Dame Lynley Dodd: Ideas a Plenty
I’m sitting on the floor with Lynley Dodd in her Tauranga home surrounded by her illustrations and picture books. As we talk, her youthful spirit shines strong. I am amazed and excited as I learn how she views the world with such wonder. Things that would pass many of us by, quite simply fascinate her. She sees colour, expression and humour in animals and everyday chaos that she then re-creates onto paper. Yet she doesn’t identify as an artist. Dodd sees herself as a writer and illustrator.
And what an accomplished writer and illustrator she is. Since 1975, when Dodd won the prestigious Esther Glen award for My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes (1973) in collaboration with author Eve Sutton, we’ve been fortunate enough to glimpse this magical mind through an outstanding succession of her picture books. The first book Dodd solely wrote and illustrated was The Nickle Nackle Tree (1976) which went on to win the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book in 2006, and has never been out of print. 1981 saw Dodd win the New Zealand Book Award for her illustrations in Clarice England’s Druscilla (1980).
Picture book character Hairy Maclary has become ‘World Famous in New Zealand’. And globally, where Dodd’s work has sold over two million copies worldwide. At last count, four of Dodd’s books had won the New Zealand Picture Book of the Year Award. She received the Margaret Mahy Award in 1999 and in 2002 was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to children's literature; becoming a Dame in 2009.
Growing up in 1940s Rotorua, Dodd absorbed ‘like a sponge’ all the illustrations in books she read. “I was always aware of the illustrations and studied them as much as the text,” says Dodd. A childhood friend once told her, “Being observant is a masculine trait”. Dodd disagreed and didn’t let any such thought stop her from filling a book with her observations.
She has what every writer or artist should always have to hand, an ‘ideas book’. Hers is truly something wonderful and instantly inspiring; showing the dedication Dodd has to her work. I viewed an awesome collection of magazine and newspaper cuttings, sketches of animals, thoughts she has jotted down, and lists of favourite and fun words. Dodd’s ideas book is so jam-packed that it’s held together with a rubber band; and vividly reveals that, for this creative talent, ideas really do come from everywhere.
Looking back over these clippings and random thoughts provokes many a giggle from Dodd, and the laughter quickly becomes contagious as I begin to see things from her point of view. Every magazine picture and pen sketch has a tale behind it. Dodd draws my attention to a cutting that shows an uncomfortable camel crammed into the back of a Ute. This was the inspiration for A Dragon in a Wagon (Mallinson Rendel, 1988). Twenty years on, Dodd still laughs at the picture as she studies the camel’s predicament.
Her sense of humour is something she tries to express in her illustrations. She enjoys adding in ‘those little touches that children look for’. She loves the expressions that she can create on an animal’s face, and the poses into which she can put them.
The wacky animals in The Other Ark (Mallinson Rendel, 2004) were a fun project for Dodd. The original inspiration for this work was a thought from childhood, “How could you get two of every kind of animal on the one boat?” Dodd remembers asking herself after hearing the story of Noah’s Ark. She thought the concept was ‘ridiculous’ and as an adult has created her own version of events.
Of art and drawing, Dodd says, “I have always enjoyed it;” but realising she was good at it came later. “I drew people a lot as a child. I like drawing people [and so] it’s funny that I ended up drawing animals.” As a 10-year-old she fancied herself as a fashion artist, thinking it would be a great job to have. But it was on moving to high school that ‘art school became a possibility’.
Dodd attended Elam School of Art in Auckland, graduating with a major in sculpture, then went on to complete a year at teacher training college.
Whilst she taught art at secondary school level for five years, she found she didn’t get time to produce her own works of art. “You use up all your creative energy during the teaching process,” says Dodd.
After a period of freelance illustrating for children’s books and School Journals, Dodd started writing and illustrating her own picture books with a British publisher in 1976. Then she came to Mallinson Rendel Publishing in the 1980s, and has worked with them with great success for 30 years.
As I listen to Dodd explain how she works as an illustrator, I realise she is forever trying to recreate the images she sees in her mind; tirelessly working to get it just right. “I probably see each new idea as a series of pictures in my head to begin with,” says Dodd.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy (Mallinson Rendel, 1983) was just another sketch and scribbled note from that heavily laden ideas book that when fully realised quickly became a Kiwi hit. Nor did it stop there. The Hairy Maclary series now boasts several foreign language editions, extensive merchandising, a video and Maclary Theatre Productions. And “The ideas just keep coming!” she says.
As long as Lynley Dodd continues to view the world, both by word and by picture, wearing the rose-tinted glasses of youth, then her creative brilliance will carry on amusing and captivating audiences the world over.