Working with Pictures: Mary Leunig

Mary Leunig is an artist based in regional Victoria. She spoke with us about her first drawing, bad advice at art school and The Bible in Pictures.

What was the first drawing you had published?

Photograph of Mary Leunig

Photo: Mike Williams

I was asked to do a drawing for 'Education Day' on the blackboard when I was at Footscray North Primary School. I figure this was my first experience of 'getting published' because everybody got to see and admire my work. I think I felt good about this … then after that I did work for school magazines, etc.    

What’s the best part of your job as an artist?

Doing a good drawing.   

What’s the worst part of your job as an artist?

I can't think of a worst part, although sometimes it's hard to start.

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

I guess first getting a book published by Penguin back in 1982: There's No Place Like Home. I have also done work for causes and organisations I believe in and support, which I think is significant. 

Drawing of an older man vomiting out two younger men in suits

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

One of my lecturers back at art school advised me to jump out of the window. We were on the third floor. He was nuts. 

As far as good advice goes, I look at work from artists I really admire, and that sort of advises me.  

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

I have heard some pretty surprising things from some of my relatives.  

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

When I'm not drawing I love to do work around the house, or outside. I work pretty hard: I can build houses, grow food, cut firewood, look after animals. I worked hard as a parent – really hard. I fix things and work things out and solve problems. I also fuck things up. I make some of my clothes, carry rocks. I fixed a wheel on a trolley today.  

Illustration of a woman hiding behind a garbage bin, ready to pull a piece of string that will set off a trap set for a baby

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

I would probably show them some art books, or my drawings, or work from artists I like, and just be enthusiastic.  

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

I go to the library. Or buy books from op shops.  

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

I would like to catch up with some characters in my latest book, One Good Turn – for example my dog Daisy, my parents, and of course, my kids.  

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

When I was very young I loved The Bible in Pictures. I'm an atheist, but I loved the drawings – they were very passionate. 

Portrait of Mary Leunig

Mary Leunig was born in Melbourne in 1950, and currently lives and works in regional Victoria. She began studying art at Prahran Institute of Technology and later Preston Institute of Technology, where she completed her studies, majoring in drawing and printmaking. Her previous books include There's No Place like Home (1982), A Piece of Cake (1986), One Big Happy Family (1992), and Black and White and Grey (1993). Her work has featured in such publications as the Age, Meanjin, Nation Review, Heat, AWU Magazine, Time, Penthouse, Der Rabe, and the Meatworkers Journal.

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