AFCC Interview: Frané Lessac

In approximately 2 month’s time, I’ll be heading down to Singapore again to attend the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2014 – it’s a fantastic conference and workshop for writers and illustrators who are involved (or are looking to involve themselves) in creating works for the children/tweens/teen market. Actually, I think that for those who are keen to learn more about the industry as a whole would be able to learn a great deal just be attending the event. I was an attendee last year and I look forward to this year’s lineup!

As a way of showing my support to this incredibly enriching event, I’m so thrilled to introduce Frané Lessac to you, dear readers; and she’s an illustrator who will be conducting one of the masterclass sessions during the AFCC! I’ve wanted to cover topics that are more in depth on the blog through artist interviews, and the opportunity to chat with Frané via email was one that I couldn’t pass up! She’s published over 35 books for children and has won numerous awards for her illustrations, and I get to dig more into how she got started (she wrote and illustrated her very first book – and was turned down by 30 publishers before she met one who believed in her!)

I hope you’ll enjoy the interview!

Frané Lessac

Frané Lessac

Hi Frané! We know that you were born in 1954, and that you’re based in Australia at the moment. Could you tell me what you just had for breakfast, and perhaps you can share a random tidbit about yourself? :)

This morning I had peanut butter and jelly on toast. Very American, but normally I try and eat healthy by having plain yogurt with fresh blueberries. After breakfast, I move to my studio, which is located in the garden. Inside I’m surrounded by mementos from my travels, family photos and books. Bright flowers grow outside the windows and the walls are adorned with art painted by my friends.

Where did you learn how to draw? Did you study art at college/university, or are you a self-taught artist?

I always loved art and it was a dream to one day become an artist. When I was five years old, a neighbour started up art classes in their attic on Saturday afternoons. It was the first time I was able to work on one piece continuously over a period of time. I was the youngest participant and the instructor let me paint whatever I wanted. I remember my finished painting to this day. I took art as an elective in high school, but I was pretty useless and the teacher let me create whatever I wanted during the hour period. I believe this freedom was essential to finding my own style.

I read that you originally wanted to be a film-maker (you studied at a film school at California). How did that influence your decision to turn to illustrating children’s books? Do you see an overlap between the two?

I studied Ethnographic Film at the University of California in Los Angeles – this is a combination of anthropology and film. My interest was in producing documentaries about cultures from around the world. I cherished my studies and everything I learned I eventually incorporated into my paintings. When I moved to the island of Montserrat, it was difficult to work on films and realized I could share the same stories about people from around the world by using paper and paint. 
You love to travel – can you tell us how has traveling inspired your illustrations? 



One of my greatest passions is traveling.  Seeing new places, meeting new people and learning about their lives. I gather ideas that I think children would enjoy finding out more about. I try and view the world through a child’s eye: What intrigues me? What stories would I take home and share? There are so many stories that need to be told.  

When putting together a book, I choose topics that I’m passionate about. That passion hopefully shows in the words and the art and is contagious.  I like to add in lots of detail in my illustrations for children to discover as they read a book over and over again. Sometimes I use certain colours to convey subliminal messages.

Frané Lessac

Your first book, The Little Island (UK) was conceived while you were in Montserrat in 1981. In it, you illustrated and also wrote the book, which you’ve shopped around to 30 publishers before being accepted. In the children’s book market, usually the pairing of artists + writers are done by the publishers.

Since you were the writer and illustrator, was that the reason why you were rejected initially? How did you manage to convince the book’s publisher to take you on?

When I first approached publishers, all I had was an idea and a series of paintings of Montserrat.  A hard sell when you’ve never been published. I wasted a lot of time approaching the wrong publishing houses.  In the process of publishers passing on my concept, I gained invaluable knowledge and by the thirtieth publisher, I had a solid proposal. Having a face-to-face meeting with the publisher was helpful and I was able to plead my case when they hummed and hawed whether they’d publish my idea. Macmillan UK finally released it, and the following year by HarperCollins USA with a slightly different title – “My Little Island” which has now sold over 350,000 copies.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the process of illustrating a children’s book – from start to finish?

Story always comes first – whether one tells it in illustrations or words, or the collaboration of both in a children’s picture book. The initial spark to write or illustrate a story might be generated by a character or a setting. The publisher will send along a brief on the pagination, book’s dimensions and time frame for the delivery of a dummy book and final artwork. Many children’s picture books are 32 pages long and the first thing is to break down the text to fit into a 32-page book including title, dedication and imprint page. What I’ve learnt over the years was not only to sketch a first impulse, but also to explore how many different ways you can draw the same scene. Next, the publisher likes to see a dummy/mock up of the book. This helps show the flow of the story and is vital to see how the words and pictures work together. If all is well, then it’s onto the final art.

Frané Lessac

Frané Lessac
Between illustrating and writing your own book; and illustrating for other writers, can you share with us the difference between the roles? Is one more fulfilling than the other?

Many of the books I choose to illustrate, whether I write them or someone else, is all about the story. If I can visualize the story, I’m keen to paint the pictures of other people’s words. 
I haven’t met all of the authors of books I’ve illustrated. Some authors I know very well and in one case, I know the author very very well. My husband, Mark Greenwood, is a children’s author and we’ve created over a dozen books together AND two children. For my projects with Mark, he keeps me in mind when he writes. He predicts how I will use the text and knows that I will paint a lot of detail from his words.

How long does it take for you to finish illustrating for a children’s book? 

The majority of my projects take three to fours years from the original concept to the finished book. This includes traveling for research and then waiting for a finished manuscript. The actual paintings take three – four days for each spread and a whole book can take up to four months. Once I deliver all the art, it can take up to a year to get a copy in my hand.

What do you think of the children’s book market today? Are the themes very different from what you were working on before?

The children’s book publishing market has changed over the years. More styles of art are acceptable and many young art students are now creating art on the computer. The shelf life of books in shops are shorter and more people are self-publishing and selling online. The market competition is greater and with eBooks, changes are happening that will alter the way we interact with books in the future.  As far as themes, there’s a saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun, but the sun itself”. In other words, new ways to tell old stories will continue to happen.  What is different today, are books for older readers with complex issues never explored before in a picture book format.

Frané Lessac

 Reality check: You need a lot of books out in a lot of countries to make a living just as an illustrator.

While you were illustrating children’s books – were you also holding down other jobs to support yourself, or were the commissions enough to sustain you financially?

When I first started out I struggled to make a living but I was always optimistic and held onto the belief that I will get published and I will make art and illustrating a full time career. All along the way, I exhibited my art and made postcards and prints of my work to supplement my income. Reality check: You need a lot of books out in a lot of countries to make a living just as an illustrator.

What was your most challenging project to date?

Every project has its challenge and that what keeps it fresh and interesting. With every book you discover something new. This is why it’s a fabulous career, you’re always learning.

What advice or tips would you give to an aspiring children’s book illustrator?

Create a portfolio showing a diversity of work. Include animals, children, landscapes and anything else you love to draw.  Make sure it’s your best work. Send out sample postcards and/or A4 sample sheets with several images to editors and art directors. Update the images and resend at least once or twice a year. Research what’s appropriate for their lists. Don’t be a closet illustrator – share your ideas. Join organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It’s the best way to keep your finger on the children’s book publishing pulse. You’ll make firm friends and enjoy the generous support of a global network on your journey to getting your first book published.

Thanks so much Frané!

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Check out more about Frané’s work via her website, and come on down to Singapore in May 2014 for the AFCC to say hello! More info about the AFCC, including the whole conference schedule over at their website.

Q+A: How to find the perfect part-time job

Send me your questions through my contact form!

Dear Amy,

I recently read your excellent blog post about why artists & illustrators should get job and wonder if you have any advice about finding the ideal part-time job to help one reach one’s goal.

In my own case, I really want to write and create graphic novels full-time but am at a loss to find a complementary job that pays well enough and fits my analytical personality. I am even considering going back to school to learn animation or going back to learn something high-tech. But I also know that I’d toss both away if I ever had the chance to write and illustrate full-time.

What are your thoughts?

~ Benjamin

Hi Benjamin!

Finding the ideal part-time job is definitely the way to go as you go experiment and take time to hone your craft and work! Having a part-time job does wonders in alleviating the stress of having to worry where your next meal will come from and to avoid that awkward moment of trying to fake not being around whenever your rent lady comes a-knocking.

Finding a part-time job involves a two main scenarios:

Scenario #1: You have many different skills – writing and illustrating and illustrating is just one of them

This is the sort of situation where you’re a multipotentialite. Not only do you have a talent for drawing and writing, but you might also be a good strategist, or a great chef. I think that deep down, we all have different skill sets. While they may not necessarily go together and culminate in one job (that’s a tough find); finding different outlets where you are able to flex your skills is a great way to make yourself happy.

Scenario #2: You have one main love – writing and illustrating – and it’s hard to imagine yourself doing anything else.

If this is the case, you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing to find out what would be a good fit for you. For me, what has always worked is to find something that would help me balance between time, money, and interests. And this formula would change throughout the years. For example, when I was in university, I would work part time as a retail assistant at a clothing store. I didn’t have much time (because I was standing on my feet the whole day tending to customers), little money (because the pay was a mere RM3.40 (USD$1) per hour), and I wasn’t really interested in it so much.

So the equation would look something like this:

Retail assistant = Less time for myself + Little money + Low level of interest = on a scale of 1-10, this would be a 2/10

I learned to balance things out by finding jobs that would tip the scales to what I was looking for at a particular time. For my part-time writing positions a couple of years after I graduated, the equation looked like like this:

Freelance writer= Adequate time for myself (to work on Pikaland) + Adequate money (if you hustle enough) + High level of interest =  5/10

Currently, I want to free up my time and also up the money factor (what this means is that I want to add value to what I do, instead of having my hours count instead). So I have a few options here – find higher paying writing jobs, or find another interesting part time job that would pay me more money than what I currently do. I’ve done both before, and I’ve just accepted a job as a part-time creative director of a PR/digital strategy agency, and this is how my equation looks like now:

Part time creative director= Adequate time for myself + Good money + High level of interest = 7/10

It’s always about finding out what you need at a particular time in your career or life – whether you’re looking to have more time to spend on your interests, to want to find more money to supplement your income, and what you’re willing to put aside (your interests) in search of a part time work that works for you.

Now we move on to another point: How do you find the perfect part time job for you? I’ve broken it down into a few key strategies:

#1: Find out what your skill sets are.

When I first graduated from university, I avoided sending my resumes to landscape architecture firms. I had a 6-month experience with being in one before, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward for more. So I thought to myself – I’ve been submitting my writing to the local newspaper and magazines, so why not try to do more of that, and get paid too? So my first job was as an editorial assistant – there was a lot of writing, running around scrambling for photo shoots and also helping my editor manage a few editorial projects, all the while keeping a tight deadline.

A few years later, I was an editor myself. And then I left to run Pikaland full time to see where it could lead me. My past experiences made me realize that I am quite fond of writing. And I could organize and manage a team of people. I could manage projects. I loved solving problems. I am happy when I am able to take something complicated and make it simple. And so I took these skills that I have and I ran with it. Starting up Pikaland utilized those skill sets (apart from my love of drawing and writing). So did determining what sort of part-time job I could pursue to supplement my income.

#2: Do what you’re comfortable with (for starters!)

A lot of times, finding a part-time job is about extending what you’ve been doing in the past, but perhaps scaling it down to suit your lifestyle. I chose to continue writing because I was able to excel in it (at least I think so!) Writing for an architecture and design magazine was a comfortable setup that I could tap into. It also helped that I love meeting people within the field, and they felt that they were talking to someone who understood where they were coming from. It became second nature.

As I go along, I began to embrace experiences that made me move out of my comfort zone – like teaching. Pitching bigger projects to clients. And it opened up new possibilities for myself. Soon, I wasn’t just accepting job offers – I made my own.

#3: Count on your contacts.

A lot of my freelance jobs/part-time job inquiries came from my friends and contacts over the years. I’ve found that when I did good work, it would lead to more referrals. Personal recommendations and rave reviews from my contacts – especially when I’m dealing with new clients – has gained me an easy foot in the door; sometimes even without the need to for a portfolio viewing. My illustration jobs were commissioned this way too. It doesn’t hurt to put your ear to the ground and ask around if anyone needs a hand or two!

#4: Create a bigger circle.

In addition to counting on your contact list, one of the best things that I’ve done is to not be content with who or what I know. When I quit my full time job, it freed up a lot of time for me to explore other things and topics that I liked (as opposed to it being something I had to do). So I got myself involved with the local tech community (yes, I am a geek!), educators and also other female entrepreneurs. Aside from having fun from all these experiences, I gained lots of new friends – we throw ideas around, get feedback and lots of support as we go along our way. The beauty of being able to craft your own circle (as opposed to just hanging out at your usual ones) is that you get to learn about a lot of things from different people. I think that this is one of the most interesting and fulfilling aspect of working as a freelancer and a part-timer that is harder for me to accomplish if I had been working full-time.

Finding a part-time job that will be able to cater to your analytical side will take some time and experimentation to see what works for you. A lot of times it will be through a series of trials and errors! The important thing is to go out and try out different things, and see what sticks. You won’t know something for certain until you’ve tried; and by taking that leap, you may just be pleasantly surprised at where you’ll land.

So there you have it Benjamin – I hope this will help you in some way! If you have any experience, advice or tips you’d like to share with Benjamin, I’d love to hear from you! Just write in your thoughts in the comments below and I’m sure it would greatly help others who are in the same situation.

Do you have a burning question that you’d like to get to the bottom of? Whether it’s questions about your life, career or if you’d like to just vent out your frustrations – send me a note and I’d be happy to offer my thoughts! And if you haven’t gotten on our newsletter just yet (but love articles like these) – come over and join 5,000 other peeps who have subscribed so you won’t miss out on anything!

The Quintessential, Quirky, Compendium of Cats

Doodlers Anonymous: The Quintessential, Quirky, Compendium of Cats

Doodlers Anonymous: The Quintessential, Quirky, Compendium of Cats

Doodlers Anonymous is one of my favorite go-to site for fun discoveries, and I’m so thrilled to share the launch their mini colouring book called The Quintessential, Quirky, Compendium of Cats, which features the work of 28 artists. It’s available in their shop right now, and if you’re an animal lover, you’ll be happy to know is that DA is also the official ambassador for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and part of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go toward their cause.

P/S: I’ve already put in a request for a doggie-themed one for next year! :)

Interview: Damon Kowarsky

I’m so thrilled to share an interview I recently did with Damon Kowarsky – an artist who has exhibited regularly in Australia and abroad and worked as a scientific, courtroom, and archaeological illustrator. His latest exhibition with Kyoko Imazu is currently held from from 7 – 30 March 2014, entitled “Life Along the River“, and is installed at the Aesop headquarters in Hong Kong while also being shown at the Odd One Out gallery.

Collaboration is the the focus of my interview this time – Damon has worked with Kyoko Imazu and Muhammad Atif Khan, and I dig a little deeper to find out more about how he works with others, how the collaboration with Aesop came about, and what advice he has for young artists.

Enjoy!

Damon Kowarsky

Hi Damon! Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and the work that you do? What is the primary medium that you work in?

I’m primarily a printmaker and make etchings from copper plates. It’s a very old technique – 500 years or so – and has evolved from a commercial process into one that is used exclusively for fine art. I tend to make images of people, places and things. These could be models from local life drawing classes, cityscapes of New York or Cairo, airplanes, plants or portraits of friends.

You’ve travelled intensively to South Asia, Europe and the Middle East – how has this influenced your work?

Hugely! Travel is when I do the research for all my images. There is nothing like being a stranger in a new place to force you to look around. I was fortunate to work on an archaeological dig in Egypt and study miniature painting in Pakistan. These experiences changed the way I make pictures and opened all sorts of unexpected doors.

What’s the core message behind what you do?

In terms of the meaning of the work I have no idea. I simply make images that I like to look at and say something about the places that inspired them. If there is a larger message it is that picture making is critically important, and that hand crafted images are even more essential in these days of everyone having a camera and access to everything you could ever have seen with a few clicks of a mouse.

You’ve done a lot of collaborations – most recently with Muhammad Atif Khan and Kyoko Imazu; how did that come about?

The collaboration with Kyoko began because we were both working in the open studio of Australian Print Workshop. One day Kyoko came up and said that she’d like to ‘vandalise’ my work. It was impossible to say no. This was in 2008 and we’ve been working together ever since.

A few years later Atif saw the work Kyoko and I made on the web and suggested doing a project with him. This was a great opportunity to get further involved with the country after having taught and studied there. Atif and I produced 20 prints for ‘Hybrid’ in 2012, and in the process become very good friends. We are working on part two of the project for when I return to Lahore in September.

Damon Kowarsky

Could you tell us a little bit more in detail about how you come up with collaborations, and what does it entail? (some details about who bears the cost, what happens when there’s a sale, etc)

With Kyoko I generally give her a drawing that she then modifies in some way. In the series ‘Along the River’ those drawings came from a 3m panorama that I made of Kyoto. Once we have both worked on the drawings and are happy with the results we process and print the copper plates together.

With Atif there is a bit more back and forth as we each take turns to provide the first drawing. Atif works mostly with found and appropriated images and I work mostly with drawing. In ‘Hybrid’ we tried to synthesise these two languages. We are sticking to a similar plan for ‘Hybrid II’ as we wanted the images rather than the process to be central focus.

With both collaborative projects we’ve been lucky to have support from partners including the Japan Foundation Sydney, Arts Victoria and the Australian High Commission Islamabad. We have also used our own resources to make sure things happen. Sales are divided equally between the artists.

Do you think collaborations are important for artists?

They can be. If you are lucky to find one that works that’s great. But there is no pressure to do so, and there are many artists for whom collaboration would just be a bad idea. Collaborating is like have a conversation. Some people are easy to talk to, others are not. And there are always times when you prefer to be alone with your thoughts for a while.

Damon Kowarsky

You are also a teacher – has it influenced your own work in some ways?

I teach very little really. Most of what I do is in Pakistan where there is a strong sense of responsibility between practicing artists and students. Even artists with enormously successful international careers [like Imran Qureshi who recently won the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year Award] are still involved in the education system. I can’t imagine artists of equivalent stature teaching in Australia.

Teaching is demanding, but it is also fun. It is a chance to pass on what you were taught. For me many of those lessons came from Godwin Bradbeer during my time at RMIT. Godwin is a brilliant artist and educator, and has influenced generations of young artists in Melbourne.

I understand that you’re a part of Odd One Out – an artist agency based in Hong Kong.  For your latest exhibition with Kyoko Imazu that’s going to grace the walls of Aesop’s Head Office in Hong Kong, how did it all begin?
What role does Odd One Out play in the exhibition?

The collaborations with Aesop began in 2009. The Australian Print Workshop was then under renovation and I was doing a paste up of proofs [the trial copies and mistakes in any edition] on the hoarding outside the building.

Just as I was finishing a man asked if I’d like to do a paste up in his shop. Without asking who he was or which shop I said yes. The man turned out to be the founder of Aesop and the shop was their Gertrude Street store. Since then I have installed work in six Aesop stores in Melbourne, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong. It’s been great to work with a company that has such a strong focus on contemporary art and design, and is keen to support it in concrete ways.

Odd One Out represents my work in Hong Kong. Phemie Chong, Odd One Out’s director, is extremely dynamic and is always looking for partners and opportunities to promote the gallery and the artists she represents. Phemie is also a lot of fun, and was happy to spend a day with her hands in wallpaper glue sticking proofs to Aesop’s walls.

Damon Kowarsky

Do you have any advice for young artists and illustrators out there?

Keep going! Too many people stop too soon after graduating. Say yes to stuff. The projects with Aesop happened because I was out on the street doing wacky things with old prints.

Be nice. Or failing that be damn good.

Read Paul Arden’s “Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite” and “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be” and take his advice. Especially the bits about working hard, setting your standards high, and showing an utter disregard for where you think your abilities end.

Listen to or read Neil Gaiman’s 2012 speech to the University of the Arts Philadelphia.

Keep going!

Work hard. Make the most beautiful things you can. Remember that beautiful is not always pretty. Or even nice.

Go out and look at the world. Draw from life. Travel. Visit museums and galleries but also listen to music and read books. Learn from the past but don’t be a slave to the present. Tell anyone who tells you it can’t be done to f*** off. And mean it by making those impossible things happen.

Work hard. Have fun, but work hard. Really hard. Really, really hard.

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Thanks so much Damon! Life Along the River is happening now in Hong Kong until 30th March 2014, and you can read more details about the exhibition here.

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