Author and Illustrator.
This is part one of my interview with Katie. In this section we talk mainly about her illustrations. I’ve scattered her wonderful artwork throughout.
(All images copyright Katie Stewart)
Tell us a little bit about yourself please?
Thanks, Tracy. I’m a writer, illustrator and book cover designer, I live in the Central Wheat belt of Western Australia, I’m married to a farmer and I have three children aged between 11 and 21. We also have a menagerie of animals, from the two budgies who can’t seem to decide whether to love or hate each other, to my beautiful Golden Retriever who can hear a cheese packet being opened from across the paddock. My house is never tidy, my garden is a desert and I hate cooking, but we seem to be pretty happy.
When I was younger, I read whatever came my way. We had a house full of books, so I was spoiled for choice. As I got older, I developed likings for certain authors. HF Brinsmead, Hester Burton and Elizabeth Goudge were favourites in my early high school days, but I’d moved on to Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy by the time I left school.
Were you always interested in writing and drawing / art? Did their development go hand in hand?
English and Art were always my favourite subjects at school and the ones I got best marks for. Early on, I dreamed of being the next Beatrix Potter, so yes, I guess I saw the two going together. As I grew older though, I got lazy. I found art so much easier for self-expression than writing, so my writing really didn’t develop until it became so much easier with computers. Apart from poetry and a few short stories, I didn’t write much after University until about sixteen years ago when I took a writing course.
What motivates you to write and draw?
I think my biggest motivation is the work of other people. If I read a really good book, I want to try to write that well. If I see a great piece of art, I want to try to get that effect. On the other hand, sometimes a book will trigger some art and a beautiful picture will trigger a story. I have a lot of inspirational pictures saved on Pinterest for just that reason. I also find that music is a great motivator. It takes my imagination to all sorts of places and features a lot in my stories, simply because I think it has a magic all of its own.
Did you study art? If yes where?
I studied Art at school up to Year 12, but for one reason and another, didn’t go on to do it at University. So apart from a few TAFE units after I got married, I’m basically self-taught. I don’t really make a good Art student anyway, because I hate being shown what to do. I prefer someone to put a picture in front of me, tell me the materials to use and let me work out for myself how to replicate it. I think some of my best art has probably come about from experimentation.
What advice would you have for young artists seeking to work as book illustrators or cover designers?
Study the greats. Try and work out why they are great, what techniques they use. Then practise. Practise every day. Be prepared to throw away a hundred attempts before you come up with a good piece of work. Then, when you think you’re ready, get your work ‘out there’ as far as you can spread it. These days, most paid work will come either from word of mouth or someone following a link. Make sure they can find you easily.
How much of your artwork is drawn / painted digitally? Has this medium changed your work process?
These days, most of my work is done digitally. I love the fact that I can create something without getting my fingers dirty or having stuff spread all over the room. With paints I was forever putting paintbrushes into cups of coffee or getting paint all over me. When I use pastels, I have a black stripe up my nose from pushing my glasses back on with a finger I’ve used for blending. Digital art is a very forgiving medium, too. You can make huge mistakes and fix them with the press of a button. The downside of it, of course, is that if I don’t get pieces printed, I have nothing physical to show off.
I love the fact that I’m constantly learning with digital. There’s so much I still don’t know how to do.
On the other hand, I’ve done the series of ‘Smelly Troll’ books for Rosen Trevithick by hand, with black pen and pencil shading. That makes a pleasant change sitting at the computer and keeps me in touch with ‘real’ art.
Regarding your art, do you have a favourite medium to work with?
When I’m not on the computer, I love using pastels. They’re soft and subtle and I love the way you can create mood just by changing the colour of the paper you use. It’s very immediate, too; there’s no waiting for paint to dry, or paper-stretching before you start.
Do you have a favourite type of art project?
The Troll Trap by Rosen Trevithick
At the moment, I think I’d have to say I’m enjoying doing illustrated covers best. I love the way a good illustration on a cover can grab so much attention from a potential reader. At the same time, it’s a short, sharp challenge for me and I’m not likely to get bored with it before I finish.
I also love doing illustrations when each illustration is a challenge. In the ‘Smelly Troll’ books, for example, most of the instructions Rosen gives me for what she wants make me go, ‘huh?’ to start with. That’s always a good thing, because it means I have to really think about how to do it. I love work that’s a challenge.
In the next part of my interview I talk with Katie about one of her novels – Treespeaker and her writing process.