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!


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Neridah McMullin

Photo By: Prue Sheed



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