Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mixed Media Illustration for Picture Books

I am thrilled to have Tania McCartney visiting Under the Apple Tree today on the first day of her blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest picture book, Eco Warriors to the Rescue! National Library Publishing.

Combining modern photography and typesetting with historical artworks from the archives of the National Library, Eco Warriors to the Rescue! makes our beautiful collection of botanical art accessible to the very young. The book also includes interesting facts about Australian flora, as well as floral emblems and birth months, and further ideas on how to keep Australia green.

Join Banjo, Matilda and Ned on a magical adventure into the Australian native landscape via a series of historic, beautifully-rendered botanical paintings.

Entering the very pages of their favourite book, the children interact with all manner of Australian flora including Kangaroo Paw, Wattle and Eucalypt. Along the way, these intrepid warriors seek ‘tips’ to ensure the survival of our native landscape for generations to come.

Can these eco-warriors help save our native flora from extinction?

Eco Warriors to the Rescue cleverly incorporates photography with stunning botanical artworks. Today Tania tells us about her creative journey in the making of this beautiful picture book.

Hi Tania, thank you for stopping by on your busy blog tour schedule. Just how did you come up with the initial idea?

I’ve always been a big fan of mixed media picture books—illustrations using a variety of mediums, photographs, graphics, hand-drawn typography; even sound. But mixed media can also extend to the format of the book … there’s collaging, textured paper, scanned ephemera, opaque or translucent pages, cut-outs, pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, fold-outs and more.

Having seen, read, studied, written, designed, laid out, worked on, reviewed, assessed or in some way enjoyed thousands of picture books, for me, the one thing that makes a picture book stand out on the shelf is this: creativity. But I’m talking out-of-the-box creativity. Doing something different—whether it be the writing voice used, the shape of the book or an entirely new plot concept. It’s the new and innovative that really makes my heart race.

When writing Eco Warriors to the Rescue! for the National Library of Australia, I knew the book would be ‘different’, and this was of huge importance to me. Although they are a relatively traditional publisher, with certain parameters and publishing requirements to fill, NLA Publishing are also very forward-thinking, with an extremely creative team.

When I mentioned my idea for this book—to have photographed children enter the pages of a book featuring the work of our earliest botanic artists—my publisher Susan Hall loved it.

My inspiration behind Eco Warriors is that I wanted to feature just some of the vast collection of botanical imagery found in the NLA’s digital archives, using them in a way that would attract the very young. I found it heart-breaking that most Australian children would never get to enjoy these images. Featuring them in a book designed for primary school children seemed to be a wonderful way to share this amazing collection of art.

Eco Warriors features six of our most prominent botanical artists of the 1800 and 1900s, including EE Gostelow, Adam Forster, Ida McComish and my favourite, Ellis Rowan.

Each of the images chosen for this book was selected for its brightness, visual interest and general layout (so that the photographed characters could interact with the plants in some way). The levels of each photographed image were adjusted and any background ‘noise’, including artist notes, was photo-shopped away.

Whilst writing the text for each botanical image, I took into account the image layout and style of plant, and how I could incorporate the photographed children into each spread.

I took copious notes, then photographed my son and two of his friends, cutting them out on-screen and layering them onto the botanical images, sometimes adding props like rakes and a basket, as in the kangaroo paw scene. These props were photographed with the children and I also used iStock for basic imagery such as the scrunched paper and tin cans featured in this same scene. I also cut out parts of images from other NLA botanical and faunal paintings—mainly birds, rabbits and butterflies.

To bring even more visual interest to the book, I added a small green moth to every page of the book, encouraging children to visually explore the pages and the imagery, in search of that moth.

I love the way Eco Warriors turned out, and its vibrant, varied typography and speech bubbles only add to the celebration of some of Australia’s finest botanical artworks. Coupled with its ecological theme and ‘tips’ for preserving our native flora, I’m hoping kids everywhere will enjoy this visual romp through our native bushland.

Beautiful imagery is, of course, vital in picture books. As I can’t even draw a stick figure, being able to create the varied multimedia components for Eco Warriors was an enormous amount of fun, and has been a true highlight of my children’s book career.

Book Launch
Join Tania McCartney and her three real-life eco warriors—Banjo (Riley), Ned (Andrew) and Matilda (Claire)—as they launch Eco Warriors to the Rescue! at Canberra’s National Arboretum Gift Shop, Saturday 5 October 2013, at 11am.

Blog Tour Schedule
And follow along with Tania on her Eco Warriors to the Rescue blog tour schedule here: