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.