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Illustration Retreat at Woodlands of Marburg, May 2024

Set in the beautiful surrounds of Woodlands of Marburg, children’s book author and illustrator Yvonne Mes opened the weekend with one of the most widely loved and recognised of all picture book characters – Eric Carl’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Did you know Eric Carl primarily created gel prints to achieve his iconic scenes? Gel printing was just one of many collaging techniques we would be introduced to over the weekend.


To kick start the weekend Yvonne took us on a journey of many pictures from well loved scenes to newer books. We took time to look at the illustrations and deconstruct how they were created. Some used the traditional pens and water colours but we also explored how effective repeated relief printing could be by playing with patterns like Leo Lionni has in Swimmy, or how a whole scene could be created from one lino print as in the style of Narelle Oliver’s award winning picture book The Best Beak In Boonaroo Bay.

We then examined the fine lines and texture that could be created through Intaglio printing, and thanks to a clever work around Yvonne guided us through how we could all experiment with this style with everyday household items. Intaglio is a traditional style of printing dating back to the late 1500s and good examples of this illustration style are seen in Arthur Geisert’s many picture books and Brigget Farmer’s award winning book The Bush Birds. Yvonne also took us through different techniques for how to create line, texture and colour combinations through gel printing and collage inspired by Eric Carl’s work, but also the captivating illustrations created by Yvonne herself, Oge Mora, Manon Gauthier and Emanuela Bussolati.


Working on coloured paper rather than white can prove effective when creating characters with pastels and charcoal as in the styles of Emma Quay playful children and Julie Vivas’s cheeky puffins.

Our other illustration presenters – Sean Leahy who works primarily in ink, water colour and digital mediums and Lucia Masciullo who also works in ink and water colour, but also collage, then spoke to us about some of their tips and tricks for picture placement and style before we all donned our aprons and got messy!

The for the rest of the day we were immersed in the processes and creation of all the above mentioned styles. Yvonne had done an amazing job of creating stations to give us an authentic taste of working in each medium to create a small example of the techniques which usually consume illustrators for days, if not months on end. There were many happy oops’s created and chatter and wonder shared as our piles of prints and pictures grew.

After lunch we reconvened to put all our experiments together into our own double page collage spread. The variety of themes and story lines was incredible, and we all took the opportunity to take a piece of someone else’s creation home by creating and swapping our own Artist Trading Cards.



Sunday saw us break into two groups to explore further either digital collage or traditional collage.

Sean Leahy looked at how to create and illustrate in Procreate. Functions were explored, brushes were tested, and layers were created. He took us though creating a cute koala using his processes we see daily in his publicised newspaper cartoons. The group then looked at how the different functions of the app could be used to isolate images to create digital collages.











Lucia Masciullo explored character creation with ink and delved deeper into water colour techniques both for finer colouring detail and for larger scale backgrounds. The session also looked at collage in a more traditional sense, using parts of other pictures to create a new picture. With magazine pages flying and scissors extracting the perfect pieces, both of these techniques were used to create intriguing scenes which encouraged to viewer to stop and take a closer look at all the many parts that had come together to make the illustrations created by group participants.

Many thanks to the presenters and organisers for a weekend retreat that was so packed full of new illustration ideas and styles it felt like we were creating for a whole week.


Victoria Ellen

Book Links and Write Links member

Follow Victoria on Instagram @victoriaellencreates 

Photo credits: Jenni Jane  @jennijane

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