Q&A with Bob Graham

Bob Graham is the award-winning Australian picture book creator responsible for the beautiful artwork featured on our 2019 CBCA Book Week theme poster and merchandise range.

Linda Guthrie, former CBCA Director, caught up with Bob to find out more about his creative process.

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?

Had I been asked that question aged eight and on my knees on the floor copying the daily newspaper cartoon, I would have surely answered: “What? You mean just sit there all day and draw pictures? Too right!”

I have planned very little in my life and it was not until age 40 with a small story unfolding in our house, did I choose to get up off my knees and instead use the kitchen table to draw my pictures and scribble a few accompanying words.

Pete and Roland was never a planned ‘career move’. It seemed just a good idea at the time, and my life has continued like that ever since.

Your illustrations show personalities that have a variety of experiences. Can you tell me about the importance of diversity in your illustrations?

I don’t go searching for stories. When they do appear it is often from the fabric of life around me, and the assortment of people on any street in my books can usually be found not far from my front door. Very occasionally has a book attracted criticism for this. I received an outraged letter from a mother in the American mid-west over the tatts on a mother’s arm in Let’s Get a Pup, and most ire heaped on an earring in Dad’s ear as a “subversive and counter-culture agenda”. I pointed out politely that my local bank manager wore such an adornment in his little pink and shiny ear lobe.

Your work is unique in its sense of colour and story. Can you tell me about the influences on your approach to making stories and illustrations for young people?

I can’t think that I might ever sit down to ‘make a story’. This can only be an outcome rather than a motivation. Far too worrying as there are too many hazards on the way and no set format for me and no sure outcome.

So I content myself with just enjoying the process, turning the clock to the wall - necessary for making picture books - and maybe being pleasantly surprised if my juggling with little scraps of paper goes the distance.

And yes, my stories when they arrive are for young people but beyond that I let my books find their own readers. Hmm! It all sounds rather haphazard and I guess it is.

One of your recent commissioned projects has been the artwork for the CBCA Book Week in 2019. How did you gain this commission? How was it challenging and rewarding?

The commission was a result of Home in the Rain winning the CBCA Picture book Award for the previous year, and the theme for this year was 'Reading is my Secret Power'.

Unlike the process of making stories described above I sat at my desk knowing that this time there had to be an outcome from my scribblings. After playing around with, I guess, more predictable ideas of children sitting on large piles of books, I had numerous thoughts to do with aspirations and the freeing of ideas and how a certain empowerment and release might come from reading.

Suspecting that I should be sending in just one central image, and that multiple ideas might create some confusion I stroked my chin for a while….and sent in the lot!

Hope you enjoy them.

Image credit: Sydney Morning Herald

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