I am a children’s book illustrator. I write also, but I think of myself as a creator of pictures. I live with my husband, two outrageously inventive little boys and an eccentric canine on a hillside in far northern Queensland, Australia, where we are sandwiched on a sliver of land between the rainforest and the sea. Our overgrown garden is visited daily by the subjects of my pictures: birds, snakes, frogs and skinks, and in the late afternoons I have a bird’s eye view of the flying foxes as they travel north on sun-burnished wings, following the scent of ripe fruit. It’s a place reminiscent of my childhood home in the Northern Territory. I was born in Darwin into a family divided between two worlds, my mother’s very traditional Chinese heritage and my father’s very Anglo-Germanic one. I was a painfully shy child – I read books voraciously and I drew incessantly from a very early age. My father painted landscapes, and as a little girl I decided his brushes and materials were far superior to my own and ‘acquired’ them. In order to get them back, he eventually capitulated and bought me some ‘grown-up’ tubes of watercolour and better brushes. Art proved to be my escape and refuge, and also my most articulate means of expression as I grew from shy child into a shy adult.
I was six years old when Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin. My parents must have, like all adults, been devastated at their loss, but I, with my child’s eyes, lived a rather wild Tom Sawyer existence for many years in the ruins of the old frontier town as it was very slowly reborn. My most wonderful memories are of climbing precariously over rubble into ruined buildings in the hope of discovering a bathroom with its roof torn off, open to the skies. If I was lucky I would find a bath tub brimming with rainwater from the first wet season storms. The treasures I sought were newly hatched green frog tadpoles jostling for space in their ‘pond’. My childhood teemed with non-human companions, dogs and horses, a wayward hermit crab, and wild mice who nibbled at the crumbs of food I left for them on the floor of our cyclone shelter. I was fascinated with large insects and reptiles of all kinds (whom my parents never seemed to mind my bringing indoors). The shelf above my bed was filled with cocoons waiting for their beautiful occupants to emerge and match boxes stuffed with cotton wool to make ‘beds’ for the tiny gecko eggs I found. Once hatched, the baby lizards would clamber up the walls to join the adults perched on high. Pandanus-fringed waterholes and creek crossings were a particular delight in the stifling heat. Many afternoons were spent swimming and wading in shallows looking for rainbow fishes. These were my perfect days.
Once I left school I had intended to follow an artistic path, but a well-meaning grownup convinced me that a career in fine arts was never going to feed me, so I allowed myself to be reluctantly persuaded. However, a creative impulse cannot be ignored for ever, and I eventually found my way to writing and illustrating my first children’s picture book ‘The Dugong Meadow’. This book won me the Children’s Book Council of Australia 2003 Crichton Award for Illustration. It was also shortlisted for The Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature. I followed it up with my second book ‘Brindlebat’. However, the arrival of our beautiful boys saw all artistic endeavour come to a grinding halt for quite some time. It is only lately that I have been able to return to follow my creative compass.
Nature has always been the major inspiration for my art. My favourite subjects are furred, feathered and scaled. I try to see the ‘person’ in animals when I paint them, to imagine their emotional life – I particularly love painting anthropomorphic characters and imbuing them with a very human perspective. They are not so different from us, after all. My animal characters make mud, discover creepy-crawlies, collect sticks and play in the shady creeks of my childhood. Often I wonder at the whimsical possibilities that might exist beyond the realms of what adults know as reality (Do chickens do backflips when we aren’t looking? Do rabbits nurse grudges?). I also like exploring both the positive and negative ways in which people are influenced by their natural environment and our interactions with other animals. My passion for making narrative art, and the challenges which accompany the visual telling of a story, marries well with my passion for children’s literature and literacy.
Please take a look through my gallery. In it you will find sample illustrations in various media and some pages from my books. I hope you enjoy them.
Copyright © 2017 Naomi Mairou