Illustrator Spotlight: Tania McCartney

Name: Tania McCartney

Book: Australia Illustrated

What is your ethnicity?

Australian Caucasian with Scottish and English heritage.

Where are you from? Did you grow up in a diverse community?

I was born in Hobart, the capital of the state of Tasmania, Australia. I lived my childhood years through the 1970s in a mostly white community.

The post-war immigration influx from Europe had already occurred in the 1950s and ’60s, expanding our Eastern European, Italian and Greek populations, and the 1970s saw the beginning of an immigration expansion from Asia, notably Vietnam and China.

It wasn’t really until I moved to Sydney in the late ’80s, that I became involved in a community of deeper cultural diversity. It was like I’d come home. I absolutely loved it.

Tell us about yourself. What makes you tick?

What makes me tick is creating. It drives me, infiltrates every part of my life. From childhood through motherhood and now middle age, I’ve participated in almost every creative pursuit you could imagine, from writing and illustrating through sewing, felt-making, crochet, paper-crafting, video creation, book layout and design — it’s really endless.

Writing and illustration is the central core to all of this, and it’s where I both began my creative pursuits as a child, and where I have landed. I keep coming ‘home’!

How did you get started as an illustrator?

I think I was around two! Like all kids, I was ardent with a crayon, and through school and high school, Art (along with English) was my most beloved subject. Alas, I lost my connection with it through adulthood (being a grown-up really gets in the way of childhood; it’s so annoying!) and it wasn’t until I hit my mid-40s that I began pining to reconnect.

In January 2014, I formed the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, and it was almost solely responsible for my reconnection with illustration. It changed my world and my career as a children’s author. The group now has over 5000 members and is a glorious and supportive community. I not only relearned valuable skills but formed lifelong friendships and priceless working associations.

This November (2016), Australia Illustrated, my very first self-illustrated book, will be released. One of my publishers was happy to take a punt on my vision for this work, and I created the entire thing over a year, as an organic creation. I’m still pinching myself — creating this book the way I did was such a gift (this is not normally how illustrating a book works!).

How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?

When I first began the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, I had no idea what my style was. I just knew I loved to paint and draw. Part of my modus operandi behind this illustration connection was for the purpose of illustrating my own children’s books (I have been a children’s book author for eight years) and so for inspiration, I drew on the artworks of the illustrators I admire.

I have countless influencers, but there are several styles I’ve since developed, and I hope to explore them all in my upcoming books. I’ve been training in digital illustration, too, and a large part of Australia Illustrated is digitally produced.

I couldn’t imagine an illustration career driven by one style. I’d quickly become bored and my skills would rust. I can’t wait to explore more.

Can you briefly explain your creative process, medium etc?

My great loves are watercolour and digital art — two strongly opposing mediums. One is all about freedom and lack of control — the other is fully and easily controlled. In Australia Illustrated, I blend the two, along with ink, gouache, pencil, photographs, silhouettes and mono-printing.

I first begin with a sketch (and rarely do drafts). I then ink the sketch and apply watercolour. I use Photoshop to touch up and finish, then cut out images (digitally) and place them in Adobe Illustrator. I then add more digital art, filters, patterning, etc.

Next, I want to explore fully-finished watercolour and gouache imagery, with no digital enhancements, and I’m also working on three books that are fully digital, using graphic design-style imagery.

Best/most fun part of your job?

Of course, being fully and totally creative. Meeting my characters as they peel from my paintbrush. Discovering new techniques. I also love placing the book pages and typesetting. It’s amazing seeing it all come together.

5 things inspiring you/your work right now?

Diversity and multiculturalism (although, these two have always inspired me — many of my books have a diversity focus). A return to the simple joys of life, most particularly childhood. Light, pattern and colour. Digital capabilities. And lastly, retro palettes and styles, especially from the likes of Charley Harper and Miroslav Sasek.

Why do you think exposure to other cultures is important for young children?

It’s vital. Exposure to other people and cultures — whether directly or indirectly — does extraordinary things to kids. It opens their heads and crams wonderful things inside. It relaxes their hearts, softens their emotional boundaries and enriches their minds with alternative ways of thinking and being.

Children’s books are instrumental in accessing young minds before prejudice, biases and barriers set in. They have the power to make children think differently and to offer differing experiences and points of view. Children’s books can teach compassion and inclusion, and can highlight the rich multicultural experience that makes this world truly great.

As children’s book creators, it’s important that we present cultures in books but it’s also important that communities create their own books featuring their own stories, from their own hearts, in their own language. I know this is happening more around the world, but we need to support these books more.

As I tell kids when I visit schools, books are immensely powerful. They can not only change minds, they can change the world, one delicious pen-and-brush stroke at a time.

Connect with Tania on all of her platforms website | blog | facebook | twitter | pinterest | kids’ book review | 52-week illustration challenge