In Part 4, I recounted my phone call with Shaun Tan, asking if he might be interested in illustrating my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter. He politely told me that he couldn’t do it, which led my fiance to suggest that we advertise in order to find an illustrator in time for my deadline with the interested publisher.
Where do you advertise for an illustrator to do something for nothing but the possibility of hard work and glory?
Where else but ArtsHub.
Accordingly, we purchased an ad on ArtsHub, calling for “illustrators with a sense of whimsy, similar to the styles of E.H Shepard, Shaun Tan and Michael Blake” to send examples of their work to “mmillustrations.”
I hoped for maybe a dozen responses, enough to choose from and hopefully one that would fit the bill.
I received thirty-five responses.
That’s a lot of responses for an unpaid job with only the whiff of potential work. There were a lot of artists out there, looking for a foot in the door, and here was I, in a position to crack it open for long enough to give them a chance to lunge through.
There was a real range of stuff out there. There was frou-frou, and a little bit of country (stuffed bear still lifes were remarkably popular). There was Goth, and there was fairy. There was manga and there was watercolour.
There was nothing I liked.
I am a bad, fussy and ungrateful person, I told myself, scanning the submissions, looking for something that had a clue to the kind of feeling I was hoping for. Stomp on that silly feeling, I scolded. Choose from this banquet! Look at the colour, the audacity, the sheer volume! Be amazed!
It was nearly midnight, three weeks almost to the day since I told the publisher I would go away and think about whether I would submit a collection of stories or an illustrated stand-alone work for consideration. I sat at the computer and half-heartedly opened two of my other short story files. Not bad, I thought, scanning the lines of natural realism and semi-autobiography. I re-opened the Mr Middleton file and glumly closed the others. They were too different in style. A collection would never work.
But neither would the pictures! I argued it back and forth. Finally, exhausted, I collapsed into bed. The room in my then-apartment in North Bondi didn’t have curtains, so I used to always sleep on my side, one arm flung up to cover my eyes from the moonlight. I turned over and took one last, heavy-lidded glance at a framed print I had bought about six weeks ago at the Paddington markets. I had bought it for my friend, jLo, for her 3oth birthday. It was a milestone gift, along with a non-trashy piece of jewelry, which I and a couple of other girlfriends had pooled our money to buy for her: nice jewelry and art, meaning, you have arrived. I had liked the picture so much that I had bought myself another in the series. It had a black background, with a swirl of white butterflies clustering on the branches of a dark grey oaktree. A little, solemn looking fellow stood in the sky, to the left of the tree, holding the one thing of colour against the darkness: a tiny red apple. He held the red globe out to the tree and its swathe of butterflies as if it were an offering to the night, or the light, or both.
Since buying the picture, I had taken to looking at it when I wrote, just for a moment now and then. My breathing would deepen, and I would remember in my gut and the smoothing of my forehead that this was all about saying thank you.
In bed, past midnight, I closed my eyes. I knew exactly what I needed to do. This picture, which had been right in front of me, was the answer. I would find the artist, and I would ask him to illustrate Mr Middleton. I would ask him to bring Mr Middleton’s world to life, and all I had to offer in exchange would be my gratitude. Maybe, together with his, that would be enough.
To be continued.