deep inside me, even when I was younger child I wanted to create and be artistic. I didn’t exactly know what it meant for me personally or that you could possibly make a living out of it. But when I decided to make this profession part of my life I was inspired by Shaun Tan, Gregory Rogers, Narelle Oliver, Maurice Sendak, & and many of the illustrated children’s books I grew up with.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study and suffer for your craft?

I have had some study in art and illustrating over the years but I would have to say I am mostly self-taught. That said, in the beginning I was finding my work lacked some fundamental things and I knew I needed advice and training. I took some basic classes, attended conferences and researched other artists. I started diversifying my subject matter, built my portfolio and over the years improved my craft. I wouldn’t call it suffering I would call it dedicating yourself to long hours of improving your skills and yourself.

Q How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

If I have a particular idea or theme in mind I will simply start drawing small sketches and exploring ideas. I’ll make notes and over a period of time, this may take days or weeks, I will then start the main illustration. With most of my illustrations I will lightly draw it first with pencil on pressed smooth watercolour paper. I then slowly add layers of colour such as a yellow base, followed by a light green or blue then to add some dimension I will add variations of the same colour. Indigo makes a great darker colour to use when additional shading is required, I will very rarely add black unless there is a reason. Once I feel it is ready I will apply water with a brush, mixing the colours and bringing the illustration to life. I include more layers or shading to add depth, and then use an ink pen if required.

ill-animals-ambrose1I will often note the pencil number and photograph different stages of the illustration to remember how I reached the final stage. A lot can happen in the creation process so if you end up liking the final piece then remembering how you got there is important. Remember that when illustrating a picture book you want the illustrations to be consistent in both colour and appearance. This helps me anyway. I do not use any major software programs as such but I do scan my images and clean them up in order to send on to publishes.

Q Do you draw every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

To be honest no, but the enthusiasm is there. Like all illustrators who are also working it is a constant juggling act. The best part of my day is the morning; I have been probably stewing on an idea and have all this energy and want to put it down on paper.

Q It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

You draw it anyway you can. I once started illustrating on a napkin because I made the mistake of leaving my notebook behind. If you have an idea, write it down, draw it, and make a note of it because it will disappear. Too often have I laid in bed with an idea or two thinking it is such a great idea how could I possible forget it and when the morning comes it’s no longer under my pillow.

Long Live Us troll

Join me again soon for Part Two where we learn a little more about Peter and his work in the fractured fairy-tale, Long Live Us!