Drawing dinosaurs is dangerous territory when it comes to children, says Central Coast author-illustrator Sara Acton.
The Avoca Beach artist recalls her young son correcting her as she worked on her children’s picture book Dinosaur Day Out.
‘He came into my studio and he looked at the picture and he goes ‘Mum, you do realise velociraptors don’t look like the ones in Jurassic Park?’
‘But then, also, dinosaurs don’t eat ice-creams, which they do in my book,’ Sara laughs.
The mum-of-two is inspired by her family when creating a book. Feeding ducks in New Zealand led to Ben and Duck with her son, Ben, as the main character. In her books, you may also notice a few local motifs, such as the Avoca Public School uniform.
Sara has won numerous awards, the most recent being the 2020 CBCA Notables Book of the Year (Younger Readers) for Mr Walker and the Dessert Delight. She also runs school workshops, harking back to her teaching roots. Formerly a high school art teacher in the United Kingdom, Sara moved into publishing when she relocated to the Central Coast for her husband’s work in 2009. Around this time Sara started enjoying competition success and was encouraged to stick with it.
‘It really excited me and then I started marrying the illustrations with the text and I really liked the fact that you could tell a story from an image,’ she says.
Two years after arriving in Australia Ben and Duck was published. She’s been busy ever since and now has 20-odd stories to her name. Her latest, Jack’s Jumper, will be in stores in July.
Although Sara had always been creative, her chosen medium was sculpture and fine arts, not illustrating. But she delved in and now mixes watercolour paint, ink, pencil and collage, with digital editing.
‘Every book is different, so it’s good to use different techniques,’ says Sara. ‘It’s fun to experiment …’
It’s also fun, it seems, to let go.
‘At the end of a book it gets really messy and you can’t see the floor and you don’t actually realise ’til you finish because all you’re thinking about is finishing the book and delivering it by your deadline, and then you suddenly look around and think “oh my God, I’m going to disappear into a swamp of paper under my feet”,’ she says.
Sara gets so lost in her work that she’s been known to turn up to school pick-up with paint on her face and ink over her fingernails. It’s also not uncommon for her home studio wall to cop a few generous splats of colour. But that’s part of creating. So, too, is stumbling across the ideas for her books. Some are sparked by her kids’ toys, others by the Central Coast’s beautiful beaches, and sometimes she pops into Sydney to sketch scenes in her notepad. But her children inspire her the most – and they never shy away from handing out feedback, especially when it comes to dinosaurs.
Learn more about Sara at saraacton.org.
Words Jennifer Ennion