Author Jodie McLeod and Illustrator Eloise Short met via the Mtns Made directory of creatives. Jodie who moved to the Blue Mountains 7 years ago from Sydney, was after a local illustrator to bring her children's story Leonard the Lyrebird to life.
Jodie has always written stories and studied creative writing at the University of Wollongong. She worked in the publishing industry for 15 years, writing for and editing lifestyle magazines before shifting her work focus to copywriting. Jodie began writing children stories after having her two daughters, now aged 2 and 4. A combination of things led to Jodie penning her first self-published story. ‘I was curious about whether any children's stories set in the Blue Mountains existed and came across an old out-of-print Golden Book from the '70s called The Legend of the Three Sisters. I read it to my then 3-year-old. That same day we visited the Three Sisters in Katoomba and she was so incredulous.That process of reading about something in a book, then visiting that place in person just made the whole story-reading experience that much more vivid for her. And I thought - I want to give that experience to her again!’
Jodie didn’t have to search far for an idea for her story. As she started planning and thinking about what her story would be about the family began to be visited by a charismatic lyrebird who would sing in their backyard, and so Leonard the Lyrebird was born.
Jodie bunkered down over a couple of weeks, using the half-hour or so between dinner and bedtime to write Leonard’s story. After that came the gruelling process of editing. ‘Leonard the Lyrebird is not a short story as far as children's books go, but it has gone through a lot of paring-back since the first draft.’
Now Jodie just needed someone to bring Leonard to life visually. Jodie loved the look and feel of Eloise’s illustrated puzzles and felt that she would be the perfect fit. She got in touch with Eloise and pitched her idea to produce a Blue Mountains children’s book. ‘Thankfully - Eloise was on board from the very beginning!’
Eloise moved to The Blue Mountains almost 8 years ago with her husband. Expecting a baby, they wanted to find a place where they could raise children away from the pressures of city life. Eloise studied Fine Art at QCA in Brisbane where she grew up, including a couple of semesters in Illustration before moving to Melbourne to study textile design at RMIT. She moved to Sydney after landing her first textile design job. Since then she has slowly been adding more illustration in to her work mix, developing her own range of children’s puzzles under the name Millions of Monkeys.
Eloise jumped at the chance to illustrate a children’s book, especially one that had been written by another local creative. ‘I had wanted to illustrate a children's book for years but the planets had never aligned to make it happen, until now.’
Eloise spent four months working part time to produce the illustrations for Leonard the Lyrebird. Jodie and Eloise decided that it would be great to be able to offer original artwork as a part of their Pozible campaign, which they used to get their collaboration published. Eloise decided to come up with a style that was entirely hand painted, which - coming from a more hand drawing/painting and digital reworking background - was a new and interesting challenge. She showed Jodie her new style and the author loved it.
Each illustration is hand painted using gouache, which is like a watercolour paint but more opaque. Being the first book Eloise had illustrated, she and Jodie sat down to nut out a plan ‘We had a day where we sat down with a printed mock-up of the book (with the text already allocated to each page) and nutted out ideas that Jodie had and ideas I had. Then I did rough sketches of each page and painted them up. Sometimes they worked right away but other times they needed reworking.’
Illustrating Leonard the Lyrebird was not without its challenges ‘Trying to get Leonard's appearance consistent across the book but in many different poses was tricky and I also struggle with creating compositions without reference, so I looked at lots of photos of Lyrebirds and Blue Mountains scenery and pieced together my own compositions from there’. At the time Eloise was working on Leonard the Lyrebird her father had been battling cancer for over a year. Sadly, he passed away when Eloise was about halfway through the book, ‘It was a really awful time for me and my family and I basically locked myself in a room for the next eight weeks and worked on the book. I think having something as beautiful as this story to focus on helped me get through that period.’ Despite this tragedy Eloise loved being involved in the creation of Leonard the Lyrebird, ‘I love painting and textile design as it all involves picking up a paintbrush, but illustration with a narrative adds an extra element of problem solving which I also love. I think I am seeking that out more and more.’
Leonard the Lyrebird is a beautifully written and illustrated children’s book. Leonard’s adventure through song takes readers on a journey through the Blue Mountains landscape, stopping at some of our most well-known landmarks. The story is funny and sweet and will delight readers both young and old. The illustrations are vibrant in a subtle way and Eloise has very eloquently brought Leonard’s character to life.
Jodie and Eloise had a fantastic turn-out to the launch of Leonard the Lyrebird. It was wonderful to see so many locals turn up to support their own. The children were in rapture of Jodie’s reading of the story. Visitors to the launch were able to view Eloise’s original artworks for the book up close.
Both Jodie and Eloise hold a great affinity with the Blue Mountains since moving here. Jodie loves how the landscape is ‘unapologetically unruly and almost dares you to get out amongst it, which I and my husband do as much as we can - me with trail running and he with canyoning and hiking.’ Eloise too enjoys the spectacular scenery The Blue Mountains offers. ‘It still continues to amaze me that you can round a fairly average looking corner in any of the mountains suburbs and with little warning there is a view of cliffs, mountains and sky second to none in the world. It never gets old.’
You can purchase a copy of Leonard the Lyrebird from Jodie McLeods Website. It is also available at selected book stores in the Blue Mountains
You can see more of Eloise’s works and products on her website.