Do you sell your artwork, or prints?
Do you accept commissions?
Where can I find your books
Do you do school visits and talks?
Permission to reproduce images or text?
Are you or Facebook or Twitter?
What books influenced you the most as a child?
How did you become an artist?
How would you define illustration?
Why do you use humour in your books?
How do you create a picture book?
Do you start with words or pictures?
How do you make a finished illustration?
Do you have much involvement with book design?
Which artists’ work most influences your own?
What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Tips on Getting Published
Generally I don’t sell original artworks from my books, although sometimes will exhibit small works in galleries such as Books Illustrated (www.booksillustrated.com.au) in Melbourne – who deal internationally – and The Illustration Cupboard in London, who welcome inquiries and communicate with me directly. Some small original works are occasionally available for sale through The Literature Centre (www.thelitcentre.org.au) in Fremantle, Western Australia.
Any forthcoming exhibitions will be listed on my blog, The Bird King: thebirdking.blogspot.com.au
LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
I produce a large range of limited edition giclee prints of certain paintings from The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, The Rabbits, The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia. These are approximately 330 x 480mm, on archival or water-colour paper using pigmented inks (lightfast), in signed limited editions of 500 or 300. Look here to see all available prints.
Some of these may be available though the galleries mentioned above, particularly Books Illustrated who deal internationally - if you are interested, please visit the Shaun Tan Limited Edition Prints page. They are also happy to sell work to overseas clients.
Several Bookstores and galleries exhibit and sell most available prints:
New York: BOOKS OF WONDER
18 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011
Santa Monica, LA: Every Picture Tells A Story...
1311-C Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403
London: THE ILLUSTRATION CUPBOARD
22 Bury Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6AL
Melbourne and internationally: BOOKS ILLUSTRATED Open by appointment, 300 Beaconsfield Parade, Middle Park 3206 (03) 9534 7751 Contact Ann Haddon <email@example.com>, www.booksillustrated.com.au
Perth: PLANET BOOKS 636-638 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley WA 6050, ph 08 9328 7464
'FOUND' at FREMANTLE ARTS CENTRE, 1 Finnerty St, Fremantle WA
FREMANTLE CHILDREN'S LITERATURE CENTRE Old Fremantle Prison, cnr Ord & Knutsford Rd, Fremantle, tel 08 9430 6869. Only occasionally open to the public, check their site for details.
My books can be found in most good bookstores and online booksellers, although availability does vary, especially from country to country (and also where they are shelved; often as children's books, sometimes as graphic novels, general fiction and art/design.) Where possible I encourage you to support local independent booksellers. Neither myself or my agent are able to supply books or advise on their particular availability, these queries are best directed at respective publishers in different countries. Please go to the bottom of this page to see a list of publishers and their contacts.
No, unfortunately I don't accept commissions. While I originally worked as a freelance illustrator - where commissions were my bread and butter - I now devote my time to personal projects only. This also means that I do not consider unsolicited manuscripts, and do not collaborate with other writers on picture books or graphic novels. While I do my best to deal with all enquries, please note that I don't read manuscripts or respond to submissions, so please don't interpret my silence as a bad review!
If you are an individual or company hoping that I will make an exception for a particular project request, I can only reiterate than I am not seeking new projects or opportunities. I'm also not seeking representation by galleries or agencies.
Due to limited studio hours, I'm also unable to offer folio assessment, act as a mentor for students or provide other specific advice, much as I would like to. However, I've have tried to address some common questions below for new illustrators, some tips about publishing and a few comments on writing picture books. Also check out the Comments page of this site, as you may find some relevant essays posted there (often transcripts of talks presented to students or others interested in illustrated books).
Much as I would like to visit many different schools to talk about books and illustration, I am currently unavailable for school visits due to other work commitments.
Generally speaking, it is possible to reproduce single images or excerpts from my work as long as it is for both a non-commercial, non-profit and educational or academic purpose, or part of a critical review, as the source is clearly acknowledged (the publisher). In all other cases involving a commercial interest, a licensing fee may be payable to respective publishers, and these are the people to contact rather than myself: see below for a list of main publishers. For foreign language titles, please contact respective publishers.
In any case, you should inform a publisher of any image use, especially if you are unsure.
For books first published by Lothian Books/Hachette Australia:
1. General subsidiary rights enquiries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Information about permissions can be found at http://www.hachettechildrens.com.au/permissions
Books published first by Lothian Books/Hachette Australia are The Arrival, Sketches from a Nameless Land, Rules of Summer, The Lost Thing, The Red Tree, The Rabbits, The Viewer and Memorial.
For Tales from Outer Suburbia and Eric, contact Allen & Unwin Australia,
Images and text on this website, including comments and essays, may be used without seeking permission, so long as it is for an educational or non-commercial purpose only, and the source is properly acknowledged.
As for personal tattoos - and I receive a surprising number of requests! - no permission is necessary, given this is a non-commerical use (ie. you don't plan on charging anyone for a viewing!) You are welcome to adopt and modify any images you like, so long as they are in keeping the the original spirit (ie. nothing obscene or political of course)
I have never been an active Facebook or Twitter user, and unlikely to adopt them anytime soon. I do keep a blog which I occasionally update (not as often as I should!). You can find it here: http://thebirdking.blogspot.com.au/
Please note that I've had problems with impostor Facebook pages (where somebody else is pretending to be me), so apologies in advance if a Facebook page seems odd or unresponsive. If you'd like to leave a message, please try my blog.
If you have any questions or comments concerning the availability of books, these are best sent to the appropriate publisher (see below). If you have a question about image rights, or any other professional matters, this is also best addressed to the appropriate publisher.
Please note that while I do my best to answer all requests I'm unable to respond to individual inquiries. If you are conducting reasearch as a student or academic, please note that I can't participate interviews as much as I'd like to, but have made as many resources available on my site to assist you.
For other enquiries about film, theatre, festivals, exhibitions or other professional issues, please contact Sophie Byrne at Passion Pictures Australia: email@example.com
Spain (and Spanish Language)
Norway and Denmark
QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING AND PAINTING
Following are some responses to questions that I am often asked, by readers, students and researchers of children’s literature, mostly about influences and working practice. Other comments on writing and illustration can be found in the ‘Notes’ page of this site.
This is somewhat difficult to answer because the things that most influence my work are probably also the ones I most take for granted. Something as simple as the availability of paint and pencils may be more important than any books (my Dad was an architect and my Mum liked to paint giant Disney pictures on our bedroom walls). Generally I had a very happy childhood filled with many pictures and stories.
My Mum read to my brother and I quite a bit when we were small, and it was pretty broad ranging. My family are not 'literary' types, so we were reading whatever was at hand in terms of stories without too much discrimination or guidance (as was the case with TV and movies). One story Mum read which really sticks in my memory is Animal Farm, by George Orwell, which she must have thought was a children's book. None of us recognised the satire about Soviet politics, but we all thought it was a great story, and the fact that it did not have a happy ending was something I found surprising ,disturbing and, I recall, quite satisfying! I still think a lot about Animal Farm as a reference point for both my writing and illustration now – it’s a book that’s simple, absurd and truthful. It also achieves a universality outside of any specific satirical references, a comment on human nature everywhere; as shown by the fact I could enjoy it as a child. One of my first picture books, The Rabbits, has a slight Orwellian feel about it in retrospect, probably a result of that very early influence.
In terms of illustrated books, there was a book of horror poems called The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated in creepy but also amusing pen and ink drawings by Arnold Lobel. I can still recall the images quite vividly, and borrowed that book many times from the library. Anything about monsters, outer space or robots was very attractive to me. The first book I ever bought, with my entire life savings at the age of seven, was an illustrated book of dinosaurs, which I looked through all the time, reproduced drawings from and dutifully memorised all the dinosaur names
There was also Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick which I still admire as an adult as an ideal picture book experiment - a whole series of fragmentary sentences and singular strange drawings that are never fully explained. I also liked Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs, but only discovered a lot of his other books (and been quite influenced by them) as an adult. There are a number of Quentin Blake images that stick in my head too - particularly one about a jam-powered frog - and I was a great fan of anything by Roald Dahl.
Later (about 10-12) I remember being impressed by The Hobbit, and a trilogy of books by John Christopher about a future world invaded centuries ago by giant, sentinel robots that everyone just accepts as normal: The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire. As a teenager I was mostly influenced by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, which were like strange dreams or adult fairy-tales, and probably cemented my interest in science-fiction / fantasy as a way of communicating ideas. My particular favourites were The Silver Locusts and The Illustrated Man - in many ways my own book Tales from Outer Suburbia nods towards these anthologies.
Visually, I was probably more influenced by movies and TV; the first Star Wars films for their designs much more than the story, and certain fantasy films like The Dark Crystal (which I was obsessed with when I was about 10). I also watched a lot of Dr Who, Star Trek and such shows, but never became a big follower of these. I was much more interested in The Twilight Zone, again because it was 'real world' fantasy with a short fable-like structure I think. One reason I do picture books today is that I remain interested mostly in very short philosophical stories: picture books are perfect for this.
So I think all those things have influenced me, plus a great deal more. Some of it is conscious, but most probably isn't - you just get a sense that a painting or story 'works' because it feels right, and this feeling is informed by a mixture of both a first-hand experience of life, and the models of story-telling and imagination provided by books, TV, movies and so on; culture, art, language. I don’t make much discrimination between ‘high art’ and ‘popular culture’ – it’s just whatever happens to be interesting and memorable.
I was always interested in drawing as a child, which I think is true of virtually all children, only I never really stopped doing it! The impulse to write stories and create images is essentially the same as an adult, only you bring a lot more experience to the task, and become more critical about the process.
My parents were always keen to encourage whatever interests my brother and I had as kids. So, just as my brother was obsessed with collecting rocks from about the age of 6 (and now works as a geologist), I always wanted to be an artist. I also enjoyed writing poems and stories, sometimes illustrating them, as I grew up, as well as making various paintings and sculptures.
I wasn’t sure for a long time that you could actually make a living as an artist, and was also interested in other things, such as history and science, by the time I was in high school. I was seriously considering a career in biotechnology by the time I graduated, but simultaneously very involved with painting and writing (my main hobby as a teenager was writing science fiction stories, and painting natural landscapes).
I ended up graduating from the University of Western Australia with a degree in Fine Arts and English Literature, having decided these were the subjects I was most attracted to. My studies had been pretty academic however, being art and literary theory / criticism rather than practice, and I was very keen at this stage to see if I could make a living as a freelance artist. I had actually been illustrating things while a student as way of making money – drawing for magazines, newspapers, book covers, music posters, flyers and newsletters, mostly around campus, plus selling the odd painting. I pretty much learned all my current illustration techniques through doing these small jobs.
I had also become quite involved with a couple of small press science fiction magazines, Aurealis and Eidolon, which began in high school when I posted off a picture of a robot kangaroo to one of these. To my surprise they published it (though never any of my writing!). Around the same time I also won an in award in the US for science fiction illustration (again, after submitting work) which made be think further that this might be a possible career path.
I became involved as an artist and editor with the Perth-based Eidolon for ten years while a student, which was essentially unpaid (well, $20 for every illustration) but rewarding because I met plenty of other like-minded writers and artists, and really learnt different ways of illustrating by working with a challenging variety of texts. My drawing and conceptual skills developed mostly as a result of working for this and other magazines – producing about 200 story illustrations in all, often quite experimental. In hindsight, I can’t think where I might have found a broader range of subjects to test my skills than in the area of speculative fiction magazines – stories about time, space, death, history, philosophy, art, sexuality, mathematics, ethics, horror and much more – usually set in some other world (past, future or inter-planetary) than our own.
On leaving university, I became increasingly involved in children's and young adult literature, including picture books, largely because some of the writers involved with science fiction were also being published in the this area as well. I was also frequently submitting material to different publishers, expressing an interest every possible form of illustrative work – I really needed to make money! I knew very little about picture books when first asked to illustrate one, and tended to share many people's prejudice that they were exclusively the domain of young children, not an art form that lends itself to much artistic or intellectual sophistication.
Working with Gary Crew on my first few books – some small horror stories in a series called After Dark and an elaborate science-fiction picture book The Viewer – led me to think about picture books more deeply. Gary is a very versatile creator and academic when it comes to visual narrative, and a great advocate of the idea that pictures books are ideal for older readers, not just children.
It’s an interest that I’ve inherited, and have since worked on a variety of illustrated texts which are to varying degrees experimental. These are not great money-spinners, however, and I have also worked regularly on other commissioned projects, particularly cover artwork for novels, as a way of generating income. More recently, I have begun working in other areas in addition to book illustration, including theatre and animated film, as well as spending a fair amount of time writing and painting just for my own interest.
It is probably fair to say that for a majority of artists, it would be difficult to come up with a single definitive job description, as there are many unexpected opportunities when it comes to creative work. I am finding that I’m constantly learning new skills, new ways of thinking and new techniques to solve about different artistic problems, and this is what keeps the work challenging and interesting.
The word 'illustration' is one I don’t actually like a lot; it suggests something derivative, a visual elaboration of an idea governed by text. In ‘fine arts’ discourse you often find the term used in a derogatory sense, almost in opposition to serious drawing or painting; something is ‘mere illustration’. That is, somewhat slavish or incapable of self-contained meaning; it can only be descriptive.
Yet in working in this area I find that the most interesting relationships between words and pictures are not actually very descriptive at all, but rather about the interesting relationship that can exist between two independent means of expression. In all of my recent work, the text and illustrations could operate as narratives in isolation, but happen to react in similar ways, opening new meanings from each other's context.
I have to say that illustrations are for me the main 'texts' in my books, and although writing is often the starting point, it rather acts as a kind of scaffolding or binding that stitches everything together. More recently I have been thinking a lot about visual narrative where there is no accompanying text. I’m intrigued by the ability of the reader to superimpose their own thoughts and feelings onto visual experience, without the possible distraction of words.
Humour is also an excellent way to cross over between child and adult audiences because it can work on so many levels (I always think of The Simpsons as a great example of this, and there are many others also, especially satires). And something whimsical can actually be quite ‘serious’ in that it tests our understanding of the world, poking our brains in novel directions, and rupturing the passivity of our normal comprehension, particularly by introducing an absurd element into a familiar context. It’s a kind of intellectual inquiry that is very fun and inviting.
The other thing I like about humour is that it is so non-didactic – what makes things funny or meaningful is that we discover it for ourselves, rather than being told outright. Similarly, it can also prevent a story or painting from becoming too pretentious, and can sometimes allow quite profound ideas to be conveyed in a very unassuming way.
Most of the few picture books I have done have each taken about a year to complete (although The Arrival took 4-5 years). Much of that time isn't necessarily productive in any visible way - true of many creative projects I think. It involves a lot of thinking while doing other stuff (eg. washing dishes) and playing with many ideas that may or may not work, making loads of scribbly notes and doodles in sketchbooks.
With a blank piece of paper in front of me, my imagination is not especially fired up. I could start drawing, but everything would end up looking the same - and most likely stuff I’ve done before. So I actively look to absorb foreign ideas and influences, which is one key lesson learned from years of illustrating different SF stories. Good ideas don’t just turn up, you have to go looking for them.
Research - reading, looking at pictures, playing with different media - provides freedom from the creative paralysis that comes with infinite possibility. I need specific points of reference to develop ideas, and also a kind of resistance to my own stylistic ‘default settings’ so that I think outside the usual circles, and actually learn something new.
Painting and drawing for me is not about creation but about transformation. It's not so much about expressing preconceived themes or a mastered delivery of statements but rather a process of slightly absent-minded discovery, of seeing where certain lines of thinking take you if you keep following them. I know I'm on the right track when there is a sense of unfamiliarity about what I'm doing, that I'm actually being surprised by the way mixed drawings and words make their own novel sense, and I can coax them into surrendering whatever meaning is there through repeated drawings.
This varies a lot, as there is really no ‘right way’ of coming up with a working story or set of images. Generally speaking, I tend to start with one or two images that may either be sketches, or vague mental pictures, but will have little to no idea what they mean - a fish floating down a street, a boy feeding a monster in a shed, a water buffalo pointing at something. Then I will play with words a lot to try and ‘say’ something about what is going on, while at the same time making it even more of a mystery.
I will write many disconnected sentences and phrases, and mix these with small thumbnail drawings, over many pages of a sketchbook - aware that I will throw away or change almost everything later on. Often I end up writing and drawing a lot of material, and then strip it back to its essential images and words; build on those, and again strip it back - so it is kind of like modeling and carving using ideas.
After a while I can decided if what I’ve been doing is worth pursuing as a book - is it interesting on both a conceptual and emotional level? Is it original, and does it seem to say something that is true to real life? In many cases, the answer is ‘no’ and it ends there; though I’ve found that often parts of abandoned projects make their way into other ones.
If the story and concept seem strong (as if a publisher likes it), I will produce a dummy, a sketchy version of the book with all its pages, at roughly the printed size. It’s full of photocopied drawings and bits of paper carrying text stuck down with removable tape, so I can keep going back and exchange parts, move them around, elaborate or reduce. I’m constantly reading through to check for fluency and contrasts, and book design (where the text and pictures go). It’s also a handy thing to copy and send to my editor for comment, as well as the ‘instruction manual’ for the finished artwork and story that I refer to throughout the long process of production, which can extend, on and off, over years. Over such a period, the dummy serves to remind you of the look and feel of the project.
I take my rough drawings up to the point where I have a fairly clean line drawing in layout paper that I can trace onto a support (usually stretched medium weight watercolour paper, very smooth, primed with acrylic paint) using graphite or white transfer paper. Most of my illustrations are not huge because they need to fit on a scanner for reproduction, which demands they be around A2 - A1 in size. I find it is better to work closer to the scale that the reader will see them, so that details don’t end up being too small (most artwork reproduced is reduced from a larger image).
I usually paint from dark to light, so I trace white lines onto a dark grey or brown background. I also do a small, very quick colour sketch of the image using acrylic paint and pastel crayon over a photocopy of a preliminary drawing, sometimes a couple of these using different colour schemes. I paint quite quickly in thin acrylic to start off with, and continue the editorial process of the sketches where I’m still changing my mind (hence the use of opaque media, where ‘mistakes’ can be covered). I then paint over these layers in oil paint, which offers slightly richer colour, and slower drying time which I prefer, being a slow painter.
I also work in other media, and in the past have used scratchboard, pastel crayons, coloured pencils, gouache, watercolour, pen and ink, linocuts and assemblages (using found objects); apply these to paper, canvas and plywood board. I also use collage frequently, because it allows unexpected elements to be introduced into a painting and creates an interesting texture, both of physical surface and ideas. Recently I’ve been experimenting with combining traditional media with new digital ones. Each medium works well for conveying certain ideas and effects, and this is what governs my choice, along with various experiments that often include mixing media.
I try to get as much input over the design of a book as possible, to the point of hand-lettering in books such as The Red Tree and The Lost Thing. I see the typography and layout as an integral part of the illustration in many cases, and as open to possibility as the composition and style of painting itself; it can move, curve, be broken into bits, turn up-side-down, have words cut out from somewhere else. This can really change the meaning of a word or picture significantly, in provoking certain thoughts.
As well as being sympathetic, text and image must never compete because they are quite different things, so I tend to put less visuals with a lot of text, and where the illustration carries more meaning, I’ll reduce the text accordingly, occasionally removing it altogether.
The cover illustration is always the last thing I do, and I see it as the least important in terms of the story, though obviously significant in other ways. It’s just there to get the reader interested in what the book is about, especially by looking different or unusual. It needs to represent the whole story to some extent, as it is the image most readers will be exposed to as it appears on shelves, in any newspaper or magazine reviews, even in reader’s memory. People do judge a book by its cover!
I'm pretty omnivorous when it comes to influences, and I like to admit this openly. Readers of The Lost Thing often notice my parodies of famous paintings by artists like Edward Hopper and Jeffrey Smart, or slight references to the medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch and Spanish Surrealists. I could list hundreds of illustrators, writers, cartoonists, photographers, filmmakers, and artists (both historical and contemporary) who influence me by virtue of the fact that I'm interested in their work, but it changes from time to time. I would also have to include equally important, though seemingly banal influences like suburban streets, cloud formations, conversations, the way paint runs down a canvas, or colors go together, or objects arranged on a table or landscape - basically a kind of more abstract realm of inspiration that is rooted in everyday encounters and accidents of perception. And there's always something to discover, usually in the same old stuff you've been looking at every day - there’s no shortage of material. You just have to apply your imagination and look at it all from a new angle.
Well, firstly that all advice ought to be measured against personal experience and circumstance, so not always right or useful. That said, there are a several key things I've learnt during my working life that might be broadly applied to most creative pursuits.
Naturallly, you need to enjoy what you do, to the extent that it is a pleasure to go beyond the call of duty, and to always try and create something that is more than sufficient. Every piece of work should involve some element of personal innovation or challenge.
It's also important to be reliable, and easy to work with, as with any other job – in short, professional. This is the main reason clients will continue to give you work. Almost all of my work has come to me through the recommendations of others, and many things I worked on for little payment as a student proved to be a worthwhile, both as practise and exposure.
Communication is very important, even though so much time is spent working alone. You need to be able to talk about everything you create in a clear and explanatory way to help others understand your ideas, especially when they are not immediately visible. You need to be open to discussion and compromise, while at the same time maintaining your own artistic integrity - these are not necessarily incompatible.
Technical competence as an artist is of course essential, but it is merely a tool for the realization of ideas; without a strong imagination, the display of skill is just that – and ‘style’ is interesting, but only if backed up by content. It helps to remain interested in all forms of art, and have a good grasp of art history as well as some knowledge of art theory. This very often becomes the unseen backbone of artistic thinking. Developing a visual sensibility and vocabulary, rather than just technical skills, means that you can be versatile enough to deal with many different projects, and find original solutions.
As long as you are doing something, even if it isn't successful, you are not wasting your time. The greatest achievement of so much creative work is simply finding time and dedication to do it, especially when it seems difficult and less than enjoyable (almost every project seems to involve some kind of confidence-wounding ‘crisis’). Good ideas and talent aren't worth much if they aren't put through the wringer of actual hard work.
Pay attention to criticism, and don't pay attention to criticism! At the end of the day, you are the ultimate judge of your own work, so learn to be critical in an affirmative rather than negative way. All creators - if they are any good - suffer from periods of disappointment, even depression with their own achievements (or lack thereof), that's perfectly normal! Just keep going, if you want to cross that threshold. You also never find out if you've really failed until you actually finish a piece of work.
Finally, for anyone interested in being an artist, illustrator, designer - learn to draw well! It's a valuable foundation, something you'll always use. Drawing is one way of learning to see well, something that takes several thousand hours of practice (and even then, never entirely mastered!). If I only had one piece of advice to a young artist (of any age) it would be that: draw, draw, draw!
Being an competent artist is one thing, getting published represents a very different set of problems. The most important advice I can offer is this: consider the publisher. What can you offer them with your work? Research the area you are interested in, and know what a prospective editor might be looking for, what other work is out there. A picture book text might be as brilliant as it's potential illustrator, but if it does not suit the list that a publisher is pursuing, both are quite likely be rejected. Unfortunately, publishers do not exist to supply a canvas for free artistic self-expression (I wish!) - they are of course primarily a commercial business.
Be aware that there is a 'culture' of illustrated books that you need to be familiar with (which can vary from country to country). One good way of finding out about this is to study recent books which have won major awards. Recognise trends, but don't bend backwards to imitate them. Look for the point of intersection between your creative interests, and the kinds of books that are being successfully published.
As a contemporary illustrator, much can be accomplished by having a very good website, and a well-presented folio. I would keep both of these quite simple, showing only your best work; in a folio, only about twelve pieces - be very selective. These should represent technical skill and diversity, colour and monochrome; and especially anything featuring human figures, something editors usually look for.
Where appropriate, it is good to request a face-to-face meeting with a relevant editor or art director. I've personally found this very useful, being able to understand each others interests, and know each other as people rather than (less memorable) email addresses.
For more practical advice for beginner writers and illustrators (in Australia at least), I would recommend the links page of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) (www.cbc.org.au/links.htm) which has plenty of information for writers and illustrators. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) (www.scbwi.org) is based in the US mostly, but has and Australian Chapter (www.scbwi.ampl.com.au). A great resource for Australian artists and illustrators presenting a small folio of work online is The Style File (www.thestylefile.com) which makes the work of many artists accessible to publishers and any other potential clients.
I would also recommend the ASA Comics and Graphic Novels portfolio. Comics Biz, the ezine of the Comics/Graphic Novels Portfolio comes out on the last Thursday of the month and can be downloaded from this site.
Producing a good picture book text, with or without illustrations (or words for that matter) - for adults or children - is far more difficult than it often looks. Some tips I suggest for any new picture book writers and illustrators:
- The strength of a good picture book text often lies in its brevity, and a very economic use of language, what the writer Margaret Wild calls 'essential storytelling'. Many of the manuscripts I've seen are unpublishable simply because that are way too long. Whittle everything down to bare bones, and see what you can do without.
- Show, don't tell, or better yet, give room for the illustrations to show. For instance, you do not need to describe an emotional state in words if you can express it visually through a situation, a facial expression, gesture, or some other illustrative device.
- As a writer, do not necessarily anticipate what an illustrator is going to draw or paint. A good picture book is a collaboration between two 'writers', one using words, one using pictures. It's more about creating free space for a visual 'director' within a good 'script'. Also be mindful that a text can change as words and pictures co-evolve.
- Accordingly, a good picture book has two texts that work together symbiotically, they can reveal different sides to the same story, or different stories altogether, involving disparity, irony and even contradiction. The best illustrations do not simply illustrate.
- It can be useful to think about book format, page layout and design, as this can be an important element in illustrated books, more so than in other literary forms.
- All other rules of good fiction writing apply, so to be a good picture book writer, you need to be a good writer, ideally with interest and practise in all forms of writing, including longer prose and poetry.
Be aware that publishers will generally accept a picture book based on the text alone, without illustrations, and they usually prefer to direct and commission an illustrator themselves. So it is not necessary for a writer to work with an illustrator before approaching a publisher (although that can happen, it's unusual) - though speculative suggestions fine.
For writer-illustrators, the text and one or two finished 'example' illustrations represents a suitable submission. Possibly a preliminary mock-up of the book, rough layout sketches. If it's a longer work, such as an illustrated novel, you should probably submit a first chapter. In any case, it's best to check with a publisher first if they (a) accept unsolicited submissions and (b) have submission guidelines.
Always include a cover letter, with a brief introduction of yourself and your work (especially if it is wordless) - the key word here is brief. Editors are busy folk and not partial to long cover letters or emails.
Finally, rejection is normal! (I've lost count of mine) It means that the interests of a particular publisher do not line up with yours, so it's not a clear assessment of quality. Publishers are not a manscript assessment service, although such things do exist and can be worth investigating.
For more general tips on being a professional illustrator (or writer), see my article "Advice For a New Illustrator" on my page of Comments and Essays.