Aśka’s top tip for aspiring illustrators: People say that a lot of it is luck. That is true. But luck is a statistical concept. If you want to play the numbers game you have to be in it! So make sure you enter all the competitions, challenge yourself with unusual illustration projects, join groups, try to apply for grants and send your folio out to all the publishers every year. If you buy 100 tickets in a lottery, your “luck” is sure to improve. And so will you.
Aśka is an illustrator, artist and scientist. Once a PhD candidate researching quantum optics, she turned her hand back to art with the goal of being a children’s book illustrator.
She has more than 10 years of experience in children’s character illustration and book development, kids’ product design, graphic novels, animation, design and children’s science education.
Aśka has had numerous comics published in Perth and Melbourne, was featured on an ABC TV documentary – Noise On Screen – , won a Curtin Gallery Grant for her solo art exhibition, and ran an eight-week animation festival on the Northbridge Piazza Superscreen.
Continuing her passion for science, she also works for Scitech, presenting science programs and workshops to children across Western Australia.
Three of her illustrative projects have been published in 2017: The Cosmic Adventures of Alice and Bob, by Cristy Burne (CAASTRO); Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons (Faraway Nearby Ink); and Looking Up, by Sally Murphy (Fremantle Press).
Through her illustrations, she loves to create energetic characters with a curious streak – the best type of friend to take on an adventure uncovering the wonderfully diverse and inspiring world around us.
Check out Aśka’s latest projects on www.askaillustration.com
What’s the best aspect of your artistic life?
First of all it’s the act of creating new things that brings me a lot of satisfaction and personal fulfilment. I also love the flexibility of being my own boss, and the ability to really maximise my schedule on my own terms. I think I’m getting pretty good at that.
I’ve always loved sitting in my room and making things. Back when I was in primary school my projects had an imaginary audience, and I developed comic books, board games, toys and teaching aids for them. Today I still sit in my creative bubble at my desk, but now I’m working towards more focused outcomes and (hopefully) for a real audience!
It is easy to get lost in my work, and forget that sunshine and fresh air exist.
In order not to transform into a cave-dweller, I try to take my bike for a ride around the river in the mornings. Working at Scitech several days a week also helps, as it gets me out of the house and amongst the children.
How do you approach an illustration project?
It all starts with some kind of research. This could take the form of anything really: leafing through pages of books by a particular artist, watching cloud formations or browsing images of frogs on the Internet. Ideas then start popping into my head and I proceed to ‘try them out’ by scribbling. Eventually one of the ideas becomes more dominant and persistent.
Though I am a mostly a digital illustrator, I always start a concept with pen on paper. It is never pretty – more of a gestural squiggle, allowing me to feel the composition and envisage very early on how the design will take up page space.
But once I start working on the line work, first sketchy, then more refined, ideas do often develop further. I essentially think through drawing. Seeing images on the page breeds further ideas.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m illustrating a picture book about a boy with dyslexia, which was written by a dyslexic author. Having been fortunate enough to win a DCA grant, I have taken the project from my ‘creative cave’ and out to schools, inviting students from Years 3 and 4 to hand write their own stories. I then either use these stories as background textures in the illustrations, or actually illustrate them as part of the main character’s world.
Because the book aims to give children an insight into the world of a dyslexic person, I wanted to make sure it was very accessible to children with reading difficulties, so as to not alienate this crucial audience. So I held some consultation sessions with a variety of children who struggle with reading, to ensure the font choices, sizes and illustration layout did not make the book more difficult to read.
I am also developing a short video to show the children who participated how their contributions shaped and changed the illustrations.
It is a project and a half! But it has been very satisfying working with so much input from children and truly developing the book together.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
I did everything backwards, as I didn’t do my research. After coming up with an idea, I made a book and then tried to plug the finished product to publishers, not even following their submission guidelines because I was so excited about my project I thought they would be too. Seems a bit crazy now.
Joining SCBWI, learning about the industry and seeing other people go through the publishing journey certainly paid off in the end.
But I think the obstacles are there every time I want to be published again. There is a lot of wonderfully gifted competition out there and limited publishing spots. So I guess believing that there is a space for me amongst all this talent in this vibrant and joyful industry of children’s publishing is the perpetual challenge.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?
The only other job I’d settle for is an astronaut.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an illustrator?
I found that ten years ago I was saying “I’m an illustrator” a lot more than actually doing the hard, uncomfortable and challenging work. I wish I had had someone point out to me that being comfortable and finding things easy is not the way up.
Sweat, tears and ink!
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
“Don’t draw to be paid” (or, “make money in your spare time”). I started out working for a design and illustration company, but found very little energy remained after work for my own artistic pursuits, as I was working in the very area I wanted to develop in. It was hard to experiment and find my own style when people were paying me for particular outcomes. I did the same thing over and over, so that my rent was paid.
When I started to work as a science communicator, interacting with children on a daily basis, I would return to my studio full of ideas and will to create.
I do of course get paid for my drawings, but I don’t do them with the sole goal of being paid.
Dedication, daring and discovery… Ever wanted to find the answer to BIG questions? Or dreamed of inventing the Next Big Thing?
The Universe is an amazing place, and we’re only beginning to understand it. There’s still so much to be discovered…
- Join Alice and Bob on their ambitious journey to the hockey finals
- Uncover true stories of scientific failure, fluke and fame
- Find the everyday inventions that began with space research
- Meet the world’s next-generation telescopes, jump on board with Citizen Science, and tackle the big questions with CAASTRO: Australia’s keen team of all-sky astronomers.
The book aims to inspire and excite young minds about science, experimenting and the wonders of the universe but most of all, encourage them to never give up on having a go. Alice and Bob’s fictional adventure is enhanced by the factual stories of discoveries, sometimes accidental, woven throughout the book as well as additional layers of information, find-this-object challenges and teacher resources to emphasise the importance of previous space research on our everyday lives.
To quote Cristy, “The Cosmic Adventures of Alice and Bob is part-fiction, part-fact, and all fun”.
This book is not available for sale, however all primary and combined schools in Australia received a free copy of the book so it can be found in a library near you.