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…


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.

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

Five minutes with Sally Watts

Western Australian artist Sally Watts’ paper mache dog sculptures and 2D collages feature in our current exhibition Reigning Cats & Dogs.  

We spent five minutes with Sally and discovered the passion and process behind her work as as an artist and illustrator. Here’s what she had to say…


Puppies under construction produced as part of Sally Watts workshop held at State Library of Western Australia, 2015.

Pets, particularly dogs are the subject of your paper mache sculptures. What inspired you to create the Paper Puppies series?  

Dogs in particular have always been dear to me but because of a life of postings, first though my father and then my husband, it was quite impossible to have a pet. When we were finally able to stay in Australia we welcomed a tiny, energetic bundle of fur into our family of three: a long-legged Jack Russell named Myrmidon Jack Irish Beau.  Beau for short and that was the only thing small about him. He was larger than life and gave us all much affection and amusement with his antics as well as a few heart stopping moments when he climbed a tree and escaped over the garden fence as a young pup.  Jackies are notorious for wanting to know what is around the corner…and the next one too.  I spent a couple of frantic hours calling his name and waving a chicken wing about until he spotted it across the park and claimed his prize (in his eyes anyway).  He was quick to learn “party tricks” and loved to perform to an adoring audience.  As a youngster he would enjoy basking in the sun and keeping a sharp eye out on proceedings in his garden.  This was done sitting on the roof of his kennel-just like Snoopy the cartoon dog . Walks were high on his To-Do-List and socialising with the neighbourhood dogs in the park was a morning occurrence.  He was a patient model when I wanted to draw him and he even found his way into some of my book illustrations. We were fortunate to share such a long time-17 years-with our little doggie dynamo.  We love him still.


Sally Watts, puppy preliminary drawing, pen on paper,2015

Many of us have attempted some form of paper mache sculpture, often with mixed results.Your Paper Puppies are smooth sculptures, they almost look like they are made out of clay. How do you achieve this affect?  

The construction of the paper and plaster dogs is unusual in that an internal wire armature is not used. at all. The strength comes from binding tape and the many layers of paper and gesso (containing a high percentage of plaster).  The whole process of producing a dog can take  up to two weeks depending on drying time and the number of layers of paper and plaster.

Recycling and sustainability are key themes in your works.  Why do you feel this is important?

My dog series has grown from a strong desire to contribute to sustainability but in a quirky way.  A way that others may adopt and utilize in their art practice. Using re-purposed materials (newspaper, cardboard, envelopes, scrap paper and junk mail) to form a lively characterisation of man’s best friend, shares the important message of the versatility and re-usability of materials which are normally discarded.  My eco-friendly sculptures start as disregarded rubbish-household paper waste and then take on a new life.

I like to think by encouraging others to make their own “Man’s Best Friend” I am, in a small way, helping to spotlight the great need to reuse and recycle one of our world’s precious commodities.

Your life of travel has influenced your ‘Letter From Home’ series.  How do you determine which items are included in the collages?  What meaning do these works hold for you?

For my collages I have been collecting text, tickets, maps, illustrations and more from my many homes over many years in many countries. I have always been fascinated and inspired by the mundane printed materials of everyday life in our throw-away society.  Each collage in the series Letters from Home begins with long accumulated found items from “home”, wherever that was, and become a part of a personal jig-saw and a journey down Memory Lane.  I take these pieces of memory and layer them.  This layering and patching of words, letters and colours create their own tensions and harmonies within abstract compositions.  From this manipulation emerges a pattern of recalled personal memory. Some text can be read easily, some is intentionally obscured.  Just as a memory is sometimes sharp and intense and at other times only a fragment will surface to tease.  The items themselves are commonplace and trigger a particular thought for me but the same piece, because of it familiarity, will most certainly evoke a completely different, yet no less powerful, memory for others. I use this imagery to evoke memory, both for myself, of a time and place left behind, and for the viewer.  At the same time these words, pictures and patterns are also an integral part of the overall visual design.  My collages are made with original source material.

Reigning Cats and Dogs is on in The Place at the State Library until 20 July.
Explore artwork of pets from the Peter Williams Collection of Illustrations, including artworks by Julie Vivas, Leigh Hobbs, Shaun Tan, Jane Tanner, Ron Brooks and more. 
For more information visit: State Library Website