What illustrator Sarah Greig did with the shadows.
They were already well-steeped in the magic of Mahy’s storytelling and – being Christchurch kids – were regular visitors to the Margaret Mahy Playground. “My kids liked my drawings, thank goodness,” says Greig.
So did the judges of the Margaret Mahy Illustration Prize, which earlier this year invited unpublished, New Zealand-based illustrators to reinterpret the late author’s 1971 classic picture book about a witch who asks a young boy to mind her shadow while she goes on holiday. The prize, sponsored by publishers Hachette NZ, is part of a year-long celebration marking the 50th anniversary of another Mahy favourite, A Lion in the Meadow.
Greig says it was a wonderful – and daunting – opportunity to illustrate a much-loved Mahy story. “Then I saw who was judging and thought, ‘This is serious…’” The judging panel included Mahy’s daughter Bridget Mahy, broadcaster and author Stacey Morrison, and award-winning author-illustrator Donovan Bixley, whose books sell across more than 30 countries.
“My starting point was a comment Bridget made that Margaret always looked for the extraordinary amongst the ordinary,” says Greig. “I began looking at the neighbourhood differently, seeking out the cool and quirky things behind the obvious. I then tried to weave little treasures into my illustrations.”
Bixley says Greig’s illustrations captured the playfulness of Mahy’s work – the “bubbly, poetic ridiculousness… and I mean that in the best possible way. First-time illustrators sometimes get preoccupied with making pretty pictures, instead of making the story sing. Mahy would leave a big, wonderful hole in her stories and trust her illustrators to fill it. It’s a tremendous gift, something Sarah clearly understood with her interpretation.”
The prize – $1000 cash, a $500 library of books and the opportunity for the project to be developed into a published picture book – has given Greig, 40, a shot of confidence in her painting and illustrating work. She graduated from the University of Canterbury with a fine-arts degree in 2001, but took off on her OE soon after and a couple of years into her travels, landed a job in Belgium with artisanal shoe brand n.d.c. Made by Hand. “When I started, there were only two employees,” she says, “but I found that I liked designing things.”
She stayed 10 years, returning in 2014 with her partner and their two children. Family life, and a third child, has kept her busy, but she fits in freelance graphic design and sells her original works, prints and cards at the Christchurch Arts Centre and Encraftment markets.
“This competition, though, feels like it could launch stage two of my career – and let me indulge my first love, illustrating and painting.”