Illustrating ‘Hush Say the Stars’

Illustrating Hush Say the Stars


When first asked if I would like to illustrate Hush Say the Stars, penned by Margaret Spurling, I really didn’t need to know any more. I have long been a fan of Margaret Spurling’s writing so I took it as quite an honour. To then discover it was set on a farm, resembling the tones of a classic lullaby, it couldn’t be more perfect.


Farm animals are right up there on my list of favourite things to draw. Living on acres in the Adelaide Hills we have quite the menagerie for inspiration. The cows in the story are from our herd. The brown and white one in front sitting closest is named Petal – even though they are not pets, she loves a pat and scratch ever since we saved her life many years ago when she was unable to walk for a week. Nursing her back to health she is now a favourite and I think she knows how much we helped her – that is her calf gazing towards the stars.


I have also drawn our cat into the story, Maow Maow, sitting on my grandmother’s library chair. It was reupholstered decades ago with a beautiful image of a dancing couple. The embroidery is exquisite, remarkably detailed, so I have simply drawn a representation of it. The dog is my red and white Border Collie, Arty (ironic I know – when I learnt the breeder had named him Art, that was it, the decision was made, he was coming home with me).


With any book I illustrate, I am always looking for inspiration – what can I add in? What detail can I put in to give this farm a warm, magical feeling? And I find it everywhere. My brain never seems to shut off. I’ll drive past a letterbox or a fence and think wow, that would be a great addition. So I’ll photograph it or draw it straight away before I forget. The idea for the plasma cut shovel came from a good friend of mine who creates these, each by hand with meticulous care. They look so intimate and it seemed such a beautiful way to display the delicacy of the butterflies resting on the Moonflower vine.


From the minute I read the text I really wanted to bring a subtle magic to the illustrations. Watercolour as the medium was my first and obvious choice with the addition of loose pencil line-work to give it spontaneity and a carefree life of it’s own. When blending watercolour paints you can never be really certain what you are going to get so that is like creating magic in itself. I incorporated the bunny both as the child’s favourite toy (with the embroidered star in the ear) and as a real character who travels through the story with the reader. If you look closely you can even see a rabbit constellation on several pages – this idea came after my son had visited the Planetarium for the day and was fascinated by what he could find in the stars that night – perfect timing I know! Inspiration can hit when you least expect it.


I really like to add that story within the story – in this case the rabbit, the constellation. It’s something within the illustrations that is never mentioned in the text but it adds depth; it’s for the reader, particularly children, to discover and make that experience of reading a book an even more magical one.

2018 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards

Little Book Press is proud to announce that three of our titles have been listed as Notable Books in the 2018 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), Book of the Year Awards. The Notable titles in the Early Childhood category include:

Busy Little Creatures by Little Book Press and Fiona Bowden

Jump and Shout! by Mike Dumbleton and Peter Carnavas

Wilbur, Grace and Joe by Phil Cummings and Amanda Graham

Congratulations to all of the creators who have had their work recognised by the CBCA and a big thank you to our publishing team for your efforts in bringing these books to life.


Raising Literacy Australia’s publishing imprint, Little Book Press, is pleased to announce that two of its picture books have been shortlisted for the highly regarded Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards 2017.

What it Means to be an Illustrator

Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living I’ll say, “I’m an illustrator.” There’s inevitably a pause and a quizzical look and so I’ll go on to elaborate further. This usually clarifies things, but not always. Illustrating is one of those professions that often slips under the radar. And although everyone has read a children’s book, we don’t often consider by whom or how they are created.

To Need or Not to Need an Editor

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, invariably the question gets asked, ‘What do you do?’ When I tell them that I’m an editor, the first response is usually, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a book one day.’ Following on the heels of this is, ‘You must be really good at spelling.’ Some people will even go so far as to act surprised this job even exists anymore, considering the advent of spellcheck software. My reply is that editors are more than human spellcheckers.

Editing can be broken down into four levels, with each level building upon the other — like a house of cards. The strength of the card house relies on the sturdiness of each level, beginning from the first level up. When a manuscript is sent to an editor, the following steps will usually be taken:

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.

To be a Children’s Writer

Some children know they want to be writers when they grow up.

Others are ‘accidental authors’.

I’m that sort.

For many years I was a teacher and only wrote a few poems for my young daughters. I once tentatively attended a weekend writing course and that’s when I made a discovery.

I knew nothing about writing.

But I began writing a little more. And borrowing ‘How to write’ books from the library.

Was I hooked?

If I’m interested in something, I tend to pursue it to see if the initial appeal is sustainable. But I was interested. And I did love words – and language – and reading.

Reflections On Being a Writer of Children’s Books

I wanted to be a writer in my late teens but wanting to be a writer was the easy bit. Life became busy and a lot of things delayed me doing anything about it for another twenty years! Studying, playing sport, teaching, travelling – there was never any time for writing. And that was before my wife and I started a family, after which there was hardly time to breathe!

I eventually found some time when the children were teenagers and didn’t need (or want) me around all the time. I remember thinking I was at a stage in life when I needed to have a real go at writing or forget about it altogether. Time for writing was still intermittent, between family life, teaching and playing some sport, so I gave myself about five years to get a manuscript accepted, after which I thought I’d give it away and focus on other things.