DROVER…meet the illustrator, Sarah Anthony

Hello! I’d like to welcome the very talented, Sarah Anthony, onto my blog today.

Sarah is the illustrator of our new picture book DROVER, and her art has magically brought alive the words on the page.

Hi Sarah, thanks for coming onto my blog. When did you start painting and how did you get into children’s picture book illustration? 

I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I was a small girl, but didn’t really start specialising in oil painting until a few years ago. After leaving school I did six years at art school and got to explore many different forms of art-making. I felt a bit like a kid in a lolly shop with all those amazing artistic options! Initially I fell most in love with silversmithing and jewellery-making, but over the years I have kept coming back to painting. Over the last few years I have been painting full time and specialising in portraiture and landscape art.

Sarah’s incredible self portrait

I hadn’t really thought of illustrating picture books but when the Associate Art Director from Walker Books came across my work and contacted me to see if I might be interested, I thought ‘what a great idea!’. I have young children myself and love how picture books open up new worlds of possibilities and understanding. I find it really exciting to use my art to bring a story to life. I hope that our book can be inspirational for small people, as well as enjoyed by the parents who read bedtime stories over and over again!

I hope so too.

What inspires you to paint? 

In my fine art practice I am mainly interested in the use of light and colour to express tension and emotion. I am always chasing the ‘moment in between’ – those moments where anything could happen and there is some ambiguity, leaving interpretation to the viewer. For the Drover illustrations I was primarily inspired by the landscape which in a sense really is one of the main characters in the book. The harsh heat, lack of water, daily dangers, the extraordinary beauty of the scenery and light underpin and influence the whole story.

What was it that attracted you to the story of DROVER?

I knew I wanted to be on board with the project as soon as I read the opening paragraph where drover ‘sighs at the peachy dawn’! Your writing is beautiful and evocative and I could easily visualise a book full of colour, light and drama and those sun-drenched outback scenes. It couldn’t be more my thing!

I was also really attracted to Edna’s story. She was an extraordinary woman and lived a fascinating life, and I am so admiring of her strength and courage and the incredible journey she and the other drovers took. She was a strong, independent woman who many kids will relate to and be inspired by, and personally I always love a story with a strong female character who lives her life on her terms.

Drover front cover

I’m so glad you love Edna, she’s a legend. 

Tell us about the process you went through to choose the right medium and the grade of paper to illustrate DROVER?

Although my initial working drawings were in coloured pencil, it was an easy choice to use oil paints for the final illustrations. I felt that the outback scenes and the richness of colour and light were best portrayed by oils, which have a fabulous vibrancy of colour. Traditional oil painting techniques lend easily to portraying dramatic skies and the sense of movement and drama that the book needed.

After some experimentation with various papers I settled on Arches cold pressed 300gsm Oil paper which was really beautiful to work on, and also appropriate for the technical needs of the publishing process.

How did you find the experience of drawing a rush?

I did an enormous amount of research work behind the stampede scenes. I had to learn how a bullock looks and acts in that scenario and then design the composition with multiple racing cattle so that it was varied and dynamic. Initially I had the main stampede scene moving from left to right in a side view but ended up altering this so that the bullocks seemed to be racing out of the page straight at the reader, which made the scene that much more exciting. I enjoyed painting all the shadows and kicked up dust and the wild-eyed cattle.

How long did it take you to do the illustrations?

As oil paintings there are days, sometimes weeks of work in each painting. Sometimes I had to let a painting dry off a little before applying highlights or to allow for translucency with layers, such as in the night sky scenes, so I was working on multiple paintings at any time.

I can’t imagine how long that must have taken.

Tell us about drawing cattle and horses?

Again, I did a lot of research to learn how cattle and horses behave and move in various scenarios. I spent a bit of time in our local children’s farm watching the animals to get a sense of personality which helped me in bring the character of Shifty to life. The initial inspiration for Shifty was a grumpy old cow who was moaning and looking sideways at me with those big wide eyes. She was not happy and let everyone know about it! Cattle can be enormously funny and full of personality and it wasn’t hard to create Shifty as a belligerent, lovable rogue.

I styled Edna’s horse Midnight to be very much a reflection of her- I visualised Midnight as trusty and always ready for action. In the scenes where Edna is on horseback I tried to show a sense that horse and rider were ‘as one’, in tune with each other.

What’s your next project? (if you’re allowed to share)

I’m currently working on a body of oil paintings for a solo exhibition next year (Covid willing!) 

Thank you so much for chatting today, Sarah.

There is no doubt, DROVER, is a book created with love and care. Thank you to the amazing team at Walker Books

Sarah has just been shortlisted for two major art prizes this year, the Lester Prize and the Kennedy Prize. Good luck!  

Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahanthonyartist and check out her website at www.sarahanthonyartist.com