Graeme Base was born in England in 1958 and moved to Australia when he was 8 years old. He grew up in Melbourne and still lives there with his wife and three children. He enjoys playing music, and writes a lot of music on guitar and keyboards. He says that whenever he needs "...a break from my illustration work I pick up the guitar or pick out a tune on the piano....I'd love to work as a musician!" He hopes one day to make a record or maybe even write the score for a film.
"I wrote my first book at the age of eight (it was a Book of Monsters and I did all the illustrations in coloured pencil), but I didn't get anything actually published till much later. I was always interested in art at school and after year twelve.....I spent three years studying Graphic Design at college. I worked in advertising for two years but didn't like it much, then began doing a bit of illustration work for various publishers. I began illustrating children's books because of a growing disillusionment with the sort of work I was doing in the advertising industry. Book publishing offered me the chance to be far more creative."
He quickly decided that it made more sense to start writing the books as well as illustrating them.
"My first ideas for books were turned down by lots of publishers, but I finally succeeded with My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch in 1983. This was the first book I had published that I both wrote and illustrated. I prefer drawing to writing, in fact I only write books so that I can have the fun of illustrating them! When I begin work on a new book, I know there is a long road ahead and I can never really be sure whether other people will like it when it's finished. The Eleventh Hour took two years to create and Animalia took three, that's a long time to spend on any project! I don't actually write my books primarily for children, although I know this is the main market for my work. I write them for myself in order to fulfil a creative desire and only after these considerations do I look at the requirements of a 'children's book,' whatever that might be!"Inspiration for his work
The basis of Graeme Base's work is generally fantasy, with the use of detailed realistic illustrations with amazing detail and vibrant colours. Each page is a work of art - literally! To make his illustrations even more realistic he uses watercolours and transparent inks, and an airbrush to spray colours onto the board. In more recent years he has made use of computers to aid his creative work. For example, he captures on screen video images of movable models of some of the main characters.
The inspiration for his books comes from many sources. In an interview for Penguin he shares the following details on where he got the ideas for some of his books:
"Animalia came from a great love of animals and a desire to create a book with huge amounts of detail and things to discover. That was the sort of book I remember enjoying as a child. I wrote it in alliterative form because I thought it would be a lot of fun for people to read aloud. I put the little boy in every picture to make people look closely at the pictures rather than rush through from page to page. It's really a picture of me when I was young! The word 'Animalia' is Latin for Animal Kingdom."
"I got the idea for The Sign of the Seahorse during a trip overseas in 1989. It was mostly a working visit to the USA, but we managed to spend a bit of time in Ecuador, Peru and the Caribbean as well......It was during this last adventure in the Caribbean that the idea for a book set underwater came to me, but I actually came back from the trip with enough ideas and reference material for several other books as well!"
The great strength of Grame Base's work is the illustrations. His creativity shows in every image and as a result, they provide a wonderful stimulus to the creativity of children who experience them. My favourites are Animalia, The Eleventh Hour and The Sign of the Seahorse. The latter isn't without a few blemishes but the richness of the plot, the multi-dimensional layering of image, spatial representation through the map and richness of the story gives this book great depth. His books have another strength in that they work at multiple levels. I have 'read' "Waterhole" to my grand-daughter at age 12 months creatively re-telling the story and letting the illustrations (and the holes in the pages) do the work. But I have also enjoyed sharing every word and dissecting every illustration with my 5 year old grandson. Revisiting the map, trying to work out where spatially key events in the narrative were located and so on.
a) Picture Books
My Grandma lived in Gooligulch, 1983
The Days of the Dinosaurs, written by Jan Anderson, 1984
Animalia, 1986 (Honour Book, CBCA Picture Book of the Year, 1987)
Creation Myths, retold by Maureen Stewart, 1987
Jabberwocky: From Through the Looking Glass, written by Lewis Carroll, 1987
The Eleventh Hour, 1988 (Joint Winner, CBCA Picture Book of the Year, 1989)
The Sign of the Seahorse, 1992
Adventures with My Worst Best Friend, written by Max Dann, 1995
The Discovery of Dragons, 1996
The Worst Band in the Universe, 1999
The Waterhole, 2001 (Notable Book, CBCA Picture Book of the Year, 2002 )
Jungle Drums, 2004
Uno's Garden, 2006 (Environment Award for Children's Literature 2007)
Enigma, a magical mystery, 2008
TruckDogs, 2003 (Shortlisted, CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers, 2004)
Teachers will find this resource site useful.
Penguin has a useful biography of Base on its site (here)
Another review (here).
ABC Creature Features video of Graeme Base (here)