As a child at primary school colouring books were all the rage. They were used as bargaining chips, enforcing us to do our school work. They were used to create instant art for the family fridge. Pages from them were even used as submissions for our local Baker’s Delight colouring competitions. When I graduated primary school, I thought my colouring book days were behind me. I was wrong. The humble colouring book has been repackaged for grown ups, and the latest to catch our eye is by Sydney illustrator Adriana Picker.
The Garden of Earthly Delights was released earlier this month, published by Hardie Grant. This 96-paged book features an extensive collection of Adriana’s intricate botanical drawings. Adriana was approached by the publisher in April this year, and spent two intensive months designing and illustrating the book. ‘It was a quick turn around, especially given how detailed my work is, but I was committed!’ she says.
Growing up in the Hunter Valley before moving to Sydney to study at COFA, Adriana has always been surrounded by nature, and started learning botanical plant names on bush walks with her Mum when she was young. Much of the floral subject matter incorporated into Adriana’s work today is also inspired by her grandmother’s favourite flowers and ikebana floral arrangements.
Before Adriana properly adopted a career in illustration, she was an intern for acclaimed costume designer Catherine Martin. Adriana assisted Catherine and her team on the set of Australia (directed by Baz Luhrmann) and was tasked with the job of illustrating the costumes. These illustrations were later seen alongside Catherine Martin’s Academy Award nomination for costume design in Australia. ‘It was pretty exciting for an intern!’ exclaims Adriana.
Since Adriana’s brush with the Academy, she has shifted gears to full-time illustration. Her impressive folio now spans commercial and editorial illustration, murals and exhibition work, and of course colouring books for grown ups.
The Garden of Earthly Delights by Adriana Picker and published by Hardie Grant is $19.95 and is available to purchase online here.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming an illustrator, and to doing what you’re doing today?
From a very young age I think it was quite apparent that I would have a creative career. I spent a large portion of my childhood drawing and painting, and this was encouraged by my parents. Family holidays would usually be planned around an exhibition Mum wanted to take us to at the National Gallery.
After high school I did not want to be an artist or illustrator, but was interested in perhaps art direction for film. I spent considerable time while studying a design degree at COFA at UNSW trying to get professional experience in the film industry. This led me to an internship with Catherine Martin and her senior designer Silvana Azzi Heras, to assist them on the film Australia.
In a round-about way this was also the start of my career as an illustrator. Catherine and Silvana let me illustrate the costumes from the film for publicity, and my illustrations ended up being shown at the Academy Awards when Catherine was nominated for an Oscar for Costume Design. It was pretty exciting for an intern!
Much of your work is focussed on botanical life. How did you originally become fascinated with this subject matter?
I am very blessed to come from quite an artistic family who were also avid gardeners, particularly my Mother and Grandmother. So I suppose my love for botanics was instilled from a very young age! Much of my childhood was spent in the garden or with Mum, where she taught me the botanical names of natives on long bush walks.
I also have lots of vivid memories of my grandmother’s incredible ikebana floral arrangements. It doesn’t surprise me that most of my favourite plants to draw these days reference my Grandmother’s favourite plants including orchids, roses and bergonia.
How would you describe your work?
Mostly my work is a very detailed exploration of a botanical subject through pen illustration. The texture of the subject is one of the most important aspects I want to convey through my work. This is achieved through intricate stippling and line work. My work is getting increasingly detailed and taking an increasingly long time!
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Do you draw your botanical images from memory or from life?
I usually begin an illustration with a pencil sketch, or else I go straight to fine liner pen on paper. When you are working with such fine detail, the differing weights of pens are particularly important to the work.
I then generally scan the illustration into Photoshop, adjust composition and fix any mistakes. If I have been commissioned for a coloured piece I will also colour it up in Photoshop, placing a bit of watercolour texture over the flat colour to give it variation and achieve a softer look that I like.
Ideally I would love to draw from a direct reference each time, but it does vary from job to job. Sometimes there is just not enough time. I have a great personal reference library of photos I’ve taken and in a pinch of course there is always the internet.
Earlier this month you released a colouring book featuring your botanical illustrations called The Garden of Earthly Delights, published by Hardie Grant. Can you tell us a little about the process of making the book?
I was approached by Hardie Grant in April this year about the possibility of working on a colouring book. So it has been quite a quick turn around for the book in the world of publishing! I spent around a two month intensive period designing and illustrating the book. Given how detailed and intricate my work is it was quite a lot to get through! The book is 96 pages.
I think I am most excited to see such a large volume of my work together in the one place. My work is generally viewed piece by piece and I feel this book has a great strength to it because of the sheer volume of work contained within it.
Also being a commercial illustrator, it is a fairly unique situation to have your name solely on a book!
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I’m not particularly a morning person so I tend to get up later than I should, make a smoothie for breakfast and then grab a coffee from Room Ten in Potts Point on my way to my studio in Chippendale. I have also started swimming laps some mornings at the gorgeous Andrew Boy Charlton pool, which is a beautiful way to start the day.
I try and get my emails out of the way in the morning so I can focus on drawing uninterrupted for the rest of the day. New briefs to quote on and research, feedback from clients, that kind of thing.
I ideally like to split my day 50/50 between physically drawing pen on paper, and adjusting the drawings on the computer. The actual drawing component is my favourite part of the day. I find it quite meditative.
Then comes lunch, which is the most exciting part of my day!
At about 3pm I get a considerable slump in concentration. This happens to all of us, right?! This is when I will probably research something completely arbitrary and strange on the internet. For instance last week, I found myself googling the most elaborate gingerbread houses possible. My deluded thinking at the time was that I could make my father a Frank Lloyd-Wright gingerbread house for Christmas!
After work I head back to Elizabeth Bay, go for a run a few nights a week and probably meet up with friends for dinner. I will also usually sneak in a bit more drawing in bed before sleep.
What have been one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?
This year I really enjoyed drawing some particularly detailed lobsters for the branding of new Potts Point restaurant called Waterman’s Lobster Co. They are pretty cute!
I am also really looking forward to working with Peter Gilmore again on an illustration for the chef’s table menu at Bennelong. His enthusiasm for native Australian produce is so infectious!
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Sydney artist and florist Doctor Lisa Cooper. Lisa’s work is so inspiring! I want to draw every single flower of hers that I see.
Artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company Rafaela Bonachela. I recently went to Rafaela’s latest work, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra Les Illuminations, it was absolutely enthralling.
Sydney-based painter Julian Meagher. I have been in love with Julian’s gorgeous paintings for many years. I find his subject matter, colour palette and the restraint with which he paints really inspiring.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
I have amassed a library of personal photos over the years that I turn to at the beginning of each project. Basically I take a quick photo of anything on my iPhone I think I might like to draw at a later date. It is so useful.
I am obsessed with Pinterest. It is like a well curated version of Google images.
The NSW State Library has an amazing selection of botanical illustration books. Their collection is particularly focused on Australian natives.
When I am drawing I like to listen to podcasts and audio books to keep me focussed. I am currently obsessed with a podcast called 99% Invisible which has very interesting subject matter. It is mostly about architecture but also broadly design based.
I also love watching Wes Anderson movies, they are so visually rich!
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I am going to have to say the publishing of my own book!
What would be your dream creative project?
There are so many projects I would love to work on! I would love to do an illustration for a Valentino gown, then I would wear it ALL. THE. TIME.
What are you looking forward to?
I am really excited about my upcoming exhibition to launch my book The Garden of Earthly Delights at St Cloche Gallery in Paddington, which opens on 25 November. I will be showing a lot of the original working drawings from the development of the book and Lisa Cooper will be responding to these works with a floral installation.
I also have another exhibition coming up in early 2016 at Good Space Gallery in Chippendale. This exhibition will be a chance for me to take my work in a new direction.
Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?
Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay. It is simply a beautiful area to live in! I walk out my front door and the Sydney harbour greets me every morning. There are stunning little parks everywhere, great restaurants of course and a lovely sense of community. My favourite run takes me from my front door through the botanic gardens to the Opera house! Come on!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Sydney?
I am completely obsessed with the yabbie pikelets with lemon jam and clotted cream by Peter Gilmore at Bennelong. The combination of Pete’s brilliant food and the space makes for a pretty magical experience.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I love to go for an ocean swim on a Saturday morning, usually Bronte or Gordon’s Bay for a quick dip. I also take every opportunity I can to get out of town for a bush walk on the weekends.
Sydney’s best kept secret?
The Golden Age Cinema is such a gorgeous little cinema in the old Paramount Building in Surry Hills. A classic film and a whiskey sour from their bar makes for a perfect evening!