One of the joys of a public library is being able to borrow large, beautiful books that I could never usually afford myself. Photographic travel books, house building and architecture books, and books like The Art of Graeme Base by Julie Watts. Julie was the Children's Publisher at Penguin Books (she is now retired) but you would never know it from the book - she never mentions herself! And yet she must have worked extensively with Graeme over the years.
The most wonderful thing about a book like this is the art. Many full-page spreads from Graeme Base's books are reproduced, along with early sketches and drafts. My favourite of his books is still The Waterhole, but The Discovery of Dragons comes a close second. It wasn't until I read this story of Graeme's life and art that I realised how much detail he puts into ALL of his art pieces. Suddenly I was seeing animals and creatures and plants that I had never noticed before! It's made me want to go and look again at all of his picture books, just to see what I have missed.
The other thing that this book revealed to me was a person who was and is totally engaged in creating, always observing, thinking, recording and imagining. Julie Watts has done a great job of showing us the life of an artist, and how each book developed. There are examples of art Graeme did in school that make me goggle. Seeing early work by Shaun Tan had the same effect. Their talent was so obvious at an early age - as well as their patience, crafting and attention to detail.
I have never been able to draw very well. I would never attempt to illustrate my own books (thank goodness, say the publishers!). But I also know it's because I don't have the passion or the patience. A couple of times I have tried to draft rough illustrations for dummy picture books I've made, and after four or five pictures, I've lost interest. I know with writing that that's not the case - I can write and then revise words many times, although there is a stage where you get sick to death of them. It's a funny mix - passion and patience - but I think you do need both, and Graeme Base has immense amounts of both.
The RRP for The Art of Graeme Base is about $75.00 (cheaper online, of course) and probably not something you'd buy for yourself, perhaps, but Christmas will be here eventually, and you could drop some hints...