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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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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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Parents’ Notes for Kids of All Ages

After a term of homeschooling, the last thing you’re thinking about is setting another homework task, putting aside time for learning or trying to stretch out that 45 minute activity that your sweet angel completed in less than ten minutes.

For those times when you can’t possibly open up another teacher-resource, we have you covered; welcome to parents’ notes.

What are parents’ notes?

Our parents’ notes are just like teachers’ notes, but without the emphasis on learning. Parents’ notes are about inspiring conversation.

The best thing about our parents’ notes is that you don’t need any extra resources and you don’t need to buy the book. Everything you need is included on one page — the questions, the book’s cover and any other helpful illustrations.

We’ve put together parents’ notes for three of our best-selling Laurence King Publishing titles, one for each age group. You can download your parents notes here on our activity page.

1 to 20 Animals Aplenty

Questions aimed at ages 3-5, download here

Example question: How many animals can you see on the front cover? Can you name them all?

1 to 20 Animals Aplenty is a delightful counting book that takes young readers from 1 to 20 – from dogs who have pet frogs and snakes who love to eat cakes to gorillas looking at mirrors and llamas wearing pyjamas! Beautifully illustrated by Katie Viggers and published by Laurence King Publishing.

Bob Goes Pop!

Questions aimed at ages 5+, download here

Example question: What are the physical differences between Bob and Roy?

From award-winning author Marion Deuchars and published by Laurence King Publishing, Bob Goes Pop is a charming and funny follow-up to Bob the Artist and Bob’s Blue Period, all about art and teamwork.

Match a Mummy

Questions aimed at ages 10+, download here

Example question: Based on the cat and cat mummy on the box, what can we assume about the ancient Egyptians’ relationship to cats?

Travel back in time to Ancient Egypt with this new children’s matching game, developed in partnership with the British Museum and published by Laurence King Publishing. Locate and match up the pairs to learn more about how the Egyptians lived.


Posted on June 9, 2020
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Mind Travel: Nina Karnikowski Takes You on Your Wildest Journey Yet

Words by Nina Karnikowski, author of Make a Living Living, introduction by Bianca Jafari

Nina Karnikowski is one of Australia’s most loved travel writers. Her career has seen her journeying through Mongolia in ex-Russian military vehicles, exploring the Namibian desert in open-sided safari trucks and dodging icebergs in Antarctica in an icebreaker ship. But, for Nina, travel is more than just a job.

Our adventures (imagined, planned or taken) shape a unique part of who we are. They help form our beliefs, expand our way of thinking and provide endless inspiration. With many of the world’s international borders now closed, there’s no obvious replacement to fill the void. Now, Nina brings us one step closer, taking us on a journey that defies physical boundaries.

Nina Karnikowski, photography by Peter Windrim

Last week, I learned a new word. My mum taught it to me, sending me a BBC article she’d read about something called ‘fernweh’. Call it motherly intuition, but it was the exact word I had been searching for. It means, literally, ‘distance sickening’, and nods to that deep craving we all occasionally have to see far-flung places.

‘What if our lust for travel causes us a deep yearning pain, an ache that reminds us we have to get out and see the world?’ asked the BBC article. ‘What if we’re trapped inside our homes because a virus has taken the Earth and its inhabitants hostage, and we feel despair that we simply cannot travel at all?’

The story was a comfort. Having been a travel writer for the past seven years, visiting a dozen countries a year on assignments covering destinations as diverse as Antarctica, India and Zambia, to Japan, Nepal and Peru, the sudden end to this constant wandering has left me feeling stagnant and uninspired.

Reading about ‘fernweh’, though, reminded me how many other travel-hungry humans are stuck in their homes feeling this very same thing – this growing restlessness, this deep thirst for the exotic and the strange and the extraordinary, that seems increasingly far away with every passing day. Maybe, I’ve been thinking, in the absence of real travel and in the face of this very real crisis, we might need to start escaping for some mind travel occasionally, taking inner journeys in the absence of outer ones.

But how do we plan these inner journeys? Well, I think we start by appealing to our senses. This past week, for example, when an intense craving to visit India crept up on me, I brewed pots of sweet masala chai and listened to my favourite Bollywood music and burned nag champa incense and dreamt of the wild adventures I’ll eventually have in the Indian Himalayas when this life pause is over. And yes, I also spent time leafing through the pages of Make a Living Living to find the India tales tucked away in there. It helped.

Mukul Bhatia, one of 26 inspirational creatives featured in Make a Living Living, photography by Aleena Das

Films, books and podcasts are other things we can ‘pack’ for these mental journeys around the globe. Over the past week I’ve escaped to 18th-century Qing dynasty China while watching Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, northern India via Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, and Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan during The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Diving into transportive travel podcasts like Conde Nast Traveller’s Women Who Travel and Travel With Rick Steves has also proven to be a wonderful escape portal. I’ve spent time ‘travelling’ via forgotten coffee table books, to Africa via Peter Beard’s stunning photographs, and India through Steve McCurry’s. I’ve also been dipping into Paul Bowles’s Travels, Collected Writing, 1950-93, covering tales from Morocco to Kenya, Thailand to Sri Lanka and beyond, and Leigh Ann Henion’s Phenomenal, a Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World, which whisks the reader away to Mexico to witness the great monarch butterfly migration, to Venezuela to see their notorious lightning storms, and Hawai’i to climb active volcanoes.

Mood boarding is another fun way I’ve found to mind travel, grabbing a stack of old magazines, some scissors and glue and a bunch of coloured pencils, as well as found objects like coins, flowers and feathers, and cutting and pasting my way to a faraway land. It’s a way of immersing yourself with a place in a tactile way (I explain in further in one of the eight creativity-stoking exercises peppered throughout Make a Living Living), and could even prove a useful starting point for organising your next journey when we’re all ready to take flight again.

Mood boarding, photography by Peter Windrim
‘From mimic to master’, one of eight exercises in Make a Living Living

Some of the best ‘adventures’ I’ve taken since this all started, though, have been while sitting still. Simply sitting and listening to the sound of my breath in my body has allowed me to not only accept the situation just as it is, and to transform fear into curiosity and creative thinking, but also to cut through the noise and find fresh time and energy to share with those closest to me.

Home meditations and yoga classes via YogaGlo.com have been pulling me out of catastrophic thinking, as have listening to podcasts like Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris, a practical deep-dive into mindfulness and Buddhism aimed at ambitious modern listeners, and those by Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. These tools have opened up potent periods of stillness and clarity in my days that have made me realise that the greatest adventure any of us might hope to take right now, or perhaps ever, is that of going nowhere at all.


Make a Living Living is for anyone who has ever wished they could build a successful career doing something they love. Structured around the stories of inspiring individuals, from a vegan chocolatier to a nomadic photographer and a tiny-house builder, the book explains how they achieved their ideal existence, and the challenges they faced along the way.

Make a Living Living, published in March 2020, by Laurence King Publishing, $29.99, available here.


Posted on April 16, 2020
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Jonathan Drori takes us Around the World in 80 Trees

Trees are one of humanity’s most constant and most varied companions. From India’s sacred banyan tree to the fragrant cedar of Lebanon, they offer us sanctuary and inspiration – not to mention the raw materials for everything from aspirin to maple syrup.

Jonathan Drori’s bestselling book, Around the World in 80 Trees, is now available in paperback. In this extract, we take a closer look at something local, the Jarrah, and then journey to Iran to hear about the origins of the pomegranate.


Jarrah

Eucalyptus marginata, Western Australia

Jarrah

Jarrah: a name that sounds quintessentially Australian. The word comes from the Nyungar language of the continent’s far southwest. In pre-colonial times, there were millions of acres of jarrah forest on the leached soils of what is now called the Darling Plateau. It is a majestic tree, easily 40 metres (130 feet) high and its trunk 2 metres (6 feet) across, with rough, very dark-brown bark. Gloriously fragrant flowers, miniature white starbursts, festoon the tree in clusters of ten or so, attracting bees, which make a distinctively malty, caramel-flavoured honey from its nectar. Jarrah is the linchpin of an important and complex forest ecosystem, home to unspeakably cute marsupials with names to delight any Scrabble player: the numbat, the potoroo, the quoll and the quenda.

Jarrah trees are long-lived – at least 500 years and up to a millennium or more – if they get the chance. British colonists quickly saw the value in the rich red jarrah wood, which was immensely strong and resistant to rot, insects, wind and water. It was eagerly taken up for shipbuilding and harbour pilings. When convicts arrived en masse from 1850, the fl ood of cheap labour meant that jarrah could be exported across the British Empire to feed its insatiable appetite for railway sleepers and other durable infrastructure such as telegraph poles, wharves and even tea sheds. A network of steam-powered sawmills and railways sprang up to extract the timber.

Jarrah

On the other side of the world, Londoners were trying to work out
what to use to pave their roads, which by the 1880s were hectic with horsedrawn traffic. Stone blocks and cobblestones were deployed on substantial sections of main roads, but they were expensive and caused horses to slip and skitter in the city’s frequent rain. Tarmac, known then as macadam, would still need another few decades of development before it was robust enough. Then there was wood. Softwood deal and pine paving from the Baltic had advantages over stone: it was much quieter, more easily swept and kinder to horses’ hooves. But those woods wore and rotted quickly, and would soak up the swill of equine urine and ordure and, under pressure from a heavy wheel, squirt it out at passers-by. Unsurprisingly, then, when jarrah wood was exhibited in 1886 at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London and advertised as a durable paving material, there was immediate interest. It turned out to be extraordinarily hardwearing, losing only 3 millimetres (1∕8 inch) a year on busy roads. Lasting decades and blessedly non-porous, it was popular with man and beast alike. By 1897, despite the huge shipping costs and distance, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) of London’s busiest and swankiest streets had been clad in Australian jarrah wood – millions and millions of blocks, mostly laid over concrete. Back in Australia, the huge demand spawned many competing and unregulated jarrah-wood companies. Competitors repeatedly dropped their prices to gain orders, to the point that in 1900 Australian jarrah was being sold in England for less than vastly inferior woods brought from nearby Sweden. It was a lucrative but ludicrously unsustainable business; the forests could never withstand such rapacious exploitation. Despite the rapid forest loss, it wasn’t until the end of World War I that laws were introduced to manage more sensibly the trees that remained. And while asphalt replaced wooden paving blocks soon afterwards, the demand for jarrah timber for construction work never went away.

Aside from a few spectacular protected areas, most of the jarrah forests are gone now, felled for timber or to make way for agriculture and mining. What is left is at risk from global warming and the cascade of complex changes that come with it. The fungus-like organism Phytophthora cinnamomi is causing deadly dieback, and in summer there are increasingly frequent droughts and heatwaves. The original unbridled exploitation of jarrah and the depletion of its fragile ecosystem coincided with the demise of Nyungar culture. The remaining jarrah is again in danger, this time from climate change, to which we all contribute and by which all cultures are threatened.

Jarrah

Pomegranate

Punica granatum, Iran

Pomegranates feature frequently in writings from ancient Egypt and classical Greece, in the Old Testament and Babylonian Talmud, and in the Qur’an. Their abundance of seeds and juice consistently link the fruit to fertility. The ancestors of the cultivated pomegranate grew several thousand years ago in arid, hilly regions between Iran and northern India, and today’s cultivars still prefer hot days and cool nights. Small, many-branched trees of 5–12 metres (16–40 feet), with shiny leaves of deep green, they are long-lived, perhaps to 200 years. Pomegranate flowers are a sight to behold. Distinctive calyxes, protective layers around the base of each flower, form sturdy funnels from which crumpled petals burst exuberantly in lurid shades of scarlet and crimson.

Pomegranate flowers

Pomegranate fruit range in colour from yellow with a blush of pink to burnished rose or even maroon. They have a tough, leathery skin, ensuring the fruit last well after picking; historically, they were a refreshment taken on long journeys. Inside, held within a spongy cream membrane, are hundreds of seeds, each within a juicy sarcotesta (a swollen seed coat), ranging from translucent pink to deep purple. The turgid grains interlock satisfyingly with one another – a triumph of efficient packing – and the juice within each one is delectably sweet, tart and mildly astringent. These are ample compensations for the dry woodiness of the seeds and the dilemma, for some, of whether to spit or swallow.

While fresh pomegranate fruit, juice and cordials are widely available from the western Mediterranean to south Asia, the Iranians have truly embraced pomegranate culture. Specialist stalls stock juice from different cultivars. Mounds of seeds – fresh, dried or frozen – are ready to be sprinkled on top of juice or ice cream, sometimes with a pinch of thyme. In autumn, fresh juice is boiled until it thickens into dark-brown molasses, a key ingredient of khoresht fesenjan, a chicken and walnut stew. And of course, Tehran has the requisite annual pomegranate festival.

Pomegranates have a reputation for health benefits. Traditional uses for diarrhoea, dysentery and intestinal parasites are long established, and the fruit contains antioxidants that are likely to be beneficial; some gung-ho anti-cancer and anti-ageing claims, however, require better evidence. But perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss the psychological benefits of a fruit whose consumption requires our undivided attention.

Pomegranate fruit

Jonathan Drori is a Trustee of The Woodland Trust and The Eden Project, an Ambassador for the WWF and was for nine years a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Zoological Society of London, and a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In 2006 he was made CBE. You can read his full biography here or listen to his TED talks here.

Jonathan Drori

This is an extract from Around the World in 80 Trees. Text by Jonathan Drori and illustrations by Lucille Clerc.

Around the World in 80 Trees paperback edition, published March 2020, by Laurence King Publishing, $24.99, available here.


Posted on March 3, 2020