I’ve always loved to draw pictures. I’m very lucky that I get to do it every day now that I’m a grown up. It’s especially good fun when I get to make pictures for really, really good stories, which is what The Gobbledegook Book is full of.
I grew up with Joy Cowley’s stories. I learnt to read with Mrs Wishy-Washy and Greedy Cat. I remember my best friend and I making a deal over who’s turn it was to read Pawprints In The Butter during reading time at school. Pawprints in the Butter is an especially good book because it’s beautifully illustrated with cat paintings done by children.
So, because I’ve lived my whole life with these stories I was totally stunned when I was invited into the Gecko Press office and asked if I’d like to illustrate a collection of them. I felt pretty daunted, but also very excited and I couldn’t wait to start drawing.
I do all my drawing in a very small room that I share with a hot water cylinder. There’s just enough room for me and my desk, and it’s very cosy in winter. I don’t need much space because I do all my illustrations on a computer, which doesn’t make any mess. I listen to my favourite music while I work, or sometimes I listen to stories.
I think it’s important to remember that all you really need to draw a good picture is a bit of paper and a crayon or a pencil, or some paint, or anything you like! And there are a thousand different ways to be an illustrator, and they’re all good. This is just the way that I do it.
I have a big computer screen, a keyboard and a mouse. I have a special pad that plugs into the computer, and whatever I draw on that shows up on the big screen. There’s also usually a few dirty dishes, and lots of piles of paper and books and jars of pens, and a lot of notebooks, all buried by musical instruments and chicken feathers and tins of things I’ve found on the beach. My Mum would tell you it looks like my bedroom always did.
But before I can start drawing, I have to do some reading. I think that to be a good illustrator, it helps to be a good reader.
The first step of illustrating The Gobbledegook Book was to sit down and read all the stories and poems over and over again, thinking carefully about how they made me feel and what I thought the best bits were.
I like to imagine myself inside each story, as if I’m there watching it all happen. This is why it’s so important to have a really good story, because when the writing is fantastic the setting and the characters just sort of bloom and come to life inside your head. I think about how things might smell or sound, and what I’d see happening in the background that might not be mentioned in the text. This is good fun, because this means I get to write a bit of the story too.
Lots of my drawings end up looking like things from my real life, and I think I draw best when I draw what I know about. The garden in The Giant Pumpkin could be my Mum’s garden, and those could be her pet chickens scratching for insects in the compost. My cousins and I used to clamber all over old rusty machinery on their farm when we were kids, and the youngest was always losing his gumboots and getting muddy socks just like in the story about The Little Tractor.
The first lines of Nicketty-Nacketty Noo-Noo-Noo transport me instantly to a pine forest where I used to work. The rows of tree trunks were so tall it felt a bit like being inside a cathedral, and the ground was always covered with wild blackberry, foxgloves and deadly nightshade. One day there was a thick, silent mist surrounding me and I remember thinking that it was exactly the sort of place to meet a goblin, a fairy, or an ogre.
Another thing that I do while I’m drawing is to pretend that I am the characters, and I try to feel what they must be feeling. Quite often I do this without even realising, and I pull a lot of funny faces while I work. It can be a bit exhausting sometimes, and I get a sore face at the end of the day!
When I’ve finished drawing all the pictures I show them to the lovely publishers and the book designer. We have a big discussion about what works well and what could be better, and I’ll make some changes to the illustrations if I need to. Finally, when everybody’s happy, my job is done!
And now The Gobbledegook Book is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults!
Giselle Clarkson is an illustrator based in Wellington, New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter and see more of her work on her website: giselledraws.com
The Gobbledegook Book is available where all good books are sold and on our website.
Find out more about the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults here.