I’m Judy Watson. I’m a book illustrator and artist, working from a home studio in Frankston South, Australia. I’m lucky enough to overlook the Sweetwater Creek and my home is a peaceful place. I share my house with my husband and two teenage children and I have trees, birds, insects, lizards and frogs on my doorstep. (That is a Peron’s Tree Frog on my shoulder in the photo below. It hangs out in our watering can spout near the front door and sometimes we hear it cackling.) I have chickens in the front garden and a three-legged dog usually on the couch.
2019 was an exciting year because I had two picture books published and even an inclusion in a fabulous children’s poetry book. The first picture book was Leonard Doesn’t Dance, written by Frances Watts and published by HarperCollins. It’s a story that explores friendship, self doubt, loyalty and kindness. The characters are birds and it’s brimming over with colour and love. It also features the view out of my kitchen window. It has since been recognised by the International Youth Library and was included in the 2020 White Ravens Catalogue.
The second book was Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes and published by Walker Books. It has since been shortlisted for the CBCA book of the year in the Eve Pownall Award category for information books and won a Whitley Book Award from the Royal Zoologocial Society of New South Wales. This book was a lovely exploration into our Australian landscape for me. I spent time finding ways to depict our unique plant life, roaming around in our garden and neighbourhood looking at trees and herbs. The connection between a child and grandparent in the story, reminds me of summer holidays with my own family.
The book of children’s poetry was Moon Fish by Harry Laing, published by Ford Street Publishing. This was a fun idea, where many of Australia’s well known illustrators contributed illustrations for the poems of their choice. Momentarily the bidding was fun but fierce! I wanted the magpie poem, but missed out. However, I was very happy to accept the emu poem instead. (I’m such a sucker for birds.)
Prior to these I contributed to a little chapter book gem by Lisa Shanahan, published by Allen and Unwin in 2017. It’s called The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler. I did small cover figures for this one and several small black and white vignettes for the interior. I loved reading this book and contributing to it. It radiates warmth and wisdom.
Thunderstorm Dancing, written by Katrina Germein, was published in 2015 by Allen and Unwin. It’s a story about a family celebrating the sights and sounds of a seaside thunderstorm. It’s a great one for exploring music and movement, and also has a strong family element. You can see lots of snippets about the making of Thunderstorm Dancing here on my blog. The illustrations have since won a Highly Commended Award in the 2015 Illustrators Australia Awards, and the book was made a CBCA Notable Book for 2016.
Goodnight Mice! written by Frances Watts was my first 32 page trade picture book, (although I had done a flap book and two board books before this). I was so excited when it won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (Children’s Fiction) in 2012 and also became a CBCA Notable book. It has been printed in all kinds of sizes and formats and been a great favourite with many people.
2009 and earlier
Frances and I had previously worked together on Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud. Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud was named a Notable Book in the Younger Readers category of the 2009 CBCA Book of the Year Awards. It is part of a series of four books and has a special place in my heart.
I’ve illustrated several other chapter books for primary school aged readers, many of them in the Aussie Nibbles or Aussie Bites series for Penguin Books. I’ve also done a few cover illustrations, including covers for Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm series.
Along with books, I’ve had the pleasure of illustrating many educational resources. Some of my work has been with Melbourne Museum who always challenge me with fascinating and wide-ranging subjects. I’ve drawn dinosaurs, markets in ancient Pompeii, Chinese opera, solar systems, Phar Lap, archeological digs, and many other things. For a while I worked on the Museum Victoria members’ magazine Kids Page which was a lot of fun.
Early work as an illustrator and designer
Some of my work in the past, has been for councils and for Greening Australia, helping to teach people about our wildlife and about Landcare practices that help to conserve our ecosystems and keep our farmlands productive and healthy. This involved researching, illustrating, designing and typesetting pamphlets, brochures and signage.
I was lucky enough to meet my future husband at Greening Australia. And being a plant nerd, he has had an influence on my growing interest in plants and nature over the years. I must admit to having known virtually nothing about plants before working at GAV and meeting Scott, although I had always had a love of being in nature. (Illustrating Searching for Cicadas felt like a combination of my later learning about plants, nature and teaching materials and my early life spending school holidays in the country.)
I also had fun illustrating quite a few posters at this time. I did posters for special events like Christmas carol evenings and Spring Planting Festivals. I love posters – they’re a lot like book covers. They need to have visual impact, clarity of design and good typesetting or lettering. I enjoyed learning everything I could about type over the next few years. I even went a bit crazy about logo design.
Loads of other stuff happened.
I was born in Melbourne. (On Labour Day, but I haven’t made a habit of being so literal since then.)
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