We recently caught up with Swan Chrisitan College Alumni Mel Pearce who illustrated the award-winning children’s book ‘No! Never!’ by Libby Hathorn and Lisa Hathorn-Jarman.
‘No! Never!’ won the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year award for Early Childhood and Mel Pearce’s illustrations for the book were commended by the CBCA judges:
“The illustrations, executed in a child-like scribbly style, lend real vigour to the character’s attitude and actions. They work with the written text to provide insight and extra information. The emotions of the protagonist are ‘loud and clear,’ as are the expressions of her parents and other characters.”
Our communications team took the opportunity to congratulate Mel on this achievement and ask her a few questions about her career.
1. How did you get into working as an illustrator?
I have been drawing since I was a toddler. My dad was incredibly artistic and my mum is also very creative and always encouraged us kids to follow our passions. Going to Art School after finishing at Swan was a given. I experimented with all different media there, but ultimately I kept coming back to drawing as my focus and I ended up majoring in drawing in my final year. I went on to university for a year and graduated with a BA Design (Illustration).
At Art School, I always fought to prove that picture books could indeed be considered an art form. I was very inspired by artists such as Shaun Tan and Hayao Miyazaki. To me, their work was something else, beyond mere pictures. My hope is to one day make something beautiful that comes close to making someone feel that same thing I did.
2. What tips or advice would you give a student who is interested in this profession?
Firstly; try to draw something every day. Even if you don’t think it’s good. Even if it doesn’t look like what others consider to be ‘good’. Even if you don’t finish it, or there is no ‘final piece’ that results from it. Just keep drawing. It is so easy to fall into the endless trap of comparing yourself to others, especially with everyone on all the socials pushing themselves at you at every chance, and it can be so overwhelming that you freeze in your tracks. That is exactly what happened to me after graduating from my art studies. I was so petrified of not making something ‘good’ or making a mistake that I could not even put pencil to paper for about a year! It’s an awful place to be, and I don’t wish it on anyone. So just keep going, even though it may not look like the fine artists you learn about in class, or whatever the latest influencer is making.
Also, to be brutally honest? Make sure you have a backup plan! I don’t mean in case you don’t succeed, but the sad truth is that it is very rare for you to make a living being an Illustrator alone. Of course, there are those special few people who manage to do it, but for the majority of creators, you need a different job to pay for the job! I went into the world after finishing my degree, naively thinking I’d slot into some amazing artistic day job somewhere now I had the credentials. That didn’t happen!
I now work part time in a school library, and do my drawing in my spare time. That’s largely how I was able to illustrate for No! Never!. It’s not a fairytale life, kids! It boils down to passion for drawing and for books, and for the people who will ultimately read them. Otherwise, this profession makes little sense to pursue!
3. When did you graduate from Swan and did you take Visual Art at school?
I came to Swan for my final two years of high school and graduated in 2005. I did take Visual Art, although I think the structure is different to what you are probably doing now. It didn’t count towards our ATAR, unfortunately, but that was okay because I went on to Art School rather than uni at first anyway.
4. Tell us a little bit about how this current project came about, which materials you used and what it was like to work on a children’s book.
Well, after many years of various creative ventures and projects, I entered my work (anonymously) into a public event in which visiting publishers would share their initial opinion at first glance of the work. The publishers really liked my work, and one of them ended up contacting me later saying she had a manuscript she thought could pair well with my drawing style.
The publisher had really liked what she had seen at the event, so I ended up using the same style in the book; drawing the images on paper using a nice soft Blackwing pencil, then scanning them onto my computer and colouring them digitally using my drawing tablet.
I’m not going to lie; it was a very hard slog and an incredibly steep learning curve. I was completely new at it all and didn’t understand anything about contracts and clauses and protocols (I still don’t really know much!) and there were many times I didn’t think I was going to make it and would have to tell the publisher I was unable to finish. But I was very blessed to have a supportive family as well as an author/illustrator community, and some very good friends and fellow authors take me under their wing and give me advice and support when I needed it.
Going on to win the CBCA Early Childhood Award was a complete and utter shock. God’s hand of favour was definitely on this project; there’s no way things have happened this way without him.
5. What lies in the future? Any projects you are excited about you would like to mention?
At the moment I am currently just trying to breathe and take each day at a time. I don’t really enjoy being the centre of attention (which is unfortunately what the job often calls for), so whilst winning the award has been an incredible blessing and people have been so lovely to me, I am also very exhausted! I would very much like to author my own books but I don’t really have concrete ideas. I am just trying to get back into drawing for enjoyment and hopefully, something will develop from that.
Thank you, Mel Pearce, for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you all the best for the future!