Notes on the journey of motherhood

The colour of happiness

watercolour paints

Post by Karen Charlton

Perhaps it’s a cliche that a parent should find themself thinking of writing a picture book once they have a child. There’s lots of lying around together, reading fantastic, heart-warming stories, and it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to think, hey, maybe I could have a go at a picture book.

I’ve played around with several ideas for picture books, and have a few stories in draft form (and one as a very tiny dummy book) but in each draft I’ve reached a point where I’ve become hopelessly stuck. So stuck that several of my picture book drafts have been untouched in 12 months. Not because I don’t believe in the stories, but because I’m not sure I can do them justice. Because not only do I want to write a picture book, I want to illustrate it too.

On a whim earlier this month, I enrolled in Children’s Book Illustration course at the CAE in Degraves Street, Melbourne. I had nothing to lose, I told myself, madly typing in my credit card details, except if it went completely pear shaped I could finally strike picture books off my lifelong list of things I want to have a go at. It’s not a very big list, but this particular item has been on there since I first began to read.

So I had a go.

We covered story boarding and page layout in week one, and in week two spent almost the whole day learning watercolour techniques. Although I’d describe myself as someone who can draw, I’ve always shied away from paint but that approach has kept me in black and white and sepia tones. Watercolour was an entirely new experience, and surprisingly liberating, relaxing and fun. It helped that I went in with no expectations whatsoever.

My Grandpa was an artist, and when he died 7 years ago he left his art books and materials – pencils, paints, palettes and paper – to me. When it came time to use his materials, to dip my brush into his paint and fill his 1940s water jar with water, I felt connected to him and to my Grandma, two people who I love and look up to even though they’re gone. Especially now they’re gone. What to do with these gifts they’ve given me?

I don’t know what tune this is, but my heart seems to know the words. Holding a brush, I felt happier and lighter than I have in a long time. I think I just found myself a hobby.

What did you get up to this weekend?

10 Responses to “The colour of happiness”

  1. Zanni Arnot

    I thought about doing the exact same course in the exact same location in my last year in Melbourne…I shied away and did botanical illustration instead. I loved playing with watercolour, but unlike with writing, I always felt so frustrated that the images never lived up to what I had inside my head. For now, I have put my paint brushes aside.

    • rhythm & method

      This has been what’s turned me away too. I’m hoping if I come to the page to play, I might eventually find a style I can live with. Above all, I just want to enjoy it.

  2. Cat

    My list isn’t long either but the picture book is on it. What a great course you’re doing and what a gift to be reconnected to your grandpa’s materials in such a meaningful way. Xxx

    • rhythm & method

      It was a great course! I’ve always thought of PBs as so scary, but this really broke it down for me. Do they offer something similar where you are Cat?

  3. mummymanifestodotcom

    What a lovely post. How courageous of you to finally bit the bullet and participate in writing the children’s book workshop. I hope you were able to progress more with it-I look forward to see you post about the end result.

  4. Gill

    I love the connection between your art and your Grandparents. And such special gifts from your Grandpa…

    I avoided Art in school. It terrified me. My boss is giving me a gentle nudge, sending me on workshops, trying to build my confidence. I doubt I will ever consider illustrating a PB but I’m discovering the meditative quality to Art. I love that it is creative but so very different to writing.

    I spent this weekend writing end of year observations…definitely not feeling as light and happy as you sound. But I am looking forward to hearing more about your hobby!

  5. Trying to be Conscious

    That sounds like a lovely course. I’m writing a children’s book with a friend at the moment and I wouldn’t trust my drawing skills enough to illustrate it myself, but attending a class like that would be fun :)

  6. sarafoley

    oh, yum. I love that you are following a dream, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, learning a new skill AND connecting to your grandparents. How wonderful for you!

  7. debbrightandprecious

    How fun, Karen! I would love your ‘hobby’ to turn into something very exciting! I’ve often thought about writing a children’s book too (ideas in notebooks in draft form for years) but haven’t spent enough time on them. I can imagine your course would be inspiring and so enjoyable. And so great that you’ve got artistic ability in the genes! Perhaps we could have a sneak peak of some of your illustrations one day? :)


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