Get to know natural history illustrator Sami Bayly ahead of her drawing workshop

Accomplished natural history illustrator Sami Bayly is coming to Castle Hill Library on Tuesday, July 12.

During her visit, she will tell children in years K-6 all about weird and wonderful animals and also teach them how to draw them.

Ahead of her interview, FOCUS caught up with Sami to talk about how she begun her career in illustration and where she finds inspiration for her work.

Read the interview here:

Focus: What will kids learn while undertaking your workshop at the Castle Hill Library?   

Sami: I promise that everyone who attends will learn something fun, something awesome, something gross and of course something super-duper cool that you can go home and share with your families afterwards. This workshop is going to be jam-packed with fun facts, stories about animals, why they are the way they are and also some drawing activities. So even if you think you can’t draw, I am going to teach you some simple steps that will make drawing so much easier.

Focus: How did you get into illustration? 

Sami: Well it was only natural that I became an illustrator actually. I have been painting, drawing and creating since I was a little kid. When I was able to pick-up a pencil, Texta or any other sketching or mark making material I was always scribbling and drawing. It most certainly wasn’t good, but that didn’t matter because it wasn’t the point. It was because I really enjoyed it.

I carried on with that outlook throughout my life until I was in year 12 and I found out about a degree called a Bachelor of Natural History Illustration. I did 4 years of this amazing course before graduating and learnt so much about different art techniques and drawing skills. I never stopped drawing or painting over those years and my skills improved enormously.
Today I have been fortunate enough to have turned that passion into a career by creating books for kids across the world.

Focus: One of your books, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ugly Animals, highlights the need to look after all animal species. Why did you create this book? 

Sami: I think by just opening up my book and having a look you can see that I have a fascination with weird and wonderful animals. I really wanted to shine a light on the strange animals, or the ones that get judged for the way they look and I wanted to tell kids, adults or anyone else who would listen that these animals are so important. It doesn’t matter that they look a bit different or that they aren’t what we are used to seeing, they are important and they deserve our love and respect.

Focus: Do you have a favourite animal? If yes, which one and why? 

Sami: I do! Although it is hard to choose, because across all of my books I feature over 180 different animals/plants species. But I would have to say that my favourite animal is a hornbill. I love hornbills (I love birds in general) because they are like mega birds when you see them. They are huge and have a giant beak to match, it is called a casque and I think they are absolutely beautiful.

Focus: What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue a career in illustration?

Sami: I would say that the most important thing you can do if you want to become an illustrator is to find your niche, which is basically like finding an area that you really love, are interested in and passionate about. Something that you can do better than anyone else. I think that it’s a perfect way to make sure that you can fill a gap in the market that no one else can and that ultimately it is something that you feel motivated to get up every morning and work on.

Focus: Why did you decide to study scientific illustration? 

Sami: It is a pretty strange area to want to get involved in. A lot of people asked me, ‘Why not art in general?’ I have always loved drawing and when I got to around year 12 I started to think about what I wanted to do for my career, which can be a very scary and daunting feeling. But when I got to that point I realised that I wanted to do something that involved art, but more importantly, that involved ME creating. Unfortunately that crossed out being an art teacher, because I didn’t want to teach others how to do art, as I barely knew myself. Luckily it was during this time that I found out about a fantastic one of a kind degree called a Bachelor of Natural History Illustration, where you learn how to scientifically illustrate plants and animals (along many other wonderful courses) that I was able to take into my future career. I found so many likeminded people along the way that were huge inspirations to me. I also learnt that I loved to paint animals in a super realistic way, but making sure to also add my own personal style so that it would always be different to those who painted images of the same subjects.

Focus: Where do you get inspirations for your work? 

Sami: I think it is pretty obvious that I get my inspiration from the animals themselves. I just get to look out into nature and find the weirdest, strangest and most downright disturbing creatures that you sometimes don’t even think are real. I get to use them as my inspiration to then create stories or share their own stories about why they look the way they do, where they live, what they eat, their conservation status and more. I think that is the best kind of inspiration because I get to share the stories of the voiceless.

Focus: Your artworks look incredibly detailed. How long would they normally take to do and what tools do you use to create your works? 

Sami: It takes me around 1 to 3 days to complete an A3 painting. For the artworks that take just 1 day, they usually are the more simple creatures that don’t have too many details, few colours and easy textures (like the smooth blobfish for example). But something that might take me 3 days would be a bird that has lots of feathers, lots of small wrinkles or scratchy textures on their beaks (the marabou stork for example). So there is quite a big difference when it comes to the distinctive kinds of animals, so I always have to make sure that I factor that in when I am looking to create a timeline or schedule for my books.

I use watercolours and it can certainly be a painful medium to learn because you can’t make mistakes and go back to fix them. It is very unforgiving. But it is wonderful when you can make it work and at the end of the day it is what works best for me and the medium I have chosen to use for my book illustrations.

Focus: What projects are you currently working on? 

Sami: Well I’m not working on anything at the moment… because I have just finished it! My new book comes out this September and is all about deep-sea creatures, ocean zones and evolution, I am really excited to share it. But I won’t go into detail yet, I will save that for the kids who come along to the workshops.

What I can say is that it is going to be a lot of fun because I get to talk to the animals themselves and hear about their stories when it comes to looking strange and understanding how they might have come to be the way they are.

Focus: Anything else that you would like to add?

Sami: Yes, of course! There are many, many things but I am going to keep it to just one. Did you know that there is a mind controlling parasite that lives in the eye of a snail, controls its brain and tells it to go up high so that it can be eaten by a bird?
No? Okay… well I will explain during the workshop. See you then! 

Limited tickets are available for K-2 session. To book your place: https://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Upcoming-Events-Activities/Illustration-Workshop-with-Sami-Bayly-K-2

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