Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A New Friend for Marmalade Blog Tour

Illustrator Heath McKenzie is visiting! 

We're celebrating the release of A New Friend for Marmalade, the sequel to the hugely successful ‘A Year with Marmalade’ by author Alison Reynolds. Heath and Alison's new picture book together revisits best friends Ella and Maddy and sweet little Marmalade, their ginger tabby. I'm really looking forward to hearing all about it.

Also before we start, there are some terrific prizes to win on this blog tour. Details at the bottom of this post.

Hi Heath.
You’re now a regular here ‘Under the Apple Tree’ so I thought I’d give you your own virtual coffee mug for when you visit. Grab a spot on the rug and let’s enjoy the warm rays of autumn sun. At least it’s sunny here today on the Gold Coast.
Congratulations once again on another terrific collaboration with the fabulous author Alison Reynolds. 
The Five Mile Press
How much harder or easier was it working on a book where you already knew the characters, style and book design? Did you make the decisions of where the page turns would be? And where the beautiful typography would be placed? I remember last time you had to work within the words.
Hi Angela.
Each book tends to present it's own challenges so while on the one hand, having now designed all but one of the characters, things like that were no longer an issue - however, returning to an established illustration style can be tricky as I need to get back into that mindset and way of working...and sometimes I may've found ways to improve on a technique I'd used in the past but have to revert to an older way to be in line with the series - as was the case with Marmalade! Plus, given this story largely happens in the one location, finding consistent ways to maintain the line art/sparse colour style without getting too repetitive is a challenge.

Concept sketch for the front cover

I'd never thought of that. Of course ‘A New Friend for Marmalade’ introduces the new character Toby to the tightly bound friendship group. Toby’s enthusiasm to be part of the fun is adorable, even if he does inadvertently cause the story conflict. Did the decision to begin the story immediately within the sandpit evolve after reading the text or after first roughing out a storyboard? 
I guess stories I'm given to illustrate always evolve after reading the text as that is where it all begins - and ideas tend to (hopefully!) start flowing as I read. So this definitely began evolving whilst reading the story...particularly with an awareness of the established world and being conscious of figuring out how best to work within that.

When Toby asks to join the cubby house play on the second page spread I notice two things: he is scooting in the opposite direction to natural page flow; and his associated colours are red (cape) and blue (scooter). Were these conscious  colour choices? As a visual reader this tells me something is about to happen to the girls’ pink cubby set-up. And it does!

Good question! I think he really only became red and blue to provide a nice colour balance against the sandpit and tree...the blanket, from memory came in a little later. The red and blue was not a conscious decision...and as for the pink blanket - I'm always hesitant to apply pink to girl situations however, there are logical times and places!

Yes, and it's complementary to the green tree foliage too.

Rough sketch and layering of artwork combined

As for going against natural page flow - I guess I figured it still flowed in the correct direction given we start on the girls before moving across to see Toby enter. I'm often working oblivious to various general rules of layout! Then on occasion, an editor will make me switch things about!

“Ella shrugged and Maddy sighed… Marmalade peeped out in surprise.”

Final artwork
The text is beautifully spare, allowing room for what I call ‘Illustrator Licence’ – space to imagine. Your illustrated juxtapositioning of gentle girl activities (building a pink cubby, decorating the sandcastle city with flowers) versus boisterous boy antics (scooting and cartwheeling through the middle of it all) reminds me of my childhood growing up on the orchard surrounded by an older brother and too many boy cousins. I could really feel the girls’ frustrations!
What made you decide Toby’s efforts to play would interfere with the girls right from the start? Did you base Toby on anyone you know?
From memory, this was all borne out of discussion with the editor and possibly thoughts from Alison as well. Plus, given as the story unfolds, Toby ultimately proves to be a valuable member of the group, to have him seem anything but earlier on helps add a little extra punch to the conclusion. 
In all honesty, Toby's actually based on the girls, oddly enough!! I always try to maintain everyone's look within a particular world so that they all look like they belong together so to speak, not necessarily in a hereditary family sense but just in keeping with the look of the 'world' as it were. So I designed Toby largely from cues picked up in the original designs of the girls! There are many times where characters have been based on actual people but not this time!

Alternative concept sketch for cover
For me, the characters’ expressions throughout the story are priceless! The sprinklers page is my favourite (my brother would’ve done that sort of thing on purpose) and Ella’s face when Toby turns on the tap cracked me up. This strength of expression through the characters’ eyes, mouths and hands heightens the drama and emotions of the story. Heath, (personal question, I know) do you use a mirror to capture these facial responses? What is your secret for nailing each emotion time and again?

There was a time when I had a mirror on hand! However, it's actually been quite a long time since I've used one! I do find I'm often aware that I'm inadvertently making a particular face while I'm drawing it sometimes - which would be entertaining for anyone wandering in at the time!

Alternative concept sketch for cover
Ha ha, I'd love to see that!
I belong to a group of illustrators who meet once a month in Brisbane - Brisbane Illustrators Group. Many of them will be reading this post. Do you have any advice for them? What are your favourite mediums/tools of the trade? Which Wacom do you recommend?

Really, the simplest advice is often best - just keep at it! I've never perfected illustrating and I doubt I ever will. It's really the journey that counts as I try new styles and little techniques; some stay, some go, but it's a constant evolution!

My favourite medium is freehand digital drawing - Corel Painter and a touch of Photoshop works for me! I do enjoy the feel of traditional real tools, but within the computer there's still plenty of skill and experimentation going on with every drawing. 
As for a choice of Wacom tablet - I use an Intuous model, but I don't think they've made a bad one yet so whichever suits is the way to go!

Thanks so much, Heath, for popping by again and answering more of my tricky questions. I've loved seeing your process of creation from roughs to finished artwork. I always learn something new from your visit. Below you've been kind enough to also share the United States version of the book cover. It is so very different. I guess they wanted to keep Toby's face hidden.

It was great to be here, Angela.

United States Cover Version

A New Friend for Marmalade Blog Tour Schedule
11th Dee White – review and post
12th Angela Sunde – interview with Heath
12th KBR – book giveaway
13th Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell
14th KBR Guest post
14th Sally Murphy – Meet my book
15th Buzz Words – Interview
17th Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X
17th Pass-it-on Post and Review- Jackie Hosking
18th Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett


Pet Contest for all Ages!
Marmalade the cat is full of personality. Do you have a pet with personality? Win a piece of artwork by Heath McKenzie. Send along a photo of your personality-plus pet to or upload to

Random book giveaways!
Just leave a comment on one of the posts in the blog tour, comment on Facebook or even email Alison Reynolds that you want to enter the competition to win A New Friend for Marmalade.

Prizes for writers!
Win a 'jump the slush pile' pass with a children’s editor or an adult non-fiction editor. Just put CB if you want to enter in the children’s editor competition or NF if you want to be in the adult non-fiction competition. You can enter by commenting on this post or any other post on the tour.

Or you can win a picture book assessment from author Alison Reynolds, or the first chapter of a chapter book assessment with mentor/author Dee White. Just put PB after your comment, if you want to be in the picture book assessment competition and DW if you want to be in the chapter book assessment comp. 

If you want to enter all the comps, you can always put them all down like this: CB, NF, PB, DW.

Remember the more you comment the more chances you have to win!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Creative Challenges

There's a lot happening on Facebook besides the usual petition signing and cat video sharing. For the creatives amongst us Facebook is a place of connection, a place where writers, illustrators and artists can meet, share and inspire each other.

You may remember I convene the Monday Writing Sprint on Facebook. It's been running (pun intended) for three years now and the regulars who show up every week for an hour of non-stop scribbling swear it jumps starts their writing week and creative flow. At the very least it's a reminder to pop our bums on a seat and write.

But that's not the only group I belong to on Facebook. I'm also an active member of the Brisbane Illustrators Group which meets once a month at the Collectors' Cafe at the Museum. We share news, tips and play illustration games. At more serious times we hold exhibitions of our work and have a showcase website.

Then recently my writer friend Tania McCartney began the 52 Week Illustration Challenge group with a set theme for each week of the year. #illo52weeks We're now up to Week 10 - Pattern -  and the illustrations being posted onto the group are so diverse and inspiring that I have to be careful not to lose myself (and time).

Here's my quick watercolour from Week 6 - Machinery

Lastly, a brand new group for writers has popped up on Facebook - the 38 Week Flash Fiction Challenge, run by the energy-packed Sheryl Gwyther. It's only about 24 hours old, but already three stories are up, all on the first week's theme - Frog. After writing a short novel with a strong froggy theme, I thought I didn't have any more amphibian stories in me, but today I posted one to the group. I thought I'd share it here with you also. Pop over to the challenge to read some others.

Here is my 'frog-themed' flash fiction story:

The Email

What did he mean, choose which one I want?

Meg clicked on the image and waited for it to download. A close-up of a bookshelf filled with frogs appeared on the screen - plastic, brass and ceramic frogs, lying, hopping and doing handstands.

Shaken, Meg bit her lip and breathed in deeply through her nose. She could pick out the place and time she had bought each one: a flirtatious weekend in Adelaide, a trash and treasure day at school, the Potter’s Barn at her local markets. Each one a reminder, each one lovingly chosen and wrapped in bubble wrap before the short walk to the post office.

She had even had trouble convincing her mother-in-law she didn't actually collect frogs.
'But you have a whole selection of them.'
‘Yes, but… it's a joke, a private thing, between Lisa and me.
The puzzled look.
'Okay, thank you. The frog tea towel is perfect! It'll go with the calendar you gave us for Christmas so well.’

Then Meg noticed it.

Tucked in behind a skiing frog in a santa hat, a faded greeting card, its surface speckled by yellow mould spots, leant against the back of the shelf. She had kept it all these years? The card with a frog in a beret and a cravat. The card she had sent Lisa from Paris in the days when they were both still young and single and living a world away from each other on either side of the world. The card that had started it all.

Meg shut her eyes as familiar tears welled. The words inside she knew by heart. They'd laughed about them often. It was their little in joke, the whole reason the frog gifts had been exchanged in the first place, the whole reason Lisa had nicknamed Meg’s husband Kermit. A silly frog card - ‘You have to kiss a lot of toads before you meet the handsome prince’. Kev was a prince for sure, but Lisa's had turned out to be a toad.

And now she’s gone and he wants me to choose just one.

Meg clicked, then paused as her finger hovered over the ‘block sender’ button.

© Angela Sunde