Life as an Illustrator

As an illustrator, I occasionally get to draw pictures.  Like many jobs, much of my time is spent answering or ignoring emails, making cups of tea, washing up the tea cups, then coming back to those emails I initially ignored.

When I do sit down at my desk with a pencil in my hand, I feel like I’m home.  It’s like I’m ten years old again, doodling and scribbling to see what happens.  I begin most books by sketching character ideas.  After spending most of my life using dark, slightly blunt pencils, I now prefer to use very light 2H pencils.  This allows me to slowly build up a drawing, using lots of feathery, scribbled lines until a face starts to take shape.  I draw all of my roughs like this, until they are ready to trace, ink and paint into the final illustrations.

Illustrating is a mostly joyful pursuit, though it brings frustrations.  An illustration never looks quite finished, never looks quite right – even the ones that do.  Characters taunt me from the page.  A line drawn at slightly the wrong angle will draw my eye until I can’t see anything else.  Part of the problem is that I can see the picture perfectly in my head, and the final product on the page never quite matches.

Having said that, I have come to accept my own style.  When I was starting out, it was all too easy to compare myself to the greats and wonder why my lines didn’t look as natural.  But now I understand that the way I draw is the way I draw.  I draw trees like this.  Other people draw them like that.  It sounds simple but it’s a big mental hurdle to overcome.  And with that acceptance comes the clarity of mind to challenge myself, to understand that I’m always learning: I’ve always drawn trees like this, but maybe I could try something else.  If it doesn’t work, that’s fine.

Throughout this whole process and self-analysation, my work needs to meet the approval of the publishers for whom I am working.  I’ve been lucky to work with such encouraging and supportive publishers that I’ve been able to develop confidence in my style.  They seem to know when to lift an illustrator, and when to challenge them; when to insist that those trees look perfect, and when to suggest that they could be drawn another way.

It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of, and an exciting thing to help create: a book of words and pictures that can inspire people, big and small.

Peter Carnavas

Peter Carnavas

Author / Illustrator

Peter Carnavas writes and illustrates books for children and the grown-ups in the their lives. His first book, Jessica’s Box, was shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and the CBCA Crichton Award for Emerging Illustrators. He has since created many books, including Last Tree in the City, The Children Who Loved Books and The Boy on the Page. His picture book, Blue Whale Blues, about a whale with bike trouble, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2016 Crystal Kite Award (Australia region). Peter is a popular presenter in schools and festivals, and has also presented to children in Europe and Asia. His work has been translated into many languages, including Italian, Portuguese, Korean and Dutch. Peter lives in the Sunshine Coast hinterland with his wife, two daughters, a dog called Florence and a cat named Harry. He’s still getting used to the cat.