Working with Pictures: Jane Tanner

In the lead-up to the launch of a new award for illustrators – the Ullin Prize for Children’s Illustration – the Wheeler Centre is profiling some of the best in the business. Jane Tanner is the acclaimed author and illustrator of PlaymatesIsabella`s Secret and Lily and the Fairy House. She talks to us about sharing a sandwich with Higgelty Pigglety Pop's Jenny, and the idea of leaving space in her illustrative work.

Illustration from Lily and the Fairy House by Jane Tanner (2012).

What was the first piece of illustration you had published?

My first illustration was a Chinese story for the Thomas Nelson reading scheme. I learned heaps about continuity and attention to detail by working with educational consultants.

Illustration from The Fisherman and the Theefyspray by Paul Jennings and Jane Tanner (1995).

What’s the best part of your job?

Occasionally I make a drawing that captures a particular moment and I get a moving emotional response from my viewer. It feels like magic.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Late nights, short deadlines and waiting to hear if I've satisfied my author.

What’s been the most significant moment in your illustration career so far?

Receiving the Human Rights Award for children's literature.

Illustration from The Fisherman and the Theefyspray by Paul Jennings and Jane Tanner (1995).

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about illustration?

'Don't say everything. Leave a space for the viewer's eyes to rest.'

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

I've heard so many strange things said that nothing surprises me anymore.

If you weren’t illustrating, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I'd be making much more personal and private art.

Illustration from The Wolf by Margaret Barbalet and Jane Tanner (1991).

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be an illustrator?

Make sure that you develop your own unique style and ask yourself, 'What are the stories I want to tell, to whom and why?'

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I like to support my local bookshops, particularly as I can browse and often discover books I haven't seen before. Occasionally I purchase something difficult to find online.

Illustration from The Soldier's Gift by Tony Palmer and Jane Tanner (2014).

If you could meet any character from a picture book, who would it be and why?

I'd like to meet Jenny from Maurice Sendak's Higgelty Pigglety Pop. I really relate to her story. We'd share a great sandwich.

What’s the picture book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I owned a large format Alice in Wonderland when I was little. Both pictures and text have stayed close to me ever since. I knew what it felt like to be Alice.

Portrait of Connor Tomas O'Brien

Connor Tomas O’Brien was the Wheeler Centre's Digital Content Producer from May 2015 to June 2016. He was also inaugural director of the Digital Writers’ Festival and Digital Programs director at the Emerging Writers' Festival. He is also designer of Voiceworks magazine and co-founder of ebookstore platform He is working on a novel examining the nature of memory in our hyperconnected, hypermediated 'like economy'.

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