Welcome to The Art of an Illustrator with Mel Corrigan!

We’re just so in awe of our talented Aussie creators, and it’s such an honour to showcase another superb artist to the blog! Thanks to Mel Corrigan, illustrator to the gorgeous ‘Sweet Summer Days’ in Our Australian HeART for being here today. With the lyrical words by Rhonda Ooi, we were captivated by the sultry greens, lustrous atmosphere and nostalgic energy coming from Mel’s artwork. Her watercolour-feel rolling hills, birds, wildlife and cartwheeling youngster sweeping across the page perfectly captured Rhonda’s joyous and sensory childhood memories – when those were the ‘sweet summer days’. Perfection!

Thanks for sharing your process with us, Mel! 🙂

About the Illustrator

Mel Corrigan is a Melbourne based illustrator with an architect-trained eye for detail.

Mel is passionate about capturing the playfulness and imagination of children and is interested in using different compositions to enhance the narrative emotion. She finds inspiration in the little things: the everyday joys and interactions that colour our days. She also has an interest in animals and nature, and her detailed drawings would be well-suited for non-fiction books.

Mel’s work is created from a mix of hand drawn and digital techniques. She loves using watercolour and coloured pencils, and more recently has enjoyed working digitally using Procreate.

Her first picture book ‘Deva the Bengal Boat Cat’ (written by Jill De Vos) was published in 2023.

Please visit Mel Corrigan at her website: https://melcorrigan.com.au and on Instagram.

About the Author

Rhonda Ooi is an author and primary school teacher who spends most of her time imagining stories, inspired by the children in her life. The ‘O’ section of her bookshelf is ready… waiting for her first picture book ‘Ned Needs to Build’ which is due for publication in 2025. 

Please visit Rhonda Ooi at her website: Rhonda Ooi Author – Rhonda Ooi, Children’s Books, Children’s Author and on Facebook and Instagram.

Our Australian HeART can be purchased via the Just Write For Kids Australia website.

Mel, thank you for joining me to chat about your amazing work!

How did you come to be an artist?

I have always loved to draw. At university, I chose to study Architecture as it felt like a good balance of creativity and technical skills, in a business environment. The reality was that my drawing skills were shelved as my role in the architectural field were primarily on the computer or at a construction site. Then came covid lockdown in Melbourne. It all started when my daughter won a drawing competition, and the prize was a wonderful selection of art supplies. I sat down with her and tried out watercolour paints for the first time. I discovered that drawing and painting brings a peacefulness and joy to me, and I can get lost in an illustration for hours. From there, I sought out short courses to build on my skills and I delved into world of children’s picture book illustrations by attending conferences, speaker events, book launches, and I joined illustrator groups, Australian Society of Authors and SCBWI. I built up a portfolio and then I completed my first picture book last year!

What does art and illustrating children’s books mean to you?

Illustration has brought me a joy from childhood that I’d tucked away and forgotten! After spending 20 years in architecture, it has been refreshing to imagine and dream again (without having to consider buildability!). The most rewarding part is seeing a child study my work, explore the details that I add into illustrations and enjoy the little worlds that we create in a book.  

Tell us a bit about your published works.

Late last year my first picture book ‘Deva the Bengal Boat Cat’ was released (written by Jill de Vos). This sweet book tells a story of Deva the Bengal cat and her adventures on a catamaran boat, sailing across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain to Turkey. 

Then I received the most wonderful news that ‘Sweet Summer Days’ double page spread (written by Rhonda Ooi and illustrated by me) had been selected to be published in ‘Our Australian HeART’. It is such an honour to be included in this beautiful anthology.

I am currently working on the illustrations for two new picture books: one that will be released in the USA later this year, and another beautiful Australian book (written by the wonderful Rhonda Ooi and published by Woodslane Press) that is due for release in early 2025.

What does your illustration process look like?

Before I do any sketching, I spend time daydreaming about what I want to convey, what is important in the text and what speaks to me. I often go for walks around the park to help this creative process.

Once I’ve got a visual picture in my head, then I start sketching. This will often be small thumbnails in a sketchbook, and they’ll be very rough. It helps me test out a composition and the overall storytelling idea. The sketches will often consist of stick figures that express a gesture. The main purpose is to get the idea down quicky without any pressure for perfection. 

In the next stage I do research and I collect reference imagery. For ‘Sweet Summer Days’, I researched the garden treasures, the insects and birds that feature in my picture, and I also took a video of my daughter cartwheeling. I then pencil sketched the creatures and created my character.  

After I have created a collection of reference sketches and have established a thumbnail that I am happy with, I then draw the illustration at full scale. This is where I move elements around to make sure there is enough space for text, and the important elements are outside of the gutter and not too close to the edges. 

This is the point where I start working digitally. I scan in my drawing(s) and then start working on my iPad using a program called Procreate. For ‘Sweet Summer Days’ I sketched all my elements using a pencil brush.

Next, I select a colour palette. Sometimes I select a colour palette from an artwork piece that I admire, sometimes I use a colour reference book, other times I select a colour palette from an online resource.

Often, I’ll do a quick mock up of colour blocks to test out my ideas of how I want to lead the reader’s eye across the page, and where I want elements to stand out.

Now for the fun part! I love colouring my work digitally using watercolour brushes. I do most of the painting with a few types of brushes and then I use colour pencil brushes to add texture and detail. 

What drew you to enter the Just Write For Kids’ Picture It! Anthology Competition?

When I first read about the competition, I was really drawn to the idea of celebrating what is special about Australia, especially with everything that is happening in the world. It truly is a book of joy! I really wanted to enter, but I wasn’t confident about writing a poem. I was absolutely delighted when Rhonda Ooi asked if I’d like to collaborate with her. I loved that the competition starting point was to select a colour for the theme, it immediately evoked ideas and imagery!

Your entry, Sweet Summer Days, was selected as one of our pieces for the anthology. We love it! What does it mean to you to be included?

Honestly, I was humbled to be included amongst such a talented bunch of creatives. This piece was a beautiful collaboration between Rhonda and I, and it’s so special that it is our first piece published together. I especially love that this book will be in schools and libraries across the country. I can already picture the kids studying each page and expressing excitement when they spot something that they know or asking questions and learning from other illustrations that are less familiar.

Why were you inspired to create this piece?

After Rhonda and I agreed that we wanted to work with the colour green, I let Rhonda brainstorm her words first before I put pencil to paper. She thought about what she loves about Australia, she thought of her childhood, spent in suburban backyards and surrounding bushland. She remembers tumbling on grass and watching clouds and listening to birds and foraging for insects. I have very similar nostalgic memories of my own childhood adventures. I can remember practicing cartwheel after cartwheel in our grassy backyard, under the shade of the trees. I still love collecting treasures with my own kids, so these became the starting point for my pencil sketches. I then collated these sketches and completed the final artwork using digital watercolour and pencil brushwork using Procreate.   

In what other ways do you spread the joy of art to children?

I create wall art for children’s bedrooms. They are whimsical and delicate and capture the joys of the little things.   

Thanks so much, Mel! Your work is just so joyful! 😊

#illustratorinterview #ouraustralianheart #sweetsummerdays #picturebooks #justkidslit

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