Up close with Bruce Whatley

Roving reporter and conference photographer, Lesley Vamos, records her impressions of our key-note guest speaker, multi-award-winning writer/illustrator, Bruce Whatley.

Wearied by gruelling advertising deadlines, Bruce Whatley wanted to write and illustrate children's books. So he turned a photograph of a kangaroo, taken whilst he was holidaying, into a character. He had the beginnings of a book idea. However, upon appraisal from publishers he was told that the manuscript needed work.

Instead of simply walking away, Whatley spontaneously pitched a story about his dog. He later went home and quickly conceived of and wrote this story from scratch. Within three days the book dummy for "The Ugliest Dog in The World" was on the editor's desk. Being familiar with quick turn arounds, he finished the book in three weeks. 

Within the next six weeks Whatley also went on to conceptualize and finish “Looking for Crabs” (a story based on his son). These two books are still in print 22 years later.

Whatley continued making books in Australia, alongside his wife Rosie Smith. Then the duo wrote "Quest" and it was picked up in the US. Whatley and family moved to the States for four years to work on upwards of 50 books. Tired of being a "hired wrist" he and his family moved back to Australia to continue the "Smith-Whatley" empire.

When considering illustrating another author's story, Whatley says that it needs to "mean something". He needs to be able to see the book come together as he reads it. 

Once arriving home from the U.S. Whatley realised with dismay that the illustration world had changed while he wasn't looking. It was not only being "played on another field" but artists such as Shaun Tan had taken it to a "different planet".

Dissatisfied with his work and wanting to eliminate the gap between illustrator and artist, Whatley set about bettering his craft. He realised, after tiring out his right hand, that when he switched to illustrating with his left hand he had better access to the right side of his brain. As a consequence he was able to create a deeper sense of expression and emotion. He went on to complete a doctorate on this topic.  

Since this time he has created a few books using only his left hand (including: Flood, Giants of Galapagos), initially attempting to publish them under the alias Maingauche (French for left hand). Whatley continues to pursue different methods of construction and artistry by dabbling in all forms of creative expression - 3D, paint, pencils etc… His latest venture, due for publication in 2016, involves building and lighting his world in the software suite Cinema 4D. Whatley digitally constructs his environment and renders the final illustrations in heightened detail using graphite. This will be his most ambitious book yet consisting of around 100 pages. Whatley says it is a work that contains no compromises.