8 May 2014 – CAROLINE MAGERL – Guest Artist
– Guest Artist –
Today I feature a very talented artist and illustrator who hails from Queensland, Australia – Caroline Magerl. Besides her art work, Caroline has illustrated books for some very notable authors, been a cartoonist in prominent magazines and newspapers and is currently preparing a work for Australia’s top art prize – The Archibald. Throughout this post you will see examples of Caroline’s work.
Welcome, Caroline …
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR ARTISTIC JOURNEY.
My family came to Sydney as migrants in 1966. My parents had left behind their family in Germany, which I understand was quite a broken world after the war.
My father immediately set about building a steel yacht in the back yard of our suburban home. Our neighbours thought we were building the Bismarck II.
The yacht ‘Rosa M’ was launched in 1971, much to my excitement and to the relief of the population of Seven Hills. I lived aboard until I was fourteen.
One of my earliest memories is living on the Parramatta River, Sydney. Being very short-sighted the landscape was a smear of red roofs and a blindingly big sky.
Picture books from my grandmother who still lived in the DDR (East Germany) had a big impact on me. They were the only link to my distant family and the place we (my parents, aunt and one cousin) had come from. The art style in these books really charmed me. At the same time, I was reading Australian authors like Elaine Mitchell and Patricia Wrightson, who evoked a recognition of what Australia felt like. The thing I found hardest to shake was the sense of rift between the grief and pain that I sensed in my family and the incredible beauty all around us. Maybe from this distance it is just the knowledge that there was no escaping human realities that kept me so interested in people.
I left home at sixteen and in my early twenties sailed to NZ and back. It was at this time that I began to get work as a cartoonist and illustrator at that time.
By my late twenties, I had met my future husband. I had become more determined to pursue art and illustrating books.
Through a strange combination of cartooning for UK magazines and friends of friends, I was introduced to an art agent, hence my first painting exhibition was in the UK. At the same time I also worked for an illustration agency in London.
When my daughter, Jen, was born, we were renovating a house in Brisbane and very much in the domestic way. I began to exhibit locally and sold work through Eva Breuer in Woollahra, Sydney. My focus went from general illustration to painting and eventually writing my own picture book.
WERE YOU GOOD AT DRAWING AS A KID?
I would hope so. That was what I did when I was meant to be doing something, or should that be, everything else.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME AN ARTIST?
In my twenties I found work as an illustrator and cartoonist for a number of magazines .
The first cartoons I had published were a collaboration with a retired publican from Sydney who went sailing in order to ‘dry out’ . He wrote articles about his numerous sailing misadventures, to which I put my drawings, based on my own sailing misadventures. The publication of these drawings gave me the courage to seek other outlets for my work.
Armed with a life’s knowledge of boats and a head full of cartoons ideas, I eventually worked as a freelancer to Wooden Boat in the USA and Practical Boat Owner in the UK. These became a source of regular work.
I worked with Wooden Boat for over ten years. Initially I wrote to them and asked for work. To my surprise they agreed and it turned out to be my longest gig. It appears they had an unwritten policy of taking in strays. The best example was that of the new gardener who kept writing to them and eventually travelled from the other side of the US unannounced, to work with them. Unfortunately the WB staff had a strong environmental stance and their new gardener had a strong and personal dislike of gophers, because they messed up the lawns. I’ll let you fill in the gaps in this story.
Locally I had a number of cartoons published in the Bulletin and eventually did a series for the Brisbane Courier Mail and Sunday Mail.
At the same time, I was painting and seeking work in the picture book field.
By the time I was in my thirties I had illustrated my first picture book which won the Crichton Award (Libby Hathorn – Grandma’s Shoes).
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN ARTIST?
The opportunity to be engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the world around me and the world within, to make something from the experience. Then finding out the things that are personal and central to my life, can bring a smile of recognition from other people. That is wonderful.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN ARTIST?
From my own experience and listening to other artists, it is the problem of gaining access to your audience, and dealing with financial uncertainty.
Learning to be your own advocate and the business skills that go with that have been a ongoing challenge.
Team that with the angst of making your inner life visible to others, and you have your own perfect storm or at least a Tropical Low. Sounds like a nice title for a show!
DO YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF, OTHERS OR BOTH?
I used to work for as many as forty clients as a freelance illustrator. Now I work for just one person, but she is a right pain.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME AN ARTIST
My first job was as a kitchen hand. I went from pot scrubber to being offered a chef’s apprenticeship, but I was too young to sign my own documents at that time. I moved on by the time I turned seventeen, so the apprenticeship never came to pass. I did however work as a sous chef for a time.
I also did a stint as a clumsy waitress. My career was hampered by, amongst other things, suggesting ‘other restaurants’ when asked for recommendations by the patrons.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
That I put the effort into learning the things that were needed, to pursue the things I loved.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Just now I am painting a portrait of Suzanne Gervay, my Archibald entry.
I spent some time with her at the Hughenden Hotel in Sydney. She is a woman with drive, energy and humour. There is something just a bit impish about her.
At the same time, I am working on a new series of paintings. I am also quite excited about that.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEDIUM?
Lately, it is charcoal! I use this medium to begin an oil painting.
I still have a deep attachment to ink and watercolour. A while back I learnt something about the way pigments are made and where they come from. Rose madder, for example, is a soft pink colour made from the root of the Madder plant. In its watercolour form, it smells like flowers. Quite a moving smell, especially as it puts me in mind of so many hours working on books.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Music, the writing of others and the art of others.
I keep a list of thoughts that most closely describe what I want to achieve. It helps me to relate, and it is the desire to relate that drives me the most.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER TO PAINT OR ILLUSTRATE?
I have no preference, all the art forms are equal and different.
I love to paint, people the most. I once heard a man talk about Bonsai, that you can learn anything you want from just doing that one thing. That is how I feel about painting people.
Illustrating is a expression of an inner world. I want to show that, to give that.
Cartoons because they just occur to me. They are a shortcut to a laugh. I am a relative newcomer to Facebook, etc but have found it to be a great venue for my cartoons which alas don’t have a commercial home anymore.
There isn’t much I don’t love about the process of etching, but the way an image finds a new and different life is one of the joys of printmaking.
I have been a lifelong scribbler too.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS?
It is such an individual path for everyone. That is both good and scary!
What I learnt was to back myself, be glad of support from others but don’t rely on it.
Maintain the value of what you do irrespective of what goes on around you, and allow others the same.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM ARTIST’S BLOCK?
I deal with doubt and fear as a daily routine . I try to keep them busy with housework while I paint.
I will offer a less flippant answer though, writing my picture book ‘Hasel and Rose’ was a lesson in facing a fear, too. I had stopped writing stories in my teens. Art makes sense of things in a certain way but not in every way. It took a long time to hear my writing voice again, if that makes sense.
It has been about twelve years since I started the story of Hasel and Rose, but writing has been much easier since.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED SCHEDULE?
It is a blurry line between different pursuits.
I will often draw and write first thing in the morning and paint before it gets too hot.
If possible, I will go out in the afternoon to draw outdoors, and sometimes after dinner.
If illustrating, I work in blocks of time spaced months apart, as the book takes its course.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE TO WORK?
Being outside with a notebook is what I love best. That isn’t necessarily where the most work gets done though.
I am the, ‘lie awake at night thinking’ type.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?
Probably the times when I am completely absorbed in what I am doing.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ARTIST / ILLUSTRATOR AND WHY?
That is a pretty unfair question, Clancy!
I love a broad range of work. I have come to believe the reason is, it’s the expression of the individuality that I love. Of course that means a kaleidoscope of visions.
That said, I would gladly accept a big Diebenkorn on my wall.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
When people have kept something I did in their memory for years, and then seek me out to tell me so. I can’t think of anything better than that.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED?
“ We bought your etching because it reminds us of our ‘D********’.”
( I like D********, but that is not the point).
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
More like overwhelmed . Am I being dramatic? I hope so.
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU ILLUSTRATED?
Five picture books including ‘Hasel and Rose’, as well as many books for older readers.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
A number of books that I have illustrated have gone onto win awards. I tend not to take the glory for these as they written by others. I listed these at the bottom of this should anyone be interested.
I won the 2002 Crichton Award for Children’s Book Illustration.
I have only ever entered one painting prize before. It was a self portrait and I didn’t get the nod. The painting sold the next week, so maybe that was my recognition.
After years of ‘going to do that’ I am definitely entering a piece in this year’s Archibald.
WHAT DID THEY MEAN TO YOU?
On a personal level, I was shocked and delighted.
Professionally, once I had won the Crichton, approaching publishers became much easier.
Any acknowledgment has value in those terms.
Before winning this award, I would travel to Sydney and politely offer my folio to a number of publishers. Go off to some park and feed the pigeons, then come back later hoping to get past the secretaries desk. The day after winning the Crichton, full of bravado, I marched up to the secretary of a big publishing house and announced myself and my recent achievement. As I sat confidently on a reception room chair, I overheard the secretary relay “Mrs Crichton would like to meet with the arts editor”… I did get to see the editor, so I suppose all’s well that ends well.
OTHER THAN DRAWING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I am quite passionate about books and music.
I have travelled a lot, but at the risk of being boring, I love day to day things. My family, the garden, having a dog to trip over. All those sort of things.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ALL WORLD LEADERS IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY?
I would point out to them that they seem to have more in common with each other than the people they purport to represent. Spending two years in Canberra went a long way to explaining why people feel government is out of touch. It is not a problem of geography.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Going for a long walk on a day with an interesting sky.
Lunch :Bread, cheese and beer.
Continue walk.. arrive home at dusk to spend evening in good company.
Dinner: Bread , cheese, beer and stew. Then pudding.
I’m a hobbit, right?
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I have another picture book text to finish for Penguin Books. The subject matter lends itself to collaboration and I would love to explore more possibilities that film offers. Making the trailer for ‘Hasel and Rose’ was an eye opener.
The next series of paintings will be a big undertaking, as it is a culmination of many years of thought and work. An exhibition is planned at the end of this phase.
HAVE YOU MET SOME GREAT PEOPLE ALONG THE WAY?
Very much so. I spent some days with an author and his wife in a log cabin in Maine, USA. Their way of assessing your character was to observe if the cat liked you or not. They weren’t joking either.
When we were on our honeymoon in London, Mark and I were invited to a small dinner party at a large publishers apartment. Tim Winton was there, much to my delight. Sadly, I had one of the worst colds I have ever experienced. I sat at some distance looking like the ‘Corpse Bride’. I remember that night fondly, but I hope no one else remembers it at all.
It has been people in and around books that I have had the most fun with.
HOW DO YOU PROMOTE YOURSELF?
That is a hot topic. The age old conundrum of art and commerce continues to rear its ugly head.
A great deal has changed of recent years. All I can say is I am having to be as creative in self promotion, as in producing a product. The only way I can look at it is that this is a time of opportunity. In contemplating the online marketplace, a friend who worked in website design for years told me that the one thing that she consistently had faith in, was good content. That seems like sound advice for someone learning as they go.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PROMOTION?
‘Hasel and Rose’ has been my most organised and hopefully successful effort to date. The lessons from this will be valuable I am sure. The truth is, I learn from every promotion and try to build on the last while believing in the next.
DO YOU MENTOR OTHERS?
Not in any formal way.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
There have been people to whom I would turn for advice, and I am very glad I could.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
What finished already? I’ve only begun to talk about myself!
I would like to add that I am very glad you gave me the chance to talk about my work and life.
Thanks…. And do you ever sleep, Clancy?