Illustrator Extraordinaire – Interview with Anil Tortop

With her superlative illustrative talents and ultra-impressive list of publications, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the skill, imagination, dedication and charisma of Anil Tortop. The Turkish-born artist, designer and animation-expert is here today to discuss her books, processes and latest ventures. 🙂

You’ve had huge success as an illustrator of many amazing books, some including Digby’s Moon Mission, Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who? (Renee Price), My Perfect Pup (Sue Walker), Where’s Dad Hiding? (Ed Allen), I Want to Be a Rock Star (Mary Anastasiou), and more recently The Leaky Story (Devon Sillett), The Great Zoo Hullabaloo (Mark Carthew) and junior fiction series 6 Minute Stories for Six Year Olds and 7 Minute Stories for Seven Year Olds (Meredith Costain and Paul Collins). And these have all been published in the last two years! How do you manage your hectic illustrating schedule? Do you complete one project at a time or work simultaneously on a few?

😀 I wanted to start with a big smile. It’s been hectic indeed!
I work simultaneously on a few projects. In fact, when I have only one project I can’t focus on it well. Two is still not enough. My favourite is 3-4 projects at a time. Otherwise I just feel lazy and find myself doing nothing until the deadline gets closer. But not all these projects are books. I usually have something with a short deadline aside. Books take much more time and sometimes having a break and working on another project feels refreshing.

I have a home-made calendar; each month is an A4 paper with a magnet at the back and it covers the whole left side of my fridge. I put all my deadlines there and see everything in a glance. Having it in the kitchen, my panic starts at breakfast. Other than that, I don’t have a particular method to manage. I just work when I should, which is most of the time. I have been trying to be a well-organised person with dedicated working hours but it never works for more than two days. I still have hope!

Have there been any particular stories that you felt a stronger connection with or any that challenged you in unexpected ways?

Mmm… Hard question. I’m trying to give an answer to myself but I guess I don’t feel that kind of things for stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them but couldn’t label any of them with “stronger connection” either. But I do feel connected with the characters in the stories. Recently my favourite is the octopus in The Leaky Story and her connection with the father. It reminds me of my dad, although I don’t know why.

Challenge… Yes! One of the most challenging stories was in a picture book I illustrated last year. Because there was no story when I was asked to illustrate it! Of course, the editor had a clear idea of how they wanted it and made lots of suggestions. But in the end, the words came after the illustrations. I had huge room to create a visual story. I panicked a lot! I wanted to make it really good. Then I panicked even more! But eventually, it was fun.

If you could walk a day in the life of one of your illustrated characters which would you choose and why?

I guess that would be Digby. Because he’s so clever and talented and knows how to have fun. And I like his pyjamas. 😊

Since launching your current books, what has the audience response been like? Any stand-out moments?

The reviews have been really nice. Facebook also shows me a lot of “likes” and nice comments, if that means anything at all. But I have never come across a “real audience”. I mean, children. I really wonder what they think and would love to hear that directly from them.

The latest release, The Leaky Story has been reviewed a lot lately. I was even interviewed live on ABC Brisbane. I think the moment I probably won’t forget for a while is that. It took only 3 minutes but I was way out of my comfort zone. Phew!

You often record your progress through fascinating time lapse videos. Can you explain a little about your preferred media and method to your illustrating genius.

Except for the initial warm-up sketches and storyboards, I almost always work digitally. I use Photoshop. My favourite Photoshop brush that I use for outlines is “Pencil”. It feels a little bit like a pencil. I recently upgraded from Wacom Intous to Cintiq (drawing tablets).

My process differs from one project to another but it’s usually like that: I make several storyboards first. It takes some time to get satisfied. Then I do the roughs. Then the clean drawings and finally colouring. And I do all these for all of the illustrations in a book simultaneously. I mean, I don’t start and finish one illustration and go to the next. I start and finish all the illustrations at the same time.
You can watch all my videos on my Vimeo channel.

You have a remarkable working relationship with your husband, Ozan, at Tadaa Book. Please tell us about your roles and how you collaborate on a daily basis. What does Tadaa Book offer its clients?

Tadaa Book basically offers illustration and design services, especially to self-publishers. Then if our authors need, we help them with printing and publishing and creating marketing materials too.

Ozan and I started working together back in Turkey. He was the art director of a traditional publishing house and I was the in-house illustrator. After coming to Australia we worked with a lot of self-publishers, collaborating again. Then we wanted to take it a step forward and founded Tadaa.

Ozan is my personal art director at home. But on a daily basis, he does much more than that. Although our roles are a bit mixed up from time to time, I usually illustrate only. He does the rest. He deals with new authors and other illustrators from different parts of the world, does the art direction of projects, keeps our website and social media accounts updated, goes to the post office to send Storyboard Notebooks, learns new things, deals with my computer problems, etc.

What is the best part of what you do?

Smelling a freshly (offset) printed book. I love that! I love to see the happiness of the authors too. It’s really rewarding.

Have you done anything lately that was out of your comfort zone? What was it and how did it go?

It was definitely the radio interview that I mentioned! It wasn’t terrible I guess but I can’t say it went well either. I at least give 10 points to myself for the bravery. Questions were unexpected and it was too quick. I’m glad I didn’t freeze. I actually kind of did but Emma Griffiths handled it really well. Afterwards, listening to myself was even harder than the 3 minutes I spent there! I won’t listen again.

We would love to learn more about what you’re currently working on! Do you have any sneak peeks or details that you can share?

A new book is coming out on 1st of May! The Great Zoo Hullaballoo by Mark Carthew (New Frontier Publishing). You can watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/211773518

Currently, I’m working on two picture books. One is Meeka by Suzanne Barton (Tadaa Book), the second one is Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher (New Frontier Publishing). I probably will share some sneak peeks soon on social media, but not now, unfortunately.

Meanwhile at Tadaa, we are working on the Book Week publication of Ipswich District Teacher-Librarian Network. Here are the cover and details: http://idtl.net.au/book-week.php

And two other picture books are contracted for the rest of the year.
Besides the books, I’m regularly illustrating for a Turkish children’s magazine, doing illustrations and animations for a web-based science platform for children in the US, and designing characters for a couple animated TV shows in Turkey.
Will be a hectic year again!

Wow! You sure are a busy lady! Thank you so much, Anil, for participating in this interview! 🙂

Thank you for having me here!

Stay tuned for some special reviews of Anil’s latest picture books!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

School Readers

Hundreds of them are published each year. You will find them in school classrooms and school libraries, and occasionally on the shelves of public libraries, but you won’t find them in your standard bookstore. They are read by more kids, and have a longer lifespan than the average children’s book bought in your local bookshop. But they are generally ignored by, and often looked down on, by the literary community. I think it’s time to stand up for the humble school reader.

School readers are part of the educational publishing market. The education market is different from the standard trade market, which sees books distributed to stores. The education market, sells directly to schools and educational libraries. These books are levelled, so that students can work their way up through the various stages, slowly increasing their comprehension, their vocabulary and their reading skills. These books are written by a wide variety of writers, myself included. Some writers do it for the money. Some writers use it as a stepping-stone in their writing careers. Some do it because they enjoy it. For others, it’s a combination of things. Those of us who do write for this market, need to be able to write to a publisher’s brief — a set of instructions outlining what the book needs to achieve. This is not just limited to the reading level. It can also include educational outcomes, genre, major plot points, sometimes even a basic outline. Many writers find this too constraining of their creativity; others find that even within boundaries, creativity can thrive.

Often, these school readers are the first real introduction to reading that kids will get. And it is on the basis of these readers that many kids will decide whether or not they like reading. That’s quite a responsibility for the authors.

As a kid in early primary school (way back in the 70s), I was a reluctant reader. A major part of the problem was that I disliked the material I was being given to read at school. I found the school readers boring and a chore to get through. It was not until mid-primary that I finally hit a book that I loved… a book that convinced me that reading could be fun. That book, Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, was not a school reader.

I can’t help but wish that I had discovered reading, earlier. I can’t help but wish that the readers we had been given in school had been more interesting. This is part of what motivates me to now write school readers. (Okay… there’s also the money. It’s nice to have a regular income as a writer.) I try to write books that do more than just fulfil the educational requirements of the brief. I try to write books that kids will, hopefully, find interesting.

And I’m not the only one. There are a lot of VERY talented authors who are writing for the education market these days. I challenged two of these writers to explain, in 50 words or less, why they write for the education market.

First up, we have Sue Walker. She is author of almost 20 books, many of which are for the education market. Her non-ed books include Arnie Avery, Tilly’s Treasure and Best Friends (a CBC Notable Book). To find out more about Sue, check out her website.

“Generally, Educational Publishers produce more titles annually than Trade Publishers, so there’s greater opportunity for authors.  I’ve written early chapter books for both markets, and it’s taught me to write economically.  I think the experience has had a positive impact on all my writing.”

Next up with have Jill McDougall. She is author of over 100 books, most of which are for the education market. Her non-ed books include Jinxed! and Anna the Goanna. To find out more about Jill, check out her website.

“Why write for the education market? Money. There I’ve said it. Professional writers crave a steady income and this market is a hungry beast. Simply put, if you can deliver the goods, the commissions will keep coming. What’s more, the challenge of delivering lively text under pressure is almost as much fun as 2-minute Scrabble. Almost.”

My thanks to Sue and Jill for joining me on Literary Clutter.

Anyone out there want to share a school reader experience with us? Leave a comment!

And tune in next time for Sandy Fussell and her Jaguar Warrior.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter!

ARNIE AVERY

Today Sue Walker is back at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about how she wrote her new junior fiction book, Arnie Avery.

Sue, can you tell us what your new book is about?

Arnie Avery is about your typical 13 year old boy.  He has a sense of humour, he likes riding his bike, and he likes being with his friends.  But he also has a few serious problems – one is his family, and the other is the school bully, Jacko.

I think the story demonstrates that no matter how tough things might seem…you can turn your life around.

What age groups is it for?

The story is suitable for children 8-12 years, but the content and style would also be appropriate for older, reluctant readers.

Why will kids like it?

I think kids (particularly boys) enjoy stories with action and characters they can relate to.  Arnie Avery has both, as well as a sprinkling of humour and a couple of twists that should keep kids reading.  Plus there’s a mix of strong male and female characters.

What do you like about your main character, Arnie?

13 year old Arnie is funny and he’s small for his age, but what I like most about him is his courage. Even though he’s going through a tough time, he overcomes his fears to triumph in the end.

Are there any teacher’s notes, or associated activities with the book?

Yes.  Teachers can find notes on the Walker Books website (www.walkerbooks.com.au/Teachers/Classroom-Ideas).

Some important themes and values in Arnie Avery include – treating people fairly, friendship and loyalty, and family support.


Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Arnie’s distinctive voice speaks directly to young readers and kids will quickly be drawn into his world.

The problems Arnie faces are serious, but he tackles them head-on with a strength kids will admire.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The thing I enjoyed most was developing the relationship between Arnie and his best friend Belly.

They’re great mates and they made me laugh often, especially Belly with his huge appetite.

Sue Walker has written almost twenty books for children. You can find out more about Sue and her books at www.suewalkerauthor.com

ALWAYS A WRITER – MEET SUE WALKER

Sue Walker is the author of numerous titles for children. Her book Tilly’s Treasure is part of the award-winning Aussie Nibbles series, and Best Friends is a Children’s Book Council Notable Book.

Many of Sue’s poems, articles, and short stories have appeared in children’s magazines, and her books have featured in the Premier’s Reading Challenge.  Sue lives in Sydney with her husband, three children, and a scruffy white dog.

Some writers are born, others don’t discover they are writers until later in life.

Sue Walker is one of those people who has ‘always been a writer.

As a child I kept a journal and I loved writing letters to friends, but it wasn’t until I had children and was reintroduced to children’s books, that I started taking writing seriously.

Initially I was drawn to picture books because of their combination of rhythmic language and beautiful illustrations.  They’re still my focus, but I’ve written chapter books, non-fiction, and more recently, a junior novel.

Sue’s favourite books as a child were ones about children who went on exciting adventures. She has been on many adventures herself including climbing the world’s highest mountain and diving in the ocean with sharks. But Sue says,

The most exciting thing I’ve ever done is writing stories for children.

Like many writers, Sue had a number of jobs  before she became an author. She says her first job was horrid, working at a cemetery, making labels to put on boxes of ashes.

Sue’s junior novel, Arnie Avery was released by Walker Books this month. Although she is the author of around 20 books, she says that Arnie Avery holds a special place in her heart.

Little snippets of my own childhood seem to have found their way into Arnie’s story.  An important scene at the pool came from my past, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Sue spent some time in Malaysia as a child and went to preschool on the edge of a jungle. At lunch time she used to watch the monkeys swinging in the trees. Later, when the family moved to Goulburn in NSW she spent a lot of time exploring the bush with her brother and sister and their dog, Mitzie. Clearly she has always been a writer and an adventurer at heart.

On Wednesday, Sue is coming back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her new junior fiction novel Arnie Avery. She’ll talk about the inspiration behind her book and what she enjoyed most about writing it.