I have thoroughly enjoyed these Wednesday interviews with illustrators this year. As a picture book writer, I have learnt so much about the skills, techniques, interpretation and inspiration of the visual aspect of a picture book’s story. I have met some wonderful people and made some new friends. Thank you to all who have contributed and to all the blog readers who have left such supportive comments for these artists. As part of the multicultural focus of this blog, I have tried to invite guests from across the globe to contribute. Today’s illustrator brings a rich cultural heritage to her work. Muza is a fellow-uTaler, and I am a huge fan of her animal-realism illustrations.
[MU] First of all, Joanna, thank you so much for inviting me on your blog – I feel very privileged and humbled to be asked.
- Illustrator or author/illustrator?
[MU] I am definitely the illustrator… I find it totally frustrating trying to put words together … If I am given the choice of writing a narrative or creating a narrative art, I would always choose to create the artwork. I tend to see words as “pictures” in my head. I do have a story being formed at the back of my mind at the moment though….. and it is based on old Russian folk stories. So, you never know, I may end up putting the images down on my virtual paper one day and see if I can also create the right words for a children’s picture book..
- What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures influenced your work?
[MU] I was born in Australia, but I am of Russian/Czechoslovakian descent. As a young child I spoke only Russian at home, so when I commenced school here in Australia, I had to learn a new language – English. I am married to an Australian also of Russian descent. So the Russian culture has definitely influenced me and my family in the foods we eat, how we present things and how we perceive things.
- Do you have any specialization in your picture book illustrating?
[MU] My illustrations tend to be very realistic and quite detailed – I am always trying to simplify my drawings, but never tend to succeed. I tend to use quite bright colours in my illustrations as well. I have been illustrating realistic animals with human expressions for the children’s picture books that I have collaborated on in the last couple of years, such as “The Sea Cat Dreams”, “Suvi and the Sky Folk”, “Elliot Finds a Home” etc. I am also currently experimenting with creating fantasy art (still digitally though) but have yet to find a writer to take me on in this genre (LOL).
- Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[MU] I have always been a “doodler” – my favourite subject at school was art. However, in my day it wasn’t considered the right career choice to study art as a tertiary subject, so I was talked out of enrolling at a Commercial Art course – a decision I regret to this day. I did a secretarial course instead on which path I continued till about 1979 when I decided to enroll in a Graphic Design course. I finished this course, but life circumstances meant I didn’t pursue this career at that stage – but travelled extensively, then had my 2 wonderful girls. I went back to college in 2005 after my girls had graduated from school and were involved in their own lives and found that everything had changed and nothing I learned in the previous course was relevant because the world had turned digital. So I embraced this new digital world with open arms and fell in love with what you could do with a computer. I graduated at the end of 2007 with a Graphic Design Diploma and have happily pursued my art dreams for the last couple of years as a freelancer. I fell into the world of digital illustrating quite by accident 2 years ago.
- What is your favorite medium for your artwork?
[MU] Currently my favourite medium is definitely digital painting. I love the fact that you can use layers and there is a “delete” button and you can move items around on your screen!! I also enjoy doodling with acrylics, but to date have not produced anything worthy of note!! Maybe in time….. I am hopeless at watercolour painting as I naturally put the dark colours down first and of course with watercolour painting it the other way around. I use that technique with digital painting as well – the dark shadows are put down first.
- What does your workspace look like?
[MU] When I am busy, it is a total mess!! I tend to tidy up when I have nothing to produce…. You can always tell when I am being “creative” – there are cobwebs in the corners, the floor doesn’t get vacuumed, and there is stuff all over the computer table and I don’t tend to answer the phone (so my daughters tell me!!) And I’m a night owl – my husband always complains that I tend to disappear behind my computer at 2am in the morning which is when most of my creative ideas hit me.
- Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?
[MU] Yes, I can do that. I used to create the initial “roughs” using my favourite 6B pencil. This sketch I would then scan and use as the “background” layer for my digital painting.
Nowadays I create the rough sketches with my Intuos 4 Wacom tablet using the Artrage Studio Pro programme – it is so much faster and I don’t have to waste time scanning the artwork. I love the fact that I can create very rough roughs which look like marker pen sketches. I then erase the unnecessary lines as I clean up the image. And, again, if I hate the sketch, there is a “delete” button!! Once I have decided what goes where, I then use the “sketch” as the background layer for my more detailed sketching. Then I digitally ‘paint’ over the top with colours using a combination of programmes such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Artrage Studio Pro.
Below is a sample of one of the characters from the picture book “Elliot Finds a Home”. I digitally painted each character/item separately using Artrage Studio Pro as per the method above. I then brought all the elements together using Photoshop. Shadows, reflections and highlighting were then created using Photoshop.
- What authors or illustrators influenced your childhood?
[MU] I have always leaned towards realistic art. At art school, I used to try and copy Michelangelo’s and Leonardo da Vinci’s work – very unsuccessfully I must admit. Though I did create a parody of Mona Lisa quite successfully (I think) using coloured inks way back in 1981.
- What’s your involvement with SCBWI Australia?
[MU] I am a member of SCBWI Australia – my portfolio of current illustrations is up on their website. I am also a member of Illustrators Australia.
- I know that digital imaging and flash animation are part of your portfolio, Muza. What’s your take on apps and animated eBooks?
[MU] I am of 2 minds on this one…. I still love the smell and feel of books and always will – the older and mustier the books are, the better they are – and the fact that you have to use your imagination to see the images the words are trying to portray. I think the next generation will lose this ability to just imagine.
But I also love what you can do with animated eBooks and the fact that you can carry around thousands of books on just one tablet. I have also seen the amazing results specialists are having using ebooks with disabled children and how they are improving their communication skills.
So, I think both will always have a place in this world. Well, I am hoping so…. I would hate to think that printed books could disappear from our culture in the future.
- Five Fun Ones to Finish?
What word best sums you up?
[MU] BUSY!! Always BUSY!
If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[MU] I would love to live in Italy for a season and explore all their amazing sculptures and artworks.
What’s your favorite sound?
[MU] The sound of birds singing in the early morning. There is always a cacophony of bird sounds on our property in Brookfield – I love it.
Cats or dogs?
[MU] I am a total lover of any animals – cats or dogs. My husband and I currently own 2 dogs – an old German Shepherd called Jack and a Miniature Bulldog called Charlie – I am sure there is definitely a book lurking somewhere at the back of my mind about the antics that bulldog gets up to – he’s a total character!! We also look after an assortment of wildlife that visits us on our property – kookaburras, cockatoos, magpies, pidgeons, King Parrots, kurrawongs… (the list goes on and on) – and the occasional carpet snake! I also adore cats, but unfortunately neither of our dogs likes cats, so to keep the peace I shower my cat affections onto my daughter’s Siamese cat called Elvis, who is a total charmer. He “posed” for me for the picture book “The Sea Cat Dreams” written by Jennifer R. Poulter – published this year as an ebook on uTales.com.
If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, with whom would that be?
[MU] There are so many wonderfully talented illustrators out there at the moment, that it is totally impossible to decide on just one – if I spent a day with every artist whom I admire, I would still be doing so a year later! But recently I have been FB “stalking” the work of an amazingly talented portrait artist by the name of Dirk Dzimirsky. I am totally in awe of his work and would love to be a fly on a wall for a day and watch and learn as he produces his most amazing portraits.
Muza, thank you so much for sharing with us today. The realism you capture in your illustrations blows me away. I am impressed with how you returned to school to educate yourself into this new digital world! To your success!