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Marc McBride: The Illustrator Behind 'Deltora Quest'

With Narangba Valley State High School hosting its second MMADD (Music, Media, Arts, Dance and Drama) Festival on October 14, popular ‘Deltora Quest’ book series Illustrator, Marc McBride, talks to Feature Magazine about his upcoming workshop there.

What will your visit entail at Narangba Valley SHS’s MMADD Festival on October 14?

Teaching the students everything they need to know about art - the rules, and things I have learnt as an illustrator over the past 20 years. Art is a visual language, so I’ll teach them about colour, lighting, shape, shadow and line. I’ll do this whilst painting a dragon and taking the students through their own dragon drawing - how to plan it, and to show them that everybody can draw. Drawing is about imagination, and I want to give them everything that helps them get their ideas onto paper.

What do you hope to achieve with your visit to Narangba Valley SHS?

[Improving] the kids’ confidence, and explaining ways they can show off their work so the right people get to see it. During school is when you’ve got the time to use your imagination, so I want to spread the news that art is fun. This is my favourite time of year, because illustrators like me, and authors, can get out and visit schools. If it wasn’t for schools and libraries, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it - they make us feel that what we are doing is important because we inspire imagination.

What do students (and people in general) gain from sitting down and drawing?

The more you use your imagination, the more control you have over it. Drawing is good for every level - dexterity and spatial awareness in the younger years, and learning to get your ideas on paper as you get older. It’s a way of thinking – even film directors will storyboard their films. And drawing and designing can help with mindfulness – blotting out the world to de-stress.

Why do you think many of us still find dragons, monsters, and castles appealing?

Over 20 years ago everything was about sport, so I’d illustrate a lot of sport books. But then ‘Harry Potter’ came along and changed everything. Suddenly, wizards, mystical beasts, and anything fantasy became popular.

Does your love of fantastical beasts and worlds stem from your country of birth, Ireland?

I think it’s that roller coaster ride of really wanting to be scared, and there is an intriguing thing about being scared and the dark side of monsters. I’m just doing drawings that I did, and loved, as a kid, and when you keep drawing, that mindfulness keeps you young in the mind and heart. I’ve been extremely lucky to do it as a job as well.

How did you become an illustrator?

By accident. My careers teacher at school never mentioned drawing dragons – just architecture at university. But a year after starting, my parents moved to Australia. I visited them - and let’s face it, once you come to Australia, it’s hard to leave - so I moved out here permanently. I ended up enrolling in a design course in 1991, and after being sacked from a six week stint at an advertising company, I sent my work to magazines as I didn’t know what to do. An author saw my work in a magazine and he got me to do some book covers. He was with HarperCollins at the time, doing a book series called ‘Shiver’.

How did you begin illustrating for Jennifer Rowe (Emily Rodda), the writer of ‘Deltora Quest’?

I took my folio into Scholastic, and they were just about to do this great fantasy series which they told me about. I went home and I painted about three or four really big pictures for it. They loved the paintings, and it got my foot in the door. It was really just taking my folio into Scholastic at the right time.

Why are visual art and the written word important in today’s society?

When reading a book, you are designing all the creatures yourself – you’re creating your own set design, and creating pictures in your mind. Readers fill in the gaps themselves, and they make up the creatures as they read the book. Imagination is not just writing and drawing pictures – it’s also problem solving.

What are some of your next projects?

I’ve just finished creating my own graphic novel called, ‘The Boy Who Drew Dragons’, about a boy who ends up lost in his own imagination, for which I have drawn over 500 pictures. It will be published by Scholastic and comes out next year. I’m also working on a book with James Phelan about elephants and dragons, and I am illustrating another book for an Indigenous author, Gregg Dreise, about Indigenous dragons in Australia.

For those out there who are inspired to become an illustrator, what advice do you give?

Not to give up and to keep doing it. By practising drawing, you get better, and more people will see your work. Develop your own style, and make it unique. You may have to work for free to begin with, but just first work on people seeing it.

Snapshot of Narangba Valley SHS MMADD’s Festival on Saturday, October 14:

Free entry.

Time: 10am – 4pm.

Where: in the Arts precinct between the PALACE and the Art Block. Workshops will be indoors and outdoors, with the music, dance and drama performances mostly on the main stage.

  • Marc McBride will present 4 x 60 minute outdoor workshops. No bookings required

  • There will be a ‘Dangerous Beasts’ competition for age groups 5-8, 9-13, and 14-18 years.

  • Narangba Valley SHS students will be both participating and running activities.

  • Food and drink catering provided.

For further information: Rebecca McGuire A/HOD Visual Art, Marketing and Communications and Co-Coordinator of MMADD


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