Some thoughts on “style”…

…and I’m really just thinking out loud here but “style” is a thing I have thought about a lot over the years.

Are we illustrators supposed to have just one? Should our style be strong and solid and easily recognisable? Or, should we be continually playing with and exploring new mediums, new ideas and new ways of doing things?

I don’t know the answer to that, or even IF there is an answer to that. I only know the way I do it…which sometimes frustrates the heck out me and other times makes me want to fist pump the air.

You see, I just can’t seem to settle on any one “style”.
My desire to experiment and play and try new things is strong – and I know exactly where that comes from – it comes from 20 years of living with a graphic designers brain.

As a graphic designer, the last thing you ever want to do is repeat the same thing over and over and over again. Big mistake! Boring! That will never win awards! Also, as a graphic designer, you’re constantly looking out into the world to see what’s new. Your work is influenced by fashion, by street art, by typography and photography. You follow trends … all while trying to set trends at the same time (yes, that is as tricky as it sounds). As a graphic designer everything you do is one big huge work in progress with the end result being a dynamic, exciting portfolio that demonstrates problem solving, versatility and innovation.

That’s how my brain has been trained to work and now, when you take my brain out of the design world and you drop it into the world of writing and illustrating for children it has to come up with a whole new way of thinking. And it makes me wonder. A lot.

Mostly it makes me wonder if I’m doing this illustration thing right! Ha!

I really admire illustrators whose style is so consistent that you can pick their work from even the smallest snippet. I admire the dependability of their work and I admire the commitment to their style.

Ooh! Maybe that’s it. I have commitment issues!

No. I don’t.

I’m an explorer.

Each new project, new blank page and new manuscript is, for me, an exciting new world of possibilities and challenges. It makes sense to me that they should all have their own personality. It makes sense to me, the graphic designer.

Me, the children’s book writer and illustrator, is working  on finding that lovely balance where every new project feels fresh and innovative but still has my stamp all over it.

I think I’m close. I will get there. I love doing this job too much not to get there.

Also. I’m a perfectionist.

Also. I may be somewhat of an over-thinker :D

Also. I may even be there already and just not know it.


In other news, Phil Pickle, the picture book Kenny Herzog (author) and I made together is publishing  March 1 with Peter Pauper Press. Not long to go now!







Adventures in Book Week 2015

WOW! That was a week!

I was exhausted come Friday afternoon but it was so so fun and yep, I’m already looking forward to next years!

This was my first Book Week as a published author / illustrator and although I have done several school visits before, I’ve never done a week on this kind of scale.

The week began Friday August 21 when I was invited to Palmyra Primary School where the students from Room 24 had turned my book into a play for their assembly. Of all the honours in all the world…! I even had a tear in my eye as I watched, it was fantastic and so well done. When the assembly was over we all headed back to their classroom and did some drawing…after answering many many questions about the book and about being an author and about drawing, that is!

Friday evening it was the Children’s Book Council of Australia (WA Branch) dinner to launch book week, hear who had won what (although most of us had eyes glued to twitter from around midday), and eat cake… Norman Jorgensen was the guest speaker and had us all enthralled and inspired.

Sunday it was my turn to be a guest speaker (yikes!) at the CBCA-WA “Make Your Own Story Book” awards ceremony. I have a ridiculous, almost paralysing, fear of public speaking so this was quite the challenge! Talk about throw yourself in at the deep end. The good news is though, I think I have now conquered that fear!

Some pics from Friday to Sunday…pictured in the main photo are: Meg McKinlay, Rebecca Newman, Norman Jorgensen, Deb Fitzpatrick, Jen Banyard, Renae Gibson and myself – yep, very serious literary people doing silly things with torches!


Next came Book Week and several school visits, about 500 students and driving to the wrong campus of one school but still making it on time to the right campus! Phew.

The week also included reading books, charcoal drawings, slide shows, sketchbooks, Olives, Pickles and a tasty cheeseboard in a library. Hopefully there were also a lot of laughs.

The great great thing about presenting to a group of children is that, if you can draw, you’re already awesome in their eyes! You walk into the room and they’re all already on your side so it only gets better from that moment on.

Some Book Week 2015 highlights:


Then of course, it wouldn’t be Book Week without costumes, right?! So on the last day of Book Week, before I headed off to another school, I was able to watch my son’s costume parade. This year he chose to dress as the penguin from Oliver Jeffers beautiful book “Lost and Found”…


And then Saturday came and it was all over  :(

So now I’m just going to end this (already quite long blog post) with a big thank you to ALL the teachers and librarians who make Book Week so special and so fun, for us visiting authors and illustrators, and for all the kids who take part. You’re all so awesome!

Also big thanks to CBCA-WA, The Literature Centre, Palmyra Primary School, Subiaco Primary School, John Septimus Roe Primary School, Helena Valley Primary School and my good good friend Narissa for picking up my son when the traffic was so bad that I wasn’t going to make it to collect him  from school on time.

You all deserve a big pat on the back! And cake.

Alrighty, see you later Book Week, until next year!

Well, now that I have a cover…

A few nights ago I sketched a little ghost story scene in my Moleskine and today I gave it a bit of colour, just for fun.

THEN, because I have this very long history in graphic design and well, once a designer always a designer, I couldn’t fight the urge to turn this newly coloured sketch into a book cover, just for fun.

All I have to do now is write the story! Ha.

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see the progression…




The stuff I do for fun.


Now that the wonderful madness of a book launch is over, and now that I have just (yesterday!) completed all artwork for the next picture book I am illustrating (called “Phil Pickle”, written by Kenny Herzog and published by Peter Pauper Press in the US) AND now that I have just (today) finished writing my very first 96 page lower middle grade book, I can relax a little and focus on some fun and quick personal illustrations before the next wave of work rolls in.

Usually in the evening, when I’m not working, I tend to scribble away in my sketchbook. I find it quite therapeutic and relaxing, especially this time of year when its cold and the heating is on. I get all cosy on the sofa and draw. Its wonderful!

And then because I like to see things finished, I usually pop the sketch into photoshop and give it a bit of colour.

Here a few I’ve done this week. Coloured version:
(click on images to enlarge)





And here they are as my cosy sofa sitting sketches:

greymonkeyKellyCanby greyFireplaceKellyCanby greysailorKellyCanby greyBeautifulKellyCanby

I’m pretty sure I can’t go a single day without drawing!

Like a crazy person, I have started a new 365 project.


I don’t even know. But it has begun so, I have to see it through now!

365 days of hand lettering is what I’m doing.
I guess it started because I’m a bit of a sucker for hand lettering and I want to get better at it so, what better way to improve than to do it every day, right?! Right.

I won’t post them here daily, but if you want to follow the 365 project you can see them each day on Instagram, feel free to follow me over there: kelly_canby

I will post the first ten now though (Today is Day 11 and I haven’t done that one yet).

But before I do, just quickly,  in other news… My book is out!
It’s out there in the world!

Scary. Exciting. All the feelings.
The book launch is July 2nd so if you live in the Perth WA area and would like to come along, feel free to message me for the details, I think it’ll be a lot of fun!

So, the first 10 in my new 365 Hand-lettering project look like this…


Here’s hoping that in 355 days from now I’ll be much MUCH better at it!

K x

A tale of a very fun school visit…and a book cover reveal.

So it has just occurred to me that I haven’t yet shared my book cover on the blog.


I’m so sorry. You used to be the first people I came to with big (and small) news but I’ve since been seduced by Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and the challenge of fitting everything I want to say into 140 characters. And it is a challenge, too. Because I do like to speak (type) the words.
Many many many of the words.

Anyhow, I am here now to reveal to you….the cover of my debut author/illustrator picture book!



This is Olive, the star of “All the Lost Things” coming out 2015 – published by Peter Pauper Press NY.

I’m a bubbling mix of excitement and fear and nerves and all of the feelings.
I hope it turns out good, and that people like it. My fingers are firmly crossed!

In other news, school visits. I love them!

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of spending the morning with 48 amazing
Year 1 students at Freshwater Bay Primary School and we had such a great time.

We talked a little about stories and how you can use pictures to help you come up with a story and then we drew pictures and then we painted stones. And then when we were meant to be cleaning up some of snuck outside and drew more pictures but sssh don’t tell Mrs King ;)

The activity was to make story stones by painting people/animals/items on stones and then using those stones to create stories on a scene that the kids had also painted.

Here are some photos!
(used with permission from Freshwater Bay Primary School)

(There were a lot of penguins painted. Penguins must be very popular with the kiddos!)

And once again, when I got home, I was reminded just how hard our school teachers work and what an incredible and precious job they have. Thank you, teachers, you’re awesome!

This morning I was sent some of the work the Year 1’s had done since my visit, they wrote stories about our day together and oh my if I didn’t cry actual real tears!


“And that was the best day oth my lif” <3

Mine too! Or at least one of the very best days I’ve ever had.

Thank you Irene King and Freshwater Bay Year 1’s, you guys were the absolute best!

One year later…

Next week will be my one year anniversary as a children’s book illustrator.
Wow-wee, where did that year go?!

So I thought to mark the occasion, I would write a little something about how this year has been. How I started, how I got here, where I might be going.
Maybe I’ll even end it with some stuff I’ve learnt.
Some stuff I’d like to learn.
Some stuff.

How about I just start typing and see what happens…

In the beginning…

A thousand years ago I studied illustration at university but, back then it was all about illustration for the advertising and graphic design market, never once in my three years of study were children’s books mentioned. Kind of sad really because, had I been pointed in that direction all those years ago, that’s exactly the area I would have pursued. Instead, I became a graphic designer, and I loved it, I did it for 10 or so years, but I was always the graphic designer in the studio who illustrated most of their design jobs…the pull to draw pictures was always too strong!

Needing a break from computers, I owned a Florist for a while. I just taught myself how to do it, jumped in and had a ball! It was lovely to be creative in a whole new way with whole new thing, but again, I sort of ended up drawing a lot of pictures…that pull was just too strong! My shop was well known for the paintings I had done and had hung on the walls (I even sold a few), and my window displays were almost always paintings or something made with paper. Flowers played a part too, I guess.

Then, when I had my son four years ago I gave up the florist (too many weekend weddings for my liking) and just did the mum thing until I discovered a certain little book … If you’ve been following my blog long enough you’ll know that a few years ago I bought Noah Scalins “365 – A Daily Creativity Journal” and started my own 365 project where I did one illustration every day for 365 days. Now, I say “illustration” but it was really a mix of any kind of drawing – I drew on paper, on food, on me, on wood, on bricks…I may have even, one time, drawn on my child. As long as I drew or created something everyday then I was within the rules I had set myself.

It was a brilliant year of being creative and towards the end of it, as I became more familiar with illustrators and what they did and who they were, the whole world of children’s books opened up to me. AMAZING. I wanted in!

I went searching the internet for local illustration groups and found SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Initially I wanted to join purely so I could enter the Tomie DePaolo award (the prize was a trip to NYC, hello!) but then as I kept researching the group there was no question, I had to join SCBWI because I had to join SCBWI! And joining SCBWI was one of the best things I’d ever done because shortly after joining I was off to Rottnest for the Rottnest Retreat and I was meeting authors and illustrators and publishers and editors and it was the best thing in the world.

I came back from Rottnest ridiculously giddy and inspired.

A couple of weeks later, sitting on the sofa one night in my pyjamas, I was scrolling though Twitter and saw a retweet of a Tweet from Vicki Lebrecht – Founder of The Bright Agency in London. Her tweet said something along the lines of … “Looking at folios right now if you want to send me a link”. Now, I’m not one to wait around so I tweeted Vicki a link to the gallery page of this blog immediately. She saw it. Told me to email her and later that week documents were signed and I had agent representation!

I was a Bright Artist!

And I drank champagne to celebrate.

And I started to write. Not on the same day, just kind of around that same time.

The first story or two I wrote were terrible! Awful! (But one day I might go back and revisit them because perhaps they aren’t as bad as I remember them, maybe, we’ll see). I wrote fast and furiously, day and night, until I wrote something that I actually thought probably wasn’t so bad and then I spent the next six months editing and riding the “I’m so great at this / I’m so bad at this” roller coaster.

In the meantime, I was getting some lovely work coming in from The Bright Agency… a chapter book to illustrate, an educational book to illustrate, a colouring-in book to draw, a whole bunch of samples were requested, another colouring-in book, a science book…books books books and the Rottnest Retreat came around again. This time I was designing the t-shirts for it!

It’s been a busy twelve months, thats for sure, and it’s only getting busier.
A few months ago I got my own work-in-progress (a children’s book) to a point where I was happy to start showing people. I dummied it up roughly and sent it to The Bright Agency who found a publisher that wanted to publish it within about a month of them having it (thank you, James Burns!!). So right now I’m smack bang in the middle of working on my own author/illustrator picture book which will be out next year :)

So, what have I learnt about becoming a children’s book illustrator (and do I have any tips)?

Yes, I probably do.

• I’ve learnt to just go for it! If there’s something you want to do, do it. Throw yourself into it. Meet the people you need to meet. Get in there! Make yourself known. What’s the worst that can happen, honestly? Nothing all that bad.

• Don’t be afraid of hearing NO. NO is not a bad thing, if anything it’s a way to make yourself more creative. Challenge yourself. A chance to look at what you want, or what you’re doing from a different angle. A chance to plan new strategies. NO is just a chance to try again, thats all.

• SOCIAL MEDIA! Get on it. No one is going to know who you are or what you do if you don’t tell them!

• Research. Buy, read, live and breathe children’s books. Learn who’s doing what. How they do it. Why they do it. When they did it. What they’re doing next. All of that stuff!

• Draw!! Every day. Seriously. If you want to be good at drawing, do it every single day. At the last SCBWI Rottnest Retreat, author/illustrator extraordinaire Alison Lester said the one thing she wished she’d known when she first started illustrating books was that drawing everyday would make her better at it.
I couldn’t agree more. I did it every day with my 365 project and I was amazed at how my style developed and at how much better I got at it.

• Don’t be overly precious with your work and be open to ideas and input and constructive criticism. It’s only going to make you and your work better.

• DON’T MISS DEADLINES! I try to get work in usually at least a day before the deadline. I’d much rather be remembered for being super prompt than horribly late. Plus it’s very unprofessional.

• Talk to other illustrators. Again, social media! Follow illustrators on Twitter, join drawing groups or critique groups or SCBWI. We illustrators spend a whole lot of time working alone, our heads buried in a sketchbook or glued to the Mac. It’s important to open up your world. I can’t imagine you learn too much when yours is the only voice you’re hearing. Talking about my work with other illustrators has been one of the greatest things, if only because I found other brains that work like mine!

I think that might be it!

I think that’s all I have to offer for the moment.

To be honest, I still haven’t done as much as I’d like to do as far as throwing myself the industry is concerned…but I’m getting there. Iv’e made some pretty good leaps so far.

Oh! Last tip… HAVE FUN!