Messing About with Illustrations - Elizabeth Kay
Senior school was different, though. Although nearly all my teachers were excellent, the one who had a real down on me was my English teacher. I would try to do experimental things in my stories, and I remember one in particular which came back with a red line through the whole thing, an F as the lowest mark she could possibly give, and the comment “You can’t do this”. I’d written a story about an escaped tiger, and was trying to build up the tension by switching scenes at crucial moments. Unfortunately this was the person who had the power to decide whether or not I took A level English. She took one look at me as I lined up with the other hopefuls and said, “You? I think not.”
And that was that – I went to art school instead of reading English, which was what I’d really wanted to do. Ten years later I re-wrote exactly the same story as a radio play, and heard it broadcast on Radio 4 as an Afternoon Theatre. The teacher concerned had died by then, so she never knew, but I did visit my old headmistress who said, “Why didn’t you come and see me about your A level? I’d have overruled her.” But when you’re sixteen you wouldn’t dream of doing any such thing, and as far as my parents were concerned teacher always knew best.
Art school wasn’t wasted, however. Not that I learned anything visual of value, as it was all conceptual art and being able to draw was terribly old hat. I learned what I didn’t want to do, and being a natural rebel what interested me was the most unfashionable medium of all – watercolour. And it’s this that has been incredibly useful for self-publishing. I don’t have to employ anyone to design my covers.I don’t need to pay anyone to illustrate my books. And I can do exactly what I want, rather than putting up with an illustrator who hasn’t read the book and gets a lot of things wrong. Having said that, Miho Satake, the Japanese illustrator of The Divide books, was absolutely wonderful and got every single detail spot on.
One of the delights of getting older is that you don’t give a fig for what anyone else thinks. I’ve always been interested in wildlife, and so these days I can unite my favourite activities (apart from writing) under one umbrella - travelling to obscure and fascinating destinations, wildlife photography, and detailed and precise watercolour.
Since the advent of digital photography I’ve been able to take photographs that are good enough source material for paintings – and I’ve even been commended in photography competition. The other advantage of taking your own pics is that you avoid copyright issues. Paint programs are wonderful for refining edges and getting rid of small mistakes, and one-fix photography applications can be very useful. On my recent trip to Komodo I experienced the best snorkeling of my entire life – partly due to having invested in a prescription face-mask, and actually being able to see as a result, but also because I have an underwater digital camera, so I can just fire off shot after shot in the hope that I get something. And then I can get rid of the inevitable blue tinge in Paintshop Pro…
And if you can’t afford a holiday to Galapagos or Rwanda, there’s always the zoo. When I was a kid zoos meant bars and wire mesh between you and the animals. These days there are open areas, where there’s a just a moat between you and them, or glass – and a lot of digital cameras have a facility for taking photos through glass.
Trouble is, I’m spending more time painting at the moment than I am writing…