Thursday 28 April 2016

Kate Miller-Heidke in The Rabbits. Picture: Alex Coppel / The Australian
ABC Classic FM will be playing The Rabbits album in full this Saturday the 30th of April (tomorrow), at approximately 10:50am. You can find your local frequency at

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Sea Butterflies, gouache and coloured pencil 1994

An early SF illustration of mine based on no particular story, partly inspired by a dream. Some may recognise the craft as a forerunner of the big kite that appears in The Red Tree. The work was subsequently used as a cover for Interzone magazine in the UK, after the writer Terry Dowling saw this painting at a small exhibition and wrote a short story about it, 'No Hearts to Be Broken'. This was an interesting reversal, where the illustration inspires a story rather than the other way around.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Scavengers, gouache and coloured pencil, A4 1994
Another of my early non-commissioned SF illustrations which was used for the cover of Aurealis magazine, an Australian SF&F fiction quarterly. The theme I chose here was 'distant future Australia', which I figure is always going to be what you least expect.

Monday 25 April 2016

The Museum's Ruins, Cover Illustration for Eidolon Magazine, pencil, 1995

One of the many cover illustrations I produced for small press magazines from 1991 - 2000, which had no brief so I could draw or paint whatever I wanted. The format here was very long, so I've split the work into two halves.
For Kiwis, I have some prints and a few small paintings from Tales from Outer Suburbia in this group exhibition at the Calder & Lawson Gallery, University of Waikato, New Zealand, from May 16 to July 15. For more information, visit Bird Brain

Saturday 23 April 2016

Sunday 17 April 2016

It was YOU!  pastel A2
This and host of other unpublished original works, mainly large pastel drawings and some Grimm sculptures, will be exhibited at The Illustrationcupboard Gallery in London (22 Bury St, St James's) from May 11 to June 11 this year, so do come along and have a look if you are near; more info here.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Tender Morsels (book cover), oil on paper, 2008

A book cover for the novel Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, which takes some inspiration from the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. I borrowed a little of the style of Arthur Rackham's classic Grimm illustrations - particularly his way of painting coral-like foliage. This is the last book cover assignment I completed, mainly as a fan of Margo's work given that I signed off from cover work a long time ago. This painting is available as a limited edition print through Books Illustrated, by request (as it is not listed online), and The Illustrationcupboard in London.

Friday 15 April 2016

The Sky Warden and the Sun (book cover), acrylic and oil on paper, 2002
A cover for the second in 'The Change' trilogy by Sean Williams, possibly the SF author I've illustrated the most in my early freelance days. This YA trilogy is set in a far-future Australia where the past is largely forgotten.

Thursday 14 April 2016

The Crippled Angel (book cover), oil on paper, c.2001
Another cover for Sara Douglass' trilogy, for the final book, by which time the reader is hoping the demons of medieval Europe – who seem to represent enlightenment and progressive politics – will actually triumph over the authoritarian angels.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

The Nameless Day (cover illustration), oil on canvas, 1999

Another cover for a novel by Sara Douglass, book 1 in the Crucible Trilogy. The series is set in medieval Europe, taking in real history but representing angels and demons as very real and present political players. And the angels seem to be far worse than the demons, tyrannically self-righteous, which is what I tried to represent in this painting. By this time I developed my own briefs, the publisher knew me well enough to just send an unpublished manuscript in the mail, and I'd send back a prelim sketch for approval, then a final painting.

Monday 11 April 2016

Battleaxe (book cover), gouche and colour pencil on paper, about 1995

Following a request to show & discuss some early work, here is my first commercial illustration job, a cover illustration for the fantasy novel Battleaxe by Sara Douglass. I was about 21 at the time, mostly unknown and unemployed, so it was a very important assignment.

I'd been trying to get work at the time as a freelancer, legging my folio around and sending samples by post to publishers (this being a largely pre-digital time – much easier now). I'd had some black and white illustrations published in small-press SF magazines, but nothing you could pay rent with, so I was keen to get something more commercial. This was surprisingly hard as an unknown artist, as I'm sure many of you know. The publisher already knew of my work, but (as I heard from an insider) did not believe I was competent enough to paint a wraparound cover, because I'd never been offered one before - that old chestnut! 

However this novel, Battleaxe, had already been published a year previously and become very popular. Sara Douglass disliked the original cover – rightly so, it was a very cliched, super-buff he-man figure on horseback – and really pressed for a new artist to have a go. She also happened to be visiting an SF convention in Perth, where I had a small exhibition of some personal paintings (a few in colour) and was impressed by my work. Apparently she then pressured the publisher into giving me the assignment. The argument was this: if I screwed up, they already had a cover to fall back on, so no risk. They would only pay on acceptance ($1,500 - not much even in 1995, but as good as I could hope for) otherwise a modest kill fee if it fell through.

So I got the job. I read the novel (I'm not a big fantasy reader but I knew the genre well enough) went to my local suburban newsagent to study newly released fantasy novel covers on their rotating rack, trying to figure out how to do them, what composition and style and so on. I then went to the local library and borrowed a book about polo, figuring this was good visual reference for 'swordsmen on horseback', which the publisher insisted I paint; they were very specific in their brief, about the landscape and everything, taking no chances! I spent about two weeks painting this image, allowing space for title, spine and back blurb, sent it over, and they all loved it. 

They immediately asked me to do cover art for sequel volumes, which I did happily. What a difference in attitude! I subsequently illustrated many covers for Sara, and this was an important source of income at the time, given that I was also working on picture books such as The Rabbits and The Lost Thing, which generated next to no money, at least not until much later on. So I have a lot to thank both Sara and this publisher for. I did manage to raise my price over time, by the way, just by polite request.

What did I learn from this? The trick was winning people's confidence, and getting an outside referral. That is, none of my own approaches to this publisher worked even though my folio was very strong, it was an established author's insistence that allowed me to get a foot through the door, backed by a good word from a more professional illustrator who knew me and freelanced for the same company, who vouched that I always met my deadlines in the small-press world. A similar thing happened with my first children's book The Stray Cat, and picture book The Viewer: authors (Steven Paulsen and Gary Crew) who requested my work specifically, where the publisher had otherwise overlooked it, or were unsure of my abilities.

I think it's a lot easier these days with online exposure and communication, but either way a social network is important, friendship with like-minded creators. I think it would have also helped a lot if I visited the publisher in person, but at the time I lived 3,000km away and couldn't easily afford to travel. I generally encourage new illustrators to try and meet with publishers if they can, it does seem to make a big difference. Of course, you have to be good at what you do, but often that's not enough for people to really see what it is you are doing.

Friday 8 April 2016

Wednesday 6 April 2016