Welcome to The Art of an Illustrator with Naomi Eccles-Smith!

It’s a pleasure to welcome our next author-illustrator guest – Naomi Eccles-Smith is a talented digital artist best recognised for her unique fictional characters in a Japanese animated style, as well as her upper middle-grade series, Dragon Calling. Naomi’s piece, ‘Australian Brumbies‘ is a stunningly breathtaking piece of Our Australian HeART, with its digitally layered air-brushed snowy Kosciuszko mountains scenery amidst a wild, and beautiful, herd of brumbies and an emotive ‘The Man from Snowy River’-esque poem. We are completely blown away by the energy in this adventure!

Thank you, Naomi! 🙂

About the Illustrator

Naomi Eccles-Smith has been pursuing creative imaginings through illustration since she could hold a pencil, and delving into creative writing since her high-school English teacher unlocked a dormant and unexpected passion. Combining the two, and inspired by adventurous, character-driven speculative fiction, open-world games and Japanese animations, Naomi has brought to life grand and colourful adventures, notably the upper middle-grade fantasy series, Dragon Calling, and other works including award-winning short stories and the delightful children’s book, Loney the Wolf. Part geek, part monster-slayer, and wholly rapt by all things wholesome and wondrous, Naomi endeavours to advocate that a little bit of wild imagining and beautiful strangeness is a good thing to have in this crazy world. 

Currently, she lives in Peranga, Australia, with an assortment of cats and family members.

Please visit Naomi Eccles-Smith at her website: nrecclessmith.com and on Instagram and Facebook.

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

Donations can be made directly to our fundraising page at The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

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

How did you come to be an artist?

I took to art like a fish to water; I have been drawing basically since I could hold a pencil, and was always encouraged by my parents and friends (and when at school, teachers) to pursue my passion. Growing up, I did not have the resources to receive professional schooling (e.g. university or art courses) so I am self-taught. It helps that I have a vivid imagination, love children’s stories and animated movies, and have found, and am confident in, my artistic style. I have always been an artist, but it was only when I became a writer that I was able to take my art down the path of being professionally viable.

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

My artistic and creative skills are a God-given gift, and being able to share them with others is an endeavour of joy—especially with children who are so pure and invigorating in their youthful inquisitiveness, excitement and engagement. What we immerse ourselves in in our youth shapes us; I want to use my talents to help shape others in a wholesome and imaginative way.

My art is also a large part of my self-expression, and a way to cycle out the never-ending churnings of the creative side of my brain. It’s like a reservoir, always filling and so always in need of gates and spillways! 

Tell us a bit about your published works.

The catalyst for my writing and artistic journey was my biggest and most time expansive project—my Upper Middle-Grade fantasy adventure series, Dragon Calling. In chronological order the books are, Kin Seeker, The Beacon Thrones, Dual Destiny, The Sword of Stars, and The Last Calling. I also did two illustrated Companion Guides (for Books 1 & 2) which included maps, character profiles, and even comics! It was my greatest creative drive for so long (seventeen years!) and solidified, not only my status as a professional author, but also my particular art style. I even had a dragon plushie (the main character is a dragon) manufactured and added to my repertoire of merchandise. I was all in with this particular adventure! My website is largely Dragon Calling content dominated, and even now I still work on Dragon Calling-related things.

My other published works include several short stories, three of which have won accolades.

I have also written and illustrated a children’s book called Lonely the Wolf, inspired by my own insecurities of feeling out of place and yet wanting to be a part of something.

And now, I am a part of the wonderful collective behind the beautiful little book, Our Australian HeArt.

What does your illustration process look like?

I nearly always begin my pieces as pencil-to-paper sketches; a rather old-school way for a digital artist to begin their work, but hey, I still love the feel of my hand brushing over paper. Once sketched, I scan the image into its digital format and begin the process of digital inking and colouring using Corel Painter. I usually work on the main subjects of the image first—unless the background is highly detailed (then I work on the background layers first). I use several layers for the ink outlines of my subjects, and several colour layers, which allows me to chop, change and colour specific areas without touching others; this is especially helpful for me when it comes to the outline layers. Depending on the illustration I either soft-shade the image (using airbrushes) which gives the picture a more mellow look, or block-shade (using flat colour or scratchboard pens) giving the image a more solid contrast, similarly found in anime.

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

I believe I came across the competition via a shared link from an author acquaintance. I was between projects and in a bit of a lull, and so was curious of the theme and specifics of the competition. When I realised it was to be based on all things heart-felt about Australia, it got me thinking of all the things I love about my country. Most of my work is fantasy or pop-culture based, so something from my roots as an Australian felt like a perfect and fresh move out of my lull.

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

Aside from being truly honoured and humbled for my piece to have been one of the chosen illustrations, it also made me happy to think that the subject of my piece was worthy of inclusion. Brumbies are not native to Australia. And while they have played an integral part in our heritage, their presence and influence in some areas are considered problematic. But I felt that despite the downsides of their introduction, what they have given back in the purity of their wildness, majesty and character, makes them true-blue. Their history and present state are also very interesting topics of conversation, and can make for great discussions with both children and adults alike. They have always been a part of Australia to me; having grafted into the spirit and wildness of the land, and out from them have come some wonderful poems, songs, and books that are soulfully and irrevocably Australian. As you can see, I am more excited that the subject of my piece was chosen, over me as an artist being chosen.

Why were you inspired to create this piece?

Much of my previous answer covers this; I love that we have wild horses in Australia, and I’m proud of all they have given to us in terms of heritage and inspiration. I also felt to represent them because they hold some controversy on the impact they have on the environment, and that is a great basis for interesting discussions to have with kids (and other adults, too). Also, I love the story of The Man from Snowy River (my favourite Australian film, and one of my favourite Australian poems). The scene of the wild horses running through the snow up on the mountain slopes is what inspired the imagery of my piece.

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

Nothing else really, beyond being a story-teller in both word and art forms, and sharing my creations. But I hope that’s enough. I’ve seen my stories brighten the eyes of aspiring young story-tellers, and when they realise the art of the characters in the books (or prints or comics) are my doing as well, it’s often given them a boost of confidence to confide to me their own creative aspirations. And to any who say they want to be an author and illustrator too, I will always, always encourage them to go for it. That to create stories and art is full of adventure and expression and fun that is worth pursuing!

Thanks so much, Naomi! It’s been an honour! 😊

#illustratorinterview #ouraustralianheart #australianbrumbies #picturebooks #justkidslit

Our Australian HeART by Just Write For Kids Australia and Friends is published by Daisy Lane Publishing.

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