Author Archives: Judy Watson

About Judy Watson

Hi I’m Judy Watson. I’m a Melbourne based illustrator and artist, working from my home studio. In April 2015 my latest picture book 'Thunderstorm Dancing' written by Katrina Germein was launched. The book took nearly three years to illustrate and is rendered in ink and watercolour on litho paper with digital overlays added on the computer. You can see lots of snippets about the making of Thunderstorm Dancing on my blog. The illustrations have since won a Highly Commended Award in the 2015 Illustrators Australia Awards, and the book has been made a CBCA Notable Book. My first picture book, Goodnight Mice! (written by Frances Watts) won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (Children’s Fiction) in 2012. An illustration from the book was included in the Hello From Australia Exhibition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Frances and I had previously worked together on the Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud series. Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud was named a Notable Book in the Younger Readers category of the 2009 CBCA Book of the Year Awards, but more importantly still, has inspired children to dress up as sheep in capes! April 2015 was an exciting month for me as I went to Italy for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair where one of the illustrations from Thunderstorm Dancing was on show in the Hello From Australia exhibition, 2015. While I was away, my husband bought us a new house and we moved in a month or two later. This took over my world until the end of the year. I’m now working on illustrations for another of Frances Watts’ books Leonard Doesn’t Dance, along with illustrations for Sofie Laguna's picture book 'When You're Older'. I'll completing these two and moving on to another picture book early next year, 'The Cicada Hunters' a non-fiction title by Lesley Gibbes for Walker Books. I love the work of other illustrators and artists (past and present) and my house is packed with books I’ve collected. My two sons enjoy them almost as much as I do. Some of my all time favourite illustrators are William Steig, Edward Ardizzone, Sempé, Jean de Brunhoff, Quentin Blake, Tomi Ungerer, Armin Greder, Alexis Deacon and Tove Jansson. If you’d like to read the occasional post about my current illustrating adventures, subscribe to my blog and come along for the ride.

Thunderstorm Dancing live performance

Late last year I was excited to get a message from Colleen who teaches at Currimundi Special School in Queensland asking for permission to use projected images from Thunderstorm Dancing at an end of year concert.

Paul Coppens, founder of the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra, composed a piece of music to accompany the children’s performance, and provided a full orchestral backing track. The result was spectacular.

I wasn’t able to go up to see the performance, but I have seen a video on Paul’s website. You can see it here. (You’ll find the ’Thunderstorm Dancing‘ link at the bottom right of the screen.) It is only six minutes long and a delight. Thank you so much, Paul.

When I saw the book I was immediately inspired not only by the words but especially the pictures. These were my inspiration and the writing from then on was easy. So thank you very much. These school children are also an inspiration so combining all these elements, and seeing their reaction was my gratification. (Paul Coppens)

It makes me so happy to see the book used in this way. It is ideally suited to the classroom. The end of the performance is a stroke of genius by the teachers. Bravo!

Cicada images from ‘Searching For Cicadas’

Free to download

Feel free to download these cicada drawings and use them in your home or classroom. You might like to make a bushland collage and paste cicadas onto your trees or have them flying through the air. Some need colouring, and some simply need to be printed, cut out and pasted down.

I have posted pdfs and jpeg versions of the same three pages. Use whichever format is easiest for you to download and print.

These nymph images appear in colour on various pages within the book. The eyes were modified to make the pupils less clear as I realised that nymphs that are about to shed their carapaces (or exoskeletons), are peering through a mottled pair of ‘spectacles’. When they shed their shells and emerge as fully fledged cicadas, their eyes are shiny and bright with clear pupils.
These are the drawings that became final images on one spread within the book.
These colour sketches were used to design the cover of the book and replaced with finished drawings.

To buy the book, go here, or support your local bookshop.

Leonard’s Fluffball Moment

(or… Raise your Darlings from the Dead)

One of the early sketches for page 4 of Leonard Doesn’t Dance. It features some darlings who survived and some darlings who were killed off. (The duck was replaced with a penguin, poor darling, and didn’t even get featured on this page.)

When illustrating for children’s books, we are helping to teach children empathy, which is enormously important for their future wellbeing, and for the wellbeing of our world. So drawing a character’s feelings in a way that children can relate to, or ponder and begin to understand, is Number One for me. It takes precedence over aesthetics and character continuity.

Big-beaked Leonard. His rapture was important and his beak said this best. Hence, a big beak! The crest was a great bonus for expressing mood on every page. Here, it’s excited, but hesitant…

This means that I often approach the end of an illustration project and look through it to find that I have not one leading character, but several variations on that character. Sometimes it bothers me and I change the artwork if time allows. Leonard is pretty variable throughout Leonard Doesn’t Dance, sometimes thicker or thinner and his beak varies from one page to the next. Sometimes he has enormous wings, and other times, they’re stubby. Does it bother me? Nope. He’s still the same gawky, tender-hearted, enthusiastic and loyal fellow throughout. And his feelings are written large on his face and in his body language. I’m happy with that.

Sad, sad Leonard. Here, the beak says less. Although it does have a downward turn. The wings, crest, eye, tail and body posture all say ‘MISERABLE’.
An early sketch for page 25. The wings and foot outstretched, express Leonard’s discomfort. He needs to look out of place in both in scale and mood.
Detail of final art for page 25. Leonard’s wings and raised leg have been even further exaggerated, although his face and head size has been brought further into line with other illustrations.

Late in the process of illustrating Leonard, I noted a few pictures that could do with tweaking, to make Leonard more consistent. One of them was this image of Leonard just out of bed, reading a notice about the Big Beaky Bird Ball.

Detail from page 4 of Leonard Doesn’t Dance, published 2019 by ABC Books

The drawing for this one had been done early on, (see the sketch at the top) and my ‘Leonard shorthand’ had developed since then. Later on, he had a longer, narrower neck, looser curves on his toes (yes, I actually think about those things) a smaller body and bolder black and white contrast – he looks less fuzzy and soft in later illustrations.

The later Leonard, less fuzzy, less smudgy. A smaller head and a slinky neck.

I really loved my page four Fuzzy Leonard, but I redrew him. I killed my darling. I lengthened his neck and made other tweaks. I finished the illustration and went back to other edits for other pages.

Finally, I came back to page 4 and looked at it. I had loved this scene. It had made me feel so warm and fond of Leonard. He reminded me of a 3 year old in pyjamas, just out of bed with his hair all fluffy and squashed and his face all soft and sleepy.

Somehow, though the character was now more consistent with other pages, the joy was gone. Somehow, the Leonard I loved was no longer there. At the eleventh hour I raised Fuzzy Leonard from the dead. I must have very fine necromancy skills because he was just as loveable as I remembered him to be, and he didn’t show any zombie tendencies at all.

Character continuity…
I’m conflicted about it.
I do realise that if I found it easy I wouldn’t be conflicted about it…
Did Charles Schultz ever have these problems?

Digital Burp

There may have been a little misunderstanding between me and my phone and the internet last night. Because WordPress and Microsoft Word are both Big Blue Ws. And they’re the same, aren’t they?.

Ahem.

I’m sorry you received my son’s Christmas wish list instead of a post about book illustration. Here’s a remorseful puppy dog with a flower, to show you how sorry I am. I will write a blog post about book illustration very soon. I promise.

By the way, I hope you all have a very safe and happy Christmas, with those you love best in the world.

The Ditsy Illustrator x

An Intoxication of Elements

(or Kill Your Darlings)

Poor dangling darlings

When I’m illustrating a page for a picture book, I sometimes find that I capture a mood that expresses the meaning of the text in a very rough form. It feels right, but it’s just a framework. When I work on the final art for that scene, I add layers of detail, making decisions as I go along, and at some point, the juxtaposition of colours and shapes becomes intoxicating.

Once intoxicated, I find myself off on my own little adventure, with my eyes open in wonder at all the pretty colours, textures and shiny things. And then at a certain point, (often when I place the image into the layout to check the flow of the narrative) I find I am hit with a bucket of cold water.

Sober up, Sister. All the shiny things are beautiful. But they don’t work on the page.

Or they don’t work with the text anymore, or they don’t work with the sequence of illustrations. The original truth has been lost under the shiny things. And then it’s time to kill off my darlings. That phrase applies to illustration just as much as writing.

For example, this week, I’ve been making a ghost ship for my current picture book project When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna. It’s my first ghost ship, in my first enchanted lagoon, with my first ghost pirate. The ship is fun. I’ll need to paint it again, because it isn’t there yet but I can see it’s going to work. Yay! Under the ghost ship, there is a mermaid swimming. Yay! And everything is all blue and green and wet and shimmery and deep looking. But to make it truly ghostly it needs some heavy weed and barnacles and stuff hanging from the hull in a dark, spooky but beautiful way, right? Of course, right.

This is where I got intoxicated.

Oh boy! You should see what happens when you start layering up seaweed under a black ship in a turquoise sea! You seriously can lose your head!

These were my building blocks.

I started with this.
Then I made some smaller embellishments. The wet one was key. I wasn’t so chuffed with the one on the right. But we’ll see. Mmmmm.
I’m looking for that HEAVY draped look. So heavy, the ship is just drifting slowly, groaning, becalmed.
Wait, I might want the weed to drape deeper, and and to curl forwards to enveloping the mermaid. So here are some wild and woolly tentacle-weeds.

Then I put them on the image, with the ship and a few mermaids. (This is a corner detail.)

There are already too many mermaids, but the weed is making me tipsy.
Deep dark squelchy, wet bits contrasting with hard, branchy drawn bits
Oooh, that purple is going crazy in there.

My psychedelic dream here came to an end. The page needed a rock or island in front of all this weed, in order to give a sense of the waterline, and to visually anchor the image on the page. With the weed visible in the bottom right hand corner of the spread, all the energy was leaking off the page. No, not leaking …pouring torrentially.

Besides this, was all this weed adding anything to the mood, the action or the experience of the main characters? No.

So I have killed some darlings. I’ve taken it all back to serene. Sorry. You can’t see that yet.

But I’ve added a skeleton. But not one of those up top. And some palm trees… Yay!

Searching for Cicadas

A book about summer and family… and cicadas of course

Two books in one year is outrageous for me. I’m a slow cooker of books. Especially picture books. Each one is for me such a journey of discovery and striving and learning and change. So they emerge slowly.

Portrait of the artist as a very young person, before I illustrated this book.

But speaking of emergence, this is a book about cicadas… cicadas emerge slowly too! Some of them spend several years underground in their nymph form. One species spends seventeen years underground, which is longer than I have ever taken to illustrate a book… thankfully. Then they dig their way up into the light, shed their outer casing, dry their wings and sing a song to the summer. The boys do, anyway. And I’ll bet not many people know that they cover their ears when they are singing so that they don’t deafen themselves. Lesley taught me that.

The skeletal pencil and ink background of a spread from Searching for Cicadas
Ghostly shadows of the child figure for the same spread
The spread with colour and characters added

There are so many bits of fascinating information in Lesley Gibbes‘s text. And there are more than insects here too. There’s a narrative featuring a grandfather and child who go looking for cicadas on an overnight camping trip. And that is what I call fun.

Dirt and pine needles between the toes. Nothing beats bare feet.

Cicadas, summer and grandparents go together like cheese and biscuits. There’s something about these wonderfully noisy creatures (the cicadas, not the grandparents) that fascinates adults and children alike, and while we are sharing our fascination, we share a time, that later becomes a treasured memory. It did for me. I remember holding cicadas on my hand and collecting the empty shells (exoskeletons) and attaching them to the front of my clothes by their hooky little feet. They looked very decorative, along with the ripe cherry earrings hanging from my ears.

summer days in the country with my brother and Mum. I have no cherry earrings on in this photo.
Soundtrack: cicadas, magpies

I consider myself lucky to have been offered the opportunity to illustrate a Nature Storybook for Walker Books. It’s a series that I’ve admired for a long time. It features a double layer of text; story and scientific fact alongside one another in a child-friendly format. There are quite a few in the series, all beautiful. (I’d love to own an original painting from Dingo by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks. And check out Tannya’s dog paintings!)

Camping with Pa: bliss!
Soundtrack: cicadas, magpies

A few years ago I did quite a bit of illustration work for Museum Victoria where I got a taste for illustrating New Things That I Knew Nothing About. You research, scribble, take notes, panic, draw, draw again until you get it right… or right enough. (It’s never perfect.) This was a bit like that. It was really satisfying to learn to draw a cicada. I’m not confident I’d be able to draw a convincing one now, but for a few moments in time, I could do it.

This was my favourite cicada. He didn’t make the cut. I think it was because he had just a bit too much personality for a non-fiction title. He is my little friend.

And best of all was illustrating the Australian bush and the leaf litter. It made me want to make great big paintings of leaf litter.

Me with my grandfather, the irrepressible Pop Worrall who wasn’t with us for long enough. We never went camping but we did lots of swimming together.

Leonard galumphs into bookshops

I nearly wrote ‘Leonard dances into bookshops’. But then I remembered that Leonard Doesn’t Dance… or does he?

Leonard doesnt dance detail.jpg

I’m very fond of that great galumphing bird. I relate to him very much. The initial enthusiasm, the self doubt, the impulse to hide away in a thorny tree, the desire to be with my friends that usually draws me out of the tree. And like Leonard, I have some fabulous friends.

My thanks to the team at Harper Collins and to Frances Watts, for patiently waiting for Leonard as he put one lanky leg in front of another (tripping over several times) and eventually became finished art; now a book.

This lovely cover was designed by Hannah Janzen.

I had been initially drawn to a white cover, because black ink on white paper was a signature part of making the artwork. There was a lot of ink involved. Brushed on, drawn on, printed, wiped and smudged onto white paper. Big broad strokes, and fine textured marks. So my original idea was to have an inky black and white cover, with a pop of red on Leonard’s face, and a scattering of brilliantly coloured birds flung around it like a double handful of lollies, and wrapping around both covers.

The team at Harper Collins didn’t think the white design was indicative of what was inside: a rampant world of jungly colour. This was perfectly true, and is why editors are so great! and Hannah did a fabulous job of designing something rich and celebratory.

Here are some of the lolly birds from the white cover design. Some of them found their way onto the new cover anyway. Perhaps you can spot them.

I visited the Grade Sixes at Derinya Primary School a few weeks back and we had a great time talking about Leonard Doesn’t Dance, story arcs, tension and making storyboards for picture books. There is just so much to talk about! A two hour session went by in a flash. I will be signing up with Creativenet Speakers’ Agency very shortly, so if any schools or groups of lovely librarians within Cooee of Melbourne would like to book a workshop and talk with me, that will be the place to go.

I have another book released this month as well! A very leafy book about cicadas. More on that soon. Enjoy your week!