Q&A with Charmaine Ledden-Lewis

We chat with Charmaine Ledden-Lewis, the illustrator of the wonderful new picture book Found.

Congratulations on winning the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award! What is your background as an artist, and what was it like undertaking a mentorship as part of the Award?

Thank you! I’ve enjoyed art my whole life; the practice, appreciation and exploration of it. My parents have always been very encouraging and supportive, as is my husband, and having that support and encouragement is important. On reflection, I’ve produced more art in recent years, possibly due to finding myself at home with my children, and enjoying the experiences we’ve shared through their introduction to art. In the past, I did a lot of sign writing on shop windows and chalkboards for various businesses, and have produced privately commissioned portraits or designs, and while I always enjoyed these ventures, I’ve found winning the Kestin Award has sparked delight by way of presenting me with a new channel of creative expression; one where I can share my ideas with the best kinds of people; book lovers!

The mentorship has been fantastic, in that it has introduced me to the magic (and hard work) that takes place to achieve something as profound as a picture book. I worked with an incredible editor/designer duo, Cathie Tasker and Deb Brown, who brought such industry knowledge and insight to our meetings, which made the whole experience really enjoyable

What were your thoughts when you first read Bruce Pascoe’s text for Found?

I sat alone for a time after first reading Bruce’s manuscript and wept; the tale was so poignant and synonymous with my own family’s history. I sensed we were being given an opportunity to produce something of significance and meaning, and with that realisation, I felt grateful, humbled and excited.

What might be some of the hidden work or research you did to illustrate Found that people might find surprising?

Great question! Working on Found had me delving back on my photos and memories from my time spent in India, where I developed a deep affinity with cows; they are such majestic and sentient beings, and to watch them stroll down a Goan beach to sit where the shallow waves meet them, is both delightful and serves as a great reminder that we are all animals, capable of feeling, and worthy of compassion and kindness. In contrast, I watched a lot of videos of calves being separated from their mothers, which is a fundamental requirement of the dairy industry, and found the experience highly distressing. I also spent time researching the mission where my Great Grandmother lived out the first years of her life, and going back over practices and procedures of the Aboriginal Protection Board; needless to say, this was also highly distressing.

Your animals contain such expression and emotion – have you always been good at drawing animals (or were you following cows around for months)?

Thank you! I think if you start with the belief that animals are no different to us in terms of feeling emotion, you find that their emotion is clear and unmistakeable. You don’t have to anthropomorphise or imagine – you just have to perceive natural responses to varying situations that are evident in facial expression and body language.

When you need artistic inspiration what do you turn to?

I’m definitely a cloud-watching day dreamer; I’d say I am usually inspired by the beautiful open skies of the Blue Mountains, and going for a walk at sunset to drink in the clouds and colours really frees the creative mind. That, and good music!

What are some picture books you’ve enjoyed recently?

My family and I have recently enjoyed learning about local Darug language with Cooee Mittigar by Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson, and we’ve loved reading The Astronaut’s Cat by Tohby Riddle – a really thought-provoking exploration into existentialism, while paralleling the isolation of a cat in space with our own recent experiences of isolating at home to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

You can read our review of Found here.

 Read review


Bruce Pascoe, Charmaine Ledden-Lewis

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