Renée Treml is a talented artist and author, originally from the States, now residing in Melbourne. She creates her stunning illustrations primarily using the scratchboard technique, setting her work apart with its unique qualities. Her artwork can also be seen at design markets and art exhibits through a range of gorgeous products. Renée has three equally delightful picture books published with Random House Australia; One Very Tired Wombat, Colour for Curlews, and her most recent, The Great Garden Mystery.
Review – The Great Garden Mystery
Those curious curlews are back, and already set on the trail to solving a most mysterious problem. A menagerie of suspects are called to order. Who is stealing all the beetroots? What a conundrum!
In playful rhyming prose, Renée Treml and her exquisitely drawn animals take us on a journey to decipher each clue as they add up to solve the case.
First, hare finds a sign. It’s a poo that is square. Clearly, he is not guilty. As they discover a hole under the fence, some snagged fur, a wide trail, and a dislike to beetroots, each animal gleefully asserts their innocence. But when the roo bounds away, humorously, those suspicious creatures believe the puzzle has been pieced together.
And when all is calm and quiet, in the dark of night, who emerges to fill his belly once more? Who could have guessed? Think back to the first clue and you will have your culprit!
I love the playfulness and adventure of The Great Garden Mystery, as well as Renée’s black and white scratchboard drawings against the soft, pastel background colours. Kids from aged three will delight in this curiously intriguing animal tale, too.
I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Renée Treml’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including her joys and challenges with illustrating The Great Garden Mystery.
Your books all include a common theme featuring the adorable, sleepy wombat, a range of native birds and other creatures. What is the appeal of these Australian animals?
I grew up in the States where I commonly saw little songbirds, woodpeckers, squirrels and deer – animals which probably sound very interesting to someone who is not from North America. When we moved to Australia at the end of 2007, I was immediately smitten with the wildlife – here we have huge noisy parrots, sleepy koalas hiding in gum trees, teeny little pademelons and big bouncy kangaroos.
The wombat that is featured in all of my stories is based on the very first wombat I ever encountered. He was at a wildlife sanctuary in Brisbane and managed to sleep soundly despite being surrounded by noisy children, adults, cockatoos and kookaburras. Every time I went to visit the sanctuary, that wombat was having a good snooze. I only wish I could sleep like that too.
What do you love about creating children’s books?
For many years I was unknowingly creating characters through my artwork – I kept drawing the same animals over and over and discovering their unique personalities. When I wrote my first story it felt like I was rewarding my favourite characters. It was so much fun. I still maintain a sketchbook full of (mostly) patient characters that are waiting for their turn in a story.
You have a unique, beautiful style of illustrating. How did you develop your style?
Thank you, but I think it is fair to say that my style found me. My style developed from practicing, experimenting and attempting to master new mediums and subjects. Over the years my style has evolved into what it is now, but I am always looking out for new ideas, subjects and materials so I can continue growing and changing.
What is your favourite medium to use?
I love working with inks and paint on clayboard, although lately I have been trying to bring mixed media and collage into my illustrations.
Who is your favourite artist/s?
Sorry – I can’t just pick one and if I tried to make a list I would worry and fret for ages trying to narrow down the list.
What was your favourite part of The Great Garden Mystery to illustrate?
My favourite scene to illustrate is where koala accuses the fox of stealing the beetroots. I loved that koala – he was so sassy and never once thought he could be a suspect. Trying to capture his brashness, the fox’s slyness and the roo’s discomfort was just good fun.
What was the hardest part?
To be honest, this book was a hard one to illustrate. This is the first time I have worked digitally to create my illustrations. I had to teach myself how to make my digital artwork look indistinguishable from my scratchboard illustrations – that was so hard! Also, drawing the garden without cluttering up the compositions and illustrations, proved to be a very big challenge for me. Thankfully, I have wonderful editors, publishers and very honest friends who had excellent suggestions all along the way.
What was the reason for the change in your process from the last two books?
I created all of the illustrations for my first two books using clayboard. Clayboard is a masonite board that has been coated with a thin layer of clay. They are beautiful to work on, but only come in limited sizes, are a lot more expensive than paper or canvas, and aren’t really reusable (unless you paint over them completely). I squeezed as many drawings as I could onto each board, then sent the very heavy box to my publisher for scanning. A month later I received the digital images, which then required cutting and pasting each illustration back into my page spread. Working on clayboard added at least 2 months to our timeline and in the end was not the most environmentally friendly process.
I still prefer to work on clayboard when I’m creating art for galleries or shows, but for books digital scratchboard has its benefits:
(1) I can create artwork that looks very similar to my scratchboard drawings; (2) we skip the shipping, scanning and editing phase, which saves 1-2 months; and (3) I can add or change things quite easily, even after we are theoretically finished the book.
How long did the process take you to complete all the illustrations for The Great Garden Mystery?
Working part-time, the illustration part probably added up to about 3 months. I had a huge learning curve trying to master the software and we also experimented a lot with different styles. I am so happy with how it turned out that I have almost forgotten how hard it was to illustrate!
Which animal is your favourite to draw? Why?
I am totally obsessed with owls – they have so much personality. I am just waiting for the inspiration to strike for an owl story…
What special message do you want your readers to take away from The Great Garden Mystery?
As a scientist and wildlife lover, I would love kids (and adults) to become aware of all the clues animals leave behind. Take the time to look at the ground for broken eggshells, scat or footprints – you might find yourself a little mystery (even in the city).
What was the highlight for you in 2014?
The highlights for me this year were the TGGM-events where everyone got to try their hand at scratchboard and we got to talk a lot about wombat poo.
Are there any special milestones or events that you are looking forward to in 2015?
This year I am really looking forward to organizing a few primary school-visits. I love teaching and interacting with children and have some fun writing and illustrating workshops to present.
Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renée!
Thank you for the opportunity!
Enjoy Renée’s stunning website at:
Interview by Romi Sharp