Look at my Desk! Narelle Oliver

And now for the wonderfully TIDY desk of Narelle Oliver. Narelle lives in Queensland (Australia) and creates beautifully crafted picture books constructed from collage, or lino cuts and more. Read on and you will see what it takes to craft these gorgeous works and how particular she must be.


I have to admit I was quite shocked when I took this photo just now. I hadn’t realised how cluttered this desk would look, when viewed objectively. This is my main work desk where I draw, write, cut lino, print lino, cut paper for collages, glue collages, make up dummy books, draw up storyboards etc. It’s one of four desk/work areas in my studio – the others are loaded up with computer, printers, scanner, lightbox, and a daggy “science table” with my collection of animal skulls, feathers, birds’ nests, snake skins, interesting shells, stones, fossils, seedpods and curly dry leaves. (yes, it looks like a primary school nature table – which I always adored when I was at primary school – well it was the 60’s)

I’m in the middle of doing the illustrations for a picture book using cutpaper collage – with some photographic elements and some linoprint elements. This means that I spend much time putting on my close-up glasses, then cutting out small shapes from pieces of paper with little nail scissors, putting glue on them, dropping them on the floor, picking them up covered in dog hair, swearing, sticking them onto a picture, realising they are not quite in the right place, trying to peel off the hairy piece of paper, then deciding it looks okay where it is, and then taking a sip of red wine to recover from the stress (only at night time, – in the day time, it’s a cup of tea, I promise). The little pottery cup there is testament to my need for refreshment after cutting and glueing. And why don’t I scan the pieces and assemble on computer, I can hear you asking? (No dog hair and no sticky fingers). Well, I just can’t get the handcrafted look that I want. I simply have to work with physical things and paper. I find no joy in assembling images on a computer screen. I love the feel and texture and various thicknesses of paper – it’s the feel of the paper that motivates and inspires me – and I love holding the pencils and the inky rollers, the smell of glue and paint and I want that to show in my work. Okay, I’m on my soapbox, better go easy on the wine.

Back to the desk you see in the picture, there are lots of cut pieces of paper and photographed objects there. I also have all my pens, paintbrushes, coloured pencils, glues, scissors, tweezers for picking up little bits of paper all about on the desk ready for action. I do have some oddities there too. I like to keep little things around me that interest and inspire me. There are some tiny old woodblocks of Chinese letters used for newspapers, which I bought at the “dirt market” in Beijing. There are some hand-bound empty books – ready for me to fill one day. There are also some metal “stamps” of all manner of furniture and other household objects used by newspapers long ago. My mother was a commercial artist and drew these objects for newspaper ads in the 40’s and 50’s – and she kept the metal templates for these and passed them onto me before she died. They are very special to me – and it’s a kind of printmaking, too, which I like.

Well, better get back to that glue stick.


What a wonderful desk and such a terrific insight into the creative sticky and seomtimes messy world of an illustrator.

Read more about Narelle, her publications and processes at her website here (or http://www.narelleoliver.com/)

Narelle’s latest book
Fox and Fine Feathers (Omnibus/Scholastic, 2009) received an CBCA Honour Book for Picture Book.

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