Serena Geddes – Interview with CKT

Serena Geddes

Q. Were you interested in drawing from a young age? Tell us how your first published work came to be.

I was often found scribbling on paper or any surface that had a space to draw on, not a great recommendation even if its with creative intention as my parents often pointed out.
My older brother loved his comics so I was introduced to Archie,  Marvel Comics,  Garfield  and Calvin and Hobbs  at a young age and soaked up a lot of creativity from the imagery in the flat (but action packed) comics.

My first picture book came together five years ago when a couple of things started to line up for me. It wasn’t an intentional decision to illustrate full time, but I’d had a lot of encouragement from work colleagues to pursue a career in illustration. I found myself looking at books and noting down the publishers. I came across a book by fellow Disney colleague Tina Bourke and my adoration became my creative inspiration. I sent out my portfolio to publishers in Australia and overseas and within 3 months I had my first contract and have not looked back since.

Q. How many illustrations do you work on at any one time?

I work on one project at a time, I do admire illustrator who can work on several books at a time (and I know a few who can do it) but I can’t, I guess we all work differently. With picture books like ‘Gracie and Josh‘  and the Lulu Bell  series I will work on about four illustrations at a time painting and pencilling between each depending on which flows better. I still seem to leave the harder illustrations to the end, perhaps pressure and a looming deadline overrides your initial thoughts that it’s not great or impossible to paint.

Q. What tips would you give to an aspiring illustrator?

For five years I have painted to a brief, painted what other people have asked for and what was required (stay with me here, I am not dissing the above points). I moved to Melbourne a year ago for inspiration, I needed a change and Melbourne was where it took me. Two people asked me what do I draw for fun? And my reply was ‘I don’t’. I didn’t realise just how important it is to draw from your own creative space from your own voice and creative expression. Its what sparked the interest of my first publisher after I drew a giraffe (of all things!) for a manuscript they had which featured a giraffe.

If I say practice, my rebellious side folds her arms (she’s a tad stubborn) if I say sit in a cafe with and draw me what you see, my appetite for creativity flows more openly. Draw from you, what you see and feel. Gain reference from other artists, attend talks and workshops and learn from people who excite you. I learnt a lot from looking at Gus Gordon’s books, Anna Walker and Tina Bourke.

From thirty-five publishers I approached in Australia and overseas, I had one, yes thats all it takes to get you started.

Q. Do you still submit to publishers or do they now approach you with a book in mind?

Yes and no. I’ve enough Lulu Bells to keep me busy that I don’t have a lot of time to approach publishers though I am about to head to Europe and will see some while I am there. I tend to get more emails from people wanting a book illustrated, either for submission or to self publish. Its difficult due to time constraints. Publishers don’t look at fully illustrated manuscripts with the submission process and to illustrate a 32 page book for someone to self publish takes up to 3 months, even longer for some artists and I don’t think it realised the amount of work that is involved and the costs to illustrate a book.

I was lucky with Random House, I was actually working there 2 days a week and was helping with the SCBWI Illustrator Showcase two years ago (the next SCBWI Conference is this year!) and was discussing with the head of the children’s section about the show case. They were looking for someone for a new series and I started to mention other illustrators….a little voice in my head kept tapping away saying, ‘put yourself forward your goose!’ which I did. After a few tweaks and no promises, Lulu Bell  was created. I guess that was being in the right place at the right time.

Q. Where is your favourite place to draw?

Cortona…. Ha-ha! Well that’s an expensive place to draw but I am heading there in a couple of weeks so I do hope it becomes a favourite! I have a studio right near Flinders Street Station and work with some wonderfully talented creatives so I am always inspired, but I seem to enjoy sitting in cafes or the State Library and paint in my little book.

Q. What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?

I get to sit in cafes all day?

I have just returned from a book tour with Belinda Murrell and Random House, we visited about 13 schools with multiple sessions. Seeing the responses from the class, the enthusiasm and sheer excitement from the students has to be one of the most rewarding feelings when doing what you love. At first it was certainly seeing my books and holding them finally finished, but the buzz of seeing how much an impact it has on others is a pretty nice and gooey feeling in itself.

Q. If you could invite one author, dead or alive to dinner who would it be?

Beatrix Potter. She was rather defiant, had a fabulous imagination and I admire her self belief.

Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?

I’d like to be Rosie, she lives in a village and has a pet Dragon called Rasmus who wants to fly.
I mean, how many people get to spend their days hanging out with a dragon? It would be pretty amazing 

Q. What’s next from Serena Geddes?

I am running away to Europe for 6 weeks whaoo! I am also spending a couple of weeks writing and developing Rosie and Rasmus  for submission in early June, then straight onto Lulu Bell  and the Christmas Elf  and another four more Lulu’s before Christmas.


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