Science Illustrated: Q&A with Alicia Rogerson
One Potoroo: A Story of Survival is a beautifully illustrated book about the world’s most endangered marsupial, the Gilbert’s Potoroo, and the conservation work that has kept this unique Australian alive.
Alicia Rogerson is the painter behind the story in this incredible tale of conservation at work. Based in Bridgetown, Western Australia, she is inspired by nature, objects and collections of things, and her bold artworks spark the imagination and remind us of people or places we treasure. We spoke to her about how she overcomes creative block and how the habitat of the Gilbert’s Potoroo inspired her illustrations.
What inspired you to become an artist and illustrator?
I will be honest by saying that I never set out to become one. I was always creative and loved making art through school, continuing with some different courses afterwards. Then life got busy, and I put all my art supplies into a cupboard. A few years passed, I felt sad and took my supplies back out as a way to reconnect with myself. I painted my heart out, shared my art online, and that became the moment everything aligned, and I could see a future pathway. I felt whole again, inspired to create, and share my images with the world.
Do you think science illustration requires a different creative approach?
Yes, I think it needs a bit of extra research at the early stages. It is important to have accuracy right down to the littlest detail which often you won’t realise at first. It could be the shape of a nose, the curve of a leaf or the colour of the rocks at the water’s edge. The great part about working with science is that you can always find the information you need and plenty of amazing people full of knowledge to fill in the gaps.
In relation to the Gilbert’s Potoroo, I escaped into my research, fascinated by this rare mammal. I read scientific papers, watched YouTube videos, and sourced as many photographs as possible – which was tricky considering its rarity. I knew that I wanted to portray it accurately and noted down its colouring, tail length, what it would eat and how it would move. I wanted to create scenes that had environments it would have a natural relationship with, for example, painting flowers that would coincide with its home and not including any type that could be considered a weed. Science illustration requires accuracy for every audience and, as well as relaying information, stories need to evoke emotion.
Can you share any interesting behind-the-scenes details about illustrating this book?
I wanted to be authentic with the scenes I paint. My husband was deployed away with the army, so I took my three children away for a few weekends to Albany. We were able to explore the locations of where this mammal lived prior to the bushfires and then where the Gilbert’s Potoroo had been relocated to. It rained a lot and we spent most of our time in the car, but we covered a lot of ground and varied landscapes. Recently burnt bushland, regrowth, wildflowers, crystal clear oceans, giant rocks, mountains… even a pod of dolphins. I was thoroughly inspired by the trip and coming back to the studio recharged meant that the illustrations flowed easily onto the paper.
Watch a time lapse of Alicia painting a scene from One Potoroo. This scene explores the Potoroo in its sack being introduced to a new, safer environment. (Video: Alicia Rogerson)
What kinds of stories do you love to illustrate?
I’m a dreamer. I love anything that invokes nostalgic memories. Luckily, I spent my childhood with a very vivid imagination that has given me a very broad range of subjects and stories that appeal. At this time, I am really enjoying anything based around nature. In addition, illustrating animals (or plants) at risk feels very special as it is a way that I can use my skills to bring attention to their plights which in turn will contribute towards their conservation.
How do you overcome creative block?
I like to switch between projects and break things down to small achievable goals. It is easy as a creative to get overloaded and overwhelmed which can make you feel “stuck” with a white page, which in turn takes the joy of creating away. If you are avoiding sitting down to create or finish a project, then another thing you can do is step away and find inspiration elsewhere. It could be taking the dog for a walk, watching a show, enjoying the flowers in the garden, or listening to some music. Self-care is vital to ensure we can retain that ability to tap into our creative brain when we need it the most.
Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring illustrators?
Create every day in some way. There is no magic path to being an illustrator – it is hard work, and you will be constantly learning new techniques, refining your skills with materials, and trying to stay up to date with technology. As time passes your confidence will grow and you will naturally develop a “style” that will be recognised by your audience.
Last of all, enjoy what you do because people will connect most to the work that you put the most energy into. Every work is a piece of you and remember no matter how many creators are in the world, there is only one of you. You’re unique, you’re talented and just keep creating.
One Potoroo is written by Penny Jaye and illustrated by Alicia Rogerson, and is available to purchase on our website and from all good bookstores. Free Teacher Notes are also available to download from our website.
To discover more about Alicia’s work check out her website.