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.
Our 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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!