By Ritika Jain
We had the opportunity to interact with Australian artist Leigh Hobbs, creator of much loved characters Old Tom, Mr Chicken, Horrible Harriet, Fiona the Pig and Mr Badger. He was awarded the Australian Children’s Laureate 2016/17. He has travelled the world, interacting with kids and teaching them about creating their own characters and letting their imagination loose. He has been received warmly wherever he’s been and it was no exception in India.
What was your visit to India like?
I enjoyed my short visit to India very much. Especially meeting children at Bookaroo and my school visits. They were particularly enthusiastic and eager to learn new things. And they appeared to love Mr Chicken and Old Tom!
What inspires you to draw for kids? And why are the drawings so horribly naughty?
I’m inspired to create books for kids as they’re so open to adventure and fun. My characters are naughty but not really horrible. They have a good heart, at least I hope they do. Even Horrible Harriet is ‘silly’ horrible rather than evil horrible. And I write the Old Tom books as if he is a naughty seven-year-old boy rather than a feral cat. In fact, I never mention the word ‘cat’ in the books.
Will Old Tom or Mr Chicken be visiting India any time?
I have a feeling that Mr Chicken may be visiting India. He wants to move into the Taj Mahal, I believe. Well, according to some drawings sent to me in Australia from an Indian boy.
What else do you love besides storytelling?
I love art and architecture and classical music. So, I read about history and listen to music a lot. But I don’t have much spare time as I am working on my artwork constantly.
What were you like when you were a child?
As a child, I was very sensitive and a bit shy. I was terribly thin and self-conscious about that. I was no good at sports or maths but good at art so that helped me to feel confident in another way. I must say that I did laugh a lot. I found many things funny. I ‘lived in my head’ a lot. My imagination was always fired up and full of ideas and dreams.
Any words of encouragement or advice for the younglings who like to draw and make up stories? Any message for their parents?
For kids that like to draw or write, I suggest that parents get them a good quality sketch book/writing book. This should be like a private diary that the kids can write and draw in—to their hearts content—free from the pressure of judgement or assessment. For would-be authors, write about anything. For would-be artists, sketch and scribble as much as possible. Put all your ideas on paper and don’t worry about ‘mistakes’. Keep going! We must not judge anyone’s work. We are all different and it’s important for writers and artists to find their own voice.
What’s your favourite catchphrase or expression?
I tell my students to be bold and take risks with their work.
Is there merchandise based on your characters?
There is already merchandise for two of my characters. There’s a Mr Chicken toy and a Horrible Harriet toy… both are very cute!
How do you stay humble despite the recognition and awards?
I’ve always been only too aware of my limitations and the flaws in my work and so, even though it’s lovely to have some recognition, what drives me on is the desire to improve and develop the skills that I have.
(See more on http://leighhobbs.com)