The School Magazine is fortunate in having a wide range of skilled illustrators creating amazing artwork. One of the most admired illustrators in Australia, the talented Noela Young, started illustrating for The School Magazine about
sixty years ago—in 1952, when Noreen Shelley was the editor. Noela is also known for her artwork in The Muddleheaded Wombat, Granpa, Toby and many other works for children by such well-known authors as Patricia Wrightson, Lilith Norman, Emily Rodda, Ruth Park and Christobel Mattingley.
We recently had a chat with Noela about her background as an artist and illustrator.
Was there some point at which you realised you wanted to be an artist?
No. I didn't consciously decide to become an artist. I never thought of art as a career. I always loved drawing and wanted to became a person who was a good drawer!
How did it happen that you did, in fact, become ‘a good drawer'.
When I was in Infants school, the headmistress told my mother that I had artistic ability and urged her to foster that. My mother had read that the Children's Library Movement was offering art classes. There was a library in the city behind St Mary's Cathedral [in Sydney] then, and it was actually there that I started taking art classes. Phyllis Shillito, who was Head of Design at the National Art School, was running the classes and used her students as volunteers to help run them. I went along and really liked the classes.
Then Phyllis had a falling-out with the people in charge of the library and withdrew the classes. My mother was really disappointed and contacted Phyllis, who, she discovered, was starting classes of her own in Rose Bay. So I was sent off on the bus to take those classes. Later on, when I was deciding what to study at University, Phyllis said, "Sit for a scholarship to go to Art School." But it was a five-year art course full-time, and the only way a civilian could get in was through a scholarship. (That was because this was after World War II and many other students were former soldiers who were supported by the government.)
So you got the scholarship.
Yes, I got the scholarship and started the course, which was in an old jail in Darlinghurst. And most of my fellow students were ex-solidiers! There were two years of introductory courses, and then you chose an area to specialise in. I chose illustration.
And once you graduated in 1951—with the College Medal for the Highest Honours in Illustration— then what?
Then I became a freelance illustrator. One of my first jobs was doing decorative headings for "The Fruit and Vegetable News". I also did some commercial work doing greeting card illustration. There weren't that many books being published at the time, and it was a way of having ongoing experience doing illustration. The "Fruit and Vegetable News" office was in the same building as Smith Publishers, and I was able to leave a portfolio there, which started me off in book illustration. So I always like to say that many of the things that happened in my illustrating life were just by chance—out of my control altogether.
So some of your first professional work was related to fruit and vegetables, and yet in The School Magazine, at least, your human and animal illustrations are particularly memorable.
Well, I just like animals! My training at art school was very thorough. We did anatomy and all the basics, which certainly helps your ability to draw living creatures.
What do you think are the most important qualities for an artist to have?
I think you need to really appreciate what the author is trying to say. If you know what's going on in the writer's head, you can express it similarly while contributing something of your own.
You've illustrated books by such a wide range of widely acclaimed writers over the years. What makes you keep wanting to illustrate for The School Magazine?
Mostly because the people who work for The School Magazine have mostly seemed to be friendly and sympathetic and seem to really appreciate what you're trying to do. It's also a good way of keeping in touch with other illustrators. The subject matter is so diverse. Research fascinates me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators or artists?
If you want to be a musician, you play basic notes. When you can manage those easily you move on to more complicated pieces. If you take the trouble to learn basic drawing, you will be more capable of expressing more emotion through your work successfully.