The years of 2008 to 2012 could best be subtitled “The cargo container years” or maybe “The years of extreme travel”. For it was in this period that I painted the illustrations and did the pencil sketches for “Grassfinches in Australia”. For all of you who are unaware of this book, I suggest you rush right out and buy one…..but of course you already have! Sadly it is now out of print, so treasure your copy!
In the old days doing a book was a guarantee of money, fame and glamour….but sadly this era had passed by the time I got to do my first book. So no glamour, lots of travel and with fading dreams of fame and wealth I set out to see every species and subspecies of grass-finch in Australia. It was a time I really enjoyed – well mostly!
This whole ‘doing a book thing’ started during a visit to see my mate Bill Cooper in far north Queensland. Bill had illustrated many books and when I visited him was working on “Fruits of the Rainforest” with his wife Wendy, a talented botanist. A stray comment about wanting to do a book resulted in a phone call to Bill’s publishing collaborator, Joe Forshaw. Joe was planning a new grass-finch book and was looking for an artist, and as Bill was tied up painting figs he suggested me.
Starting in 2008 was a bit problematic on the studio front as I was building a house at the time and was making do with a cargo container as a studio. Anyone who has been in a similarly unfortunate position i.e. no air conditioning, limited ventilation and the extremes of Victorian weather, will understand how comfortable those years were. I positively looked forward to escaping to the desert or some other more climatically attractive locale to see the birds in the wild. Over those 4 years I travelled the length and breadth of Australia, tracking down every subspecies and species of grass-finch. I was then able to capture the general impression, size and shape (known as ‘GIZZ’ to the birding fraternity) of each bird and place them in the correct habitat. Nothing aggravates me more than seeing so-called bird artists who place desert birds up palm trees because it looks good. AARGH!! That is not artistic licence, that is just downright wrong!
All that travel, and all those sweaty days, months and years working in my cargo container paid off in the end when my work won the Whitley Award for Illustrated Zoology in 2013. However I still wouldn’t mind a bit of wealth, fame and glamour! Maybe next year?