I’m thrilled to be interviewing illustrator Robin Cowcher. The exciting news is Little Dog and the Christmas Wish, a book Robin has illustrated is the story that has been selected for the Myer Mebourne Christmas Windows this year.
Welcome Robin and congratulations on this fabulous achievement, I’m looking forward to asking you some questions.
How long have you been an illustrator? And what drew you into this profession?
40 years, I started as a graphic designer, but I always liked drawing.
What do you love about your job?
Drawing the human figure, conveying emotion, telling a story. Making funny pictures, and drawing animals, I like drawing animals.
Who is your favourite illustrator and why?
No favorite, there are many, Quentin Blake, Lisbeth Zwerger, Ronald Searle, Maira Kalman, Sandra Eterovic, Leigh Hobbs, Ann James, Anne Spudvilas, Paul Hogarth, Norman Lindsay, Charlotte Lance, Anna Walker, Oslo, Ida Outhwaite Rentoul, Oliver Jeffers, Laura Carlin, Sarah Midda…..it’s endless. All different eras and styles. They all have excellent drawing ability and create and project their characters well.
What medium do you like to work with and why?
Pen, ink and watercolor, plus a bit of collage.
Because it’s a drawer’s medium, I love the marks the hand, pen and brush can make. It’s immediate and you can make a mess!
How did you get selected to be the illustrator for Little Dog and the Christmas Wish? And what was the process involved?
Maryann Ballantyne the publisher of Black Dog Books called me and asked me if I would like to read Corinne Fenton’s manuscript. I agreed, we met for the first time, discussed it a bit then I went off and worked on some ideas.
Being the illustrator what were the stages for you when working on this book?
Lots of research first about the 1950s – clothes, buildings, bakers’ carts, Melbourne city, Myer windows etc. I took photographs of still existing locations such as Block Arcade. I did preliminary drawings trying to find the boy Jonathan’s character plus lots of dog drawings. I went looking at all the locations suggested by the author and tried to find the right ones for the narrative. I found Little Dogs’ house near the footbridge at Abbotsford, not far from the Skipping Girl Vinegar sign.
There were roughly three stages, thumbnail ideas, more fleshed out ideas, and final drawings. Each has to work with the text and push the narrative further. There is character development along the way and learning to draw a Westie dog as a distinct entity as well. The illustrator works with an art director and editor but not the author. The drawings are not shown to the author until it’s fairly resolved in the illustrators’ mind and drawing style. The text got rewritten a few times and some drawings were discarded, some were redrawn.
Did you choose the breed of dog to be used in the story? And if so, why did you choose a Westie?
No, the dog breed was chosen by the author.
Did you use people and animals that you knew to model your drawings for Little Dog and the Christmas Wish?
Yes, my nephews for the boy, various other old photos, and many different dogs I found in the park and online.
How long does it take you to draw one illustration from draft stage to completion?
Hard to say, sometimes it’s quite quick, sometimes endless drawings are needed. It depends if it’s a main character or not. The characters must match from page to page.
What was the most special moment for you when you saw the windows for the first time?
Probably just seeing everyone’s faces as the curtain went up…quite magical seeing my drawings and Corinne’s story fleshed out in 3 D.
Do you have a favourite window and why?
I think Flinders Street, I loved the realization of the station façade, it’s all correct and modeled from the original old drawings. The clocks have all the right times for the destinations in those days. The detail is superb right down to the magazine stand. The characters are wonderful too, the kissing couple, the tipsy man, the salvation army folk and the man polishing the car. Also the MCC cleaning cart and the sweeping man…it’s all just wonderful and every costume is beautifully made and detailed.
I loved the part the artists and designers at Stage 1 (production studio) played. They interpreted my loose drawings freely but somehow got the feel just right.
I love the busker in the Hopetoun Tearooms window too, he wears exactly the same clothes as my drawing, right down to the two-tone green shoes.
Thank you Robin for taking part and for sharing your journey. I know you are such a busy lady. Congratulations on having your story chosen as the 60th Anniversary celebration of the Melbourne Myer Christmas Windows. All the best.
‘ROBIN COWCHER is a Melbourne illustrator.
She worked for The Age newspaper as a designer, illustrator and art director, most recently as the Illustrations Editor.
She created cover concepts, talent-spotted, briefed, commissioned and drew for the paper for over twenty years. She was a Walkley finalist in 2006 and highly commended for a Quill award in the same year.
As a designer and Art Director her work has appeared in Society of Newspaper Design annuals and as Art Director of SundayLife! magazine won the magazine of the year award in 1998.
She has work in The State Library of Victoria collection of cartoons. She continues to draw for The Age in a freelance capacity and enjoys printmaking and drawing for pleasure.’
The above information has been sourced from Robin’s website.