Sally Swain painted people with very large bellybuttons when she was three years old. When she was thirty she painted the international bestseller, Great Housewives of Art. Now Sally helps adults remember how to play with paint, collage and dress-ups. She has qualifications in Psychology, Art teaching and Life Coaching, in addition to daydreaming-while-lying-on-the-floor. Sally lives in Sydney and Once Upon a Picture is her first book for children.
Great Housewives of Art Revisited
and Oh My Goddess!
followed Great Housewives of Art
. She also developed seven storytelling shows for the Art Gallery of New South Wales in which she played a dancing camel, a grumpy bird and, at the age of forty, the tough (but not scary) Fruit Fairy.
How long have you been an artist/illustrator?
I've been an artist from age three, when the kids at kindy admired my easel paintings of
people with big bellybuttons.
Who or what was the biggest inspiration for you to become an artist/illustrator?
I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me to paint, draw, write, sing and dance. My father got me started on an illustrated journal when I was five. I composed entries such as, 'today we went to Grace Bros. I ate peanuts.'
What was your favourite book as a child?
I had lots of favourites. I often remember the pictures more than the stories. 'Pookie at the Seaside' and 'Peg's Fairy Book' both contain whole little worlds within trees or sandcastles.
I love that.
What are the best and worst things about being an artist/illustrator?
Best: playing with colour sometimes makes me go 'ahhh'. I love a soft, firm, flexible paintbrush all loaded with a rich colour of juicy paint. Yum. Almost edible.
Best and worst: being absorbed in creating wonderful, colourful inner worlds can remove me from dealing with grumpy post office queues, holes in the roof and global environmental issues.
When you're not illustrating, what do you do?
I refine the Art of Daydreaming-while-lying-on-the-Floor. I teach adults how to be more like children by playing and resting. I also do things like perform in a Playback Theatre company: helping people see that their own stories are important.
If you weren't an artist/illustrator, what would you be?
I can't quite imagine not being an artist. (limited imagination!) Maybe I would sing harmonies in a band and be a very part time snorkeller. I could teach yoga and free dancing. I might be a Play Therapist or a Grief Counsellor as well.
How long does it take to illustrate a book?
Gosh. I had the idea for 'Once upon a Picture' in July 1994. I did the final paintings for the book between January 2003 and July 2003. So the answer is either 9 years or 7 months. Take your pick!
what is your favourite colour and why?
My favourite colour changes about once a year. Just like my favourite vegetable. At the moment it is purple. Or it could be orange. Or red. Or actually deep ultramarine blue. It depends whether you're talking about clothes, walls, paintings or mobile phone covers.
Favourite vegetable is easy. Red capsicum. Oh. It could be peas. Or mushrooms lightly fried in butter.
What is your proudest moment?
One of my proudest moments:
The day my very first copy of my very first book turned up unexpectedly in my letterbox at Bondi and it even had proper grownup things like an ISBN number. I had to tell everybody about it, including the bottle shop owner where I bought champagne to celebrate.
Do you have any particular ritual or routine when you draw?
I use very low-tech equipment - hummus container for water, white china plate as palette, tissues as cloths. Sometimes I work at my desk and sometimes I spread out more on the dining room table. Lately I find myself incorporating more Things and Bits and Bobs into my pictures e.g. lace, steel wool, feathers. I love the moments when I don't have to be too precise (1001 rough sketches drive me nuts) and I can just go for it.
Can you tell us about what you are working on at the moment?
I am playing with paint, collage, beads, grainy paper, sheet music, pen and ink and some serious and some silly ideas and waiting to see what will happen.