Five minutes with Kylie Howarth

Kylie Howarth is an award winning Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic designer. Original illustrations and draft materials from her most recent picture book 1, 2, Pirate Stew (Five Mile Press) are currently showing in The Story Place Gallery.

We spent some time hearing from Kylie Howarth about the ideas and inspiration behind her work. Here’s what she had to say…

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1, 2, Pirate Stew is all about the power of imagination and the joys of playing in a cardboard box. How do your real life experiences influence your picture book ideas? What role does imagination play?

The kids and I turned the box from our new BBQ into a pirate ship. We painted it together and made anchors, pirate hats and oars. They loved it so much they played in it every day for months… and so the idea for 1, 2, Pirate Stew was born. It eventually fell apart and so did our hot water system, so we used that box to build a rocket. Boxes live long lives around our place. I also cut them up and take them to school visits to do texture rubbings with the students.

Your illustrations for 1, 2, Pirate Stew are unique in that they incorporate painted textures created during backyard art sessions with your children. What encouraged you to do this? How do your children’s artworks inspire you?

I just love children’s paintings. They have an energy I find impossible to replicate. Including them in my book illustrations encourages kids to feel their art is important and that they can make books too. Kids sometimes find highly realistic illustrations intimidating and feel they could never do it themselves. During school and library visits, they love seeing the original finger paintings and potato stamp prints that were used in my books.
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Through digital illustration you have blended hand drawings with painted textures. How has your background and training as a graphic designer influenced your illustrative style?

Being a graphic designer has certainly influenced the colour and composition of my illustrations. In 1, 2, Pirate Stew particularly the use of white space. Many illustrators and designers are afraid of white space but it can be such an effective tool, it allows the book to breathe. The main advantage though is that I have been able to design all my own book covers, select fonts and arrange the text layout.

Sometimes ideas for picture books evolve and change a lot when working with the publisher. Sometimes the ideas don’t change much at all. What was your experience when creating 1, 2, Pirate Stew? Was it similar or different to your previous books Fish Jam and Chip?

I worked with a fabulous editor, Karen Tayleur on all three books. We tweaked the text for Fish Jam and Chip a little to make them sing as best we could. With 1, 2, Pirate Stew however, the text was based on the old nursery rhyme 1, 2, Buckle My Shoe. So there was little room to move as I was constrained to a limited number of syllables and each line had to rhyme. I think we only added one word. I did however further develop the illustrations from my original submission. Initially the character’s faces were a little more stylised so I refined them to be more universal. Creating the mini 3D character model helped me get them looking consistent from different angles throughout the book. I also took many photographs of my boys to sketch from.

1, 2, Pirate Stew – an exhibition is on display at the State Library of Western Australia until 22 June 2017. The exhibition is part of a series showcasing the diverse range of illustrative styles in picture books published by Western Australian authors and illustrators. For more information go to http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au