Monday, 18 September 2017

Meet Anouska Jones — Special Guest

Anouska Jones

Tell us a little about yourself: 


I’m an editor, publisher, author and occasional book reviewer. When I’m not editing, reading or writing, I love yoga, good food and wine, and spending time outdoors with my family and myriad animals. I’m obsessed by all things to do with language — I used to speak five languages but through lack of practice I’m probably down to three now. I’ve lived in five countries on three continents. I love to travel but don’t get to do it nearly as often as I’d like. I hate how fast-paced and constantly ‘on’ our world has become, and so I try to disconnect from it all as much as I can as often as I can without abandoning my professional responsibilities entirely!

The view from Anouska's home office

Could you please give us a brief summary of your professional background and what you are doing now?

I’ve worked in book publishing for almost 25 years, starting out in South Africa after completing postgraduate studies in translation, and then in Australia after moving here in 1997. From my first role as Junior Editor — which consisted partly of cataloguing travel photographs for full-colour gift books on various African destinations, and partly of checking the French translations of those same books — I’ve worked my way up to Publisher and have covered pretty much every genre along the way. Cookery, gardening, travel, military history, memoir, literary fiction, self-help, health and now kids’ picture books — I’ve done them all! Currently, I’m the Publisher for Exisle Publishing and their children’s picture book imprint, EK Books.

Anouska Jones, speaking on a panel at the NSW Writers' Centre Kids and YA Festival

Describe EK Books:

Our goal with EK Books is to produce beautiful, high-quality children’s picture books aimed primarily at the 5 to 8 age group (although we do stray either side of that range a little) and focusing on great stories with great characters and great messages. Part of the branding that we are introducing with our 2018 titles is that they are ‘books with heart on issues that matter’, and I think that pretty much sums up our philosophy and intentions.

As with all books in the Exisle Publishing stable, our titles are published in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada, and we also pursue foreign rights deals wherever possible.

EK Books logo

Does EK Books have a particular 'house style' when it comes to illustration?

There’s no house style. My aim is simply to find the right illustrator for each story we publish, and if you look at our list you’ll see that styles vary widely.

Grace and Katie by Susanne Merritt and Liz Anelli, EK Books, 2017

How do you match an illustrator to a manuscript? Please describe your discovery and selection process.

I think this might just be the best part of my job! I operate completely by instinct and what feels right when it comes to matching illustrators and manuscripts. Quite often I can ‘see’ the illustrations in my head and then it’s a matter of finding an illustrator who matches that vision. Sometimes the author will have an idea for who might be a good match and I’m always happy to take that on board and see if I also believe they’d be the right fit. And very occasionally a manuscript will come with an illustrator as part of the ‘package’. I’m constantly on the lookout for new illustrators to add to my database. I watch the Challenge page, for example; and several Challenge members have illustrated books with EK as a result.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett, EK Books, 2017

How much art direction do you give an illustrator? Do you provide page break suggestions and illustration notes?

Because EK is a small publisher with a small team, we can break the rules a little, so we work more collaboratively than most. The author, illustrator and designer all work together with me to produce the best book possible. And that means the process can differ slightly from book to book. The most common way is for the illustrator to provide a storyboard showing how they envisage the text flowing across the illustrations, and we tweak it from there if necessary. Sometimes, however, the author will already have suggested page breaks and then it’s a matter of seeing if those work in practice when the illustrator adds their vision to the story.

I usually never provide illustration notes. I will provide a brief on the style that I want and the feel that I want to achieve, but not specific notes. The only exception to that so far has been with my own picture book where poor Gwynne received detailed notes for every single page. I could see the entire story so clearly in my head that I just didn’t have a choice — I had to write my notes down. Although I did tell Gwynne she could feel free to ignore them!

Patch and Ruby by Anouska Jones and Gwynneth Jones, EK Books, 2016

How much time do you allow for a picture book to be illustrated and do you set delivery deadlines? 

Because of our distribution in the UK and the US, we have very long delivery schedules. For example, I have already completed submission of pre-sales material (including front cover and sample internal spread) for all of our EK titles up to the end of August 2018. And by the end of this year, I will have supplied that material for all titles up to the end of February 2019. That’s just how far in advance of publication that companies like Amazon operate. We also print in China, not locally, so that adds three months to our schedules as the books are printed and then shipped. All 2018 titles are already underway — in fact, the first titles for 2018 have already gone to print — and I’m about halfway through building the 2019 publishing program. So the average illustration schedule is probably about a year, but usually divided into two key artwork deadlines: delivery of the front cover concept and sample internal spread for the pre-sales material; and then delivery of all complete artwork in time for the preparation of the final print-ready files.

Deciding on the right font for Don't Think About Purple Elephants, EK Books, 2015

Who have been some of your favourite illustrators to work with and why?

Oh that’s a hard question! I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed working with every illustrator on the EK list. I find that generally the people involved in children’s book publishing are some of the nicest on the planet, so it’s a lovely working relationship. However, I will single out just one, and that’s Nicky Johnston. Nicky is the illustrator of two EK books, The Fix-It Man and Grandma Forgets, and both of these books coincidentally are very close to my heart for very personal reasons. My father passed away in late 2014 from dementia-related disease, so The Fix-It Man, dealing with the death of a parent, and Grandma Forgets, dealing with how a family copes with their grandmother’s dementia, were at times very hard but ultimately very healing for me to work on. And Nicky’s illustrations were a large part of that healing. She captured so beautifully all the love, warmth, heartache, hope and resilience in Dimity’s and Paul’s words, that it brought enormous comfort to me. And now that the books are published, it’s been wonderful to see the response to both as they’ve gone on to bring so much comfort to others.

Grandma Forgets by Paul Russell and Nicky Johnston, EK Books, 2017

Describe your experience creating Patch and Ruby. What was it like being the author and the editor? Did you choose and work closely with the illustrator, Gwynneth Jones?

It was absolutely fine being the editor, but absolutely harrowing being the author! The production process was actually quite easy. I knew right from the start that Gwynne had to be the illustrator. As I’ve joked with her, I loved how she drew chickens so I knew she’d be perfect to draw the horses that are the lead characters in the book. (Have I mentioned that I operate by instinct?!) And Gwynne liked my illustration ideas, or at least was too polite to mention if she didn’t. However, what I did learn is that I'm much more comfortable behind the scenes putting books together than I am with a spotlight anywhere near me promoting a book as ‘the author’.

Gwynne's chickens are wonderful! From Patch and Ruby, EK Books, 2016

Is EK Books accepting portfolios from new illustrators? Where can they find information on how to submit them?

We are. Please send either a link to your portfolio or a PDF no larger than 15MB to:

Finn and Puss, EK Books, 2017

What advice would you give to illustrators wanting to break into the children’s book world?

Keep creating. Keep putting your work out there. Join relevant societies and attend relevant events. Be prepared for lots of rejection, but don’t give up. Getting ‘discovered’ is definitely about talent but it’s also about persistence. And don’t even think of trying to break into the industry unless you genuinely love it. Book publishing is not something you choose for the money (generally), but it’s full of wonderful people, and it’s all about engaging kids in reading and fostering a love of story. If that makes you happy, then in the words of the adorable Dory, ‘Just keep swimming …’

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston, EK Books, 2017

What advice would you give to illustrators about working with authors?

The best picture books are those where the illustrations don’t just ‘tell the story’ but bring an added richness to the text. They don’t simply reflect the words but instead go deeper, providing added detail and meaning, creating an entire world. So I would tell every illustrator not to be afraid to bring their vision to an author’s work. That said, I would also ask them to be respectful of the author’s work. Their vision still needs to be true to the author’s intentions.

Most illustrators don’t get to work closely with authors, but if you do get the opportunity to collaborate closely, then seize the opportunity and enjoy it! Whenever I come out of a meeting with an author and illustrator where we’ve tossed around ideas, perhaps solved a sticky problem on a certain page, or just nailed the final storyboard, I’m always on a high for the rest of the day.

Smile Cry by Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft, EK Books, 2016

How important is it for illustrators to promote and market themselves and, eventually, their books? Does EK Books consider this when selecting illustrators?

It’s becoming increasingly important as the influence of social media on buying decisions continues to grow. Plus, so many new books are published every month that publishers need authors and illustrators to be invested in promoting their titles if they’re to continue to sell in the long-term. However, I select the illustrator for a manuscript first and foremost on whether they’re the right fit for the story. And fortunately, the illustrators I’ve worked with to date have all understood the need to do their bit to promote both themselves and the book — I think that’s an accepted norm for the industry now.

Australia Illustrated, EK Books, 2016

Which EK Books titles are you feeling most excited about at the moment and what can we see from you in the near future?

Another tough question! These books are like my children so I really can’t pick out favourites! Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to mention our final three books for the 2017 publishing program: Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood; Finn and Puss by Robert Vescio and Melissa Mackie; and Grace and Katie by Susanne Merritt and Liz Anelli. Three very different books with three very different illustration styles, but all equally wonderful :-)

Reena's Rainbow, EK Books, 2017

Follow Anouska Jones and EK Books online:


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Twitter: @EK_Books and @anouska_jones

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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Penelope's Picks Week 36: Printing

The variety and scope of your fabulous interpretations for this weeks theme have left me hard pressed to choose those I like most. I truly love it when a Challenge theme can encompass a wide range of ideas and techniques. It seems the possibilities are endless when it comes to printing. I have loved them all from messy mice, to stamping elephants.

Alex Pick‎
Leonie Cheetham‎
Margaret Dewar‎
Ashleigh O'Lynn‎
Clara Cook‎
Colin Rowe‎
Andrea England‎
Anya Kopotilova‎
Katja Landowski-Mertes‎

Anne L-y So‎
Danny Zemp‎
Melissa Johns‎
Amanda Hunt‎

Winterberry Art‎
Sue Rinaldi‎
Mandy Snow‎
Maggie Iovannella‎
Louann Brown‎
Kirsty Collett‎

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Meet Melissa Johns — Challenge Admin

Melissa Johns at the opening of her solo exhibition, A Tribute to Tea.

Tell us what sort of a child you were. Did art play a big part in your growing up?

I guess I was a regular, summer-swimming, cubby-making, over-imaginative kid. Putting on plays and talent shows was a big part of my childhood, and I think my cousins and I made a small fortune in twenty-cent coins opening mini-businesses, such as a hairdressers, clothes shops and day-care centres. Sport was never not played. Netball, tennis, Little Athletics, basketball and swimming continued right throughout childhood.

Art and creating was HUGE in my life. I had an ubertalented aunt on Mum’s side who painted in oils, a devoted pottery artist in an uncle on Dad’s side, and a Nanna and aunties who applied a needle to everything and anything! But drawing and writing was my thing. I created little pretty scenes while I was a kid, and then charcoal portraits and animals as a teen. My story telling was mostly poetic and turned a tad risqué in my late teens.

Piper, Week 19 2017: Music

Why do you make art now?

I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t create. To elaborate, after my twins were born, I suffered postnatal depression and found that I was no longer ‘myself’. For the first time in my life, there was no creating in my home — no writing, no drawing, no crafting, no upcycling. Everything was just…blah.

After six years of feeling lost, I finally sought help, and then one day I suddenly found myself in the middle of a Christmas craft present-making frenzy. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening — that I had some mojo, inspiration, drive. So clearly, as though it was yesterday, I remember my sister coming over to visit. She looked at what I was making on the dining table and burst into happy tears! Now THAT was a big moment for me, knowing that my lack of self had spread out and affected my family.

Even though I still suffer from depression, I am managing it (and rocking life), and I have not looked back since!

Art soothes my spirit in a way that nothing else can. It is mine! Just for me! With the added bonus of spreading the love.

Melissa's favourite artwork, Patch of Rustic

Do you have a favourite medium or subject matter?

BOY, DO I?! Tea bags (no jokes please, I’ve heard them all), and pretty much any recyclable material with texture that I can get my hands on, including disposable coffee cups, paper serviettes, gift bags, wrapping paper, coffee filters, fabrics, and scrap booking offcuts. I've become a tad picky when someone donates something unused for me to recycle, and I NEVER buy something new and use it. Other than these essentials, I love Pitt and Posca pens and would be lost without my watercolours and charcoal.

Tea Living, Week 17 2016: Collector

Describe your artistic process, from ‘no idea’ to ‘finished artwork':

Generally, my pieces start on a bit of scrap paper while I’m on a break at work. I doodle away and then inspiration strikes and I can visualise the materials. I get excited and antsy until I can get home and begin!

The next phase is very laborious: empty tea leaves from bags, wash bags, and colour bags with watercolour/ink/pastel.

The collaging starts with layout design, and once I have all my recyclables in place, the other fun starts — beautifying the artwork, adding all the tiny details that I hope define my pieces.

Some pieces take several weeks from start to finish. When I’m happy with them, the artwork is sealed, framed and, hopefully, sold!

My tea bag and recycle use technique is unique to me, and I’m unaware of another artist that utilises them in the way I do, collaging them into shapes to create the overall structure of the pieces. I believe that it’s this recycle method that has afforded me the accolades I’ve received since beginning my journey.

Bloom, Week 6 2017: Garden

How do you fit your creative work in with a busy family life? Do you have a routine?

My routine is to ignore the children, or pay the children to leave me alone.

Kidding! My ‘studio’ is the living and dining areas of our home, so my family works around me and I work around them. It is just a matter of fitting in processes between family routine. But once the kids are in bed and my husband is happy to be tuned out, I go to town creating, then reading, then creating, then reading, then creating. Bedtime is when my eyes begin to close.

Week 15 2016: Ocean

What impact has the Challenge had on your creative journey?

The Challenge and this community have given me room to grow. They have strengthened my skill level and have made me stretch boundaries and discover things about art, myself and my tastes that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

The support is what I particularly adore, along with the cherished friendships I have made, and continue to make via our expanding village. The encouragement from the village is like a warm blanket to the soul and has helped me grow in confidence and believe in my abilities. I hope this is something that other people feel when they receive a comment from me, and that it will help them in personal and creative growth.

Brew me a Home, Week 30: Home

Do you have illustrators or artists who give you inspiration?

On a personal level, my best friend Linda D’Agostino continues to inspire me every day with her strength and artistic skill. It was through her persistence that I joined the challenge and committed to my first art show; she literally pushed the confidence into me.

Within the challenge, I’m a big fan of Demelsa Haughton, Kirsty Collett, Penelope Pratley, Heidi Cooper Smith, Raffaella Picotti and Sally Fawcett, just to name a very small few.

Artists that I’m devoted to are Este MacLeod, Paul Klee, Rob van Hoek, Yellena James and Scott Bergey

Paddocks and Pickets, Week 15 2017: Thread

What are you currently working on and what will we see next from you?

I have my first ever solo exhibition happening this month! Let me just say that this is equally as exciting and as nerve-wracking as it comes! My opening was on Saturday the 2nd of September, and as all my pieces are made out of recyclables and mainly tea bags, I had the exhibit opening set for a mock ‘high tea’ — it was a big hit! (The scones…oh my gosh, the scones!!)

Misscycled Art: A Tribute to Tea is showing at the Wangaratta Tourism Centre in Victoria, Australia, until the 30th of September 2017.

You can find out more about the exhibition here.

Swing Through, Week 29 2017: Swing

Do you have a dream creative project you'd love to be able to do?

Ideally, I never want to stop enjoying what I do, which I know is a very generic response, but the whirlwind of the last eighteen months (since my first art show and award) has been epic and seems to be gaining in momentum — fingers crossed this keeps on track for me!

Illustrating a book, or even writing and illustrating a book of my own, is a long-term ambition that seems to be hovering in the mist, and one day I hope to dedicate some time to pursuing this dream.

Inky Island, Week 41 2016: Island

Tell us something that we don’t know about you:

Chocolate is a dietary requirement and should have its own food group. I have twin 11 year old sons who are the most perfect, respectful, adorable children (cough, splutter, choke!!!). I’m a farm girl at heart and used to love riding horses. I know the Wizard of OZ & Grease songs by heart. My mind works quickly and has a sarcastic, twisted bend. I am the oldest of five siblings who are all uber-sweethearts and spunks! I’ve written three novels that I’ve never published. I’m the luckiest daughter, with very supportive and inspiring parents. My husband is a VERY patient man!

Bliss, Week 36 2017: Printing

Let's connect!


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Melissa's picks Week 35: Bucket List

For me the Bucket List is about creating moments, big and small, that stay with you for a lifetime. In completing this theme you're part way there in the fact that your artwork can and will last a lifetime; it's being shared, it's making us all smile, and it's now a part of something larger.
You have all delighted me this week with some dreamy artwork. I've adored the insight into everyone's hopes for their future and loved the eclectic imaginations displayed.
Thank you talented artists for brightening the wall and all of our feeds!
These bunch of pretties are a few of my favourites for 'Bucket List'. X

Kirsty Collett 

Shaney Hyde 

Margaret Schons 

Margaret Dewar 

Danny Zemp 

Leonie Cheetham 

Michele Kempees-Lewis

Winterberry Art 

Lex McKay 

Colin Rowe 

Cara King 

Alex Pick

Penelope Pratley 

Jutta Berend
Andrea England 

Deborah Drake Norris