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Bringing Bad Apple to life: a chat with illustrator Ben Sanders

Bad Apple is the first in a new series of picture books starring a truly terrible piece of fruit that shows readers what he’s really made of. We were lucky enough to chat with the book’s Australian-based illustrator, Ben Sanders, about his rewarding career, illustrative style, working with author Huw Lewis Jones and more.

Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an award-winning illustrator. Were you always interested in art and illustration?

I was actually interested very early on. I got a proper architect’s drawing board for my 14th birthday. Sometimes, when my parents went to bed, I’d get up and secretly draw on my board well into the night. I was already a freelance illustrator by that stage, as I had a paying client by the time I was 11 years old. I was drawing little watercolour characters that were made into stickers, notepads and what-not. I enjoyed it enough to pursue a creative career after I left school. 

How would you describe your illustrative style?

Mid-century modern with a zesty twist of lemon. I say that because I used to use a muted colour scheme. Now I’m embracing a zingy-er colour palette mixed with a 1950s and 60s aesthetic. 

Illustration: Ben Sanders, Bad Apple.

You have worked on a plethora of children’s books and commercial projects throughout your career, from releasing I’ve an Uncle Ivan with us to creating the instantly recognisable illustrations on The Natural Confectionary Co. packs. Do you have a favourite project that you have worked on so far?

Both projects you mentioned are special to me – my first children’s book and my most recognised work. They are the two that are most talked about. But a project that is closest to my heart was the work I did for INTI Magazine while I lived in Bolivia. The revenue generated from the sale of the magazine helped street kids return to school from working in the street. It was run by BiblioWorks, an NGO that also establishes libraries in remote communities and promotes literacy around the city of Sucre where I lived. 

Can you tell us about the process behind bringing characters to life for children’s books?

I guess so… most of the process is a mystery to me. I much prefer creating non-human characters, I find them more interesting. Some stories I’ve written the characters start out as human… but I end up changing them to animals somewhere along the process. I was lucky when Huw Lewis-Jones sent me a story about an Apple… jackpot… not a human!

I think that when you read a good manuscript it doesn’t take long to start picturing what the characters could look like. I sketch a page full of rough character designs and see what visual cues will help bring out the right personality. For me, this is by far the most satisfying and enjoyable aspect of making children’s books.

Illustration: Ben Sanders, Bad Apple.

What was your vision for the Bad Apple characters and how closely did you work with author Huw Lewis-Jones on developing their look? 

Huw sent me the manuscript and after a few reads I sent him a little drawing of a mean looking green apple. An almost perfectly round green circle with the least amount of detailing to create a face and limbs. We both wanted him to be simple yet full of expression. So, the eyebrows became the most important feature. He would be scowling a lot in the book so he needed a unique brow… a monobrow…. with his stem and leaf growing right out of it! Huw and I had a few chats about it but I remember Bad Apple developing very quickly and naturally, with both of us having input.

What’s next for you?

There will be at least two more Bad Apple Books coming in 2022. Apple is even naughtier in the sequel… it’s a lot of fun. I have two new picture book series in the pipeline in collaboration with Huw. There is one about a Croc with a big appetite and another about a Badger who is going through an existential crisis … so yeah, more animal characters to come!

Bad Apple is available now. Text by Huw Lewis Jones and illustrations by Ben Sanders. Originally published by Thames & Hudson UK.

AU $24.99


Posted on March 30, 2021
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In conversation with the inspiring Kerstin Thompson

For over twenty-five years, award-winning practice Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA) has proven that local architecture can and should shape a community. Leon van Schaik’s Kerstin Thompson Architects: Encompassing People & Place looks at KTA’s extraordinary body of work, its values and processes, and its place in the wider Australian architectural landscape. We spoke to KTA’s Principal, Kerstin Thompson, about her impressive career, the civic endeavour that is architecture and how she hopes to inspire others with the release of this new monograph.

Photography: Ying Ang

You are the Principal of Kerstin Thompson Architects, an Adjunct Professor at RMIT and Monash Universities and you were named Life Fellow by the Australian Institute of Architects in 2017. What led to your incredibly rich career in architecture?

Time on site, as a kid and later as a site architect, a wide variety of experiences in architectural offices from local ones to international multi-design studios, which in combination exposed me to the many valid ways of thinking about architecture. And since 1990 at RMIT, being a ‘pracademic’ – combining teaching with practice where each sphere enriches the other: the idealism, clarity of intent of the design studio, the pragmatism, ability to effectively negotiate the messiness and contingency of building and day to day practice. Good architecture demands both.

Your practice focuses on ‘architecture as a civic endeavour,’ can you explain what this entails? What values does KTA champion?

Buildings, no matter how small or for what purpose, can improve a situation. For the intended users, the client, of course, but also for the street, the neighbourhood, even the environment in projects where ecological repair becomes part of our remit. KTA champions the value of mutual benefit – that in meeting the aspirations of the client the design also contributes something positive for the neighbourhood too. In this sense they are of civic endeavor, in the interests of community, the city, broader environment.

Photography: Derek Swalwell

Is there a project you have worked on that you are most proud of?

I’m no good at favourites, there are many projects we are proud of. In fact, our hope is that KTA’s body of work, the cumulative impact of many sometimes modest buildings rather than one or two stand out icons, will leave a lasting and positive impact. Each project in its own way raised the quality of someone’s everyday life, brought benefit and joy to someone whether in their work, home or recreational life.

Photography: Dan Preston

In Kerstin Thompson Architects: Encompassing People & Place, Leon van Schaik focuses on KTA’s groundbreaking body of work. How do you think the book contributes to a wider conversation about architecture in Australia?

First we hope it provides insights into the motivations and process of architecture, the ideas, the sketches, behind the completed project. Second that it showcases a variety of ways in which architecture can meaningfully engage with, forge a unique sense of place, whether in bush, city or suburban context. And also, how opposites can happily/productively co-exist: subtly with clarity, sensitivity with strength, and last but not least new with existing built form. The inclusion of several adaptive re-use projects demonstrates how the re-use of our built heritage is not only more environmentally resourceful but also a way to hold onto precious cultural memories. May our new buildings also endure to support changed use in the future.

Interior Photography: Trevor Mein | Product Photography: Georgia Blackie

Our favourite inclusion in the book is your ’10 Lessons,’ many of which address what it is like to be a woman in architecture. How do you hope to inspire other women in the industry?

By conducting practice through a studio and business culture that is stimulating and supportive for our colleagues; by mentoring within and beyond the practice; by leaving a lasting legacy of decent buildings that have somehow improved the everyday; inspiring through advocacy, speaking out, being heard, being visible.

What’s next for you? Is there an exciting project that KTA is working on that you can share with us?

KTA has always been diverse in its project selection. Big, small, public, private. So, it’s not surprising that two of our most exciting, current projects are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Queen & Collins project for GPT, almost complete, is a total rethink of half a city block. We’ve transformed it from corporate lobby to network of vibrant, open air laneways and small campiellos (venetian squares) in celebration of the site’s significant neo-gothic heritage. In contrast to this scale and urban location we are excited to see the house for photographer Sharyn Cairns come to life. In a beautiful coastal bush setting, it will be sheer, concentrated concrete delight.

Kerstin Thompson Architects: Encompassing People and Place is available now. Text by Leon Leon van Schaik and design by Stuart Geddes. Series editor Fleur Watson.

AU$59.99


Posted on March 24, 2021
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From kelp to kids books: A Q&A with Mathew Bate

It is more important now than ever to inspire and educate children to think about the environment. Mathew Bate’s first picture book With a Little Kelp from Our Friends is certainly a step in the right direction, delving into the significance of seaweed and it’s potential to help tackle climate change. We asked Mathew to tell us a bit about how he became so acquainted with seaweed, its prominence in Australia and what led him to writing this vibrant book.

Photography: Charlie Perry

You are clearly a person of many talents, having worked as a former co-editor of Matters Journal, being a published poet and non-fiction writer and someone who knows their way around a camera. Do you have a favourite creative project that you have worked on?

That’s a tough question for me, I feel like all of my creative projects are part of one big lumpy collage — one thing always informs the next and so on. My creative process is largely me just bumping into things. I remember being in an introductory poetry subject at uni. We all had to put together a portfolio of poems. I went down to a velodrome near where I was living to write my first poem for this portfolio. A peculiar choice. I must have thought that watching bikes go round and round might spin some words out. I arrive and the velodrome was empty. Not a bike in sight. I sat in the middle on a grassy bit and squinted at the sun. Eventually a man and his daughter arrived, and I thought here comes my bike poem. But they didn’t have bikes. They unfurled a kite that was shaped like a boat. They took turns sailing it in the wind. I remember being so taken by the beauty of it all. I wrote my first poem that day and it had nothing to do with kites, or bikes. I’ve been jotting down things I see ever since.

You are currently studying regenerative agriculture — the first degree of its kind! Can you tell us a bit about what this means?

I’ve been studying the regenerative agriculture course at Southern Cross University for a year now. It’s becoming a bit of a buzz word but regenerative agriculture is essentially an umbrella term for a whole array of agricultural techniques and philosophies that aim to heal landscapes. We’ve gone off on a bit of a dangerous tangent with industrial agriculture and our planet is suffering because of it. Regenerative agriculture represents a break to that destructive and extractive approach to farming. Now, we’re seeing lots of inspiring farmers out there that are revitalising landscapes with a more holistic approach. Hopefully one day soon I’ll be one of them! 

Photography: Charlie Perry

What led you to becoming a self-proclaimed kelp enthusiast?

I honestly feel like seaweed grabbed me by the ankle and pulled me underwater. I was first awoken to seaweed’s regenerative potential by Tim Flannery’s book Sunlight and Seaweed and Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown. I then ended up spending some time with Tim Flannery and a group of people on Heron Island, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and from there my curiosity for seaweed kind of spiralled into an obsession. A healthy obsession.

For those of us who have grown up in Australia, what type of kelp would we be familiar with? What would we be surprised to find out about it and its potential uses?

We’re spoilt in Australia when it comes to seaweed diversity. South Australia is actually a seaweed haven; 60% of the seaweed’s found on the South Australian coastline are found nowhere else in the world. There are thousands of different types of seaweeds you can find washed up on the beaches in Australia. Everyone seems to love the kelps, a family of about 120 large brown seaweeds. Giant kelp can grow one metre in two days and can reach full maturity, up to 50m in length, in a matter of months. Recently there’s been some promising research into seaweed biofuels that can power vehicles, which is pretty neat. Many people are also not aware that there’s a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples using seaweed to make shoes, water carriers and shelters.

Photography: Charlie Perry

Where did the concept behind With a Little Kelp from Our Friends come from?

I suppose I really wanted to pull together all of these wonderful things I’d learnt to love about seaweed and present them in a book that everyone could read. There was a strong impulse to weave a narrative together that inspired love and wonder for the natural world, something that I think should be established as common ground. I was also thinking a lot about how to talk to children about climate change in a way that invites curiosity.

What was the research process behind the book like?

I was lucky that by the time I started planning the book I’d already done a fair amount of research. But there was a lot of research over several years. There were definitely times when the amount of research really tested my commitment to seaweed. Fortunately, I had a lot of people who were willing to share their knowledge and help me wade through the sea of information.

Illustration: Liz Rowland

If children and adults alike should take one thing away from With a Little Kelp from Our Friends, what should it be?

Seaweed’s power doesn’t come from its ability to extract, prey or trick but its ability to create community and provide shelter and food. In that sense, we should take a leaf from seaweed’s book.

What’s next for you?

Oh gosh, who knows. Let’s see what I bump into next. Perhaps seaweed farming! 

With a Little Kelp from Our Friends is available now. Text by Mathew Bate, illustrations by Liz Rowland and design by Hope Lumsden-Barry. Article photography by Charlie Perry.

AU$29.99


Posted on February 18, 2021
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A chat with our brand new children’s author, Kat Macleod

Kat Macleod really can do it all: having worked as a Melbourne-based illustrator, designer and exhibiting artist over the past twenty years, her journey has now taken her to the world of children’s publishing. Her first series with us is a staple set of four first concept books, covering the ABCs, 123s, colours and shapes. We spoke to Kat about her diverse career and how she was able to combine her love for art, illustration and children’s books.

Photography: Jimmy Teys

What sparked your passion for illustration, art and design?

I have loved drawing for as long as I can remember. As a child, my happy place was sitting and drawing at the kitchen table with textas and pencils. My high school art teacher encouraged me to study graphic design at uni, so that’s where I was introduced to the world of design. While I loved design and the structure and processes I learnt working in the industry for the past twenty years, at the heart of my practise is a deep passion and appreciation for art and illustration.

You have worked with lots of exciting clients, has there been a favourite project over the years that you can recall?

One of my favourite past projects is the first book I illustrated back in 2002, Bird. I had free reign to create a collection of drawings that were published as a limited edition art book with embroidered pages and a hand made cover. It’s very special to me as it marked the beginning of my career as an illustrator, and the realisation that I could combine my two greatest passions as a career path — design and illustration.

Illustration: Kat Macleod

How would you describe your signature illustration style?

Textural, bright and layered.

Your work is endlessly creative — what inspires you?

Thank you! I am inspired by art, design, creative individuals, fashion, films, music … but my biggest inspiration is nature. Whether it’s beautiful old trees along the Australian coastline, or found leaves at our local park, I am always inspired by the shapes and colours of the natural world.

Illustration: Kat Macleod

The Early Learners series is your first official foray into children’s publishing, what led you to the project?

I’ve been keen to work on children’s books for a long time and have made lots of little handmade books with my boys over the years. For my first step into the real world of children’s publishing it felt right to start at the beginning. Early learner board books are wonderful chunky little objects, full of illustrations and minimal text, and were very appealing to me as an illustrator and designer! It’s been a really exciting process to transition my illustrations from the art and design world into children’s books. Every page is an opportunity to create a composition of colour and form and lead the reader through simple narratives and playful themes.

What sets the series apart from other books for babies and toddlers?

These are colourful art-based books that are bright and engaging for babies and toddlers, and also hopefully are a pleasure for parents and carers to look at and read aloud.

Photography: Louisa Macleod

What challenges did you face in 2020?

I found 2020 challenging with the Melbourne lockdowns. Like most people, we really missed seeing our family and friends although I had plenty of company with my three active little boys home from school for so many months! The trickiest part was when schools closed, twice. I know I was not alone in finding it tremendously challenging to manage working from home whilst assisting my boys with tackling remote learning (big shout out to all the amazing teachers!) It was difficult to juggle everything but I know how lucky I was to be able to keep working, even if it meant after the boys were in bed. My husband is an essential services worker so I worried a lot about him at work too. It was a strange year but we have been lucky in Melbourne — the lockdowns and restrictions were inconvenient but they kept our city safe and all my loved ones stayed healthy, so I am extremely grateful for that.

What is next for you?

I am working on an exciting new picture book with you guys! It’s a really special little tale I’ve been dreaming up for a long time, I’m deep in the drawing stage. It’s such an exciting project and I can’t wait to share it.

Kat Macleod’s Early Learner series is available now. Text, illustration and design by Kat Macleod. Series includes:


Posted on January 28, 2021
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In praise of nature: a Q&A with Lewis Blackwell

Award-winning author Lewis Blackwell is known for publishing books that inspire ideas, evoke passion and embrace nature. His latest book, The Life & Love of the Forest, takes you on a visual tour of some of the world’s most majestic woodlands. We spoke to Lewis about his dynamic career, his love for nature and what he hopes readers will take away from the book.

Lewis Blackwell from The Life & Love of the Forest, image copyright © Tim Flach.

You have worked as a leading author, the creative head of Getty Images, the editor in chief and publisher of Creative Review magazine, and much more. What has been your career highlight so far?

What a tricky question. Perhaps I should give that honour to getting the first job, fresh out of university, when I really wanted to be writer but didn’t have much of a clue. I wanted to be a writer of… whatever, as long as it meant interesting people in interesting places. I sent off a lot of letters — this was pre-internet! — and almost all of the targets politely replied. And said they had no jobs. But then I struck lucky, and an excellent editor on a local evening paper in Devon saw something in me. In no time at all, I was writing masses of stuff that was getting published. Almost all of it instantly forgettable. But I learned a lot. And even then, I was sometimes engaging with environmental stories, and good photography (not mine, my friend Martin, the trainee photographer).

You are currently director of the Cresta Awards. Can you tell us a bit about your role and how it intersects with environmental issues?

The awards are about creative standards and we have work entered from more than 70 countries — all kinds of creativity in communication. It’s interesting how strongly environmental issues are a key and growing part of how brands express themselves around the world. I guess it is reflection of a rising consciousness that the environment needs protecting. One thing I want to do with Cresta is to find a way of channeling some of the great support we get from entrants into more long-term communication that can support environmental conservation.

From The Life & Love of the Forest by Lewis Blackwell, image copyright © Björn Forenius.

Where does your passion for nature stem from?

I roamed around the English countryside a lot as a child, with friends. It was either idyllic or neglect, perhaps a mix of both. We were scarcely environmentalists, but I did ‘take in’ nature. And I grew up on a fairly remote small farm for a while, where the natural world was much of what I spent time encountering. ‘Nature’ was entertainment. I’d take a day or two of school to read a book, go for a walk, take the horse for a ride. Trees and unkempt near wilderness, and so on, were everyday matters. I went back to the area recently and discovered quite a lot of the low-yielding land was now covered in small glittery rows of solar panels, farming the sun. Nothing had changed to improve the environment, although I guess the feed-in power helped the rural poverty. So, my passion now perhaps comes out of a sense of loss, of not taking opportunities earlier to fully appreciate and act in a stronger conservationist way. That’s a personal loss, and also a sense of a much wider communal failure.

The Life & Love of the Forest is a follow-up to your best-selling books The Life & Love of the Sea, The Life & Love of the Trees, The Life & Love of Cats and The Life & Love of Dogs. Why did you feel compelled to capture forests next?

Forests are inspiring beautiful subjects to show… and also a way into an important story. We all need to have a much stronger sense of the connectedness of our natural world. We need to better understanding how soil, light, water, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, etc., all work together to make a healthy forest, and that the complexity of the forest is a key part of what makes our world liveable. It’s increasingly not a ‘nice to know’ but a fundamental, something that should be part of how we all sense our part in the world.

From The Life & Love of the Forest by Lewis Blackwell, image copyright © wootthisak nirongboot.

There are plenty of important messages evoked throughout the book – if readers can take one thing away from The Life and Love of Forests, what would you like it to be?

If there is one thing I would like people to do as a result of reading The Life and Love of Forests, it would be to share some of the knowledge with others. Particularly young people. You can inspire a young person with interest about plants, animals, fungi — just find the bits that excite them. There are endless options. So if there’s one thing I want you, dear reader and (I hope) forest lover, to do it is to sign up some more forest lovers who have a long life ahead of them to love, protect and grow healthier forests.

Do you see a future in which we can co-exist with nature long term? How has the pandemic changed your outlook on this?

I think we have to believe in a future where we can co-exist with nature. The alternative is that we don’t exist. Nature will come back in some form, but we might not. If we have wiped most of it out, then the resulting hellish world will wipe us out. And nature will start to recover. If we work together to protect and support species diversity, which is a big ask but is entirely do-able, then we can feed ourselves better and yet not eat up the planet. We can create massive natural reserves in the ocean and on land and yet have more produce. It is all possible, but it takes joined-up thinking and a different kind of politics than we are seeing today. But it could change quite quickly. The pandemic has taught us that much: things can change very quickly and we can respond quickly.

From The Life & Love of the Forest by Lewis Blackwell, image copyright © nazar_ab.

What’s next for you?

I’m looking to create more books — one or two ideas are in development — and do more with Cresta. I want to keep learning, keep discovering and do this while meeting interesting people in interesting places. Right now, I’m trying to write something for an environmental film. I’ve a lot to learn and hopefully some skills to flex while doing the learning. It is fascinating.  And answering these questions have reminded me that, up next, or very soon, must be a return walk in one of my favourite forests, a royal one indeed, here in Scotland where I am currently spending time.

The Life & Love of the Forest is out now. Text by Lewis Blackwell, cover image copyright © TonyFeder and design by Blackwell & Ruth.

AU$80.00


Posted on November 5, 2020
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Delve into the colourful world of design with David Harrison

A Century of Colour in Design is design journalist David Harrison’s dazzling anthology of 250 furniture, fabric, lights and decorative objects, illustrating how colour has defined key designs over the last century. This vibrant history will be a discovery for both design newbies and aficionados, broad in scope and filled with everything from classics to eye-catching new pieces.

We spoke to David about his long relationship with Australian and international design, the idea behind A Century of Colour in Design and his thoughts on the future of colour in design.

You have been writing and styling for some of Australia’s best interiors magazines since 1999, how did you go about developing such an extensive knowledge of design and furniture?

In the 1990s I lived in Islington, London. A shop called twentytwentyone opened on the high street selling vintage furniture and lighting along with really interesting contemporary design. It was there that I discovered the brilliance of Charles and Ray Eames and saw the work of British designers Barber Osgerby for the first time. I was hooked and spent many a late night perusing Bonham’s and Christies twentieth century auction catalogues. My knowledge has stemmed from this period of intense discovery and then later from running a design gallery which sold Noguchi lights from Japan and Danish and American furniture from the 1950s and 60s. I also discovered a lot from doing research for my regular Cult Classic page for Inside Out magazine which ran for nearly 20 years.

Your blog, Design Daily, has been praised by designers and creatives from across the globe. Tell us what drew you to this work, and what you like to report on.

The blog was a way of writing about interesting design topics that were outside of commissions that I received from magazines. It allows me to see something exciting or particularly beautiful and write about it. It is a personal exploration of what has come across my desk or what I have seen at design fairs overseas or through meeting and interviewing designers. What I feature can be a new design or a designer retrospective, a building or exhibition – there are no rules as it is just whatever takes my fancy. That’s the beauty of writing your own blog.



A Century of Colour in Design is your first solo book project. What led you to its concept and how did the book come to life?

The general premise came about through visiting the Milan Furniture Fair (Salone del Mobile) year after year and noticing how the design world was embracing colour more and more. There has literally been an explosion of colour since 2000 and it is growing exponentially. The colour component in a design is critical now where it often wasn’t given much consideration in years gone by – it was usually an afterthought at the end of the design and manufacturing process. Certain designers ALWAYS considered colour as an essential component. This is why there are eight sections in the book that highlight particular designers or design studios that have a major fascination with colour. Four of them are from the past and four are contemporary. 



In the introduction to the book, you say that ‘making selections that cover a century of furniture, lighting and other interior design objects is an enormous and somewhat daunting task.’ Aside from of course ‘applying the filter of colour’, what was the process behind the selection of objects? 

Of the tens of thousands of objects that fit within the loose area of interior products – lighting, furniture decorative objects and textiles – I selected designs from the past that used colour as an essential part of their overall expression. These have stood the test of time, in that they have often been reissued and are still considered exciting 20, 30 or even 80 years after their original release. I also chose pieces that had used or were currently using colour in innovative or surprising ways. The book is full of these examples. 

Was there an object you loved that didn’t make it into the book?

There were many, many objects that I would have liked to include but which there simply wasn’t room for. In addition, there were times where I couldn’t obtain suitable images. After much agonising I am happy with all the products that are included. Some are famous while others are hardly known at all. I tried to get a balance so that it wasn’t all about design classics and I could showcase the huge number of contemporary designs that used colour in highly effective ways.

What role do you think colour will play in the next ten years of furniture and interior design?

Colour will be massively important. It is such an emotive thing – without it life is instantly less exciting. Designers already consider colour much earlier on in the design process and this will only become more accentuated as time goes on. Colour choices will become an essential part of the design process with plenty of discussions on exact shades with designers creating their own colours, beyond the industrially available palette, to help express their concept more fully or to deliver a particular emotion.



Have you faced many challenges in your line of work since the pandemic begun?

Actually, after being isolated day after day working on the book for a solid six months at the end of 2019 and early 2020, my life is much the same but without a deadline so somewhat more relaxed! For the design world everything has had to go virtual – new product launches, design fairs, talks, everything. It is a shame as these events were often incredibly stimulating and fun but I am sure things will eventually get back to being more immediate and real. It’s hard to capture the true spirit of furniture and interior objects unless its shown in a real space as the environment has such a massive effect on how these objects feel and the type of reactions they create.

A Century of Colour in Design is available now. Text by David Harrison and design by Evi-O.Studio.

AU$39.99


Posted on October 15, 2020
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The story behind This Small Blue Dot with Zeno Sworder

This Small Blue Dot is one of a kind when it comes to picture books. With a strong message of interconnectedness, hope, inclusivity and empowerment, the book follows a little girl exploring the big and small things in life. We chatted to first-time author, illustrator and all-round talent Zeno Sworder about his fascinating career and the inspiration behind this powerful story.

You have certainly had a multifaceted career, working in immigration law, journalism, teaching, advocacy for refugees and immigrants, and even a jewellery designer. Can you tell us about one of your career highlights?

One of the absolute highlights was working on the Australia China adoption program for the Australian Consulate General in Shanghai. Although reading the babies’ abandonment reports could be heartbreaking, meeting with the Australian parents and the adopted Chinese babies was wonderful.

There were a few occasions when I had to sit down and explain to the adopting parents that the baby’s medical results showed a developmental delay. You can imagine how difficult this news was. At this point they had already spent a day or two with the baby. Because of the baby’s young age, it wasn’t clear whether the delay was due to a lack of interaction in the orphanage or a congenital disorder. But on each occasion, the parents expressed that they wanted to go ahead with the adoption and that the baby was now their responsibility to care for. One adopting father simply said that they were a family as soon as the baby was in their arms. I found that courage to be deeply moving.

How did you learn to do pencil and crayon drawing, and how long have you been an illustrator for?

I think pencil and crayon are the tools that most of us use for our first scribble. Foolishly, I kept going with them rather than move on to more technical mediums like pastels and conte sticks. I didn’t grow up with a TV, so drawing was the main source of entertainment in my house. I remember always wanting more and more pencils. For years I longed for a Derwent pack of 72 pencils, but it never happened until I was an adult (and it turns out 72 pencils still isn’t enough). I have been working as an illustrator for roughly ten years and dabble with a lot of different traditional and digital mediums, however I loved returning to pencil and crayon for this book. The pencils allowed me to make realistic graphite renderings of the young protagonist, Ms Crayon, while the loud, vibrant colour of the crayons was perfect for the world of her wild imagination.

Illustration by Zeno Sworder

Just to add to your many talents, what led you to authoring a children’s book?

It was a number of things that happened in succession. Within the space of a few years my Chinese grandmother and my English father passed away and then our second daughter was born. My grandmother and father were both wise, kind souls and I was left remembering what they had taught me and wondering what lessons they would have wanted to pass forward to our young girls. I decided to put some of these down in writing and then thought it would be a good idea to illustrate them. Every night, when everyone else was asleep, I would spend an hour or two at my desk doing this. It was time that I could spend with the memories of my grandmother and father while also making a gift for my daughters. I thought of this work as a kind of bridge to help connect these different souls that shared so much but were separated by time.

Your young narrator is loosely based on your eldest daughter. How did she inspire you to tell this story?

When I first started drawing these pages there wasn’t really a protagonist, just a colourful illustration with text and then a character kind of crept into the book to help tie things together. The first iteration of this character, Ms Crayon, was older and had a different appearance than my daughter. At that time my daughter would have been 6 and one day she came into the studio to tell me very matter-of-factly that she couldn’t be a princess. I asked why, and she explained that none of the princesses wore glasses. I was certain that with the power of the internet I could find a picture of a princess with glasses and I did manage to find a photo of a European princess but my daughter wasn’t very convinced – she was after a Disney princes. So after that I redrew the book with a protagonist who looked more like her with glasses.

Illustration by Zeno Sworder

Both my daughters and I come from multicultural backgrounds. They attend public schools full of kids from different backgrounds. For purely selfish reasons, I love the idea that some of that diversity is reflected on bookshelves and that my children will be able to see faces in books that represent the multicultural world they inhabit.

What message do you want to get across to young readers?

The main message of the book is summed up in the title of This Small Blue Dot. I wanted to get across the idea that we are all inhabitants of a bright dot spinning in space, which is home to all of us. It is up to us to take care of our home and each other. I also wanted to pass on the important lessons that I remembered from my grandmother and father: lessons about interconnectedness, beauty, the human continuum and how to use an imagination. In short, lessons about how to be in this world. These lessons were passed onto me with a spirit of fun and generosity and I have done my best to capture that tone in the book.

Do you have any advice for first time children’s authors?

My advice is to dream up a big idea that will sustain you creatively for a year or so and then start to chip away at it, one page at a time. A routine is key to this. For many years I thought that great work required an alignment of the planets and an angel to whisper an idea into an ear. It turns out the reality is a lot more mundane. For me, it is about placing my bottom in a chair every day at a specific time to do specific creative work. You won’t always make gold with the first attempt, but you will be able to put something onto paper. That in itself is precious because once it exists in the world it can be worked into something better.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on my next book, which will also be published by the wonderful people at Thames & Hudson Australia. In my spare time I am slowly but surely learning how to use Instagram.

This Small Blue Dot is available now. Text and illustrations by Zeno Sworder.

AU$24.99


Posted on September 11, 2020
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Pups, photography and property: a Q&A with Nicole England

When we first released Nicole England’s Resident Dog in 2018, we were amazed at the response we received. Who knew that the crossover between architecturally superb houses and the adorable dogs that roamed them would resonate with so many people?

With the recent re-release of the book in a compact edition, we chatted to Nicole about all things architecture and interiors, and why the book continues to be a fan favourite both locally and internationally.

Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an architecture and interiors photographer.

After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Auckland University, I went off to pursue a career in photography, working in fashion, advertising and music. After a couple of years, I gave it up, feeling disillusioned and disheartened by working within the commercial arena. My mother had a strong interest in interior design and my brother was an architect, so I settled on a job working in sales and marketing for an interior design company. Six years later, I picked up the camera again and decided to photograph within the design industry that I had grown to love. That was the ah-ha moment… this was where I was meant to be all along, photographing architecture and interiors. This was my style and my passion, and I haven’t looked back since.

What are some of your key tips for setting up the perfect photoshoot?

Be organised, be flexible, arrive early, be aware of the light and how it moves around the space, stay focused, have an assistant to help, a stylist to set things up, and of course, a dog to remind us to relax and have fun.

What challenges have you faced in your line of work since the pandemic begun?

Unfortunately, most of my shoots have been put on hold. It’s not too bad though, as I’ve had time to work on my business, learn some new skills, and start a couple of personal projects. The shoots will re-book again, I’m certain of that, so I’m just trying to enjoy the downtime before things go crazy again.

Skipper. Photography by Nicole England

Where did the concept of Resident Dog come from?

One day a friend and mentor asked me what my favourite shoot day would look like. I told her I would be photographing the most incredible architecturally designed home you’ve ever seen, surrounded by forest and ocean. There would be a great crew of people to work with, the architect, the homeowner, a stylist and an assistant, a dog would be running around, the weather would be perfect, we would eat great food and drink wine at the end of the day… an opportunity to combine all of my favourite things. From that story, the one fly away comment about the dog was honed in on, and Resident Dog was born. We see a lot of dogs in architecture photography, more and more these days, but nobody had dedicated an entire project or book to our furry friends, the most important member of our home.

Scout, Diesel and Boston. Photography by Nicole England

Do you have a favourite project from Resident Dog?

To be honest, I don’t. I love them all for different reasons. If I had to choose, it would probably be the residence of Canela (the cover star of the compact edition). She lives in an incredible concrete box, designed by Mexican architect Andres Castilles. The house has a hard brutalist exterior but is filled with love and warmth.

Canela. Photography by Nicole England

And a favourite pup?

I couldn’t possibly say, imagine if one of them read this! Charlie definitely has the best hair do, Ginger and Harry made me laugh the most, Enzo and Carlo were the most stylish, little Gaston the loudest, April and Muffy the cheekiest, and Skipper the softest…

Why do you think that the book continues to resonate with people two years on from publication?

We all love dogs and, especially at the moment, I think we find comfort in their silliness, how they live in the moment, and the way they love us unconditionally. And combined with incredible, architectural homes, that inspire us to live a little differently… I think it’s a combination that we will never get tired of, for years to come.

Enzo and Carlo. Photography by Nicole England

Resident Dog is available now in a compact edition. Text and images by Nicole England and design by JAC&.

AU$39.99


Posted on September 1, 2020
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Illustrator Spotlight: Wonder Woman Laura Bernard

Laura Bernard works from her cosy studio in Wellington, New Zealand. She is a self-confessed nerd, homebody and introvert. Laura has inspired young creatives across the world to ignore the negativity that surrounds a career in illustration and to pursue their passion.

To celebrate the release of Wonder Women Bingo, we caught up with Laura to chat about the game, the female creatives she looks up to and how to stay sane when your home sanctuary becomes your workplace.

Laura Bernard

The illustrations for Wonder Women Bingo are phenomenal. What was your favourite part of working on this project?
Thank you! My favourite part was adding the finer detail to the garments and accessories that the women were wearing: the jewellery, the beaded and embroidered elements and the various patterns. That was so much fun. I feel like that’s one of the main elements that brings these ladies to life and makes them each unique.

Wonder Women Bingo, published by Laurence King Publishing, $29.99

Why do you think it’s important to have a children’s game dedicated to inspirational women?
Too often we are taught the names of famous, genius, amazing men that have achieved great things (Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Nikola Tesla to name a few). I think we often forget that there were incredible women who did equally amazing things, but we are rarely taught about them in the same way due to our unbalanced gendered history. Plus, a lot of women had to keep their intelligence a secret or pretend to be a man to be recognised. I think we need a game like this to help balance things out. Hopefully, it can inspire young women and teach them that they can be anything they want to be.

Laurence King Publishing is fortunate to work with a number of fantastic female illustrators like yourself, including Laura Callaghan, Marion Deuchars and Harriet Lee-Merrion. Can you tell us about the female illustrators and creatives that inspire you?
Creatively, I look up to Rebecca Sugar a lot. She created the Steven Universe series and creatively directed a lot of the character design, screenplay and music. She also worked on Adventure Time for a long while. I also admire Jennifer Lee, who is a screenwriter and a head creative at Disney studios. She worked on Frozen and Frozen 2, which are masterpieces for character, background, outfit and song design (all things she helped with).

As a freelancer, do you have any tips for staying sane when working from home? I think we need all the tips we can get right about now!
To be honest, being an introvert really helps. I can’t speak for more extroverted people but I love hibernating and working on my illustration. Working and living in the same space can be a huge challenge, so I do have one very helpful tip. I have a studio for my work, and when I am in there I am in ‘work mode’, when I am anywhere else in the house I’m in ‘home mode’. I’ve always used this mentality even before I had a studio and I worked at the dining room table. I would always sit on one chair and work so then that particular space is associated with working. I think that’s a super important thing to define when working from home as too often we work from bed or the couch, which I try to avoid.

Any tips for overcoming creative block?
Oh jeez, this is a hard one. Over the past five or so years that I’ve been freelancing, and where my creativity is my job, there’s that extra pressure to be creative ALL THE TIME. When I’m at a total creative loss and I’ve gone into a creative depression, I generally have a lot of negativity about my own work. I’ve realised that my creative block generally looks and feels the same: a lot of self doubt and self creative pessimism. If I’m telling myself all of these terrible things about my own work, putting it down and comparing it to others, how can I feel proud and happy with the work I’m making? To help break the cycle, I’ll go back to my old sketchbooks from yonks ago and see how far I’ve come. I’ll also look at all of my old random ideas and concepts to give myself a much needed pep talk: Look! These are your ideas and you are creative and awesome! I will then try and learn from my past works and ideas. I think it’s very important to be critical of your own work otherwise you will struggle to grow, but balancing that with self support, encouragement and feeling proud of yourself too.

We can see that you paint in both a traditional medium and digital. Do you prefer one over the other?
I fell in love with watercolour quite quickly after buying my first set when I was about nineteen. I think it will always be very special to me. I then transitioned into digital to broaden my skillset and I thought it would help me find more illustrating opportunities too, as we live in such a digital age. I think watercolour will always be my favourite medium, however I find digital has helped me grow and learn more as a creative — it’s a very forgiving medium and you are able to undo, flip canvases to check proportions, and change colours so easily: all things that you can’t really do with a traditional medium.

We are obsessed with all the work in your portfolio. Can you tell us about your favourite one?
Thank you so much! From my personal works, there’s an illustration of an A-frame house among some trees at night. I am super proud of this and the simplicity of it, but the fact that it still tells a story — a difficult balance. Professionally, I absolutely loved working on the Wonder Women Happy Families card game, and the Wonder Women Bingo. Learning about amazing women in history and having the opportunity to paint their portraits was so inspiring.

Wonder Women Bingo is out now. Text by Isabel Thomas and illustrations by Laura Bernard.

AU$29.99


Posted on August 7, 2020
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Paulina Larocca talks 2020, The Holey Bible and creative enlightenment

About to publish her third book, creative catalyst Paulina Larocca is one of the most driven, passionate and motivated authors you’ll ever meet. Her previous books on creativity can be found in homes, offices and classrooms across the globe, and we think her new book The Holey Bible is the best one yet. We caught up with Paulina to talk about creative enlightenment, the new book and the all-important year that has been 2020.

What exactly do you mean when you use the term ‘creative enlightenment’?
Creative enlightenment is a term I created based on my personal experiences and struggles with the creative process. Let’s face it, creative thinking is messy work and you must have an enormous amount of courage, belief and persistence for real breakthroughs to occur. The creative process can seem punishing, especially when you are in the weeds looking for a way out, but when you get to a resolution you experience a flood of relief and euphoria; you experience what I call creative enlightenment. For each person, the experience will be different but the result will be the same. You have a new direction and a new purpose that creates a deeper meaning in your life and your work. You are permanently transformed. It may feel like hell going through it, but it’s heavenly when it’s done.

What benefits will living a more creatively enlightened life have for those who don’t consider themselves creative or who don’t have a creative job?
That is the sad irony about creativity – it’s sold to us as something we either have or don’t have. We are all creative. Our brain is active during both wakefulness and sleep and is constantly imagining. Our minds are phenomenal storytellers, constantly constructing meaning from our environment. I think of creativity as a divine force that is present in each of us and plays a much bigger role in all our lives than we tend to realise. It is the engine of our mind, the author of our story and is responsible for how we identify ourselves – it is creativity that determines how you define ‘me’. You may not nurture it, you may not notice it, but creativity is the driving force of your life, so it pays to consider what kind of fuel you are putting in your tank. My mission is to help everyone cultivate an awareness of their creativity and learn to use it. That way, it can serve a higher purpose for each and every one of you.

The Holey Bible – what’s the message behind the title?
The title came about because we wanted to help people easily spot the holes in their thinking. We wanted to use the term bible, not in the religious sense but in the colloquial sense of a guide. The title tends to stop people in their tracks, so it’s a way of shaking things up – it’s almost as if you get an experience of the book from the title.

The cover is so striking. Can you tell us about those design choices – the bold font, the bright yellow and the upside-down type?
Well, with a name like The Holey Bible you cannot afford to be shy. We want to celebrate the creative spirit and yellow and black are great colours for that. Throughout the book we use bright colours. For those who know about printing, we use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) for four colour processing printing. They’re colours that ignite creativity and get the brain buzzing. The rest of the design and images were a very deliberate choice to keep the reader emotionally engaged and surprise them every time they turn the page.

This is your third book in three years. What drives you to write books rather than use another medium of storytelling?
Books are incredibly hard work and I sometimes wonder why I keep going back. They are wonderful vehicles for distilling your ideas into cohesive thoughts and the format forces you to do the work – it’s not just a few paragraphs dashed off for an Instagram post. Plus, having a publishing deadline ensures that even if you want to slack off, you can’t. A well-written book makes everything you do – speaking, blogs, social media – so much easier. But there’s no doubt about it, writing a book feels like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen – scary and exhausting.

Some might argue that this is a tough time to publish a book. Why do you think that 2020 is the year for The Holey Bible? Why do we need this book now?
I think this pandemic has forced all of us to rethink what’s important, what are we doing with our lives and what we need to change. It hasn’t been pleasant, but it has forced us to re-evaluate things we took for granted as being ‘just the way things are around here’ and deeply question them. There is no better time for a book that makes you question your assumptions and help you create new patterns of thought that may serve you better. If you are questioning anything or any aspect of your life, then don’t hesitate to pick up The Holey Bible. It will help you live your best life, which, let’s face it, is a creative life on your terms. Who could ask for more? 

The Holey Bible is available now. Text by Paulina Larocca and published by BIS Publishers. AU$35


Posted on July 7, 2020
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Flours, Feeding and Failures: Sourdough Troubleshooting with Roly Allen

By now, many of us have completed a back-breaking 1000-piece puzzle, tried our hand at something creative and baked our first (or tenth) loaf of bread.

We put a call-out on social media asking what sourdough issues you were facing and collated our top FAQs. Now, we sit down with sourdough expert and author of How to Raise a Loaf, Roly Allen, to have your questions answered.

Roly Allen, photography by Ida Riveros

What is the difference between bread flour and plain flour?
Bread flour has a higher protein content – around 13% is typical. These proteins (specifically, glutiens) are collectively known as gluten and, because they are looooooong molecules, they hold the dough together, making it stretchier, tighter and able to hold bubbles. That’s why you need bread flour for bread. Plain flour has less gluten. Otherwise they are the same.

I feel like my bread is really dense. What do I need to do to my starter for it to be light and fluffy?
It might not just be the starter, but assuming it is, I find that starters get better the more often that you use them and refresh them. If I bake three or four days running, the starter seems to get bubblier and bubblier. If my starter has just been refreshed once, after spending a period of downtime in the fridge, then things can be flat.

What is the maximum amount of time you can keep your starter in the fridge without feeding it?
Tricky one. I’ve heard tell of a starter that was successfully refreshed after several years dormancy in the back of the fridge, but I’d personally not leave it longer than a couple of weeks. If I knew that my starter would be going a long time unfed, I would make a flourier mixture (less water), which will slow everything down. I would definitely give a dormant starter a couple of refresh-discard cycles for it to get its strength back up before baking.

I learned that the word ‘crumb’ describes the inside of the bread from your book, which is interesting. Despite using a white flour but still can’t achieve the open crumb that I want. Any tips?
Try a mix with slightly more water and an overnight (or ‘retarded’) prove in the fridge. You mix and work the dough in the evening, and let it prove slowly at low temperature before baking in the morning. That might do it!

An open crumb, photography by Ida Riveros

I normally don’t eat white bread. I’ll always choose a wholemeal or multigrain. Do you recommend always starting with a white loaf first because it’s the easiest, or do you think jumping straight into wholemeal is achievable?
It is definitely easier to get a white loaf to rise and have an open crumb. That said, I really like denser brown breads myself and, if that’s what you like, I would just go ahead and start with them. Practice makes perfect, no matter what colour your loaf is.

Cooking time — dutch oven lid on for 45 mins and lid off for the final 15. Do you approve?
If it works for you, then yes!

What does adding a source of steam mean? I just have a regular fan-forced oven and no fancy equipment. What are some ways that I can easily add steam?
It is essential, but easy – just put a cup of hot water into an oven dish in the hot oven before you put the loaf in. The steam stops the crust from setting hard before the middle of the loaf has baked.

I just learned that you can overproof dough. Anything else we might not know about sourdough?
Salt is absolutely essential, and not just for taste. The salt works on a chemical level with the gluten to help the crumb form. If you forget to add salt, or don’t add enough, you get something that doesn’t taste, or look, that good. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Photography by Ida Riveros

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they try to make their first loaf?
I can’t speak for everyone, but the mistake I made was leaving the dough to prove for too long. This means that the dough pancakes out and you get a discus-shaped loaf that’s really dense. You need to get that dough into the oven while it’s still nice and springy to the touch.

What are your favourite toppings for freshly baked sourdough?
For breakfast: butter and apricot jam; for lunch, cheese and pickle; with dinner, butter or olive oil. If it’s toasted then it’s Marmite every time (Marmite is similar to Vegemite, but delicious).

Photography by Michelle Brasington

There are so many types of bread. Why do you think sourdough is such a craze?
Two reasons. Firstly, it’s a reaction against industrially-produced food. Sourdough bread is traditional, it doesn’t have additives, and you can tell that from how it tastes. Secondly, we are only now starting to understand how important our gut biomes are to our overall health – not just to our digestion. The lacto-bacteria that make sourdough taste slightly sour seem (don’t ask me for the detail!) to have a really positive effect in that department.

How to Raise A Loaf and Fall in Love with Sourdough is available now. Text by Roly Allen and published by Laurence King Publishing.

AU$25


Posted on June 16, 2020
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At home with cake queen Alice Oehr

Alice Oehr is passionate about her career in illustration and design, but her heart truly belongs to cake. In her first book, The Art of Cake, Alice explores the wonderful culture of cake, profiling fifty of the world’s favourite in her signature illustrative style. We visited Alice at her colourful home to chat about her road to becoming one of Melbourne’s most popular artists and all things dessert.

Can you share a bit about your background and what led you to becoming one of Melbourne’s favourite illustrators/designers?

I have always made things and enjoyed art, but it took me a while to come around to committing my life to it as I had other interests. I did an arts degree, travelled, and had some fun before knuckling down and studying graphic design. This gave me a set of skills that I could immediately use to realise my ideas, and to work for people who needed things done. I gradually leaned more into illustration as this is where my passion lay: colour, pattern, and so forth.

What was your approach to decorating your home, and what makes it quintessentially ‘you’?

I think a lot of artists are collectors (or hoarders, for a better word) as they are romantically drawn to objects and the life that thing has had. This is the case for me. I had no planned approach to decoration but over time, my home has become filled with things that all have sentimental value; objects passed down from grandparents, artworks from friends and souvenirs collected from round the world. Thus, the house is rather colourful, eclectic and chaotic, and that is me.

What is your favourite item in your house, and what does it mean to you?

I don’t really have a favourite, though some things do bring back very good memories. The corn jug is something that really makes me laugh, as it is so kitsch. I bought it at a flea market in France on holiday with my family. It appalled my mother, walking, as it does, the line of good taste. I enjoy this object because I can actually use it, and regularly put flowers in it.

How do you split your time between your home and your studio?

The only approach that works for me is to treat my freelance work as a full-time job. I work 9am to 6pm at my studio, and almost never at night or on weekends. I don’t  go out for lunch or go shopping during work time as I find this will come back to bite me later, when I find myself staying up until 2am finishing it.

You say that cakes are embedded in our memory, ‘laced with a heavy dose of nostalgia from the sweet moments of our past.’ Where does your love for cakes and pastries come from?

At first, I didn’t really know; but through the process of making this book, I have realised it is from the great sense of occasion my parents attributed to a visit to the cake shop when I was a kid. It served as a bribe, and it worked. In childhood too, the grand event of a birthday cake was long drawn out: choosing the flavours and the decoration, anticipating it, then being presented with it in front of a crowd in a great show of sparklers and singing. All that emotion is deeply embedded in the way I think about desserts – they are always special, and something to get excited about.

When did you start illustrating cakes, and at what stage did The Art of Cake come into conception? Can you talk a little about the creative process behind the cakes in the book?

My habit of drawing everything I see when I go travelling is what sparked the idea for the book. When I’m away I notice everythingand draw all the things I see and do. Each country I’ve visited has their own unique answer to a ‘sweet treat’, especially in places like France and Italy – their cakes are like works of art. Coming from Australia where we have more of a ’Women’s Weekly’ approach to cakes; the ostentatious decoration of France’s petits fours, for example, really appealed. The book seemed like a good idea as the universal appeal of a cake was clear. Every culture, from pretty much time immemorial, has had its own form of sweet dish – often associated with reverence or celebration – and I felt that this could be explored. I researched what are considered the most beloved cakes around the world and compiled a list. I investigated each cake to write my description of it’s flavour and presentation, as well as its history and most interesting tidbits. Then I drew them all!

What’s the best place in Melbourne for cake or a sweet treat?

For cake, absolutely without question, Beatrix in North Melbourne. If you’re after a more ‘bread–like’ snack, for instant a croissant or brioche pastry, Baker D. Chirico in Carlton is the best in that department.

What other projects have you been working on that we can expect to see this year?

My favourite on-going project is the weekly still life drawing class that I teach at Lamington Drive gallery in Collingwood. I choose a theme, set up a scene on a table, and 20-30 people come in to explore drawing the still life on an iPad Pro. Exploring digital drawing is a new and exciting activity and always promotes interesting conversation.

Alice’s still life drawing classes have taken a pause during isolation but are set to resume later this year.

The Art of Cake is available now. Text by Alice Oehr.

AU$24.99


Posted on May 11, 2020
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Meet Natalie King, series editor of the new Mini Monographs

Image (left): Sean Fennessy

Natalie King has a gift when it comes to visual culture, creative collaboration and bringing attention to both new and established artists. We spoke to Natalie – curator, professor and now series editor – about her career path, the inspiration behind our new series Mini Monographs, her goals for the year to come, and more.

Natalie, how did you start out in the art world, and what brought you to curatorship?

My paternal grandmother was a ballerina and we were very close. As a child, I adored going to matinee ballets with her at the Forum Theatre and remember the enchantment when the lights were dimmed and the ceiling glimmered with a trompe l’oeil sky. I was also an avid reader during a tumultuous adolescence and fiction allowed me to go into imaginary realms. I convinced a friend at school to illicitly procure his sister’s copies of books by D.H. Lawrence which I found scintillating.

On reflection, these childhood experiences shaped my pathway into curatorship though there was a temporary detour studying law. After a couple of years at law school, I travelled solo to Florence to study Italian and found myself taking respite in churches with frescoes and wandering through museums. It was like falling in love. Soon after, I changed my course to art history and museum studies at Monash University.

Where did the idea for Mini Monographs come from, and how did the project take shape?

The initial concept for Mini Monographs was formulated by publisher Kirsten Abbott with whom I have a prior relationship having worked with her on Tracey Moffatt: My Horizon for the 57th Venice Biennale 2017. We shaped the concept of Mini Monographs comprising a special selection of images accompanied by an essay from an author from a parallel field, adding an extra frisson.

Conventional monographs often accompany a retrospective exhibition and take a long time to compile, whereas our Mini Monographs celebrate a unique selection of images alongside a captivating essay, paired and in dialogue, compact and accessible. We especially want to celebrate the exceptional practices of women artists and hope that the series will be timeless.

Image from Polixeni Papapetrou: The Visitor, 2012. Images courtesy of the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney, and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin. Digitised by Dr Les Walkling.

How did you select Polixeni Papapetrou and Del Kathryn Barton as the first artists for the series?

We believed that both Poli and Del are immensely worthy of being represented in the first tranche of Mini Monographs, inaugurating this new series. It’s an original and unique concept that celebrates Poli’s distinctive photographic ensembles and Del’s sensual portrait paintings.

What do you think defines Polixeni Papapetrou’s work?

Poli was a close comrade and colleague, who sadly passed away one year ago. We worked closely on the sequencing of her images and it is a tribute to her that this was our final project together. She was both feminist and feminine in her approach to all aspects of her life. Previously, I have curated Poli’s photographs into the Dong Gang International Photo Festival in Korea and the TarraWarra Biennial: Whisper in My Mask in 2014, plus I have published various interviews and essays on her work, so we had a strong affinity.

Poli’s work is defined by a highly staged and taut mise-en-scène, choreographed with costumes, sets and props and featuring her children, especially her daughter, Olympia. On the cover, we have selected Heart from the series Eden 2016. Here, Olympia holds a wreath or garland of flowers against a floral backdrop and dress, the patterns merging foreground and background. I think Poli might have been thinking about the Garden of Eden and the afterlife as well as celebrating the cusp of feminine adolescence and adulthood. The maternal gaze is powerful in Poli’s photographs, and her work is about relationships and love, staging and theatricality, landscapes and loneliness.

Images from Del Kathryn Barton: (left) what am I also, 2013. Courtesy of Del Kathryn Barton and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; (right) i am true about this, 2007. Courtesy of Del Kathryn Barton and Karen Woodbury Gallery. Photos: Jenni Carter. 

And Del Kathryn Barton?

Del works adeptly across painting, drawing, film, textile and sculpture in highly ornate renditions of friends, family and characters often merging with creatures. Having won the coveted Archibald Prize twice, Del has a feminine sensibility, yet there is an uncanny or foreboding quality to her sinewy figures.

We love Joanna Murray-Smith and Sarah Darmody’s personal essays accompanying Polixeni Papapetrou and Del Kathryn Barton respectively. What do you feel each essayist brings to the monograph?

Thank you. I also love the unexpected qualities to Joanna Murray-Smith’s and Sarah Darmody’s writings, which are both deeply personal, reflective and original essays. Joanna’s relationship with Poli invoked a certain intimacy, whereas Sarah’s experience of motherhood and viewing Del’s retrospective at the NGV lends a giddy vividness and velocity to her writing, almost like the frenzy in Del’s paintings.

What was the selection process behind all the breathtaking images in both books?

We worked closely with the artists and, at times, with their gallerists on the sequencing of images so that rhythms unfold. In particular, I worked one year with Poli on the arrangement of visuals: arranging, rearranging and deleting images, almost like a form of choreography. Lesser known images are placed in tandem with more familiar works to take the reader on a visual journey.

Image from Polixeni Papapetrou: Study for Hattah Man and Hattah Woman, 2013. Images courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid Gallery. Sydney, and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin. Digitised by Dr Les Walkling.

What have you enjoyed most about the process of bringing the series to life?

I am really proud of the series and have relished the process of working with Thames & Hudson, especially the visionary Kirsten Abbott and the artists whom I admire immensely.

In 2018, you were a finalist in the AFR 100 Women of Influence. How do you hope to use this influence in 2019?

It was an honour to be a finalist in the AFR 100 Women of Influence. I try to advocate and support other women to ascend and flourish. I am part of Mentor Walks whereby senior female professionals meet monthly for a walk and talk at dawn with emerging leaders to discuss their burning issues and concerns.

I hope I can show other women that together we can build inspired, collaborative working environments that can lead to transformation in our fields and beyond. We must remember that we aren’t aspiring to the existing paradigm of leadership but are making a new one. And, we have an obligation to steward our creative resources for the betterment of a faltering society. 

Image: Alli Oughtred

Natalie King is a curator and writer working in Melbourne. She is currently Enterprise Professor at the Victorian College of the Arts, and was named in The Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence awards for Arts, Culture and Sport in October 2018. Natalie was also Chief Curator at Melbourne Biennial Lab, Creative Associate of MPavilion and Curator of Tracey Moffatt: My Horizon at the 57th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2017, as well as the editor for Tracey Moffatt: My Horizon.


Posted on June 6, 2019