Meet the Illustrator ANDREW MCLEAN

I’ve been lucky enough to have the award winning illustrator, Andrew McLean, illustrate our latest book TEARAWAY COACH. It’s published by Walker Books Australia and was released on 3rd April.

Isn’t the front cover magnificent?

A historical fiction story set during the gold rush.

This is the blurb …

When Fenton and his father catch the coach from Ballarat to Geelong, they have no idea that their driver of the team of powerful horses is the famous Edward Devine – ‘Cabbage tree Ned’ – or of the incredible adventure that lies ahead.

A breathless story of bushrangers, danger, daring and escape as Fen finds himself holding the reins of the tearaway coach.

For readers 4+

I’m thrilled to have Andrew on my blog today, to talk to us all about his amazing illustrations. It’s wonderful how Andrew’s illustrations move so perfectly with the text. Or perhaps I say gallop along with the text?

Hi Andrew, thanks for joining me today …

How would you describe your illustration style?

I’ve illustrated around ninety books and across a number genres. The books I do for young children are different in style from the true story/ information books. My work is naturalistic, concerned with feeling and the way figures and objects move and fit within the space. I have a background of teaching life drawing and painting.

Can you tell us what items are an essential part of your creative space?

An adjustable desk that I can stand at, a high stool that I can sit on to do details. I need to stand for drawing and watercolours.

I draw and paint using my whole arm, I only use my wrist for details. I need to stand to do watercolour drawings to reach for the colours, water jars, paper towel etc.

Large layout pads, willow charcoal or graphite and a kneadable rubber, for doing the roughs and the base drawing on the watercolour paper.

An IPad with a drawing app to photograph and colour the roughs and send to the publisher for feedback.


Many sets of drawers to store different papers and finished drawings.

Many boards to stretch the watercolour paper on. These I stack around the room in an unfinished state. I never completely finish a drawing before I move on to the next. That would be too sensible.

Benches to surround my desk with all the different inks, pens, pencils, charcoal, pastels, colour pencils, wax crayons that I might need. They need to be ready at hand. Watercolour won’t wait for me while I fumble through drawers looking for something.

A book shelf for reference books.

A light box for tracing the main elements from my roughs to the watercolour paper for the finished art.

A nice garden to look at.

Do you have a favourite medium?

I like:

Willow charcoal (very thin sticks of velvety black charcoal) 

Charcoal pencil and graphite pencils of different grades.

Watercolours. I bought many boxes years ago go made by a Russian company dating back to Tsarist time, wonderful colours in a cheap plastic box. In the end it depends on the story what medium I use. This can take a while trying different papers and mediums.

Do I do the outlines in pencil or pen and ink? It would be sensible if had a favourite and exclusive medium. Life would be simpler and I might master that particular medium. That would never happen because I am too impulsive.

What inspires you in your work?

The story, of course. The drawings can’t be at odds with the text. One idea morphs into another and then another and so on.

Yay, for story!

Name an artist for us who inspires you?

My brother John who is fifteen years older than me. He was a fan of Edward Ardizzone. When I was a boy he would do little cross hatching drawings on letters he sent home; of course they inspired me. John Burnigham, Maurice Sendak, Gabriel Vincent, Daumier, Degas, Seurat and Gwen John (no body has drawn cats better than she did)

Gwen John, British artist. Cat 1904-8, Holburne Museum of Art, Bath

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?

The Early Renaissance in Italy, Piero Della Francesca, Giotto, and Massacio. Their clarity and simplicity. They still look very modern to me.

France of the late nineteenth century. Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Seurat, Gauguin, Vuillard, and Bonnard. What a time!

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?

John Burnigham’s Mr Gumpy’s Outing inspired Janet and I to try to do a picture book. It looked like he had so much fun doing that book.

After returning to Australia in 1972 after two years living in London and travelling / camping around Europe, Morocco and Scandinavia we saw our own country with fresh eyes. On a trip to Echuca we discovered a whole past and way of life that we knew little about – riverboats. Using Mr Gumpy’s Outing as a template we started creating The Riverboat Crew.

The Riverboat Crew written by Janet McLean and illustrated by Andrew McLean. CBCA Award winner 1979

What is your favourite part of the illustrating process?

Doing the roughs, that is the most exciting part for me. I know a lot of illustrators who like their roughs more than the finished drawings. In that early stage the book can be anything, it is total freedom. The hard part is towards the end when everything is set and the options are few – and deciding when it is finished. The next favourite thing is holding a brand new hard cover picture book in your hands.

What advice would you give an aspiring illustrator?

It is such a different world than when we started I am not sure I can offer much that is relevant. My general advice hasn’t changed over the years, and that is to do a lot of drawing from life. Keep a journal/ sketch book with you as much as you can. Look around your for ideas. If you haven’t done any or much life drawing find a group somewhere and join. It is the foundation of so many things, both felt and intellectual.

Brilliant answers, thanks so much, Andrew, for joining me today. So much good stuff to learn from in here and sage advice. I’ve never heard of Gwen John, but I’m going to spend the afternoon looking up her cats!

TEARAWAY COACH is available at all good bookstores for readers 4+

Thank you for visiting my blog!


Interview with Michael Tomkins, illustrator of new picture book SHEARER

Welcome, Michael, to my blog. Congratulations on the release of SHEARER and on your amazing illustrations. I was so thrilled to be paired with you, I think we’ve created a magnificent book.


Tell us, how did you get into children’s book illustrating? What’s your story?

I grew up in the Blue Mountains of NSW, where early on I developed a love and appreciation for the beauty of the unique Australian landscape, its light and colour. I also loved exploring the visual worlds created by artists in video games and picture books. Shawn Tan was an early inspiration for me through his children’s books such as The Rabbits.

I went on to study both digital art and fine art, and developed a practice in plein air painting, as well as a career in animation and video games.

It has always been a dream of mine to make my own contribution to Australian children’s books, and when the opportunity came along to illustrate my first book – Shearer by Neridah McMullin, I jumped at it.

Can you describe your illustrative style for SHEARER?

I knew straight away that Shearer was going to be a traditional approach, rather than digital, and wanted to incorporate my plein art practice into the work to create the unique Australian colours that I love so much. I spent time immersing myself in the works of Australian impressionist artists such as Arthur Streeton, Sydney Long and Tom Roberts, from whom I drew inspiration to create a visually striking narrative.

I decided to use a combination of acrylic paint and colour pencil, with a warm colour pallet to capture the sunburnt world of Jack Howe.

I wanted the book to feel like an authentic but playful look into the true events the story is based on, and decided that a hand painted style would best capture this. The combination of pencil detailing and paint brushwork, created the depth of texture I was after, from the rustic shearing sheds, to the rolling sunset hills of Queensland.

The character of Jackie Howe himself was crucial to get right  – wanting to give him the heroic and strong appearance he is known for, with a warm and friendly demeanour. I’ve always enjoyed children’s books that include fun details for the reader to discover, so you might notice a few other characters pop up throughout the pages, such as a dog, a kookaburra, and even a sea monster!

One of Michael’s magnificent illustrations in SHEARER

How does the story of SHEARER relate to you? 

I also bring a personal connection to the story of Jackie Howe, as I have a family history of sheep shearing! My mum grew up on a dairy farm, and my grandpa on a sheep farm. Grandpa, his brother and their father all worked as shearers at Store Creek out of Stuart Town, NSW. It was pretty special to look at old photos of my family sheep shearing, and bring that personal connection to the book. It gave me an opportunity to explore my family’s generational world, in a way I hadn’t before.

Michael’s family connection to shearing. This is his Pa.

What items are essential for your creative space?

Having high quality tools, space and equipment is vital to my creative process.

I used all the tools as my disposal, including digitally sketching my page compositions before taking them to the paper, 3D character development to explore pose and perspectives, and a handmade drafting table that I bought on marketplace, to lay out my canvas and paint mixing.

I love to be surrounded by art books, both visual and theory, to draw inspiration and help with my decision making. While I’m painting, I’ve given up trying to keep my space clean and organised as the creative process can be chaotic! That’s half the fun.

Name 3 artists whose work inspires you?

As I already mentioned, Arthur Streeton and Shawn Tan are definitely two that inspire my work.

Another artist I love is NC Wyeth, an American painter and illustrator whose use of colour and composition, and choice of subject matter- pirates, knights and explorers – create worlds I can happily get lost in.

I know you only asked for three, but another artist to mention is Brett Whitley, whose unique approach to perspective and his contribution to the visual history of Australia, is something I aspire to use in my work.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

I really enjoy the early stages – when I’m sketching and dreaming up fun worlds and characters. I get ideas from everywhere in my day to day life- and I love being in that idea generation stage.

Another great moment in the process is when I get to finally squeeze the paint onto the pallet and start mixing the colour. I’m a colourist at heart.

What is your favourite illustration in SHEARER and why?

This is a tough one. I poured a lot of love into every single page of SHEARER.

But one that stands out is where “some joker” is sneaking sheep back into Jacks catching pens. The warm glow of the shearing stage, the rim light on the sheep as they are lining up to be shorn, the sheep looking on annoyed at the joke, and the overall composition being so dynamic, it was really fun to execute. I feel proud of that one.


Digital Portfolio:

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Michael.

Big thanks to our wonderful publisher @Walkerbooksaus and Sarah Davis for her incredible design work. May our little book fly well into the world and land into the hands of little readers.

Our book can be found in any good bookstore, or you can purchase it through this link at Booktopia

COVER reveal for my next picture book … SHEARER

This is the true story about the greatest shearer in the world … whose incredible shearing record remains unbeaten after more than a century!

In 1892, a shearing competition was to be held at Alice Downs Station in Queensland. There was a gold medal and a cash prize. Jack was determined to win it. 

Jackie Howe’s hands were the size of tennis racquets, his were legs like tree trunks and his wrists were made of steel. Despite his size, he was light on his feet and was an excellent dancer. But what Jack was really good at, was shearing sheep. At a local show, Jack won 100 yard sprint on grass in 11 seconds in socks. He also win Irish Jig dancing competitions including the sailor hornpipe.

With a hand blade, Jackie Howe sheared 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 mins. 

But there was another side to Jack Howe. He fought for the 8 hour day. He represented working class men, navigating his way through the Shearers Strike and was a key person behind the scenes in the early formation of Australian Labor Party.

This is a rollicking Australian story, about the charismatic, Jack Howe – the greatest shearer in the world who set the world record for shearing sheep by hand. He also invented the “singlet”!

Huge thanks to Michael Tomkins whose illustrations are delightful and a big thank you to Sarah Davis for the design of the book and the front cover. 

SHEARER is due out with Walker Books Australia on September 1st and available for pre-order at Booktopia here

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting some incredible old photos which inspired this story. 

Interview Lucia Masciullo illustrator EAT MY DUST

Lucia Masciullo is an award winning illustrator who loves to create whimsical characters and colouring with traditional techniques, mixing watercolour, pencil and collage. Born and bred in Livorno, Italy, she moved to Australia in 2007 and since then she has illustrated thirty books, including Come Down, Cat!by Sonya Hartnett, which was a CBCA Honour Book and shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Lucia currently lives on the Gold Coast and when not at work she likes running, watching anime and eating homemade pizza.

I feel so lucky to have had Lucia illustrate EAT MY DUST. It’s such a meaningful book to both of us.

Lucia, welcome to my blog today.

Lucia with our book, back cover and front

1. Can you describe your illustrative style for EAT MY DUST?

The illustrations in EAT MY DUST are in watercolour and ink. My idea was to create a contrast between the detailed drawing in ink and the vibrant freshness of the watercolour. Being instructed to colour inside the lines since I was a child didn’t help me much in this task, so I set a personal rule to use the watercolour for a maximum of 15 min per illustration.

2. What items are essential for your creative space?

A large table in front of a window (I love the natural sunlight), pencil, lots of paper, watercolours and sometimes even some music. I choose what to listen in accord with the mood of the illustration: ABBA for a joyful illustration, Queen for an epic moment, Adele for a sad illustration.

3. Name 3 artists whose work inspires you?

This is quite tricky, as there are at least dozens I could name!

Speaking about EAT MY DUST, I was mainly inspired by GI PI, or Gianni Pacinotti, a well-known Italian comic book artist, who was also one of my teachers when I started my career as an illustrator. I’m also a big fan of the work of Isabelle Arsenault, Beatrice Alemagna and I recently found another amazing artist, Victoria Semykina. Ok, these are four artists, instead of three, pretty close!

4. What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

I love different parts of the illustration process for various reasons: each step challenges a different part of my brain.

The creative part is what I really enjoy. Drawing the characters, working on the layout of the pages, and finding the delicate balance between text and illustrations are all aspects that excite me.

One of Lucia’s beautiful illustrations

Next comes the editing stage, where my problem-solving mind comes into action. There are often issues that need to be addressed, such as ideas that are not working on the page, or too many illustrations to choose from. Luckily, I have the support of a team, and the Publisher is always keen to help (thank you, Kristina and Amanda!).

Finally, there’s the colouring stage. This part is usually quite relaxing, as all the decisions have been made and I can simply indulge in the pleasure of using the medium.

However, for EAT MY DUST it has been a different experience: I challenged myself to work swiftly and loosely with the watercolour and sometimes I had to create several copies of the same illustration until I achieved a result that I liked.

5. What is your favourite illustration in EAT MY DUST?

One of my favourite illustrations is the one where they are driving in the salt lake that shimmers like diamonds. I like the composition of the illustration, the glimpse of the horizon, the expression of the girls and Barney the dog. It’s a magical moment: it seems that the beauty of the view has distracted them from the race.

6. Tell us about the special ‘item’ you recently found at your Nonna’s house in Italy that is connected to EAT MY DUST?

Early this year I went to Italy to visit my family. My parents recently moved in the house that once belonged to my grandparents, where my unconventional Nonna lived (I dedicated EAT MY DUST to her). My Nonna was around the same age as Jean and Kath, the two protagonists of the book and although she didn’t own a car, as a girl she defied tradition by climbing the Alps and wearing pants, something considered quite inappropriate at that time.

Well, while helping my parents move things in the basement, a mix of their stuff and my grandparents’, I stumbled upon something that took my breath away: the same Kodak camera featured on the title page! When I asked my Mum, she told me it belonged to my Nonna and she said I could take it in Australia with me.

This is Lucia’s Nonna’s camera – what an absolute treasure

Thank you, Lucia, for coming onto my blog. You’ve been so brilliant to work with. Your illustrations are incredible and I’m so proud of our book.

If you would like to see more of Lucia’s amazing art work, you can visit her website here

EAT MY DUST can be purchased from Booktopia or any good bookshop.

Big thanks must go to the Walker Books Australia, the best people!

COVER REVEAL for my new picture book EAT MY DUST

EAT MY DUST is the amazing true story of Jean Robertson and Kathleen Howell, who helped map Australia.

In 1928, girls didn’t drive cars, let alone race them. But best friends, Jean Robertson and Kathleen Howell and their dog, Barney, made history racing across Australia. They drove across the Nullabor from Perth to Adelaide in an attempt to break the land speed record. They faced many challenges along the way, because there were no roads or maps and often had to drive overland. They followed train lines and telegraph lines, with sometimes only a compass to guide them. They got flat tyres, they got bogged and they got lost. Jean and Kathleen drove day and night and covered 2824km in 2 days, nine hours and 57 minutes.

This is an inspiring true story about two pioneering girls.

This book was a massive team effort, thanks to Walkers Books Australia. Big thanks to Kristina Schultz (my incredible editor) and Amanda Tarlau and for her gorgeous book design. Massive thanks to the talented and award winning, Lucia Masciullo, for her incredible illustrations of the Italian racing car, Jean and Kathleen, the landscape and the historical details that I love so much.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be posting some of the treasure I found whilst researching this story.

A book launch is coming! But this book is available now for pre-order here