A Week In The Mountains or How Come I Could Do It Then and Not Now!

Posted by Nette on Jul 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have just returned from the most wonderful week in the Blue Mountains staying at Margaret Hamilton’s Pinerolo learning to be an illustrator. I actually WON this opportunity for my latest  picture book idea that I submitted to Margaret who loved it… and so my newest journey began.

Not the journey to the mountains. That was exciting as well. My first trip in my new second hand camper – didn’t sleep in it. Trust me, sleeping out in the Blue Mountains is for the birds and they’d be furry ones at that. I carried with me all the tools of my new trade, paints, paint brushes, pencils, erasers (lots of them), paper, scissors, glue, books that I love that I use for my guide (lots of them) and…ambition.

Margaret and Max greeted me and didn’t even look startled as I unloaded the camper and filled their lovely studio. Oh, that studio is to die for… every wall, every space is adorned with original artworks and, as the week went by, I grew more and more awestruck at the talent of our kids’ book illustrators. How did Patricia Mullins get that eyeball in exactly the right place? How did Dee Huxley get that wonderful orange and the sense of longing with so few lines? How did Stephen Axelsen fit all that together so it looks good? And how did Stephen Michael King get that blue? Margaret, who promised she hadn’t noticed the lights going on and off as I helter-skeltered from one artwork to the other trying to find the #@$! S.M.K’s blue hidden in the four thousand tubes of blue that I had, called in Helen the Water Colourist. Oh, thank you Margaret, and thank you Helen. What a wonderful opportunity to sit and listen to someone break down the colour code, to have someone open a book and talk about the way the artist has added another dimension by adding the complement of a colour (oh, joy – so many many many things to learn).


My newest picture book, which will probably be published when I’m ninety, has all sorts of added extras – as you’d expect from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Margaret, again, (what a wonderful woman), didn’t get fazed – she called in Victoria, the expert designer and publisher in her own right, to suggest ways we could include my fantastic ideas in this book. And you know what? Not only did I learn heaps about books and printing and layout, I also learned how to learn without giving up – the top requirement – a good teacher. Victoria was enthusiastic and excited and a great listener when I read the story aloud (more on this later). Eventhough she could see the difficulties of what I am intending to do, she didn’t simply shrug her shoulders and suggest that it wouldn’t work. This is the best, best way to learn. If it harder to accomplish, then work harder because it will be so much more worthwhile – think of all the things you learn on the way, think of the problems you’ve created that only you can solve (given the help and support of someone who believes in you). And isn’t that the secret… you can do anything if someone believes in you.

So, tips from Margaret that I’ll share with you. Tip Number 1 – when you write a story you have to read it aloud to as many people as you can (tie them to a chair if necessary). Tip Number 2 – learn the craft of your work. This isn’t the story and the lovely ideas you have. Its the absolute ‘how a book is made’ from the first fold up. Learn the words you need to know – gutter (thank-you Brian),  die (not me, that way books are folded – I think – oops, need to check spelling but I know what I mean), dummy book, story board, paper engineering, technicians – the list goes on but the more I learnt the more I was informed about what might make my book work. Easy to suggest I’d like a fake invitation stuck in but hey, did I even think about how that would happen? Someone actually does it! I mean, how much does this add to the cost of bookmaking and…there’s another thing I began to learn. How much a plan for a book is dependent on how much it is going to cost to produce it. And another thing, sometimes books just can’t be produced – they are technically impossible. Now I understand how my ‘Bear Book’ didn’t work. Doesn’t make me happy but at least I know why it wasn’t possible.


At home again I am sitting surrounded by paints and paper and inks and brushes. I’m at the start of my new learning – one thing always sets off another, doesn’t it. My incredible achievements with Margaret’s tuition are staring at me and encouraging me to push on… even when I’m feeling overcome by the prospect of the whole journey. And that, I think, is the secret of my week in Pinerolo – you learn that the longest, hardest journey starts off small – a step at a time – one scribbled line on one blank page and then another. One colour and then another and, when that messes up, you just stand still for a bit and then take another step in a slightly different direction – a small one. That way you don’t have so far to find your way forward again.

Thank you Margaret. And Pinerolo.

And Brian, who listened to my excited babble when I discovered that I could, I had, I did make a picture board!!!!

From a couple of scratchy drawings to a completed storyboard – shows what a residency can do – especially one in the mountains with Margaret!

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