We are so honoured that the wonderful Freya Blackwood, children’s book illustrator, agreed to be interviewed for our blog!
We just love her illustrations at Box For Monkeys and our monkeys love the stories that go along with them. I have been reading – and have become quite obsessed – with the books she has illustrated after my sister introduced me to them (I think there is a theme happening here!) I was brought up on a farm 1.5 hours from Orange and am particularly fond, and nostalgic, of her farm-related illustrations. They make my kids think of Ma and Poppa’s farm too which is a lovely connection for them.
Although Freya does not write the books, all of the books have a lovely meaning behind them and are really worth collecting. The writers she links with are all great, from the likes of Nick Bland, John Heffernan to quite a few with Libby Gleeson.
Can you please tell us about the farm where you live?
We (my daughter and I) actually live in town in Orange, NSW. It’s a bit like a little farm at our place though, because we have some chickens and a lovely free ranging rabbit and a dog who is really more like a person. It feels like a farm when I have to feed them all in the morning. My parents have a property out of Orange, which we enjoy, mostly during summer when we can swim in the dam in the tractor tyre inner tube.
Is there a lot of yourself and your daughter in your books?
I’m certain that quite a lot of what I produce is drawn either from my life or my childhood, and now my daughter’s life. When my daughter was born and I became a parent, my work began to incorporate little details borrowed from our new life. It helps to have that shared experience of parenthood.
When did you start creating children’s books?
I’ve been illustrating picture books for about 13 years now.
Is your daughter showing talent as an illustrator?
My daughter loves writing stories with illustrations. The pictures and words are more closely entwined than anything I did as child. I think she’s a better storyteller than me.
What kind of books do you like to read to your daughter? Or what does she like to read?
We’re currently reading more chapter books than picture books, but recently revisited all our favourite picture books including: Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson (there was a persistent dinosaur theme for a while), Eight by Lyn Lee & Kim Gamble, Rose Meets Mr Wintergarden by Bob Graham, Art & Max, The Three Pigs and Tuesday by David Wiesner, The Rain Came Down by David Shannon and Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar.
Ivy and I are reading Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell at the moment and loving it. Together we’ve also enjoyed the Truly Tan books, Charlotte’s Web, Olive of Groves, all Roald Dahl and David Williams’ books, Pippi Longstocking and Figgy in the World.
Before Ivy was born, I bought picture books for their illustrations only, but discovered they weren’t actually the books she enjoyed. She hasn’t always wanted to read the books I’ve illustrated. I should obviously pay more attention to what she likes!
How old was Ivy when you started to read to her?
I started reading to Ivy when she was a newborn. Our favourites from that time were Rosie’s Walk, Peepo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
How long does it take to create a book?
I work on one of my books for about 6 months. I only work school hours though, so it’s not strictly full time, though as I get closer to a deadline it can consume my weekends. I love working nights, but my studio is out in the backyard and by the time dinner is over and Ivy is in bed, getting out the studio is virtually impossible.
Is there any advice you can offer someone looking to get a book published?
For someone wanting to get illustrations published, I would recommend concentrating on figure drawing and creating consistent characters, cultivating a unique style and being able to convey your personality. It requires patience – things move slowly in publishing. But publishers recognise possibility when they see it. Sometimes the time just isn’t right and work might not be available immediately, or even for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that your work doesn’t have value. I told myself early on that I was drawing because I loved it, even if it was only ever a hobby. I relaxed then and didn’t care whether I got work or not, and then when I did it was an extraordinary feeling.
Freya Blackwood was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and grew up in Orange in New South Wales, Australia. As the daughter of a painter and an architect, she was encouraged to draw from a young age, and produced many illustrated books as a child. In 2003 Scholastic Press published her first picture book, Two Summers, written by John Heffernan, which went on to win the CBCA Crichton Award 2004 for new talent in children’s book illustration, and the book was shortlisted for the Picture Book of the Year Award in the Children’s Book Council of Australia 2004 awards. Among numerous other awards for her illustrations and her books, Freya was the recipient of the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal for Harry & Hopper in 2010.
Her titles include Perfect, The Runaway Hug, Amy & Louis, Harry & Hopper, Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House, Banjo & Ruby Red, The Man From Snowy River, Hattie Helps Out, Two Summers, Maudie & Bear, Look, A BOOK!, Ivy Loves to Give, No Room For a Mouse and Waltzing Matilda.
Many of her books have been translated into other languages. She lives in Orange with her daughter Ivy, their whippet Pivot and four noisy chickens. For more, head to her website.