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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