Science Illustrated: Q&A with Lois Bury
Do you believe in dragons? The Way of the Weedy Seadragon is a story about an amazing fish with a talent for camouflage, weird eating habits and a unique courtship dance. But its habitat and future are threatened.
This enchanting story was illustrated by artist Lois Bury from her studio in Hobart, Tasmania, near the home of the weedy seadragon. She has illustrated several books for children and is a founding Director of Bruny Island Foundation for the Arts, bringing visual and performing arts to the Island. We spoke to her about where she finds her inspiration and how her detail-driven approach to illustration influences her art.
Who or what inspired you to become an artist and illustrator?
It was a passing comment on my artwork that made me think my style may suit a more illustrative genre. With my interest piqued I went to my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) National Conference in Sydney in 2012. I immediately fell in love with everything ‘picture book’. Up until then I had concentrated on painting the endemic birds of Tasmania, all of which are found on Bruny Island. A gallery at Dennes Point became my point of sale and led to a series of picture books on the endangered species, the forty-spotted pardalote, eastern quoll and the swift parrot. My inspiration comes from the natural world and the need to educate and protect what we have in this special part of the world.
Do you think science illustration requires a different creative approach?
I think that the basis for science illustration is the cornerstone for any illustration. So not necessarily a different approach but a solid foundation that can be built on for fantasy or fiction. With sound knowledge one can then take liberties. I have done posters on how a bird’s egg is made and how a bird breathes, all accurately researched but illustrated in a fun and educational way.
For example, if I was illustrating a fictional bird, I would still do all the research and observation of the structure and formation of the wing, bones, joints and feathers. I have, in the past, bought a raw chicken, examining how the wing folds and videoing the movement. The feathers also warrant detailed attention! Not to waste anything, my demo poultry would then become dinner.
Can you share a photo of your workspace and and tell us why you like to create there?
I work in a spare room at the front of our cottage in Hobart. I wander the streets while walking the dog, looking for potential studios but in fact, I love being close to what is going on at home. Our two children have well flown the coop so generally it is peaceful. I love being near the street too, hearing the activities of suburbia. I have in the past rented a space on Bruny Island to use in the summer, but life changes. We still go to Bruny but I don’t take all the paraphernalia of painting with me.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I enjoy the planning. Storyboards are a challenge but like anything, having a good plan is essential. I love hanging the final sketches on a line in my studio, seeing the whole book ready for inking/painting and following progress to completion.
Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring illustrators?
Becoming a member of one of the professional bodies such as the Australian chapter of SCBWI, attending events, entering everything possible and saying ‘yes’ a lot! Follow a few favourite illustrators, I love the work of Carll Cneut, Eliza Wheeler, Melissa Sweet and the Fan Brothers. Robert Ingpen is a master of composition, colour and he can draw. Draw, draw, practice, practice. Check out picture books at the library or bookshop, look at everything, see how white space gives room to breathe, perspective is manipulated and covers just seem to be ‘right’. All this is achieved by professionals doing their job well.
The Way of the Weedy Seadragon is written by Anne Morgan and illustrated by Lois Bury, and is available to purchase from our website and from all good bookstores. To discover more about Lois’ work check out her website.