|© Rachel Tribout in her studio office|
I have a long held fascination for nature, old tales and magic. Not the sparkly glittery unicorn-poop magic, but the deep kind, the one that speaks to the power behind all things, can create or destroy worlds and elevate me to the Queen of the Multiverses. As a child in rural France, I would spend my time exploring the surrounding nature, as though I was a mighty scientific explorer. It involved observing the ant colonies go to war in my backyard or feeding lettuce to the garden snails. Once it was too dark to be outside, I would devour books about mythology from around the world, or chew on any novels I could find that contained dragons or fantastical beasts.
A billion years later, when I first landed in Tasmania, I was awed by the raw power of its untouched wilderness. Although I had traveled around the globe, I was yet to experience what true, wild, untouched nature was. Even places that aren’t considered wild by Tasmanian standards, are beyond anything I could have imagined to explore as a child. I remember reading for the second time The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guinn while I was camping on Maria Island, and I saw dragons fly through the moody sky and rise above the clouds.
Aside from the fact that Tasmania is wilder than I could ever have dreamt of, it is also surrounded by the ocean. I grew up hundreds of kilometers from the sea, and, although I loved the ocean as a kid, I would only get to experience it a couple of weeks per year, during the summer holidays, alongside the rest of France who was there too. In moving to Tasmania and having this new life by the water, my imagination ran wild with ideas and visions.
One of my first illustrated “Fastitocalon” (a big monster who pretends to be an island and eats people once they land on its back) was inspired by “The Book of Imaginary Beings” by Jorge Luis Borges. It was also inspired by my fear of the ocean when the sky was grey and the ocean a little too wild. One day I was startled by a stingray a couple of feet from me, while I had been claiming that “there could be any sea monsters under these dark waves, are you sure this is safe, I mean, we don’t know what lives underneath…”
Of course, it wasn’t all fear and running away from the water while cursing in French; the first time I saw a sea dragon at Kingston Beach I was delighted! These moments and memories are precious to me and have inspired me to keep looking to the ocean for ideas and creativity.
Fast forward a few years. After trying to teach myself visual storytelling and creating a couple of books inspired by the Tasmanian Wilderness (The Monsters of Tasmania and The Journey of Admiral Bolognaise), I then got to work on two books that connect my passion for nature and drawing.
|Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, by Gina M Newton & Rachel Tribout (2020) CSIRO|
My recent book, Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, written by Gina Newton and published by CSIRO Publishing, is an educational book on, you guessed it, the spotted handfish. This strange little creature was so close to extinction that scientists had to work very hard and get pretty creative to keep it alive. I loved being involved in a project that aims to educate kids on the lesser known creatures that inhabit our world, and to illustrate how we can help undo the damage that humans inflict on our environment. It was also a whole lot of fun to draw so many underwater scenes, and, although there were no monsters, (I still got to draw dinosaurs and an angler fish, so that’s OK) it was great to rely less on my imagination and to create more scientifically accurate illustrations. This process took a lot more googling and looking at scientific photos than I had done previously. It also provided an interesting visual story-telling challenge; to lay out a lot of informative text while creating an easy flow through the book that worked well with the illustrations and the underwater feel.
|The Heart Song of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon (2020) UQP|
I have also recently been able to work on my first children’s novel cover and internal illustrations, for The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn, published by UQP and written by Tasmanian author Kate Gordon. A story of an undisclosed space and of a fantasy theme, I could still see and feel the Tasmanian landscape and moods in the manuscript, and I was drawn to it. This project allowed me to explore a new side of my work, one that is more lyrical and emotional, and I really enjoyed the process.
Looking back at my creative journey, although the excitement of feeling inspired by a new project is priceless, I feel the sweetest reward will always be when a parent tells me that their child reads kunani’s mood (Hobart is nested at kunani’s feet) on a daily basis- “Mum, it’s very moody today, isn’t it!”, or when I am told that my books sit on the “favourite shelf” and have been read at bedtime countless times. It makes it all worth it, and inspires me to do more.
Rachel is an illustrator, author and graphic designer originally from France, who now splits her time between Hobart and Brisbane. Find her on Instagram @captainblueberry and her website www.racheltribout.com
Both of Rachel’s recent works are on the CBCA Notables list for 2021.
Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, written by Gina M Newton, and The Heart Song of Wonder Quinn, authored by Kate Gordon in the Younger Readers category.