interview - Claire Robertson aka Loobylu!

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
19th of November 2010
All illustrations by Claire Robertson - this one from her favourite 'Midnight Picnic' series! (I remember when she first posted these!)
Claire documents a Sunday night tradition!?
All illustrations by Claire Robertson

Today's interviewee is true blogging royalty.  I had the great pleasure of meeting illustrator / crafter and veteran blogger Claire Robertson earlier this year, and I must say I felt very starstruck because Claire's incredible and much-loved blog Loobylu was the first ever blog I laid eyes on!  That's because Claire has been writing Loobylu since 1999!

Way back in those days there was no Blogger or Wordpress.  Claire started off in Diaryland... the moved to her own custom domain... and with a technical wizard for a husband, she carefully navigated the scary world of html coding to put her blog posts out every day.  It wasn't so easy back then!  10 years ago, no one had even heard of a 'blog'... and there certainly weren't many other cute n' crafty design blogs out there!  Loobylu was an absolute trailblazer!

Loobylu received accolades far and wide - she won Bloggie awards, she was in the newspaper waaayyyy before The Design Files popped up!  At the ripe old age of 20(!!), I was totally addicted to Claire's beautiful little blog with it's gorgeous illustrations and references to Melbourne's neighbourhoods and favourite craft shops - Patchwork on Central park, I'm talking about you!  I was SUCH a fan I remember going into Patchwork on Central Park one day and seeing a crafty Mum with a gorgeous little doe-eyed 2 yr old in a pram, and having a brief heart palpitation wondering if THIS could be THE Loobylu!? Jeepers.  Now I am beginning to sound a little scary.

ANYWAY a huge part of Loobylu's early appeal was Claire stunning illustrations and crafty goodies...  I used to love Claire's stylised little family portraits, and keenly followed the progress of her family from living with Claire's parents whilst saving for a house, to having their first daughter and buying their first home.  Every detail was documented and illustrated so beautifully... you really couldn't help but feel very special to have a window into the lives of this gorgeous local creative little family.

Claire Robertson is MY blogging hero.  I am SO excited to share her interview here today! Thankyou Claire!

Claire has very recently moved to a forest on a small island in Canada’s Pacific Northwest with her Canadian-born hubbie and 2 gorgeous girls... a n exciting new chapter for Loobylu - stay tuned in to her beautiful blog... many new adventures await!

Tell me a little about your background – What path led you to what you're doing now?

My background is rather higgledy-piggledy, leading from one interest (or should I say attractive distraction) to another, ever since I left high school in the late 80's. I studied design for a time, and then Arts and on to Art teaching, but I was more interested in being involved in the University Newspaper than going on the routine teaching rounds at local high schools. From there I fell into the world of publishing - both magazine and then web. In 1996 I helped launched the Big Issue Magazine in Melbourne.  We were working almost quite literally on a shoestring and it was pretty rough and tumble.  The fact that we managed to get a magazine out every two weeks (as it was then) is still astounding to me. I was art directing, designing and coordinating the production and I collapsed in a heap after about a year.  Apart from the sheer thrill of working in such a crazy environment I got to commission loads of illustrations from a talented pool of local artists.  I have always loved illustration so this was the dream part of the job.  Occasionally I would add one of my own unpracticed, wonky illustrations and found I enjoyed this far more than the design itself which always felt like I was tussling with unruly monsters.  After several years working in various internet start ups (long hours for little money) I woke up in the middle of the night one night, and decided life's too short to be miserable and decided to give freelance illustration a burl. What are some favourite illustration projects, clients or publications you have worked with over the years?

My professional clients have included Cambridge University Press, ABC Online, The Age, The New York Public Library, Scholastic, Klutz books (Little Letters), NaNoWriMo, Chirp Magazine... but my work is probably most recognisable from my blog and my personal work.  My favourite series were some pieces I did for an exhibition called 'Midnight Picnic' some years ago now.  I remember having the idea for the work during a crazy electrical storm while I was staying in my parents' house in country NSW.  It was the end of Summer and we had all the windows open greeting the cool change. The air was full of crazy energy and the smell of the wet grass from the rain in the paddocks filled the house. I started sketching and I couldn't stop - that kind of inspiration doesn't happen very often.

An illustration from Claire's favourite 'Midnight Picnic' series!
Little Letters illustrated by Claire
How has your illustrative styled changed and developed over the last 10 years? It seems much more layered and textured now that is used to be..  when I first started illustrating, I did everything by hand, but then along came Adobe Photoshop, and even more exciting was the discovery of the wacom tablet. I used to work in Adobe Illustrator, drawing my stuff using vector curves and then import the image in to photoshop to colour it. Now I have learnt how to use vector curves in Photoshop and I have done away with Illustrator all together.  As I have become more familiar with photoshop, my style has developed so that I play with layers and textures - scanning in patterns and playing with brushes. I often wonder at myself - spending hours working away at the computer with my wacom tablet trying to get something to look like it's done by hand. What inspired you to originally start the Loobylu blog? How did you even know what a blog was in 1999!?

I discovered a great little online journal community called in 1999 where people were writing, usually anonymously about their lives. I always kept a diary, ever since I was a little kid - I have a huge box of them under the house - so this kind of writing came very easily to me. It was instant content in a time when I was obsessed with web design. So after a while I moved my work to my own domain at so that I had more flexibility with my design and the kind of things I could put up. In 1999 I was putting up recipes, interviews with friends, online shopping finds, daily journal entries (mostly illustrated) and reviews of books or movies. I was laying everything out in tables using html. It was a lot of fun. Did Loobylu’s popularity catch you by surprise? What do you think appealed to readers about your site when you first started writing the blog?

Yes! It was great to find that my audience wasn't just five people (three of whom I knew) any more, especially as collecting a large audience was the last thing I set out to do. I am guessing that my accidental audience was made up of people who liked my light tone and funny little illustrations and could relate to the stuff that was going on in my life. Also - there were a *lot* less blogs around then, so it was much easier to be a unique voice and a unique look. Because the whole blog-world was much smaller it was a kind of clandestine club of writers and readers. You should have seen the stuff people used to spontaneously send me in the mail! Ahhh... the glory days... :) How has Loobylu changed since you first started in 1999?

My blog has followed the phases of my life. First it was about finding my feet as an adult, really, - working out what my career was, getting married, finding a place to live... all that... all about the kind of life I was trying to build. Then, after the birth of my first daughter, it moved into being more of a blog about parenthood.. and then, because I started making things for my children, I discovered my love for craft and so it became a craft blog... and I started the popular "Month of Softies" meme, which had crafty people all over the world creating soft toys based on a monthly theme... and then it became a blog about gardening, some days... and then it became about writing a novel ... and somewhere along the line I started taking more photos than illustrating blog entries... Now I have moved into another phase in my life. We have just uprooted our family and moved to a small island full of artists and hippies and forest in British Columbia, Canada. Inspiration is flowing again and so now my blog will be a little bit about communicating with people back home, and the new stuff I take on in my creative life.

Claire documents her crafty prowess on the blog...!  I remember when she first started the 'Month of Softies' meme... and everyone in the blogsphere started madly crafting and documenting their creations!

The other thing that has changed was that I used to put the whole thing together myself, as I mentioned, in html. Now I make my design in photoshop or something, and then hand it over to my husband Phil who puts it all together as a wordpress theme, and then all the publishing is done automatically through the wordpress admin pages. I don't have any of the newer coding skills (nor any interest in learning them)... and it makes things much easier and much quicker, but there are days when I miss the spontaneous, organic nature of putting together a crazy web site single-handedly (which doesn't actually work in most browsers!).

Where do you turn for creative inspiration? – travel, art, local or international print publications, the web etc?

I have always turned to the web - because why wouldn't you? Everyone takes such beautiful photographs now - I often have to take web-breaks due to over-saturation.

Books, of course and I also love magazines, but honestly, I find most of what I need for ideas and how-tos on the web. There is nothing like finding a new web-crush. My latest (probably because of where I am living and the kind of architecture all around us) is Lloyd Kahn, a publisher and editor whose book Shelter - Builders of the Pacific Coast has a permanent home on the coffee table at the moment.  And of course, I have to say my children inspire me. They're so funny - and need so much constant nurturing in so many ways that inevitably my work is informed by the way their worlds collide or even at times drift in harmony with mine.

Also - the best way I get inspiration is to spend time around inspired people. Talking to them about the way they work, what they are working on... it energises me. My gorgeous 65 year old neighbour (who also happens to be an Australian) is building her own home next door here. She is BUILDING HER OWN HOME with very little help. I stand and wonder at her work, and she says "it's easy! because I love doing it". So true.

Lately my inspiration comes from walking in my new world, immersing myself in an unfamiliar yet unbelievably beautiful environment (woods, beaches, farms... autumn colours... rain rain rain) meeting new people doing incredible and amazing things on this little island. Even just a trip to the grocery store (the people I chat to there, the things I see on my way) reminds me of all the possibilities in life.

Can you name some other creative people whose work you admire?

My biggest influence would have to be Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson who created the Moomins. Her work influences the way I draw and conceive of characters - her children's stories influence the way I live my life. Also - My neighbour Lorraine - and her amazing half-built storybook cottage (which she has promised to sell me when she's 95) and my friend Kirsty Macafee - both of them make me realise you can do anything you set your heart to. French artist Nathalie Lete whose work is beauitful and joyful and full of references to childhood. Pip Lincolne for making a blog and a career out of being clever and cute and and bold and creative and kind. My friend Christina Gordon who is one of the most beautifully unique people I know and who literally and sincerely lives a creative life as well as making breath-taking stuff.

What would be your dream creative project?

I think at this point I have several dozen dream creative projects. Top of my list would be building a house (or at least a treehouse or a studio) followed by writing a novel (something trashy and thick) and just lately I have been thinking it would be fun to write and illustrate a graphic novel... I have been reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ... and I want to do some more illustrations in a series like those Midnight Picnic pieces... also I hope to build an incredible, creative garden - vegetables and fruit trees and fences and quirky gates (which you need here, to keep out the deer who eat everything)... and then there's all the stitching I want to do - quilts and clothes and cushions and knitting. It's non-stop really. I just wish I could focus - or clone myself.

What are you looking forward to?

Feeling settled.  And making stuff again.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Camberwell - because my parent's house is there. I'm feeling nostalgic. It's an old weatherboard full of books and stuff and has a big garden full of noisy Australian birds out the back (Canadian birds are so quiet!).

Otherwise, I like the inner North for the cafes and the shops and the colour. Some of the best years of my life were spent in Fitzroy and surrounds in funny old terrace houses full of students and musicians and people who played video games all day, only stopping what they were doing in the morning to stumble down the road for a plate of eggs at a local eating-place and then in the evening to a local watering-hole to watch a friend's band and to have a beer and a game of pool.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Choi's in Hawthorn, who make my favourite meal ever; Beef in Mandarin Sauce. Some of my best friends took me there for a farewell dinner in August and this is what I always order.  This dish will mean I can never be a vegetarian again. (unless I am like my 8 year old daughter who says "I'm vegetarian, apart from bacon, and salami, and beef tortellini"). This Choi's dish is great. We usually have to fight over it, or order two.  As an aside - I wish I was still in town to try out NorthSouth Eatery.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

The Apple Store, Riot Art for my drawing pens and paper, Patchwork on Central Park for fabric, Winterwood in Park Orchards for natural crafting materials...

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

When in Melbourne - usually on a Saturday I would leave the kids with my husband and then pick up my Mum and we would shop at the Camberwell Market for weekend food (Nick and Sue's for yummy nibblies, Peter's for all the basics, and then on to get fruit n veg, bread and flowers) and then have coffee somewhere in the Junction.

Now here in the Pacific Northwest we sleep in, then hit the local Farmer's/Craft market and stock up on goodies then mooch about looking at our mountain/island/forest/lake view saying "can you believe we live here? This place is AMAZING" over and over.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

My mum's homemade tomato sauce, my friend Paul's to-die-for rosewater macarons, Cloudehill in the Dandenongs for a beautiful garden walk... now I'm missing Melbourne.

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