Graeme Base

Graeme Base


His Life I was born in Amersham, England on 6.4.58. My family moved to Australia when I was eight and I went to Box Hill High School and then Melbourne High School. I liked to draw and write at school and I liked books by J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame.

I wrote my first book at the age of eight (it was a Book of Monsters and I did all the illustrations in coloured pencil), but I didn’t get anything actually published till much later. I was always interested in art at school and after year twelve Asenior year?, I spent three years studying Graphic Design at college. I worked in advertising for two years but didn’t like it much, then began doing a bit of illustration work for various publishers. I began illustrating children’s books because of a growing disillusionment with the sort of work I was doing in the advertising industry. Book publishing offered me the chance to be far more creative.

I live in Melbourne, Australia with my wife, Robyn, our son, James, daughter, Katherine and baby son, William. Melbourne is a city of about 3,000,000 people and is situated on the edge of a large bay in the south of the state of Victoria, Australia. No on else in my family is an author, but my sister is a designer.

What does my house look like? It’s double story and built of red bricks. It is surrounded by a smallish but pleasant leafy garden.

My only real hobby is playing music. I write a lot of music on guitar and keyboards and hope one day to make a record or maybe even write the score for a film. Whenever I need a break from my illustration work I pick up the guitar or pick out a tune on the piano–I d love to work as a musician!

My favourite food is stuffed roulade of wildebeest with a light garnish of squid ink.

His Work I work at home in a special studio in my house. When I started illustrating books, I decided it would make more sense to try writing them as well. I found illustrating other people’s texts frustrating in that I didn’t have the freedom to make alterations to the text so that the words and pictures would be a better match. My first ideas for books were turned down by lots of publishers, but I finally succeeded with My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch in 1983. This was the first book I had published that I both wrote and illustrated.

I prefer drawing to writing–in fact I only write books so that I can have the fun of illustrating them!

When I begin work on a new book, I know there is a long road ahead and I can never really be sure whether other people will like it when it’s finished. The Eleventh Hour took two years to create and Animalia took three–that’s a long time to spend on any project!

I don’t actually write my books primarily for children, although I know this is the main market for my work. I write them for myself in order to fulfil a creative desire and only after these considerations do I look at the requirements of a “children’s book,” whatever that might be! My advice to young writers and illustrators is to do it for yourself first–don t try to write for any particular market.

Is it hard to become well known? Well I was very lucky in that one of my early books, Animalia, became popular–after one book has worked it often seems that subsequent books enjoy a wider readership.

My artwork is done primarily as a form of self-expression, although I am aware that many aspects of my natural illustrative style (e.g., bold colours and lots of detail) attract children and can perhaps inspire them.

It’s hard to say where ideas come from. Often they arrive just when you’re in the middle of something else–and it’s very important that they don’t get away: you must always write them down or draw a picture of them as soon as possible. I have pages and pages of scribbles and notes for books and other projects in a cupboard in my studio just waiting for a chance to become reality.

The basis of my illustration is fantasy but I constantly refer to reality in order to make the fantasy more convincing.

My paintings are done on illustration board with watercolours and transparent inks, using brushes, pencils, technical drawing pens, and a scalpel (for scratching). I also use a very special tool called an airbrush which actually sprays colours onto the board (very handy for painting skies and mist and breath from horses’ mouths!).

I welcome and embrace computers as a tremendously valuable aid in producing creative work, written, visual and musical. My most recent project utilises a powerful SGI computer to allow me to capture on screen video images of movable models of some of the main characters that I will feature in the book, and output hard copy as reference for my final illustrations.

About the Books Animalia came from a genuine desire to illustrate everything! (I just thought it would be a good idea to organise things alphabetically.)

The Eleventh Hour was inspired by a summer of reading Agatha Christie novels; The Sign of the Seahorse was inspired by my first experience of scuba diving.

Animalia came from a great love of animals and a desire to create a book with huge amounts of detail and things to discover. That was the sort of book I remember enjoying as a child. I wrote it in alliterative form because I thought it would be a lot of fun for people to read aloud. I put the little boy in every picture to make people look closely at the pictures rather than rush through from page to page. It’s really a picture of me when I was young! The word ‘Animalia’ is Latin for Animal Kingdom.

My favourite page in Animalia is the Horrible Hairy Hogs but the Lazy Lions runs a close second. The picture which took the longest to paint was the Proud Peacocks–I worked on that one for three months. The Hogs took two months.

I’m afraid I can’t supply you with a list of every object in the pages of –I found very early on in the life of this book that I could never hope to write a comprehensive list, as people constantly came up with new insights into the pictures. And besides, it defeats the purpose of the book to set up a finite ‘goal’–it would put an end to something which should be never- ending!

In The Eleventh Hour my favourite page is the Snakes and Ladders Game but I like the Hide and Seek Game a lot too. The picture which took the longest to create was the Feast–all that food took ages to get right! The Entrance Hall took quite a while too; did you know the architecture was based on St. Peter’s in Rome?

I travelled overseas in 1987 collecting ideas for The Eleventh Hour, and spent a month in the game parks of Kenya and Tanzania. It was an incredible experience to travel through herds of zebras and wildebeest and see giraffes, rhinos, elephants, lions, cheetahs, hippos, crocodiles and even a leopard running free in the wilds of Africa! I hope to return there one day.

The only secret that is not revealed in The Inside Story at the back of The Eleventh Hour is the name of the Swan, but here is a clue–the answer lies in the cards!

I got the idea for The Sign of the Seahorse during a trip overseas in 1989. It was mostly a working visit to the USA, but we managed to spend a bit of time in Ecuador, Peru and the Caribbean as well. The best places we went to were the Galapagos Islands, famous for their incredible wildlife, the Ecuadorian Amazon, where we journeyed up the river in a dugout canoe, and Martinique, where we went scuba diving. It was during this last adventure in the Caribbean that the idea for a book set underwater came to me, but I actually came back from the trip with enough ideas and reference material for several other books as well!

My favourite pages in The Sign of the Seahorse are The Seahorse Cafe, The Soldiercrabs and The Deep, but I have found that a lot of people seem to like the Discovery of Paradise illustration because it is so full of light after the dark and gloomy pages that precede it.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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