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Julie Vivas

As a child

I grew up in the beautiful garden suburbs of Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, climbing trees, riding billy carts and making cubbies in the bushes. The summers were often spent at the beach; I loved to be in and under water. Listening to Tarzan, Captain Silver and The Magic Faraway Tree on the radio, before I could read, formed pictures in my head of characters, and I became absorbed in the radio plays. Drawing was part of my imagined life; I drew bits of the world I made up. They were clumsy and funny-looking drawings, but my mother looked at them carefully and this made me feel I did something that really interested her. School was not my favourite place. High school became more interesting, especially science and biology. Things were explained in diagrams, such as cross-sections of plants. I drew many pictures of the insides of frogs and rats. I thought I understood the way things worked by making pictures.

As an adult

Drawing, and making pictures for books, it took me a long time to find real work, that is with an author’s story that would be published. I was sixteen when I felt that was what I wanted to do. Going to design school, working in animation, and having two children, all happened before I illustrated The Tram to Bondi Beach by Libby Hawthorn, which was my first picture book. One book led to another, and Possum Magic by Mem Fox was very popular, so that meant I could keep working on more books. The royalties from such a popular book meant I had money to live on while I worked. It also meant I could choose those stories that come from the people and place I live. Drawing familiar things comforts me, even if the drawings are about an experience that has made me angry or sad. I think if I feel close to the characters in the story, the pictures I draw of them can be expressive.

As an artist

The best part of illustrating a picture book is when you invent the characters in the author’s story, so I like the rough drawings at the beginning, when you discover exciting things. I draw different body shapes, and head and face shapes, until I see that the body shows a personality and you can see how he or she feels. Doing the rough dummy is where you try to make the words and pictures work together as a whole, and this takes a lot experimenting with different layouts. When you show the author and the publisher the rough dummy book, they tell you what they feel about what you have done. I like this feedback very much. It can make you happy or angry, frustrated too, but it is always exciting. Finished artwork takes ages, and I am not so enthusiastic about it. I love the white paper before I get in a mess, and it stiffens with my drawing, as I redo what I discovered in the rough. I do enjoy the first brush, laden with watercolour paint, to watch it touch the wet paper.

Things you didn't know about Julie Vivas

  1. I like to be in the water, and under the water is even better.
  2. I do like red, but I am afraid to use it in my watercolours because it has to be just the right red.
  3. When I was six years old, I did not like being a girl.
  4. I still like climbing trees.
  5. I live close to the city of Sydney, but I have to see some trees, so my work studio has windows next to the tree and it is in the roof.
  6. I get a bit lonely sometimes, drawing by myself so much.
  7. The food I enjoy most is bread. We live near a Portuguese baker’s, and their bread is so good with the olive oil from my cousin’s farm.
  8. Sitting all day is hard for me, so I have a yoga mat to do yoga.
  9. Before I have started to paint on the watercolour paper, or drawn anything on it, I enjoy the expanse of white.

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