Chapter Two: Climax! The Craft of Illustration

Skpe Session B: The Craft of Illustration with Caldecott award winning US illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky MC: Sarah Davis and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Paul Skyping from the US

Paul Skyping from the US

I’m an Illustrator and I was really looking forward to this amazing opportunity to listen to Paul O. Zelinsky. There is a lot of advice out there on illustration and how to develop as an Illustrator. Paul was really keen to not come across like his advice was the only way forward for an aspiring illustrator and I really appreciated that. Though, I agree with everything he said. Especially when I’ve had a recent portfolio critique from some amazing Art Directors and a subsequent master class with Sarah Davis - all of them sharing the key themes of ‘feeling’, ’heart of the story’ and ‘using different mediums to extend and stretch yourself as a visual storyteller’.

More info about Paul can be found on his website, Facebook ( and twitter (

Below is a recap of the discussion. Sarah Davies and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall collated questions fellow SCBWI members had and boiled them down to the following :

Q - When you receive a story, when you are illustrating someone else’s text, what is the process you go through, how do begin getting to grips with the text, breaking it down, working out which direction you want the illustrations to go in?

  • My first reaction….I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s one of the consequences of not having a really established style or way of working that I do the same time each time.
  • I read and read and read the text. Even if I wrote it, it doesn't really make a difference to me whether it was it was my text or someone else’s text - I kind of absorb it as much as I can. I am aiming to do the right thing for the text.
  • It’s free association, [ between feeling and what visual imagery to use ]

Often times, it’s what I don’t want the picture to look like. That’s enough of a clue to get me going a little bit.

I was not trained in illustration at all. I got a Masters degree in Painting. I think of Fine Art, the whole history of Art all kinds and all places.

  • What is the feeling that this text gives me?
  • What sort of pictures do those feelings call up?
  • I try to be in-tune with every level of feeling of the text.

Paul then showed us “The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless her Cat” by Lore Segal

This story has a feeling of ‘not cosiness’.

So German Expressionist (with its angles, and sharp lines, poking and not sitting flat) - that’s what I tried to do, pictures that would not sit flat, have angles and sharp points.

Q - Mediums - Do you have a favourite medium? How much experimentation does it take to match to the feel that you want to create? How do you go about deciding which medium you use?

At the beginning I don’t really have a handle what I want my pictures to be like. The medium is often the first I can settle on because of the feeling, because for me different mediums define different sorts of feelings.

“The Wheels on the Bus” adapted and Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s a jumpy song, bright and happy. The feeling that I wanted visually was not just colourful but also ‘chewy’ like bubblegum. The pictures should be something that you could want to chew on and they’d be sweet when you ate them.  The song is bouncy.

[So I went with] oil paint with a certain amount of thickness. The act of pushing oil paint across the page felt sort of like the feeling of singing the song.

‘Awful Ogre’s Awful Dday’ by Jack Prelutsky

There was a high level (castles, knights) and a low level (a messy, gruesome ogre). For a long time I wanted to make pictures that were like throwing mud - thick and droopy. I looked at Abstract

Expressionist paintings - visually interesting compelling gooey textures. I tried it for two weeks and despaired.  I then tried a combination of elegant line (inspired by Albrecht Durer) and  watercolour on top of it that would have its way of being messy.  The story had a high level and low level and I was trying to come up with ways to express that contradiction, which made the text so funny.

At the beginning I’m always worried that I won’t come up with anything.  Most of the time I’ve pulled myself through.

Paul's Zelinskograph

Paul's Zelinskograph

Paul then showed us his ‘Zelinskograph’ - a marvellous device he made so he could see a projection of his sketch on top of the surface he wanted to paint on. He called it a tracing box but his friends coined it the ‘Zelinskograph’.  Here’s great blog post with a clear photo of the ‘Zelinskograph’

Q - It has been heard that you’ve said. “Photoshop doesn’t have a lovely smell and you don’t engage in a physical dance as you would with physical material, as you would with pen and paper, but it takes forgiveness to whole new level”.  What’s the role that Photoshop plays for you?

I don’t expect to plan or go more and more digital. The last book I did was completely digital.

Paul then shows us some spreads from his hilarious book ‘Doodler Doodling’ by Rita Golden Gelman .  "I didn’t take a course in Photoshop, but I would try things. I did a lot of drawings on paper and then scanned them in and put them into Photoshop and every now and then a friend would say ‘oh do you know the right way to do that was this...’.  ‘Oh was it?’  and it would have saved me a lot of time if I had used Photoshop in a different way. So it turned out I did a lot of things wrong, wasted a lot of time, but learned a lot, too..

Spread from Doodler Doodling

Spread from Doodler Doodling

Photoshop allows me to do things that I could not have drawn.

I like the challenge - here’s the problem, what can I do to solve the problem… and if I come up with the solution then that’s just great and Photoshop is good for finding ways to coming up with solutions to certain problems.

Q - We have a lot of people who are just starting out in their Illustrator career - what’s pearls of wisdom could you provide?

Paul notes that this is just from his experience and not the only way.

  • I would encourage people to not limit your artistic vision to illustration, but think about the whole world of other kinds of art and everything. There are a lot of trends that happen in illustration… and if you look only at children's books then it’s limiting…and that’s just me because I didn’t study illustration.
  • I go to figure drawing and draw from the figure once a week if I can. Drawing from life is a great thing and is good for training.
  • In terms of ways that you can make images, I just look at different things.
  • And copy Art. It’s amazing what you can learn if you just start copying it.
  • Writers as an exercise will retype someone else’s story and the act of putting down someone’s words will give you insights.
  • Drawing from life is similar to copying from art. It teaches you to see more things then you would otherwise see.

Career advice? It’s different now  from when I started. Illustrators in the US, can send their work to Art Directors and it will be seen.   (Giuseppe: from what I’ve heard, it’s the same here in Australia. Publishers are always keen to receive samples of an Illustrator’s work.)

Q - how much freedom do you get to experiment? How much notice do you have to give your Publishers?

I show them at an early stage and I like to get feedback.

I look it as a terrific collaboration -  they need an artist, they need art…and they want someone with a vision, someone who can have interesting ideas. Everybody thinks that they are someone who wants to bring out the artistic potential in everybody. If you deal with people on that level - it is a collaboration. You try together to make it as interesting and fun as possible.

I’ll show them an idea very early. If I find they don’t like it I might agree. If I disagree then we’ll discuss it further.  Every publisher is different.

Questions from the audience :

Q - Do you still do painting for yourself?

No. When I first started out, I was making this distinction in my head, that this is for my art and this is for my illustration. I was using oil paint for my art and anything else for my illustration. I guess I came to the point I wanted to illustrate a Grimms' fairytale and I really needed/wanted to do it in oils, which blew my strategy out of the water. And then I started looking at the illustration work and I was making better art for the books than I was for myself. So I stopped and I don’t really miss it.

My ambition is channelled into the illustration I do - illustration is painting, it’s also pictures  telling stories and they are also as interesting as art as I can make them but they are also telling a story. I don’t think that it stops them from being art even though some may not think so.

Q - You mentioned a lot of about feeling - it’s the number one thing in your approach. What’s the second thing?

There will be feeling behind everything. The first thing that would help me make it would be the proportions of the book, is it going to vertical or horizontal and how much - and I guess that’s purely on feeling. I ask myself that and I can answer  because I know from having read the story.

The feelings are the sound basis for everything.

Every kind of real world physical question (what materials, what medium, etc) comes from the feeling but then you have what will the character look like… what should it not look like, what are the sensations of that character? are they soft or hard, big or little, darkness or lightness?

Hansel and Gretel…I had the feeling that it was about little children lost in a big wood and I could get the emotion to flood the image. That  was the basis of everything that I did …like the kinds of trees that I put in, the kinds of colours.

“The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless her Cat” by Lore Segal - I learnt from myself about using colour doing this book.

  • You don’t have to have a huge number of colours.
  • You can think of having a colour chord in relation to the book and that colours can change as the story changes and the emotions in the story change.
  • That was really a revelation and that too was all about the feeling of the story

[*Editorial addendum from Paul himself! "I thought afterwards that I should have answered the "what's the second thing" question differently: although I did speak in my response about book format andlook of character and use of color --so I wasn't totally deflecting the question back to my one answer of "feeling,"-- I wish I had mentioned the act of dividing the text up into pages. So much follows from the choices in that act-- the structure of a picture book; the rhythms and the pacing. Page turns are the one real dynamic artistic effect unique to books, and they are set in place by that one act, at the beginning, of taking the more or less continuous stream of text in a manuscript and turning into a 32-page (or whatever) codex. I didn't mention this and I wish I had. So I took the opportunity to tell you, even though I think it would be editorially wrong to include it here!"]

Susanne Gervay comes in to thank Paul, there’s a huge applause and that concludes the session.

Thanks Paul for your time - you wow’d us, you made us laugh, you left us inspired and empowered.

A big thanks again from the delegates there,


Giuseppe Poli Roving Reporter




Chapter Two: Ascending Action with a Big Twist! Bologna Brief with Frances Plumpton

Frances Plumpton in conversation with Susanne Gervay

Frances Plumpton in conversation with Susanne Gervay

Held over four days in the European spring, the Bologna Book Fair is a working trade fair in Italy especially for children’s literature. Literary agent and head of SCBWI in New Zealand, Frances Plumpton represented Australia and New Zealand at the Book Fair.

Some points Frances made:

  • SCBWI International only has a booth at the Fair every two years so it’s best to attend in those years otherwise it can be a lonely time.
  • SCBWI members from across the globe are welcome to meet others here and use it as a place ‘of refuge’ in the massive area.
  • The next SCBWI-attended one will be in 2018.
  • In 2016, there were over 1200 exhibitors. 98 countries and 55 languages were represented in the books and illustrations. 131 literary agents attended and so did 25,000 attendees.
  • IBBY also has a booth there.

Presenting at Bologna:

You can showcase your own book, but this year Frances represented our regional showcase which allowed people to browse through the books she’d brought. They included books from our two countries.

Some illustrators are able to get critiques with top illustrators and art directors. You can also sit at the SCBWI booth’s table and illustrate for the public as they walk past. The booth has a digital display as well. Frances also reminded authors they need to know if they have translation rights when presenting their books.

Illustrators have the chance to pin up an example of their art with business card on The Art Wall – a magnificent sight apparently.

Frances thought authors might have better chances to present their work at the smaller publishers’ booths. Certainly worth having conversations with them.

Anyone can buy the books at the end of the Fair, and most of the books are donated to the International Youth Library in Munich. Fellowships and grants are available here which may be worth checking out.

Frances also offered some great advice if you visit the Book Fair – don’t book your stay in the cheaper accommodation near the Fair site as it’s too far out of town in an industrial area. Best to be in the city itself – the connecting public transport is excellent.

There is so much to see in Bologna besides the Book Fair!

Jackie French and Gregg Dreise among those at this year's Bologna Book Fair

Jackie French and Gregg Dreise among those at this year's Bologna Book Fair

SCBWI creator and conference delegate, Peter Taylor then responded to Susanne’s quest for questions:

'Time was tight and when Susanne asked for ‘one last very quick question’, and instead I took the microphone and gave a short account of my Bologna experience in 2010. That was obviously unplanned and I would have liked to have prepared and said more.

While gatekeepers kept me out of the stands of Usborne and Walker Books, for example, when I arrived well-dressed between other publishers’ appointments, their personnel asked who I was and what I was looking at, wondering if I was their next appointee. I said ‘I am an author looking to see if you have any books likely to compete with my new one....’ (they were all curious to find out if mine would compete with a book of theirs, and were eager to chat) ‘…and I’m also looking to see if you have any gaps in your list that I may be able to fill.’

Publishers often do want a book on a specific subject, but don’t advertise the fact.

I studied a wide range of papercrafts at art colleges and in the past I’ve also been a biologist, school teacher, museum curator and natural history freak.

My book at that time was Practical Calligraphy, pub. Hinkler Books, and a Canadian publisher at Bologna also had a new calligraphy book on their stand. They said ‘…but we didn’t really want a calligraphy book. What we actually wanted a book on drawing borders, but we didn’t find anyone to write it.’ What an opportunity! I can send a proposal and sample chapter on a creating border designs…

Trying the same lines at the London Book Fair, I suggested to one publisher, GMC Publications, that I could write a ‘Fun Lettering for Children’ book for them, but they said ‘What we’d really like is a book for adults on Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking’ – which I created over two years and didn’t follow up on other leads.

At Bologna and the LBF, I also found publishers wanting books written on papermaking, recipes that children can cook, the sea shore, baby elephants, fungi, kangaroos, small furry animals, and more. I wonder if any of the publishers still want a book on any of these topics – I’ve kept their business cards…

But just knowing that a publisher wants a book on fungi may not be enough to write a successful proposal and sample chapters. Attending Bologna is useful to see the overseas publisher’s ‘house style’, especially in a series, and their books may never appear on a bookstore or library shelf for consultation in Australia.'

SCBWI at the Bologna Book Fair 2016 (essential reading)

Australia/New Zealand at the Bologna Book Fair:


 Thank you, Frances and Susanne for this very interesting session. It certainly whetted my appetite to attend the Fair one day.

Sheryl Gwyther Roving Reporter



Chapter Two: 100 years of The School Magazine

The panel

The panel

A Centenary of School Magazine with (Editor) Alan Edwards, (Contributors) Sheryl Gwyther, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall and Wendy Fitzgerald and (Graphic Designer) Josemalene Ruaya.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of The School Magazine, which began publication in 1916 and is now the longest running children’s literary publication in the world. To commemorate this momentous occasion SCBWI included a panel discussion about the School Magazine and their publication process, as a part of the 2016 Conference. Chaired by Sheryl Gwyther, author   and prolific contributor for the magazine, the panel provided an interesting and informative overview of the magazine’s process and it’s glorious 100-year history.

For those who don’t know, The School Magazine is Australia’s foremost literary magazine for children, filled with texts of literary merit that encourage children to read for pleasure and explore stories. Editor Alan Edwards says “we are trying to instill a love of reading in our young students and I think we have done a pretty good job of that over the last century”.

In honor of their birthday The School Magazine has recently released “For Keeps” An anthology of stories, poems and plays from the last century of publications. It is a visual and literary feast for adults and children alike. I spoke with designer, Wendy Rapee, about her choices in putting together this gorgeous treasury.

“It was with a sense of nostalgia I approached this task, so the palette is soft and slightly dusty. Right from the start I wanted to contextualise the pieces for kids of today as well as evoking nostalgia for past readers."

The School Magazine publishes 4 different magazines aimed at children in years 3, 4, 5 and 6 at school.

  • Countdown (year 3)
  • Blast Off (year 4)
  • Orbit (year 5)
  • Touch Down (year 6)


They produce 40 magazines a year along with 40 teaching guides, with each issue lovingly assembled by a hardworking and dedicated team including panelists Alan Edwards and Josemalene Ruaya.

Jose is The School Magazine’s only graphic designer, single handedly responsible for the look and layout of 40 publications per year. Jose gave a fascinating breakdown of her design process and philosophy for the magazine saying

“I tend to design to make our pieces inviting to read and to make sure that the layout and the illustrations and graphics support and enrich the text rather than overwhelm it…we use illustration in many different ways. We always try to add something else that there isn’t space for in the text, we always try to support what’s going on in the text and add value to what’s already there”

The School Magazine has had the input of some of Australia's most prominent children's writers and illustrators throughout their 100-year existence, including but certainly not limited to, Aaron Blabey, Sarah Davis, Duncan Ball, Patricia Wrightson and Ursula Dubosarsky and panelists, Sheryl Gwyther and Wendy Fitzgerald.

Wendy Fitzgerald discussing her latest contribution

Wendy Fitzgerald discussing her latest contribution

As a matter of fact Neridah McMullin’s new picture book “Fabish” came from a story originally published in “Blast Off “Magazine in 2011. The School Magazine has a reputation for inspiring books and launching careers.

But anyone involved in the world of children’s books and primary education already knows this, what made the SCBWI session stand out from all the other celebrations this year, was the way it detailed The School Magazine’s process from submission to publication. Providing a real insight for writers and illustrators about submitting their work and what to expect when they do.

A couple of interesting facts;

  • The School Magazine is one of the last publications in Australia that accepts unsolicited manuscripts.
  • It is also one of the last places that will publish poetry now, making it’s existence even more important on the literary stage for writers and readers alike.

So if anyone is interested in submitting to the School Magazine and wants to know what happens once you do, the process is pretty simple.

For writers:

  • The School Magazine accepts prose, stories, plays, poetry and fiction. 
  • When a manuscript comes in the assessment process usually takes about 4 months and it is read by 3 or 4 different people, before having a decision made on whether it will be accepted or not.
  • Once a submission has been accepted the magazine contacts the author, purchases the piece AND pays them straight away!

"Choice is driven by the quality of the writing." Alan Edwards on the submission decision process

How to submit to The School Magazine

How to submit to The School Magazine

Just another great advantage for contributors to The School Magazine, they pay upon purchase and their purchase is for single use only. So if they want to use your work again, you get paid again, at a reduced rate. Once the piece has been purchased they will wait for the right issue to come up before placing it. Generally you will know when it’s time because a copy of The School Magazine arrives, like a present, in your mailbox.

"Everything we do must add value to the text" Josemalene Ruaya on magazine design

For Illustrators,:

  • The School Magazine provides a rotating cycle of opportunity by having a pool of illustrators it draws upon year round, choosing the illustrator that best suits the written work.
  • Submissions are open for certain periods of time each year, usually June to July but this can change, so it ‘s best to keep an eye on the website. 
  • Just like with written work, illustrators also retain their rights and purchase is for a single use only.

"Illuminate not decorate" Marjorie Crosby-Fairall on her illustrative briefs

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall discussing the magazine's illustrative briefs

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall discussing the magazine's illustrative briefs

Throughout this panel one point became abundantly clear, EVERYONE has nothing but reverence and deep respect for The School Magazine. The people who work to bring it to life, are deeply impassioned individuals who strive to expose our kids to quality literature.  To be accepted as a contributor is an honor, a validation of literary merit and something people own with great pride. So why not try submitting your work and see where The School Magazine could take you too…

Kel Butler Roving Reporter