This month's Featured Illustrator is Alisa Coburn. Born in Australia and now based in Kent, Alisa's career has explored animation and design as well as illustration, all of which adds to the charm and energy of her characters. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

My Childhood In Australia

I grew up on the coast of northern NSW, Australia. It is a place of steamy rainforests and white sand beaches, red volcanic soil, huge blue skies and searing sunlight. It is a vibrant place with one true season, summer.

My childhood was a blur of waves, swimming pools, Icy Poles and Twisties, Little Golden Books, Disney, Looney Tunes and The Muppet Show – all to a Motown soundtrack. My bedroom perpetually smelled of coloured pencil shavings, and there I would spend hours pouring over picture books and comics, absorbing every single stroke. You could say my first art tutors were JP Miller, Gustaf Tenggren, Tibor Gergley, The Provensons, Richard Scarry and Maurice Sendak. Whilst Chuck Jones sculpted my sense of humour.

So lucky to have grown up with these

My favourite page of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak

Falling in Love with Animation

At around 7, I remember watching a behind-the-scenes Disney documentary that showed animators at work. Through the leaves of flipping pages their characters literally leapt to life. I was awestruck. It had to be the best job in the whole world and the only job for me.
 So at 17, I set off to seek my fortune in the big city. I was determined to be the youngest animator that ever lived and, clutching my sketchbook, that’s just what I told Zoran Janjic at Zap Productions in Sydney. He was the very first animation director I met. Much to my surprise, in his thick Yugoslavian accent he hired me on the spot.

Rolling Elephant By Zoran Janjic

The year I spent at Zap was seminal for me. I got to take part in all aspects of traditional animation production – 2D Animation, Stop Motion, Claymation, Special Effects and Live Action. And I was taught by legends in the business – Laurie Sharp, John Burge and Mark Gravas. And I never laughed so much.

A present from John Burge

I realised pretty quick that I loved the conceptual art side, the designing and the storytelling, but not the mechanics. The snails pace of inbetweening I simply found frustrating. But by the time I left, I took with me a passion for animation that was deeply imbedded and influences my work even now.

An Indirect Career Path

Overall my career path has been meandering, chequered even – but I now think it is those twists and turns that make life interesting. They are a never-ending supply of great stories and characters.

I've always loved a wildly optimistic character. In my most recent picture book, Hello Door (written by Alastair Heim) I suspect Foxy has a lot in common with Wile E. Coyote. (Little Bee 2018)

I have worked in Animation, Film Production, Graphic Design, Advertising and Promo Making at the BBC – creating creative content through every step of the process. But just as informative were the early side jobs like working in a greasy spoon joint where my shoes stuck to the floor, selling fine crystal to ‘Ladies wot Lunch’, sticking blobs of ‘exploded monster’ to an actor in a space suit and, whilst working on a watch counter at a large department store, learning how to identify wily shop lifters, like the woman who fashioned a pregnant belly mould and was busily stuffing it with goodies through ingenious side pockets.

I am now embarking on writing as well as illustrating and I am so grateful for all those past experiences. Happily I know just how to use them.

My analogue work station, complete with messy inspiration board.

My Process

I love my current studio space. It has two separate work stations – one digital and one analogue. I always have an exploding inspiration board. I wish I was sharing an artists space with everyone that is pinned up here. It is the one way I am a total bower bird.

My process is pretty typical – I start with rough thumbnails, then move to larger, more detailed sketches and then on to finished line work. My favourite part of the process is the initial sketches. Creating new characters. Feeling around for their personality by stepping into their shoes. Plus looking for ways to incorporate secondary storytelling is great fun.

I then throw the linework and a bunch of handmade textures (pencil, gouache and print textures are my favs) into Photoshop where I colour and finesse until I like what I see. At the scanning stage I also create a quick and dirty colour rough in Photoshop just before I launch into finished art. It speeds things up beautifully by slaying (but sadly sometimes just maiming) the dreaded indecision monster.

A Few Things I Have Learnt … Excruciatingly Slowly

• Don’t worry about style. It sneaks up on you. It’ll tiptoe faster the more prolific you are.

• Let your life suggest your self initiated projects, where you ‘See a need, fill a need'. You’ll easily find focus and satisfaction in truly helping those you care about.

• Never stop exploring and learning. Let curiosity lead you by the nose. Annie Proulx says it perfectly in her advice to writers but really I think this applies to any creative pursuit…

“What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, 'Write what you know.' It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.”  – Annie Proulx

My Fair Lady captures my love of history, costume design and reminds me of wonderful times spent with my Nanna


See more of Alisa's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery 

Her personal website is here. Follow her on Instagram @alisacoburn
Alisa's clients have included Chirpy Bird, Hardie Grant Egmont, Little Bee Books, Bloomsbury, Ivy Kids and Simon and Schuster. She's currently represented by Kelly Sonnack at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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