Following on from her review of Bindi, Lauren interviewed illustrator Dub Leffler about what it was like to create the illustrations for this children’s verse-novel.
Congratulations on the publication of Bindi. How are you feeling now that it’s out there for everyone to read and enjoy?
I’m ecstatic it’s out. It’s always a great feeling when a book you’ve worked on is available to the public.
How did you begin illustrating?
I began illustrating my own picture books when I was in primary school. I’ve always been drawing and always liked reading. But it wasn’t until I read an encyclopedia with a picture of an actual illustrator painting a bird that the penny dropped. I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do!’
You have written two picture books yourself as well as illustrating many others. How would you describe the difference between writing and illustrating?
Well, writing is all about telling people what is in your mind, whereas illustrating is where you show them what is in your mind.
Do you have any artists who have inspired your style of drawing?
I do. Robert Ingpen is my all-time favourite illustrator of children’s books. He’s the best in Australia and one of the best in the world. He even designed the Northern Territory flag and coat of arms. He’s had a huge impact on my own work and I hope to be as good as him one day.
Bindi is a verse novel for older children. Is this the first verse novel you have illustrated and how does that differ from illustrating picture books?
Yes, this is the first verse novel I have illustrated—although the process of illustrating it was fairly similar in the fact that you still have to match the pictures to the text and support the story. The only differences are the images are spread throughout the book and smaller than usual.
Kirli Saunders (the author of Bindi) talked about how ash from the Green Valley fire in 2019 on Gundungurra country inspired the story. Was this something which inspired your illustrations?
Yes. The story itself comes from the fire, so I wanted the images to reflect that. That’s why I used charcoal and lead in them.
Can you tell us more about the relationship between author and illustrator. What needs to happen to create such an amazing book like this? And what level of creative freedom do you have when trying to visually articulate what an author has written?
Well, you need to step out of each other’s way so you don’t impede on each other’s work. That being said, it’s quite rare for authors and illustrators to talk about the process during the process. Most of the time you rarely meet the author until after the book comes out at, say, a book launch or writers festival. There are always exceptions, but that is the basic rule of thumb.
As for creative freedom, if you have a good work ethic and are true to your word, the publishing team will trust your creative vision. There should always be an open dialogue with your publisher during the process. With trust comes freedom.
Lastly, for our readers, what are books you would like to recommend and why?
Strangers on Country written by Kirsty Murray and Dave Hartley. It contains five true stories of Australian history not widely known. Illustrated by yours truly. And Girl From the Sea, written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Jane Tanner. Some of the best illustrations I have seen and a story quite different to the norm.