“The man had stolen my mother.” (‘Found’)
Found (Magabala Books) is Bruce Pascoe’s first picture book for children.
It is illustrated by Kestin Indigenous Illustration Award winner, Charmaine Ledden-Lewis, and tells the fable-like tale of a calf who is alone.
When the calf’s family are herded into the back of a truck, the calf escapes. It cries that the “man had stolen my mother”.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Charmaine.
What is your background and could you tell us about the award for illustration that you have won?
Thank you for your interest! I’m an artist and mother of two, residing in the Blue Mountains, NSW. My family descend from the Bundjalung people on the Clarence River.
The Kestin Award aims to promote unknown and unpublished indigenous artists and illustrators by teaming them with an established indigenous Author. Apart from the illustrious prize package ($10000, industry-leading mentorship and the opportunity to gain a publishing contract), what I have found most life changing is the journey; I’ve met incredible people, learned so much about the fabulous creation of picture books, and have been given the opportunity to produce one with Bruce Pascoe, a voice of our time. It’s incredibly surreal walking into a bookstore with my children and hearing them exclaim ‘I found your book Mum…’! I’m really excited about who the next award recipient will be and what type of book will be born from their experience!
What does this story written by Bruce Pascoe mean to you?
I found myself drawing parallels with the separation between calf and mother (and brothers and sisters) with my own family’s separation from country, culture and lineage. My Great Grandmother spent the first years of her life on a mission, and from that came the removal of cultural identity and practice. I like to think that “Found” offers optimism and hope for families such as my own, in that we can one day reconnect with what was lost, by searching and never giving up.
What was the collaborative process between you and the author when working on Found?
Bruce was very encouraging and supportive, as was Magabala and my Editor and Design duo, Cathy Tasker and Deb Brown. We consulted with Bruce, from initial conceptualisation through to final art, to ensure he was happy with where my visuals were taking his story.
What media have you used for your illustrations?
Gouache – I love the way it really bursts with saturation, as do our native colours of Australia.
Could you describe your colour palette and why you have chosen this?
Overall, I am inspired by the vibrant colours of our skies and landscape, so initially the palette starts with quite soft and gentle tones, however, the colours change as we reach various stages of the calf’s journey, based on time of day and experience. For instance, though the sky is blue when the calf tells us about meeting ‘the man’ and jumping from the truck, I chose to mix a dusty and dirty blue to depict dusty, hot air. Children of the stolen generation were taken ‘in broad daylight’ so it needed to take place in the middle of the day. The truth in that fact is harsh to swallow, as it is to breathe in a dust storm. Similar approaches were taken when our calf meets the horses; I wanted the horses to appear cold and alien, and very much not familiar. When the calf is finally reunited with family, the colours are once again soft and gentle, and lush with greenery, suggesting the nurturing qualities of being home, which in my opinion, is wherever family is.
You have used angles and perspective effectively. Could you select one of your illustrations to explain your composition?
The initial art I submitted to the Kestin Award, of a little calf looking skyward, was repainted and used compositionally in the spread that is used on the front cover of the book and in the book’s body – the calf is small, alone, and being circled by large horses, with wood ducks flying overhead, both enclosing the calf in isolation and despair. I wanted the horses to appear threatening, and the ducks to appear aloof, as groups like the Aboriginal Protection Board had been with the treatment and destruction of indigenous families. I painted a rippling effect in the dust that surrounds the calf, symbolising the rippling effect that removing children from family can have for generations to come.
Your animal characters’ facial expressions and eyes and muzzles are evocative. What are some of the emotions these show and what technique have you used to achieve this?
I’ve always loved animals, and fell in love with cows during my time spent in India; they are huge, affectionate creatures that come up to you and ask for a pat. It’s always been my belief that emotion shows on animal’s faces just as much as humans, and cows are no exception, so I suppose it was natural for me to think about how our little calf was feeling at various stages of the journey and try and capture that through facial expression. I’m also interested in the concept that as humans, we respond to and feel empathy for faces that possess larger eyes in relation to other facial features (juveniles in most species rely on this as a means of survival) and so my focus was definitely on establishing a connection with the audience through eye contact, to elicit a sense of compassion and empathy with the viewer.
What are you working on now?
I have a few ideas that I’m pitching to Magabala, all in the realm of picture books, with a hope to try my hand at authorship; watch this space…
What else are you reading and keen to recommend at the moment?
My children and I are loving ‘No Way Yirrikipayi’ by Alison Lester, illustrated by children from Melville Island, and ‘The Astronaut’s Cat’ by Tohby Riddle; a thought-provoking exploration into existentialism that, in my opinion, eerily parallels our own experiences with social isolation during the covid-19 pandemic. We are also enjoying ‘Cooee Mittigar’ by Jasmine Seymour, illustrated by Leanne Mulgo Watson, and learning about the local Dharug language, on whose country we reside.
How can your readers contact you?
My website has a contact page; www.charmaineleddenlewis.com and through Magabala Books. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook.
Thank you very much for speaking so insightfully about Found, Charmaine, and all the best with this and your other work.
Thank you so much for your interest!