VERONICA’S TOP ILLUSTRATING TIP: Make sure you can draw everything well! Don’t do the old ‘Oh, I don’t draw such and such’. It’s better for you to be versatile.
Veronica Rooke first picked up a pencil at five and… well… hasn’t put it down since. She felt she’d reached the dizzying heights of fame at 13 when her very first six-part comic was published in the local newspaper. But it has now been delegated to the ‘never to see the light of day again’ file! She won money in a cartoon competition at 16 and thought ‘I can make a living out of this’. She has done that since 1987.
Veronica is the first to admit it’s not been as easy as her naive teenage self imagined it to be. But learning to take harsh criticism and turning rejection into success has been invaluable. She has created many illustrations in different styles, including two- and four-page comics, a six-year comic serial, a graphic novella and a 10-part science feature. These have appeared in the School Magazine and Oi Oi Oi comic.
Veronica has also illustrated picture books and designed more than 20 book covers. She’s also created 100s of t-shirt designs since 1994. These have sold in every state of Australia, so you’ve probably walked past at least one. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook to find out more.
What’s the best aspect of your artistic life? The pleasure of doing a hobby for a paid job. And also the extra chocolate bar I reward myself with after some success.
—the worst? The uncertainty of where the next pay check will come from. Competition for projects is high amongst illustrators, so it’s disappointing when you work on a submission and it isn’t successful. When that happens I grumble for a few days (and hit the chocolate again). Then go for a run to burn off all those calories and plot the next submission.
How do you approach an illustration project? With lots of thinking. If it’s a client’s project, I need to understand their needs completely. If it’s my own, well…picture a dog let off its leash in the park. It runs around like a loony saying: “I’ll sniff this bush…I’ll chase that bird…I’ll roll in this smelly stuff…I’ll pee up that tree.”
That is how my imagination works. (Without the sniffing, chasing, rolling and peeing). My brain switches into super-sensitive mode and everything around me is an idea. “Look at that bug…what’s that person saying…look at that newspaper photo.”
Once I have lots of inspiration, the drawings are very quick to do.
What are you working on at the moment?
- A 2 page comic for an Anthology
- A comic serial submission
- A novel- I’m now writing.
When they’re in planning stages I don’t say much about them.
Is there any area of art that you still find challenging? Art?…No. Things get easier if you practice. I’ve been ‘practicing’ for almost 30 years.
But writing?…It’s much harder than art. For example, imagine a scene where a genie is coming out of a lamp…An experienced artist can quickly and easily draw it. But a writer has to skilfully create that scene. It takes longer to fine tune the words so the reader sees it in their mind. Three words… ‘Writers are awesome’.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The very first one. My advice is, when you get rejected, learn from it and try again. My first real submission was a comic strip to a local newspaper when I was 18. I had no experience, just lots of ideas.
The concept was about a fur-wearing, muscle-clad barbarian fighting demon nuns. They rejected it. (Really?… I can’t think WHY!) And besides, they couldn’t afford to pay me. But I really wanted to be published.
So I submitted another concept. It was weekly jokes about a dog living with a family. It was called ‘Tails’ after our own dog. The paper accepted it and payment part came in the form of a free advert that attracted freelance illustrating jobs. This worked very well and a few years later, they COULD afford to pay me. The comic strip ran for 16 years.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? I’ve drawn since I was five, so I was very focused from a young age. I didn’t ‘yearn’ to do anything else.
If I had to pick, I’d say a vet because I love animals. I’m always fussing over friends’ dogs or the neighbour’s cat. I’ve rescued a few animals too. But my history with keeping fish has been disastrous…I’m a serial fish killer. I felt awful. So I gave the fish tank to a wild life sanctuary. The animal kingdom is probably relieved that I’m an illustrator.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an illustrator? Nothing. The skills I’ve learned have been priceless. As a freelance artist, you have enormous variety, but you’re not really pushed to your limit. Clients are too timid to ask for you to do better.
Working for a company is more ruthless. If I didn’t create art that sold, people lost their jobs. There was a harsh sales rep that didn’t hide it if she hated something I drew. It would have been easier to dislike her. But I decided to listen to her nasty comments. She became the person I learned the most from and we got on really well in the end.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator? How competitive it would become. When I began in 1987, being an artist wasn’t that popular. I would have diversified into writing sooner.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
- “Know your subject well and the illustration will come easily”.
- “49 people might not believe in you, but the 50th one just might.”
by Teena Raffa-Mulligan, illustrated by Veronica Rooke
This gentle story is a conversation about God between a mother and a child on the way to Kindergarten. Told from the child’s perspective, the series of questions and answers in rhyme introduces young children to the idea of a higher being that can see, hear and speak without eyes, ears or tongue, and does not live in a house with roof, walls and locking doors.
“…For God’s house is this world we share and God is in it everywhere.”
It’s sensitively written without moralising or forcing any particular religious belief, but with plenty of heart. Write Note Reviews