Open Spaces Picture Book Retreat

The Open Spaces picture book creators’ retreat run by the Australian Society of Authors was fantastic! We spent a fun packed and inspiration filled four days learning, sharing, collaborating, renewing old acquaintances and forming new ones.

Here are just a few of my impressions.

What better way to start a retreat and to break the ice but with food! In fact food seemed to be rather a dominant feature throughout our stay. Creating and thinking and using one’s imagination is hard work.

Our work on display

Sharing and introducing ourselves to the group

Micador Art Supplies showed us some of their yummy equipment. It was like being in a lolly shop.

And now a chance to try them out.

Drinks and the launch of ‘I Wish There Were Dinosaurs’ written by Amanda Niland and illustrated by Christina Booth. Libby Gleeson did the honours.

Then over dinner, Tohby Riddle showed us the amazing process he went through in illustrating and constructing images for his beautiful picture book, ‘Unforgotten’.

Here are Tohby’s thoughts on art

The next day we went to see the wonderful Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. This is a 4 km walk from Bondi to Bronte with sculptures the entire length of the way along the rugged coastline. Definitely a must if visiting Sydney.

But first I couldn’t resist taking a photo of what I imagine to be one of the loveliest swimming pools in the world.

This cormorant was a living sculpture, preening and drying his wings. Then he slowly turned as if he knew he was on display. It was a beautiful dance to the sea.

This cemetery was not part of the exhibition but I loved how the graves were perched on the hillside with a million dollar view over the ocean. Great fengshui!

In this workshop conducted by Bruce Whatley we learnt how drawing with the non-dominant hand brought out an emotional depth and lyrical line in our work.

This exercise was particularly interesting. Bruce gave us a photo of a face and with a pencil in each hand we had to draw with both hands at the same time. I think my line work and expression on the left is so much better than what I did with my right dominant hand.

We visited Brett Whiteley’s studio. I’ve always loved his work but seeing the paintings in a place where he actually created them was marvellous. And the documentary filmed in the studio shortly before he died adds another dimension again. There is his music collection and special quotes written directly onto the brickwork. We were’t allowed to take photos but here is one taken outside the studio in Raper Street with Ann James and Janeen Brian.

After the studio visit we had a picnic in Kirribilli in the beautiful park created by Wendy Whitely.

Wendy Whitely came strolling along the path and spoke to us about her quest to keep the park alive. A group of volunteers were working that day.
Wendy is sitting under the umbrella having a picnic herself.

Susanne Gervay dropped into the Hughenden. It was lovely to catch up with her and hear all her exciting book news.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Laurine Croasdale who organised the whole event. Even though she was jetlagged she put on an amazing show! It ran so smoothly. Here Laurine is with Ann James, who is always so generous in sharing her expertise on illustration and picture books.

A retreat is a place where like minded people can share their thoughts and ideas in a safe and nurturing environment. Open Spaces certainly achieved that and more.

4 thoughts on “Open Spaces Picture Book Retreat

  1. Hi Gabby,
    Justine and I are both here at Books Illustrated reading your great illustrated account of our retreat together.
    It was inspirational – Thanks for sharing this with your blog visitors.
    xx Ann & Justine

  2. Hi Gabrielle,
    It was interesting reading your comments about the Open Spaces Retreat as I had written very similar comments on my blog at

    I have been inspired since returning home to send out some mss and to keep writing!
    It was lovely meeting you and all of the other participants.

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