Amy Haarhoff won the 2019 Storylines Gavin Bishop Award, and The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi was published in April 2020. Her illustration hero is Quentin Blake, and thinks his collaboration with Roald Dahl ‘was probably one of the best things that happened since the world began.’ Here she tells us more about her illustration process, and the anxiety that she is pushing through to become a wonderful illustrator.
There was a mishap with this story the other day, so please accept our apologies if you wondered why you were re-reading the excellent piece on female cartoonists by Hannah Benbow!
The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi was the first book I had illustrated, so when it came to figuring out the book illustration ‘process’ I really had no idea what I was doing! Also, at that stage, I had only just started my Illustration MA degree, and I hadn’t learned the fundamentals of visual storytelling. Thanks to winning the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award , I had the incredible team at Penguin Random House NZ to teach me the ropes and (thank heavens) the legendary Gavin Bishop, to mentor me throughout the process. If it wasn’t for their invaluable experience and gentle guidance, Ruru and Kiwi would’ve been a very odd book indeed!
Very broadly, illustrating the book involved three main stages: storyboarding, roughs, and finals. For the storyboard, I made thumbnails of what I wanted on each spread to look like. This enabled us to work out the flow of the book and make sure the images weren’t obstructing or confusing Clare’s narrative running from page to page.
Once we had a basic storyboard sorted, I started on the roughs which were done digitally in black and white. I then compiled all of these into a ‘dummy book’.
Once we had a basic storyboard sorted, I started on the roughs which were done digitally in black and white.
Then came the ‘finals,’ which were much less final than the term ‘final’ suggests. Often, I’d get halfway through a final only to realise that, in colour, it looked completely ridiculous and had to go all the way back to the thumbnail stage. In the last few weeks before the deadline, Ruru and Kiwi went through a bit of a complete makeover where I changed the entire colour palette of the book from a dark, foresty green to the blue you see today. For some spreads, this meant a complete scrapping of the work I’d already done and required me to come up with a new composition. The final stage was also quite tricky because of all the digital editing in photoshop I needed to do. I’d never really used photoshop before, so I had to learn how to use it, while completing the book!
Illustrating Ruru and Kiwi was one of the most rewarding and incredible and awful and difficult experiences of my life. It forced me to learn a lot very quickly, and I’m so grateful to the team at PRHNZ and to Gavin Bishop and Storylines first for giving me the opportunity and second, for helping me through it!
When I tell people I’m an illustrator they often get this really dreamy look on their face and seem to think I live this idyllic life where I sit around all day plucking incredible ideas out of my head with a pencil and putting them on paper. Nothing could really be further from the truth. There’s a lot more struggle and anxiety to being an illustrator and to the ‘business of creating’ than might be commonly thought; at the same time, however, there’s also an incredible satisfaction that comes with creating visual narratives well.
When I tell people I’m an illustrator they often get this dreamy look on their face and seem to think I live this idyllic life where I sit around all day plucking incredible ideas out of my head…
For me, illustration is a bit of a love-hate thing. Sometimes ‘creating’ comes easily; at other times, I can be so crippled with doubt over my ability to draw that actually drawing feels like wrestling or sucking water from a stone. Another source of anxiety as an illustrator is money. Being an illustrator and a student at the same time is pretty useless when it comes to paying bills and the worries over meeting them often impact my ability to create.
Sometimes I worry about my choice of career and end up frantically searching the internet for a job that actually earns money, only to find that I have literally no other skills than drawing and would be completely incompetent in another job. My comic strip shows a little bit of what it’s like to be me for a day and explores some of the worries I experience. As you’ll be able to see from the strip, I’m incredibly fortunate to have a part time job at the Massey Recreation Centre where I (do my best to) work as a receptionist. I honestly don’t know why they hired me because despite working there for the past few years, I still don’t know how to pick out a football from a netball. I work there a few times a week and, in between, I complete my Masters’ coursework.
Right now I am enjoying experimentation. After completing the illustrations for Ruru and Kiwi, I had a bit of creative burnout and I found illustration became more a source of anxiety over creating a ‘perfect’ picture than a tool to communicate my creative voice. I even got to the point where I was afraid of pencils and paper and would only draw digitally in order to erase any mistakes I made.
Eventually, I realised my drawing style had become so tight and so rigid that instead of my bringing characters to life, my illustrations were suffocating them and the stories I was trying to tell. I wanted my characters to communicate mischief, life, and the joy of recreational rule-bending and instead they just looked stilted and a little bit dead. One of my tutors encouraged me to experiment with different media and drawing styles and suggested that I needed to do a bit of soul-searching; to really think about what it is I am trying to say and communicate as an illustrator, and let that direct my illustration style.
I wanted my characters to communicate mischief, life, and the joy of recreational rule-bending and instead they just looked stilted and a little bit dead.
Following his advice, I realized my highly detailed, rigid and technically ‘sophisticated’ style was completely at odds with what I want to say as an illustrator. Since then I’ve been experimenting with different media and trying to develop a new visual language. In particular, I’ve been experimenting with inks and watercolour paper and now only get out the iPad on rare occasions!
Most recently, I’ve gotten into graphic novels and comics and have been constructing my own ridiculous little stories. For example, the other week I made up a four-page story about a cow who falls off a cliff into the sea and, along the journey, discovers a mysterious group of islands made up of birthday cakes. The cow ends up stealing a slice of the cake to use as a boat to get home, never realizing (until the macabre end) that the birthday cake belonged to a powerful (and now very angry) sea god who followed the cow all the way home. I’m having a lot of fun.
The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi
by Clare Scott
Illustrated by Amy Haarhoff
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
Amy Haarhoff is an illustration student, studying for her Masters from Falmouth University. She was raised on her dad’s macabre storytelling, her mum’s art materials, and an endless supply of library books. While researching for a project in a bookshop in July 2018, she came across a picture book that changed her life: Cicada, by Shaun Tan. She walked out with a copy of the book and a determination to create stories of her own. In 2019, her exceptional sample pictures for The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi saw her win the 2019 Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration. In 2020 Amy’s selection of completed illustrations for the book earned her a longlisting for the AOI World Illustration Awards. She lives in Palmerston North.