You can never be too young to appreciate our rich and colourful wildflowers.
So says Perth artist Tracey Gibbs. She’s just produced a beautiful book for tots, Let’s Count Wildflowers, inspired by her frequent visits to Kings Park.
Tracey, 37, chats to The Starfish:
How long have you been an artist?
Art’s been important to me, a backbone to my whole life! Mum had a craft shop when I was a kid, down in Kojonup, which was Utopia for me. My earliest memories are of doing little craft projects in the shop, like making a panda out of pom poms. It would frustrate the hell out of mum, she’d be serving someone, and unbeknown to her I’d be gluing together the pom poms!
What did you do after leaving school?
My first job was working at a discount shop where I ended up in the arts section. It became my job to do samples and demos with new art products.. I’d end up with lots of supplies, which was fantastic.
Later I did a TAFE arts course, held at Fremantle Prison. We each had a cell of our own to work in! It was very inspiring; we had great teachers and got to create plenty of art.. Then I did graphic design at Curtin. I did well but it was a lot more corporate than I was comfortable with, a lot of it was about designing logos for brands; It felt a bit depressing.
I later ended up working at Fremantle Press. They needed an in-house designer. Only then, it dawned on me that all the work I’d done at uni could lead me into creative jobs.
Eventually I went freelance; two years ago I set up my own art design business, Lalleuca.
I’m concentrating on surface design, e.g., if someone wanted a design for say raincoats, or wallpaper, or fabrics, these sorts of things, they can come to me.
How did this book come about?
I was sitting in Kings Park one day, drawing Kangaroo Paws and thinking they really do look like little hands! Then the idea of a poem came to me. I wanted to write about Kangaroo Paws, Sturt’s Desert Peas and other beautiful wildflowers. I thought, if I could write something including ten flowers, I’d have enough for a children’s book. I think once you’ve worked for a publishing company, you always have a book idea bubbling away!
You then sent your idea over to Fremantle Press?
Yes, and eventually they came back with a yes. Then it was all systems go!
What came first, the art or the words?
First, I put together the poem. With a book for young children of course you are using very few words, so you have to pick them carefully. Once I’d locked those in, then it was time to do all the art.
Tell us about your art process?
First I sketch a lot. With pen and sketchbook, I’d go frequently to to the park, studying the plants in person, from every angle. I’d return home with lots of sketches, and photos, then start designing.
That’s probably the most intense process. For example, for the artwork for “Ten Flannel Flowers glow luminous at night,” I needed to keep the flowers all separate- so a child could count them – but also in a group, like craters on the moon.
As people look through the book I want them to have the sensation that the pictures are flowing through from day to night time.
A lot goes into each design. For example, for “Eight Donkey Orchids cluster, big ears gently twitching”, I needed the flowers lot ook like they were listening, with their big ears, but still look authentic!
When I’m finally happy with my drawings I sketch it up on my I Pad, print out a template and then begin the silkscreen process.
You’re clearly pretty passionate about wildflowers?
Growing up in a farm in Kojonup, we had lots of wildflowers around. That was just our home; we completely took them for granted.
Now I have an urban life, I always seek out opportunities to be around wildflowers.
I live in East Victoria Park and I love the city, the culture, the food and so forth. But I do enjoy bushwalking and having Kings Park close by is such an inspiration. To be able to study so many species so close together, it’s a privilege!
I think I was lucky to be able to take all this for granted when I was little. Our wildflowers are really special.
Is that why you’ve done a book for small kids, to introduce them to the joys of wildflowers from a young age?
Yes. The best way to get kids to be interested in nature is show them what’s there. It’s not about a lecture, its’ about inspiring and creating some joy. If you can get kids and parents to connect with flowers, they’ll want to help look after them.
So this little book isn’t just for kids?
I know it’s being marketed as being something for babies, but it’s also quite meditative. It might be very good for someone of any age, who’s stressed or anxious, to read at the end of the day, enjoy the flowers and unwind.
What’s next for you, Tracey?
I’m currently working on a series of “Re-Start The Park” murals for the Town of Victoria Park, which include a walking trail and map showing off the flowers in the area.
Tracey will be introducing Let’s Count Wildflowers, along with 16 other Fremantle Press authors showcasing their new books, at Fremantle Arts Centre on 22 October, before this year’s Tag Hungerford Prize will be announced.