Interview: illustrator Lisa Allen talks about Ooey Gooey Gone
Lisa Allen talks to NZ Booklovers about Ooey Gooey Gone.
You produce your own art, as well as illustrations. Can you tell us a little about your own work?
I work in a variety of mediums, but favour watercolour and graphite and produce detailed botanicals and natural history drawings. Occasionally I work in acrylics, mainly for landscape work but I find it a much slower process overall.
Why did you become an illustrator? Did a particular experience influence you?
Originally, I studied graphic design at art school, intending to major in illustration but instead ended up working in textile design for many years followed by magazine work, among many other things. I have freelanced for over twenty years. I was lucky to have a fantastic boss to start with in Ted Dutch, a fine artist in painting, ceramics and printmaking, who I worked for in the garment industry and he really trained me properly in illustration. I was so lucky to work for him, as he opened up my world visually and taught me so many traditional techniques from scratch. Everything I know digitally I have taught myself but there are still gaps in my knowledge. When I’m stuck I ask a fellow book illustrator what to do - she is always very helpful and in turn I try to do the same. Fourteen years ago I just decided to give books a go and it fell into place - I have been able to keep producing since then, which has been really fortunate.
What is your routine or process when illustrating a book? How do you decide the style and content of your illustrations for each book? It starts with background research for the first few weeks. Then I consider style. I try to experiment with each book to push myself a bit more in a new direction. I’ll decide on three approaches and then whittle it down to my favourite. Those ideas may come straight from my sketchbook or from something I’ve seen that I think matches. I’m always collecting ephemera, photographs, visual scraps from magazines and other children’s books. I also follow a lot of artists on social media. Initially too, I look at the overall design of the book, as typography is so important and I like to do the design myself where I can. It feels more natural for me to plan the whole book in its entirety from the very beginning, including and especially the fonts. I visualise it sitting on the shelf in a bookstore and go from there.
How did you come to be the illustrator for Ooey Gooey Gone?
I had worked previously with editor Louise Russell, who had produced my first book at Penguin, ‘Mangrove’ in 2007. We had kept in touch and been talking about some other manuscripts and she thought I’d be a good fit for this story and author. Even though I hadn’t done this style before, Louise was very open to my ideas.
What research was involved, if any?
Not too much for this particular story, as the illustrations are imagined scenes - we wanted Kiwiana, but not too much. It really just had to feel like summer so the colours were key. I decided on a pastel, ice-cream coloured palette and that is what ties the story together. The colours of ‘goody goody gum drops’ were perfect as a basis for ‘Ooey Gooey Gone’.
Has working on this book been different from the way you worked on previous books and/or with previous authors?
Yes, every book is completely different. With ‘Ooey Gooey Gone’ I tried a softer pencil line and digitally coloured it in layers, whereas the present book I’m on is entirely hand drawn and filled. Karen Mowbray was fabulous to work with and also very open to my ideas. I like to communicate directly with authors to understand what they are expecting from me and what styles they prefer. It doesn’t mean I stick with that verbatim, but I try to honour it in some way. It always makes the book better if the author likes what you do from the outset.
What did you enjoy most about illustrating this book?
I loved adding the back story of the seagulls. I felt that the naughty seagull shouldn’t win in the end, so it was fun to draw the scene where there is complete chaos as soon as he snaffles his prize. The seagulls were the best bit for me and I liked making some of them look slightly crazed. Having a connected but alternate back-story in the pictures makes it more fun for children and more interesting to read because there is so much happening.
Can you, or do you, listen to music when you are working? If so, who do you listen to?
Much of the time I do listen to music, but sometimes I listen to podcasts that interest me. Music is better though for work flow. I love pretty much everything (excluding death metal and rap!) but blues would be my favourite. Nina Simone, India Arie, Etta James, Aretha . . . etc.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
There are a few because of lockdown . . . I loved ‘Ripiro Beach’ by local author Caroline Barron. It was emotionally honest and spare, but at the same time an historical mystery. I wanted so much to know what happened that I read it in just two sittings. I also read Richard Flanagan’s - ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, ’Wunderland’ by Jennifer Cody-Epstein and Anne Enright’s, ‘The Green Road'. I have been reading junior fiction too. ‘Sticking with Pigs’ by Mary-anne Scott’, and after many years ‘Kaitangata Twitch’ by Margaret Mahy which I never read at the time it came out. In terms of picture books this year, ‘Starbird’ by Australian author/illustrator Sharon King-Chai is just gorgeous. I do think it is important to read kids books to stay connected.
What’s your next creative project?
I have a few projects in the works. My first book ‘Mangrove’ with author Glenda Kane is being revamped in hardback, which is super exciting for us both after 13 years. I have a lovely emotional literacy book for children in the works with author Rose Stanley which has lots of bright flowers and funny insects. Plus, another more realistically illustrated title coming soon with author Jennifer Beck. There are also a few more things in the mix for next year. It feels good to be busy and I prefer it that way.