I am the fifth child out of seven and I was a grubby, scruffy little kid with bitten fingernails and a crooked fringe. My two younger sisters were great playmates, and our games ranged from the silly to the serious. Elastics was a standout favorite, and our Monopoly games went on for ages while we bargained and swapped and wrote out IOUs, which was always better than starting again. I kept lots of pets, even a blue-tongued lizard and a tortoise that just turned up one day, stayed around for a while, then disappeared again. At school I was called “Pottsy” or “Pots and Pans.” I was the shortest in my class and always in trouble for talking, for not doing my homework, and not attending church on Sundays. I liked dancing about, singing out loud, and drawing horses and mermaids and flowers with great big eyes and teeth.
Hans Christian Andersen’s stories inspired me to try to write my own, and I knew some of Walter de la Mare’s poems by heart. In my schoolbook I wrote, “when I grow up I want to be a writter.” Spelling wasn’t one of my strong points. Writing wasn’t either, but drawing was, and I loved doing decorative headings with fancy lettering. For Nnature studies we’d have to draw all kinds of interesting things, and sometimes my teacher would ask me to draw a picture on the blackboard in colored chalk.
At high school I learned about Egyptian art, Greek architecture, and about Renaissance painters with incredibly long names full of vowels. After reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, I did a large drawing of Smaug the dragon in pen and ink, which, after winning a prize, was framed and hung up in the school. My art teacher seemed so different from the other teachers, and dressed differently too. She was friendly, funny, and encouraging, so I looked forward to her classes and did well in the end.
After leaving high school I went on to study graphic design and fine art at Prahran College of Advanced Education, and I majored in drawing. After studying drawing and graphic design for four years I then got a job with an antique gallery, hand coloring old prints. In a room at the back there were bookshelves filled with musty leatherbound books of various sizes, and I’d sneak a look at the pictures inside them. Some contained maps with elaborate borders, and in others there were animals, plants, figures, and street scenes. With watercolor paints I colored them all. Something different each day.
When I started out as an illustrator, I illustrated educational readers for Rigby and Macmillan, which was good experience. I had to use my imagination, draw in different styles, and work within a deadline, which wasn’t always easy to do. My first picture book was Verse Ahoy, published in 1993. My second picture book, Goodnight, and Thanks for All the Teeth was done in collaboration with my husband, Mark Jackson, who is also a children’s-book illustrator. We have since done four more books together and were commissioned to do a series of stamps for Australia Post in 2002. We have also pursued individual book projects, and Pearl Verses the World is just one example. When I first read Sally Murphy’s story, I liked it and looked forward to drawing the main character, Pearl. When I was Pearl’s age, I too was writing poetry, had plaited hair, and wore simple, unassuming clothes. There’s something of me in her, only I was never as intelligent and courageous. I felt that I knew her fairly well before ever putting pencil to paper.