I had the honour of being interviewed by Karen Tayleur for her new blog
Caroline Magerl describes her thoughts as a box of birds.
While most of us rush through our days with blinkers, Caroline takes time to note the underside of a fungus, two small wild bears bathing in a teacup, and an indoor cat with red leaves.
I have always enjoyed Caroline’s unique view of the world as expressed through her art. When I caught up with Caroline recently, we discussed how her childhood shaped her life as an illustrator.
‘I was a very short-sighted kid and not seeing things, ironically, became a crucial factor in developing my artistic vision,’ says Caroline. ‘Sydney was a red brick haze to me and beyond my immediate vicinity this haze was the matrix for a whole lot of speculation on my part.
‘This speculation about the world was crucial to developing a capacity for filling in the blanks with my own imagined version of the landscape and its inhabitants.
‘Conversely, what I could see clearly was seized upon and became rife with meaning. My particular obsession was anything in print; newspapers, packaging, bus tickets. As I pored over these items, my eye was captured by the tiny trim marks, and colour of registration marks to be found on the margins or under the flaps of packaging. It was almost as if they were not meant to be seen.
‘The more I looked the more of those little mysterious things I found. This, I knew, was the code to the adult world. This was how they spoke to one another, off the page, in cyan, magenta and process yellow…and I had found them out. Soon I would know…oh yes! Soon I would know all!
‘Fast-forward fifty years and I bleakly wonder what young people know that I don’t. But I can admit now — putting aside my theory of adult subterfuge — that I really just liked the colours of bus tickets and also those trim marks were like little jewels, a bonus on a packet of Iced Vovos.’
Between the ages of seven and fourteen, Caroline lived aboard a yacht that her parents had built called Rosa-M. This lifestyle was to have a great impact on her work as an illustrator.
‘When not travelling we were often at anchor or on a mooring, accessible only by dinghy,’ says Caroline. ‘Going down the road was not a matter of stepping out the front door, but had to be negotiated via the dinghy and was further complicated by there being three people. Finding yourself marooned on board or onshore was not uncommon. I developed a supersonic shriek to alert my mum and dad to come get me from across the water.
‘I spent a great deal of time drawing while on my bunk in the forward cabin. There was not a lot to do on-board but read or draw. We had a TV that was a tiny orange plastic thing, but reception was unreliable as the yacht swung about in the wind. It sounds isolated — and, at times it was — but I benefited from inventing a thousand ways around boredom. Being as immersed in my surroundings as I was, I became quite observant. That was a great advantage in my work as an illustrator.’
Caroline believes there was no real defining moment that marked her journey towards being an illustrator. ‘I would propose that it is a latent way of seeing things that later finds form in creating images,’ she says. ‘The best example I can give is to tell the story of the parcels my grandmother sent when I was a new arrival in Sydney during the sixties. Oma was behind the East German Iron curtain and the picture books she sent to me were written and illustrated by eastern bloc authors and artists.
‘I soaked these books up. They were literally from another world that was so clearly and emotively caught in the course of 32 pages. I gleaned something of my grandmother’s personality from the choice of books she sent. Books were what set my feet on the path toward being an illustrator. I illustrate and write picture books because they have an astonishing ability to communicate and also offer an enduring magic.’
Discussion turned to the role technology has played in Caroline’s career.
‘The computer and smart phones have changed my working life more than anything, and it has all to do with access,’ says Caroline. ‘Twenty years or so ago, I would be woken late at night by the fax machine as it began its yodel. An illustration brief would arrive from the UK and I would lie there and count the pages while listening to the machine go through its ponderous process. The coup de gras was when the communication came to an end and with a sound like a blunt saw on timber the fax would be cut and ejected. It then curled itself up like an offended echidna and rolled under the desk somewhere. The next day would start with a game of Find the Fax. Once found, and providing it was readable, I would get to work.’
Caroline once made an appointment to visit a UK publisher in London, only to arrive and discover that The Tube workers were on strike and her appointment would not be going ahead. ‘It was simply that much harder to access people then,’ says Caroline. ‘Computers have changed everything in this respect. I can communicate immediately with clients, send scanned roughs and even final art, all electronically. Now people are more flexible and faster in their communication, for which I am thankful.’
And what’s making Caroline excited now?
‘It has been fabulous to see our girl thrive in UQ. Jen is studying psychology with an eye toward doing medical research. It has been very exciting to see her so engaged and enjoying the university community. I am also very pleased about working with Walker Books. I have a new picture book coming out next year with them, written and illustrated by me. Every single book is something to be celebrated, and I am delighted with this new project!’