How did you enter the world of children's books?
It was quite by accident. I always loved books and drawing, but hadn't actually considered being an author or an illustrator professionally. I was actually planning a career in music, but then I met someone socially who worked for a greeting card company. They saw some of my drawings and suggested I try my hand at drawing for greeting cards. The card company didn't want to use any of my drawings on their cards, but I showed those same drawings to a publisher (who I also met socially through a mentor in the music business – I know, it's a very complicated story) who said, ‘Why don't you submit a picture book idea to us, and we'll see what happens?' And it kind of went from there.
Do you have a favourite part of the illustration process?
Yes, it's the colouring-in part. I find the most difficult part of the process is coming up with the ideas. That usually involves sitting with a cup of tea and doing nothing. Then the initial sketches can also be a tortuous process as that's where the ideas are fine-tuned. Sometimes that can take days, but once that's done the whole thing seems to start flowing as the colours go down.
What medium do you most like to work with?
I don't have a favourite medium though the two I tend to use most, sometimes even mixing them together are: oil painting on canvas, and using a graphics tablet. Sometimes I'll do a painting on canvas, then photograph it and finish it on screen. I use a Wacom Cintiq tablet and the program I use is Corel Painter. But I also use acrylic paints on paper, coloured pencils, crayons, pastels and occasionally watercolour paint. I sometimes use pen and ink. I've also experimented, mixing things like wood working glue and marine varnish into the paint (sometimes with disastrous results, but it's a lot of fun).
Did you have a favourite children's book artist growing up?
I didn't have a particular artist I was fond of, but particular books. I loved a book called Crictor, by Tomi Ungerer. It's about a pet boa constictor. Another book I loved is called Nellie Come Home, by Rowland Emett, which is about an old rusty railway engine. I was a huge fan of Tin Tin, by Hergé, and I also loved the Phantom comics and Burne Hogarth's comic strip version of Tarzan. Dr Suess has always been a favourite too.
You are not only an artist and illustrator, but a musician? Can you tell us a little bit about this creative side?
I trained as a classical guitarist and was going to do that as a career at one stage (when I was about 21) but then had my first picture book published and that kind of took over. I did also study music composition at university, which led, years later, to my work as a composer. The guitar emerged again years later as well, though in a slightly different form than what I originally studied. I became a professional flamenco guitarist. These days I work as a composer and am currently setting some of the picture books I have worked on to music. I'm very lucky in that an ensemble from the West Australian Symphony Orchestra will be playing a couple of my pieces (Parachute and Tree) this year. I'm also currently working on an opera and a symphony.
Do you have a piece of work that you are particularly proud of?
For music, I am proud of Tree as it's a piece of music that travels through many different emotional states in only seven minutes, which is a hard thing to do!
As a visual artist, there's a painting I did for The School Magazine a few years ago called A Dad Time, which shows the shadow of a child and an adult on water, and there's a fish just under the water too, all very difficult things to do technically, but I'm happy with the way it turned out.
What tips do you have for those looking to illustrate as a career?
Make sure you know how to draw people, particularly faces and hands. All artists struggle with these things, so it's really important to sort out your technique for them early on. I think that the other important thing is to learn as many techniques in as many media, including on-screen media, as you can.
To find out more about Matt Ottley visit his website