What is your background?
I am originally from Northern Ireland but attended art college in Edinburgh, Scotland before coming to Australia in 2005. I initially came over to visit friends but fell in love with the country (and a certain Australian man) and stayed rather longer than I expected.
I ended up enrolling in a Masters of Fine Art (printmaking) at RMIT in 2007 and on completion was awarded a scholarship at the Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne. I have illustrated a number of books in the past, most notably Hardy Grant’s 100 Australian Poems You Need To Know.
How has your environment influenced your work?
I am lucky enough to be surrounded by birds. I live in a gully in Hepburn Springs and in springtime the dawn chorus is phenomenal! I have always found drawing and sketching from life very important. Although, with two small children, I am not able to do this so much these days, I still find that I am inspired most by what I see around me.
You've just brought out a new book, what is the project about?
This book is something I’ve been working on for the past two years. It is a book aimed at helping children engage with the birdlife around them through original lino printed illustrations and short rhymes.
I want it to be a favourite bedtime book as well as being informative, starting with the early rising kookaburra and ending with a goodnight from the boobook owl.
What inspired you to write this book?
Printmaking and books have long gone hand in hand. I have been printmaking for over 10 years now and my main theme has always been birds, but it wasn’t until I had my first son in 2014 that I decided to start a bird book for him and ultimately for all children.
I think it is important to know a bit about the natural world around you and be able to identify the common birds in your back yard.
I came to Australia, from Northern Ireland, in 2005 and was confronted with a whole new flock of native birds I had never met before. I was used to recognising most garden birds at home, but I had to actively learn all these new and amazing Australian species. I feel I am still learning about them and this book is an extension and an overflow of that.
How long have you been working on this project?
I have been working on this project for two years. There is nothing like not having enough time to do what you want to do to really figure out what it is that you want to do!
Since having my first baby I was able to work during nap times, grandparent visits and daycare days to make the 12 large, often multi-layered lino printed illustrations.
I have sat in play cafes to write the rhymes and multitasked breastfeeding my second baby and book designing in the final stages. It is now finally complete and I feel a little at a loss, I think I need to move on to the next project soon!
How have you made your artworks?
The illustrations are all large hand printed lino cuts. Some in multi-layers called reduction lino prints. I cut the first layer into the lino, remembering that wherever I cut will remain the same colour as the paper.
I ink up the lino in the lightest colour and place it on my printing press with paper. Once that has been printed I cut the next layer into the lino, remembering that wherever I cut, the image will remain the colour of the previous inking.
I then ink up the plate in my next chosen colour and register it up with the previous printed image. This process continues until there is often very little lino surface left and the darkest colour has been printed.
Why did you choose the subject of Australian birds?
I have always been interested in birds. I grew up in Northern Ireland and my mum always pointed birds out to me, told me about their songs and bought me my first bird book. When I first came to Australia in 2005 I felt like I was in a new exotic world, very far from home, mostly because of the birds. They looked different, they sounded different and they certainly acted different. I didn’t quite believe it when my friends first told me about swooping magpies!
I was given an Australian bird book my first Christmas (my Australian friends grew exhausted with my constant, “What’s that bird? oooh! what’s that one?) and I started studying, drawing and revelling in all things birdy.
It was at this time that I attended a weekend course at the Australian Print Workshop on Gertrude Street in Melbourne and my resulting prints were of course, and continue to be, of birds.
I think using birds as my inspiration is my way of continuing to learn about them and it reminds me that this is my adopted home and to stay in awe of it.