Interview by David McDonald.
Tania is quite small, and frequently covered in cats. Her lifelong illustration career spans Disney films, toy and novelty design, fantasy novel covers and tabletop roleplaying games. Defying Doomsday and several of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ novels feature her cover illustrations. Currently Tania is the art director for Jellybean-Games.com, where she creates fun, gorgeous card games to captivate the whole family. Along with pictures, she loves working with words: her speculative fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways and PodCastle, and she’s studying Honours in Creative Writing. If she draws you, she promises not to make your nose too big.
Find her work at TaniaWalker.com and her words at @TaniaWalker.
I loved your cover for Defying Doomsday! How do you go about creating a cover, do you adapt something for a book, or start from scratch with the book in mind–or some other method?
I always start from scratch. Every book is unique, and needs a unique image to express that. The first step when creating a cover is to work out what kind of feel we want the book to project. Literal representation of something from the story is rarely the best way to go. For Defying Doomsday, I was approached with a request to draw a group of people with various disabilities in post-apocalyptic surrounds, but after some discussion we felt that was too literal. What we zeroed in on was that the cover needed to depict the idea of disability – and above all, a sense of hope. This was an interesting challenge, as apocalyptic imagery tends to transmit loss and hopelessness.
To tackle the depiction of the apocalypse, I went with the clear and simple ‘ruined city, desert world’ imagery, but as this is usually shown in drab grays or harsh reds, I opted to twist it by painting a bright moonlit night with blue as my primary colour, taking the harshness down a notch and adding a feeling of mystery.
For transmitting the idea of disabled protagonists, we wanted to have one central character who would represent this concept. There was a great deal of discussion over how to depict her in a way which would not be exploitative. Initially I painted her with a missing arm and pinned sleeve, but the feeling was that this looked more like a war injury or something that may have been gained after the apocalypse began – which is absolutely not the thrust of these stories. The use of the hospital-style leg brace instead was slightly subtler and hearkens back to a condition existing from a time before the apocalypse. One of the characters added in the background uses a cane, and the other two have no disability evident, which is a subtle reference to the fact that not all disabilities are immediately visible.
Finally, I originally painted a mysterious gleam of light in one of the city towers, but ultimately we opted for the stronger imagery of having a bright white searchlight the characters could all be shown walking towards as a symbol of hope.
In terms of the technical production of a painting like this: I used Adobe Photoshop, and started by using various edited photo elements and quick painting to unite them into a layout mockup so the publisher could get an idea of the direction I was heading and how all the elements sat together on the page. Once that was approved, I digitally painted the cover you see here (in Photoshop with a Wacom graphics tablet) onto seperate layers, making it easy to change and adjust elements based on the publisher’s feedback. Once the painting was approved, I took it into Adobe InDesign to add the text and layout elements and prep it for the printers – I do the occasional bit of design work too. It was lovely to be able to do so on Defying Doomsday; I felt really connected to the production of this cover from beginning to end. I even contributed to the copy on the back! That’s a rare and valuable amount of creative involvement to be given, and I’m so happy with the outcome.
Are there any artists that have particularly influenced your style or process, or inspired you to start illustrating?
Oh gosh, so many! When I was about ten I fell in love with Beauty and the Beast (and then Aladdin, and then The Lion King – it was a good time to be a kid) so I decided I was going to work for Walt Disney Animation no matter what. Being quite a stubborn and driven kid, I managed to get there by age twenty-one – which is much too early to have your life’s dream fulfilled, honestly; it was quite a confusing time. This determination had me moulding my style to a Disney-esque one, and that influence still comes out in the less-painterly end of my range today. It’s a mixed bag; for corporate work it’s a style viewed favourably but I feel like it’s stripped a certain amount of individuality from my style, which I’m working hard to get back.
I’ve also been influenced by the work of J. Scott Campbell, a comics artist specialising in badass ladies and really crisp, curvy lines, and Paul Kidby, the official Discworld artist. His paintings have this painterly-cartoony thing going that explodes with personality.
You’ve done work across a wide ranges of styles and media. Do you have a particular favourite? Are some harder than others?
I probably find that clean Disneyesque style the easiest and most natural. Full-on digital paintings like the Defying Doomsday cover are definitely more time-consuming but I like the richness of the outcome. Those are my favourite styles, but I also enjoy the challenge of mastering something new, like the bold, graphical style I’ve used across Tansy’s books. Right now I’m working on a set of classic movie monster pieces for Jellybean Games in the style of American illustrator Edward Gorey, all scratchy hatched inks and whimsical poses and naive lines. Those pieces are time-consuming but it’s another style under my belt, and mastering something new now and then keeps me coming back to this work. I’m never bored!
In terms of media, my art is almost entirely digital these days. The thought of working without an ‘undo’ button drives my poorly-concealed inner control freak to paroxysms in the corner.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Mentioning Defying Doomsday is cheating, right? It’s objectively wonderful though, and apocalypse-fic is my jam. Aside from that, this is an embarrassing admission, but I only read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series for the first time this year and I absolutely loved it. Finally, I periodically return to Victor Kelleher’s incredible dark YA spec fic. The feeling he created in his work is something I still chase as a reader and a writer today.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Terry Pratchett. A wonderful writer, and he always seemed like he’d be a hoot. I met him at a signing in 2002, gave him a funny drawing I’d done of one of his Discworld characters, and he roared with laughter. This is a good memory.