I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with famed Australian author-illustrator Anna Walker about her illustration and story processes for her 2015 picture book Mr. Huff, as well as her upcoming book Florette. Anna's prolific body of work speaks for itself, but in case you're unfamiliar here in the States, Anna's children's books are full of beauty and subtlety, and they always radiate emotion.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom for a look at the official Florette book trailer!
About the book:
Mr. Huff is a story about the clouds and the sunshine in each of our lives.Bill is having a bad day. Mr Huff is following him around and making everything seem difficult. Bill tries to get rid of him, but Mr Huff just gets bigger and bigger!
Then they both stop, and a surprising thing happens...
Let's talk Anna Walker!
LTPB: There’s a lot of emotion in the books that you both write and illustrate. Readers experience fear and bravery in Peggy (Clarion Books 2012), and Mr. Huff (Viking 2015) is full of all sorts of anxiety and depression. You also use a wide variety of characters, from people and animals to more conceptual beings, like Mr. Huff. Where do you draw your inspiration from? How does your textual story influence what kind of characters we see in your books?
I am inspired by creatures and people. I am fascinated by what we do when we are faced with adversity and how we rise to the challenge of overcoming obstacles. In our back yard, our chicken Peggy used to busily and go about her day. Even when our dog Sunshine chased Peggy, she would hop out of reach, ruffle her feathers and quietly keep foraging as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile Sunshine would look guilty and apologetic! Animals and people are a constant source of amusement and inspiration!
The character for Mr Huff arrived when I was worrying about things and instead of ruminating I drew what it felt like to feel anxious in my visual diary - a picture of me with a scribbly cloud looming overhead. I remember staring at the drawing later and wondering...could this work as a picture book? I researched monsters and creatures of dreams throughout the ages to develop the scribbly nebulous form of Mr Huff.
I enjoy exploring different mediums. A common thread is ink and watercolour, but I also enjoy using collage, woodblock printing, etching and pencil. I think part of the joy of using paper and paint is exploring and the potential to discover something new. I make lots of mistakes, but now and then a ray of light appears when I have thought I have turned down a wrong path. 'Happy accidents' I like to call them!
The process doesn't really change book to book, only the medium. When I visualise the picture book in its inception I can see the colours and feel the story so clearly. It then takes me a while to find the right medium, as well as doing lots of drawing to translate that vision the best I can.
LTPB: What differences have you found between writing and illustrating your own books versus illustrating someone else’s text? Which do you generally do first? What authors do you find yourself drawn to?
The timeline is longer for me to write and illustrate my own books versus illustrating someone else's text mainly because I am so slow with writing. Gathering words to tell my story is sometimes like herding cats! When I write my own picture books they always spring from a visual image and then the words partner the imagery.
I have worked with a few authors, mainly I work with Jane Godwin though. There is something special about Jane Godwin's stories that makes my heart glow each time I read them. Her words have an honesty, strength and beauty - quite the trifecta! We regularly catch up for coffee or a drink to chat about characters, storyboards, books and life!
LTPB: You’re currently getting ready to release your next picture book, Florette (Viking 2017). What can you tell us about it? Do you have any illustrations you can share?
Florette is the story of a little girl, a garden and imagination. In 2015 I travelled to Paris with my family. On the way to the Louvre we passed a shop window that was filled with leafy branches pressed against glass from floor to ceiling. It was this moment that inspired the story of Florette.
I created an animated book trailer for Florette (which you can see below). I love bringing the characters to life and seeing them walk around!
LTPB: Last question: if you could have anyone, dead or alive, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be?
I would love Cat Rabbit to illustrate my picture book biography using her beautiful felt creatures. As a child I adored making things for my doll's house and Cat's work reminds me of that world into which you can escape completely!