Pram Illustration


  • Who are you? And who are you not! (including disclaimer)

    My name is Craig Smith. Or the work version which is Craig Smith Illustration.  I have done the illustrations for over 390 picture books, junior novels and educational readers.  I grew up in South Australia and studied graphic design at the SA School of Art, graduating in 1976. I have been a freelance illustrator in Australia since. I live in Melbourne.

    (Disclaimer: I am NOT the author, or illustrator, of a book about a donkey. That book is written by my namesake, Craig Smith, a musician from New Zealand).

  • Are there other forms of illustration that you do? Like music videos perhaps?

    The work I’ve done includes booklets, brochures, stamps, print advertising, posters, letterheads, murals, exhibition and signage graphics, and some very forgettable television animation, for Here's Humphrey. Also one music video - The Lonely Goth sung by Mick Thomas and The Sure Thing (1999). It is a video of a picturebook being read page by page. Treat yourself to having a listen (Google> the lonely goth/youtube).  Sometimes I’ve done the graphic design work as well as the illustrations. However I've spent most of my time on picture books. Over the years, as I’ve been able to earn a living from publishing, I’ve come to work solely on books.

  • By whom are you influenced as an illustrator?

    The New York graphic designer Milton Glaser. His elegant, offbeat and witty ideas are just wonderful.  Other influential book illustrators have this same quality. These include Michael Foreman, Maurice Sendak, Heinz Edelmann, Helme Heine, Etienne Delessert, John Kricfalusis (Ren and Stimpy). The late German artist Friedrich Karl Waechtar. You'll notice it is largely a central European grouping. They are all craftsman illustrators, but draw on a stylised 'European' visual language. Often distinctly different from the sentimental American 'Disney' approach. My formative years were the mid 60's, 70's and 80's... The above are stylistic influences. Three other people influenced my attitude. My sister, Maire, a better drawer than me. George Tetlow, my life drawing teacher who taught me what to look for. And the designer, John Nowland, a brilliant conceptual thinker. 
  • Do you choose what to draw, or are you told? Do you ever copy?

    The first roughs are done with no instructions. After that you work with helpful feedback from the editor. No, I do not copy.
  • Do you like talking to kids?

    I love talking to kids. Childhood is important to me – and not just my own! I spend a lot of time recreating childhood in my imagination. I enjoy the liveliness and curiosity of kids.
  • Does the author decide which illustrator is used?

    No - though, they may suggest one. It is the editor’s happy duty to offer the text to an illustrator, according to the strengths of the illustrator. These strengths are to do with their brilliant ideas and groovy art-style. These strengths may also include reliability as far as deadlines go, and a pleasant, easy-to-get-on-with nature. And a child-like sense of humour. (As well as the simple ability to imagine and draw).

  • How did you get your first job?

    By sending some drawings to a publisher. (This sheep illustration was one of those drawings). The editor there gave me a new story text to try out on, by first doing some roughs. She also gave me lots of time. This was eventually published as Black Dog, by Christobel Mattingley.  

  • How do you become an illustrator? Do you train for it, or is it in your blood?

    My interest started by observing the amazing skill of my older sister, Maire. A far more accomplished draughtsperson than me. I could copy comic book characters pretty well though. Maybe it is in the blood? You become an illustrator by practise. Particularly by drawing people. Pretend to enjoy it (the more you do the easier it gets!). Draw in many different styles - including with cut up paper (collage). I reckon drawings done direct to a computer are mostly clumsy - so draw in every way except that! (OK ignore that - draw on screen if you must, but draw on paper as well). Eventually go to art school...
  • How do you make your illustrations appeal to children?

    I try to find a balance between things that are scary and yucky and things that are playful and funny. My favourite drawings are black and white, which is a pity because most kids prefer colour these days. I watched when my children were very young readers to see how they reacted to different books. Really careful 'tight' styles of illustration did not seem to make a book more attractive! This was pleasing and interesting. I do try to imagine the illustrations through a child’s eyes.  A trick is to read the story aloud, as you would to a child. 
  • What are ebooks and what are apps? Are they the future of publishing?

    Possibly. The new forms of digital storytelling are powerful and attractive to readers - and me. The gadget screens seem particularly attractive to youngsters. So, I expect to be an overlapper, and do work for printed books as I have always done, but learn more software and skills to do illustrations for other forms as well, including animation for apps.   I find it quite exciting, but I'm not at all certain that it is better for storytelling? As an artist, I love the messiness of pushing paint around. That's not easy to do on screen.

  • What are you very bad at?

    Taking high marks, thinking quickly, remembering important facts. Understanding how car engines work.
  • What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

    As a Boy Scout, paddling heavy-laden canoes on Lake Alexandrina (SA) into an approaching gale, against large breaking waves and running out of daylight… I was very scared...there was no turning back.
  • What is your greatest fear?

    The randomness and dumbness of violence.
  • What things are you always being asked?

    I’m always being asked can you teach me to draw? Or, why do your characters all look the same?
  • What was your hardest job?

    Hardest job was fruit picking. You eat too much fruit! Then you feel sick, and tired. Or, working as an animator for television (Here's Humphrey). The workplace was very LOUD with many televisions on. Animating a spider going up a drainpipe broke me mentally.
  • What was your secondary school education like?

    I enjoyed learning, but I did not learn how to think clearly. Consequently I failed most subjects – most especially mathematics, and arithmetic, and all the sciences. I scraped through in English. But I adored Classical Studies. I loved it so much that I managed to pass it. More importantly, I kept reading Greek and Roman history for years afterwords...
  • When did you discover you had a talent for illustrating?

    I discovered I had a talent for illustrating after three years of life-drawing (at Art School in Adelaide). The human body is a very amusing thing. Using illustration, I found I could make fun of everything. I had presumed I was going to become a graphic designer, or – heaven forbid – an advertising layout artist.
  • Where do sudden brilliant ideas come from?

    Having ideas is usually no problem, but deciding which ones are good can be tricky. A good way to be inspired is to go to the library, or a good bookshop, and look how other people have illustrated. Look hard at work that really excites you. This is almost guaranteed to start the ideas flowing. Develop several ideas and just see where your imagination takes you. Don’t rush - come back to it days later and with fresh eyes. Inspiration is prompted by research. The more you know, the greater the possible range and cleverness of your ideas. 
  • Will you still be doing this when you are really old?

    I hope so. Three reasons for wanting to continue are pictured here.  Grandchild one and grandchild two and grandchild three. Big changes are happening now in the way 'books' are read. By that I mean ebooks, ipads etc. So the illustration task will change, I think.

  • Are awards important?

    Depends on whether you win them! I've won very, very few. However I do think that awards or recognition early in a career is a real encouragement. So, for instance; winning The 1982 NSW Premiers Literary Award (Whistle Up the Chimney by Nan Hunt) was great. The Children's Choice Award listings are a real buzz. It has also been a huge honour to be the recipient of the 2011 Euphemia Tanner Award. This is not for a particular book - reading the citation will explain all.  Without being corny I would say having the respect of my colleagues in the illustration and publishing community is pretty well the best reward.  

  • Broadly speaking, why do you illustrate in the way you do?

    Very broadly, illustrators tend to come from from two different traditions. One is naturalistic, and puts more emphasis on sentiment in the way a story is told. In this approach the reader is often guided by words and pictures to how they should feel. For instance, the “I love you Mummy” sort of books. The other approach takes more from representation and interpretation. In this approach a story is told in a more abstract way, perhaps appreciated more intellectually, less emotionally. In the decades past the former approach was seen as the American, the latter seen as the European.   Now there is more blending of these stylistic approaches. Many Illustrators in Australia are certainly influenced by both, and incorporate both in their work. I certainly do so. There is respect, and a very appreciative audience for the abstracted and stylised art styles. On the other hand excessive sentimentality tends to make some people groan. (Well it certainly makes me groan!). The mainstream here though, I think, veers towards the naturalistic, whimsical, humorous approach (however it is painted), and it is in this mainstream that I deliberately put myself. 

  • Do you base your characters on real people, or your family?

    A few times I have drawn my mother and father, or my cousin Bob. Bob always seemed to me the archetypal good-hearted Australian man. So he was the model for ‘Dad’ in Paul Jennings’ The Cabbage Patch series. I like drawing grown-ups because they do have more distinctive features, eg, wrinkles. Family life is very important to my illustration. It’s where most humour is. Including, dark, ironic and sometimes sarcastic humour! And warm, gentle, loving humour of course. The family is the core of a child’s world. The depiction of Australian suburban family life is what I do best, because it is what I know best.

  • Do you have a real job? What occupies your mind when you work?

    No. Illustrating is my full time job. When doing roughs I think about the story. When painting I probably think about politics mostly! And about water - greywater, groundwater, stormwater - and weather and climate change. That’s a lot to think about. Music is usually on. And podcasts. 
  • Do you think about the kids who’ll read your book when you’re working on it?

    Yes, I do. Nowadays I do think about childhood more. I illustrate from the position of wanting the drawings to be interesting, funny and sometimes surprising. So I draw in a lively, silly sort of way.
  • How are illustrated books started?

    In the beginning, a book needs an author, and a story. Storytelling is the heart and soul of a book. The driving idea and direction for the book comes from the author. But that’s enough about authors. My job starts with the editor sending me the text.
  • How do you feel about people not liking your work?

    It doesn’t particularly fuss me. In some way it makes me want to understand my work better.
  • How do you know when an illustration is finished?

    There is a moment when you tire of it. And your eagerness to start the next picture is increasing.
  • Is it important to you to be groovy?

    I try. I try and be quite groovy. Luckily baldness is groovy. I'm very groovy.

  • What are the tricks you like to use?

    One trick is to use tracing paper for the roughs. You can then do multi-layered roughs. Or even turn it back to front. Lastly, tracing paper is tough and can take lots of rubbing out.
  • What are your unfulfilled ambitions?

    To write, then illustrate my own story. I do have a little story about a cat that may be published one day. It needs a couple more lines at the end, and maybe a bit more in the middle. So far it has taken me five years to get this far. Writing is hard. I would love to be a political cartoonist or satirist. Drawing the former Prime Minister as a duck is the closest I’ve come to it.

  • What is the process for illustrating a picture book?

    I am told by the editor how many pages the book will have. Usually 32 for a picture book. Then I work out where the lines of the text will go on each page. This forms the basic layout. It can be moved around later. Then I start the roughs of the illustrations, done with pencil, and eraser, on tracing paper. A photocopier is useful, especially being able to change the size of a drawing. Bits of roughs can be sticky-taped together. A rough can become pretty messy! These roughs show all the important bits of the composition. But not all the details. Lots of things can be left for later. Especially colour, of course. Then they get sent back to the editor (I hate taking them in personally). The editor may require some changes, or worse - lots of changes! But if the editor loves them then I can start the final artwork. That usually means tracing the roughs onto artboard, re-outlining them in ink, then finally painting them with goauche paint. Sometimes it takes forever going from first rough to final painting. In recent years I have done quite a bit of colouring on computer. I’ll write about that elsewhere.
  • What medium do you use for illustration? And is it a computer?

    Firstly, for the outline I like to use a nib (with ink). With a nib the lines can be thick or very thin, and the ink can be dark or very watery... Colour is applied with a mixture of inks, gouache paint and acrylic paint. Sometimes with coloured pencil on top, particularly soft pastel pencils. (Dipped in water!) In recent years I’ve done a number of books using Adobe®Photoshop and Corel®Painter 8 software on the Mac computer. I use it to apply colour to my hand-drawn line work. (This outline drawing is scanned into the computer.) The wonderful thing the computer allows is to have the outline drawing on one layer.The colour is applied underneath on a different layer. So you always keep the entire outline drawing, bits of the linework don’t get painted out. The computer has its weaknesses though. The computer brushstrokes don’t have that gorgeous texture that a real brush has. But they are pretty good! My computer technique is to produce pictures that appear to be ‘real’ paintings. I’ve not developed other techniques the computer does well, like 3D, or vector images. The physical stress of spending hour after hour on the computer is far, far more wearing on eyes and arms than painting normally. A long days work on computer leaves me wrecked!

  • What things did your parents tell you?

    They told me many things – like stop picking my nose. Or, that I was required to work in the shop on Saturday morning. More memorable was their example of being hard working and reliable to others. My dad did like to talk about what I was reading, my mum told me I could only read if I had exhausted myself doing all sorts of boring chores.
  • What was your most humiliating moment?

    I have many… Peeing my pants in class because the teacher had said ‘No more hands up to go to the toilet’. I have sort of immortalised this scene in my drawings for ‘The Cabbage Patch Curse’ by Paul Jennings.

  • What’s more important, the writing or the pictures?

    Personally, I think the writing! A brilliant story with ordinary illustration can still be a good book - with a long publishing (‘in print’) life. A dull story - even with brilliant or beautiful illustrations will probably not have a long publishing life.
  • When do you get your best ideas?

    For me,I think the best, cleverest, most imaginative ideas come in silence, and in slowness. What you could call deep thought, or could call 'the zone'.  
  • Who are you inspired by?

    I’m often inspired by my fellow illustrators and authors. Not all of them, but quite a few of them. Particularly the Melbourne community - not surprising, because that's where I live. It is important to be inspired. Especially early on - by people who may come to be a role model. So, following are a few friends and colleagues who have been important to me as an illustrator: First, Maire Smith, my sister.    Then the graphic designer John Nowland. Ron Brooks for his empathy and understanding of stories. Leigh Hobbs makes linework and brushwork 'sing'. Shaun Tan who, through his words, invites you to a clearer understanding of the process. Ann James and Terry Denton... 
  • Will your job be taken over by computers?

    A computer can’t draw or think. But who knows?