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Faces of Australia: Photographs and Children’s Book Illustrations Ann James of Books Illustrated, Melbourne

Faces of Australia: Photographs and Children’s Book Illustrations Ann James of Books Illustrated, Melbourne

Humorous but meticulous. Swirling with vivid colors, rich with mellow pastel tones. Those were my impressions while viewing the works on display at the Faces of Australia exhibition, staged through Mar 7, 2013 at the KF Cultural Center Gallery. Just before the event’s opening ceremony, I met up with Ann James, the well-known Australian illustrator who contributed a number of her works to this exhibition. James, who turns 61 this year, has been working in the children’s illustration world for more than two decades. With her sparkling eyes, she seemed every bit the friendly, wise grandmother right out of a fairy tale.

On her pride in the quality of the exhibition:“I brought in works that were shown last year at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which is one of the world’s biggest children’s book events. You can see a lot of the top work from recent years, including illustrations by Alison Lester, one of Australia’s Children’s Laureates.”

On how she came to take part in the exhibition as someone known for her illustrations:“I was an art teacher for 10 years until 1988, when Ann Haddon and I opened the children’s bookstore/gallery, Books Illustrated, in Melbourne. Books Illustrated took part in the selection of works as co-organizer for this exhibition.”

James has contributed to the publication of some 70 books in the 25 years since she started working in earnest as an illustrator–a career she chose because of her love of children

and the enjoyment she gets from bringing stories and children together through pictures. Her best-known work includes the illustrations for Little Humpty, The Midnight Gang, and I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. She also recalled being asked to contribute to a project by a British writer who loved her work. Explaining that she typically works at the request of publishing company editors, James noted that she has received some inquiries from Korean companies.

On how she comes up with illustration ideas even when she doesn’t have a chance to meet the writer:
“It’s a bit tough to explain in words, but I try to stay true to the story. I believe that good illustrations are ones that convey the story clearly. I also travel around a lot to exhibitions by other artists.”

Her thoughts on Korean illustration:
“I haven’t seen much of their work, but what I have seen has been very high quality. I believe they won a number of prizes at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. One who does come to mind is Suzy Lee, who is well known in the US.”

On whether her career as an illustrator has inspired her to take up writing as well:
“I’m not completely uninterested, but artists and writers work in very different ways. I’m also extremely busy with the gallery, which organizes a traveling book fair all over Australia. To be honest, I did try writing a book five years ago, but I gave up after a few months.”

Last year, the traveling book fair made no fewer than three treks around the country, leaving James with little time to think about much else. She is also very busy with professional workshops, which have taken her to such places as China and Korea. Now in Korea for the eighth time, she recalled holding a workshop last year at the Booksori Festival at Paju Bookcity in Gyeonggi Province. During this visit, she is scheduled staff about the large number of people who had registered to attend her workshop sessions. “At its root, illustration is a branch of the arts,” she said, “but it’s also always a challenge, because you’re creating images to spark children’s emotions and help

them understand.” It was as though she was sharing the secret of her art–its characteristic sparkling humor, its knack for producing a smile.

- Kim Sung-hee (Adjunct Professor of Communication & Media Studies Sookmyung Women’s University)

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