In this new occasional series, illustrators share the stories behind the pictures. Today, the spotlight is on Veronica Rooke, artist, graphic designer and cartoonist. When Veronica isn’t trying to master baking gluten free muffins or hanging out with her neighbour’s cat, she’s absorbed in her next illustrating project. That could be anything from fire breathing frogs to peeing dogs. After 32 years of drawing, she’s done it all and still loves it.
Veronica illustrated Who Dresses God? by Teena Raffa-Mulligan, a sweet picture book about a small girl who also wants to know how He can see, hear and speak without eyes, ears and tongue.
Did illustrating Who Dresses God? present particular challenges because of the nature of the topic? Very much. The art needs to be engaging to people who don’t have faith, while appealing to people who do.
How did you approach the project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you came up with some ideas, what was the next step? Firstly I read the story to get it into my head. This helps my mind visualize it while I’m doing ‘domestic’ stuff. When I start drawing, I already know how the pictures will look, so I avoid staring at a blank page.
The cover is unusual for a spiritual book for children. What inspired you to use the clothes line and the cheeky dog? I wanted to avoid boring clichés and use visual humour. It’s funny to watch dogs yank clothes that we humans have so carefully pegged up. (I guess funny when it’s not your clothes- Then it’s #@* dog!) And I used word relation: ‘Dress’ in the title and ‘clothes’ on a line.
How closely did you work with Teena on the development of the book? I call Teena a ‘dream’ client. She comes into a project with a lovely ‘let’s see what you come up with’ approach. However she knew that with WDG, she wanted a soft, water colour look. The mum in the story took a bit of adjusting to get right, but after that, she ‘let me loose’ on the roughs. Once they were good, I got out my old paintbrushes.
How long did it take you to complete the illustrations? They took roughly a few months. As usual, I had to start and stop it because I’m often working on several projects at once. I can’t pick when I’ll get work, so I juggle them depending on which has the closest deadline.
Do you have a favourite medium? Not really, I work in all sorts. I find the paintbrush medium for WDG a bit unforgiving. I’d colour the illustrations in bits and pieces and scan them into the computer. Photoshop then allows me to adjust things that a paintbrush can’t.
Is there any area of art that you find especially challenging? I’d probably say getting art ‘past’ sales reps and shop owners while working for a t-shirt company. I’d study previous ‘good selling’ designs and felt I could ‘see’ what worked. I’d create something with those elements, but if those two parties didn’t believe me, it would be rejected. However, it was great when I COULD get those designs through and they sold well.
Is social media important to your work as an artist? Yes. It lets me showcase artwork. But I don’t advertise current publications very often. A large number of my followers want to be entertained, that’s why most of my posts are cartoons that people are welcome to repost.
What are you working on at the moment? 1. I’ve just finished illustrating a picture book for Aly Bannister called ‘Johnny the Leprechaun…breaking school rules!’ 2. Two book covers for Teena called: ‘The Apostrophe Posse’ and ‘Sleepy Socks & Sometime Rhymes’. 3. A range of children’s t-shirt designs for the clothing company ‘From the Bush’. 4. The last 10 books in a 30-book reading program set by Jackal Ed Publications.
Your creative life has been diverse and as well as illustrating picture books, you’ve created cartoons for newspapers and magazines, designed T-shirts, giftware, jewellery and logos and presented cartooning workshops for people of all ages. Is there any aspect of being a working artist that you would prefer to concentrate on? It’s easier to say what I DON’T like concentrating on – quoting for jobs. Each project is different, so working out how long you’re going to take is hard. Over quote and the client walks, under quote and you work for peanuts.
What is your creative dream? Where I am now. I make a living from drawing in my slippers. Sweet! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked in freezing cold to boiling hot factories and in shops. Those times make me appreciate ‘now’ so much more.
Now for a little light relief. If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? The New York Literary agent who rejected my manuscript. A while ago I pitched my comic to this agency. They loved it and asked me to turn it into a 60,000 word MG novel. Hey, I’m an artist, not a writer! But I tried…..Man did I try! They mentored me; there were talks of a three-book set, picture books. I was beyond ecstatic. But one day, after two years and four rewrites I received the dreaded email: “Unfortunately, Veronica, I no longer have the time to-.”
I was gutted. I’d like to be stuck in an elevator with that agent. Then I could say: “Since we’re not going anywhere for a while, NOW you have the time to tell me what was wrong with my manuscript!”
Veronica’s top tip for aspiring illustrators: Draw…and draw and draw and draw until you become good and fast. Creating books is a business and it’s uneconomical if an artist takes an entire year to create the illustrations!
For more information about Veronica, visit http://www.fishbitten.com.au
Who Dresses God? is available from Little Kids Business, Amazon and other online retailers. Contact Novella Distribution for trade orders.