Last month, we heard from Charles Massy, author of The Last Dragon, about the Monaro grassland earless dragon. This time, the book's illustrator, Mandy Foot, tells us about how she came to work on this book, and shares some of her creative process.

When I received a phone call asking if I would be interested in illustrating the National Library’s new book about a dragon, my immediate thoughts were… awesome, yes! Fire breathing, big wings, flared nostrils, ancient scales, wait… what? It’s a real dragon! Tiny, babies can fit on a 50 cent piece and it takes shelter in wolf spider burrows! Plus, it needs to have a contemporary art feel.  

Wow! Absolutely… even more so. I jumped at the offer to create this artwork, as it gave me a licence to explore artistically and I was looking for the next challenge. I also believed in the importance of this story; to bring awareness to the plight of a species not many people have heard of.  

Every book I take on begins with research and the more hands-on the better, as it allows me to discover the story in my mind. I could have simply used the internet to find reference photos, but I couldn’t find any of the dragon’s eggs. What I did discover was an article, stating that the University of Canberra had a breeding colony and I tracked down Professor Stephen Sarre from the university. He invited me to Canberra to see the dragons in person and visit their natural habitat. With the dragons being so small, this is exactly what I needed in order to represent their environment correctly as well as the dragons themselves. Whilst there, I also met Professor Will Osborne. Both he and Professor Sarre are very passionate about the survival of this little dragon and in turn were so generous in sharing their knowledge. To be able to see these endangered dragons in person and take all the reference photos I needed was simply magic and crucial to the development of the images. I also showed Will and Stephen my initial drawings to make sure, from a scientific point of view, that they were happy with how I was planning to represent them.

Photo of a Monaro Grassland Earless Dragon
The Monaro earless grassland dragon.

Research done, I needed to finetune the creative process. I had a vision that it needed to be very textural due to the nature of the habitat and the little dragons themselves. This led me to an intensive two-day workshop in textures and mark making with an exceptional contemporary artist, Susan Bowers. Gosh, did we have some fun! Inks, acrylics, graphite—mixing all kinds of mediums to find the best way to represent the landscape, the rocks and, in particular, little Timpo himself. I am so grateful to Susan for sharing her knowledge with me, as I am grateful to the professors. Once home, I expanded upon these techniques, to find my own style for this story. 

Ultimately, all the artwork was created on 4 large sheets of architectural film. The surface of the film allowed me to move the inks around as they sat on top (mind you, it took two days to dry). But it was very exciting to manipulate and see what surprises were offered when the combination of acrylic ink and normal ink interacted. It also allowed me to draw over the top, once dry, adding in details with chalk pastel and graphite pencil. The dragons, spiders and landscapes were all painted separately. They were then scanned (which in itself was a challenge as the film is milky in colour) and the final artwork combined digitally.

Photos and sketches of Monaro Grassland Earless Dragons
Artwork in progress, with reference photos.

I’m so thrilled with how this little book has turned out, thankful to the National Library for the opportunity and grateful to the author, Charles Massy, for trusting me with his words. May there always be dragons!

Mandy Foot is an award winning, best-selling, children’s book author and illustrator with more than 300,000 books sold throughout Australia and New Zealand. She is an Ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia, Role Model for Books in Homes and the Illustrator Co-ordinator for the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators Society (SCBWI) South Australian branch.

The Last Dragon, written by Charles Massy and illustrated by Mandy Foot, is available from the NLA Bookshop.