From doodling kid to bestselling illustrator and author, Myke Mollard recounts his artistic journey to creating An A-Z of Australian Bush Creatures
As a young kid in school, I was always told “your art isn’t good enough!”, I must draw traditionally. I was like any misfit kid with an invisibility complex - I drew the way I wanted! It wasn’t that I couldn’t do their assignments, it just seemed useless and boring and too disciplined. For me art was not about carbon copying the masters or abstract impressionism; as a kid art for me was expressive and cool to my peers - not teachers and parents. Doodles on schoolbooks, drawing on school uniforms; cartooning Conan the Barbarian or Eddie from Iron Maiden; graphics for Dungeons and Dragons; creating demons; designing Sci-fi star ships for Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars; reinventing Smurfs infused with hideous monsters from Greek mythology; even caricatures of teachers in the school magazines, comic strips and inside covers of friends’ exercise books. These imaginings inspired endless joy and, with a Biro or felt pen and a simple HB pencil, I drew and drew and drew until I had honed my gift. Generally, teachers didn’t like it, saying my drawings were trashy, inappropriate and a useless waste of time. But, finally seeing my budding talent, my art teachers put me in advanced classes like life drawing, En Plein Air watercolour, oil painting and classical still life. At age 11 I was thrust into HSC extra-curricular art classes and smashed it! I could definitely out-draw my senior class. Life models would take home my drawings and kids paid me lunch money to do their art and graphics for them - it was fun, but it all started to bore me.
I was a big fan of Harry Butler and Jacques Cousteau and played Dungeons and Dragons, so to draw dragons better I researched lizards, bats, birds, fish and snakes. As a I grew up, I fell in love with Sir John Gould’s plates of birds, in fact any images of Australian wildlife and anything under the ocean. To me going under the ocean was another world, surreal and sublime.
In school and university, I excelled at anything creative; my art, graphic abilities, visualisation, deep understanding of perspective and nature of design, plus my high level of detail through observation as an artist, always helped me to excel beyond people’s expectations.
Yet it wasn’t until a few years after embarking on a career in advertising that I realised how I could really employ this strange style of mine and truly create something unique. I made a careful study of comic strips, the storyboarding of television commercials, creating special effects, the digital rise of computer design and photo-retouching. In advertising I worked on a personal technique and infused it with ideas: from a growing love of traditional sketching and botanical drawing; from the modern world of comics and computer-generated art; from advertising, merchandising and posters. I wanted a style and process that could be fabricated and duplicated, something like Warhol, that would have its own surrealism, symbolism and iconology.
I liked this! I was excited and devoted nearly 4 years of my spare time developing this style with no goal in sight. I drew this epic fantasy saga like a graphic novel and pitched my ideas around - but to no avail. It was like being back in school: every person who had keys to my future said “NO!” Then, after 1000s of hours, a folio of drawings, many draft stories and a half-done graphic novel I entitled On a Monster’s Doorstep a man called David Conners sat down with me and mapped out some direction to my chaos and brought some structure to my style. He mapped out three books and I went to work.
My drawing style was unproven, but David saw something in me that others didn’t. Taking a chance on my passion for wildlife and my crazy ideas, he helped me to create what is now a best-selling kid’s book, An A-Z of Australian Bush Creatures. David helped me commercialise my passion and find an outlet for my ambitions, hopes and dreams. He listened and then helped me set the wheels in motion and got behind my drawing style, saying it was akin to Graeme Base at the time.
It was hard work and there were many dramas behind the success, but hey I thrived on the challenge.
The hardest thing with my style is the amount of drawings that make up each finished piece. I draw the trees, the leaves, the grasses, the flowers, the sticks and develop the whole scene piece by piece. I want the drawings to be cinematic, dramatic and engaging, drawing the viewer into my world and making them feel like they are lost in overwhelming detail. I liken it to nature. It’s like that feeling of chaos and majesty that nature has when you walk into the bush or the forest and the light changes, the environment effects your perspective and in some way the power of it all immerses you into a surreal and sublime experience. I think illustrations do that for me. They aren’t photographs, they aren’t super-realistic paintings; my aim with the linework, draftsmanship and colour is to leave something out in the interpretation that engages the imagination. I’m creating worlds where 400 animals can be collaged into one artistic plate: it could be a farm, a rainforest, under the ocean or below the rapids of a freshwater creek. My aim is to try to help kids discover the beauty of our unique Australian bush creatures within their environments rather than divorced from them.
For An A-Z of Australian Bush Creatures, I made over 2000 drawings: 685 animals from land, air and sea. From this we selected a total of around 400 final bush creatures, each fully realised and separate to the final drawing or plate. Then came the environments, each carefully rendered to help bring the animals themselves to life. When I have my vision for the final artistic plate, I can bring in all the supporting elements, such as leaves, tree trunks, water, lighting and rocks, staging my bush creatures like characters in a superhero comic. Finally, they are all brought together as teeming individual worlds, each full of the potential for discovery.
My purpose is to draw attention to these dangerous, endangered, endemic, unique, exotic and wonderous creatures and give them the presence of a Thor or Superman, Aquaman or Pokémon - portraying our beautiful wildlife to children like the super cool creatures they are. I think this is the superpower of my illustration style: it speaks to kids and fascinates adults. Kids particularly feel that they can create it too and there lies the secret of engagement: through visualisation you switch on their imaginations, unlike a photo. Illustration has this strange, surreal superpower, endearing its audience with its uniqueness … just like our Australian Bush Creatures.
Author: Myke Mollard