An interview with Ned Barraud, author and illustrator of a number of books for children about New Zealand native species and the environment. Barraud has two new books this year, both about native birds and animals.
Missbeecrafty: What happened to the moa is a fascinating book, I really enjoyed learning more about the moa from reading it. What sparked your interest in moa?
The idea occurred to me when those fossilized moa footprints were discovered in the riverbed down South. I’ve been drawing moa and fascinated by the subject for ages and I thought there really needs to be a decent kids book about these magnificent extinct birds!
What is your favourite medium for creating these wonderful illustrations?
I always love sketching. I use pencils and black ink pens for my drawing, sometimes coloured pencils.
Can you tell me more about your illustration process?
My books always start with a rough sketch which I work up into a more refined composition. I then scan the drawing into my computer and use photoshop for the colouring process. I have a fantastic monitor which allows me to draw onto the screen, it feels very intuitive and natural to me now. It's very much like traditional painting except on the computer.
Did you ever think of working as a marine biologist, or in some other sort of scientific field?
No I didn’t. I’m no expert in the subjects that I choose to write and illustrate. That’s why I need to get help with fact checking and to make sure all my research is accurate and up to date. For example, with the Moa book, I managed to get Professor Trevor Worthy, a leading expert in all things Moa. Help from scientists is vital in making my books legitimate.
What lead you to illustrating children’s books?
It’s been a life-long passion. I vividly remember children’s books from my childhood, they have stuck with me into adulthood and helped form who I have become. I love to think that my books affect kids in the same way.
Where is it? is a beautiful book which I’m sure will appeal to children who enjoy search and find style books, as well as anyone who’s interested in New Zealand wildlife. Do you enjoy finding Wally?
Yes! It’s like a Where’s Wally for the natural world. The search and find books have great appeal and I knew it would be a successful concept if applied to NZ native creatures and environments. The trick was to not have the composition too crammed and unnatural looking, but still enough details to make it interesting for kids.
Your illustrations are wonderfully detailed, and accurate. What sort of research do you do? Do you have illustration “fact checkers”?
I do make sure my reference images for the illustrations are correct. For my Insect book - NZ Backyard Beasts - I took heaps for photos to help with the illustrations. For the Moa book I couldn’t do this! I had to look at pictures of moa skeletons, or go to Te Papa, to get a good idea of how they would have looked. There was a bit of artistic licence with the feather colouring. With many species no one really knows how they looked!.
I’ve heard that you enjoy creating fantastic creatures. Which do you prefer, illustrating real or imaginary creatures?
Both. It’s fun sometimes to let your imagination run wild and come up with some crazy creatures. A T-rex that looks like a giant chicken maybe? It’s good to not always be concerned if everything is correct and looking anatomically spot on! We live in a universe which is more than likely teeming with life forms on countless planets...what do they look like?
What kind of fantastic creature would you like to have as a pet?
I’ve just done a book about the ice age. Some of the creatures that lived back then were so strange, you couldn’t make them up! The giant sloth called megatherium would make quite an exciting pet...
Do you have any real pets you can tell us about?
When I was a kid I had lots of different birds in an aviary. I love parrots with all their cheeky character. But to be honest I’m done with owning pets! At the moment we have an old dog, a pond with goldfish, an aquarium inside and chickens living in the backyard...it’s enough!
I understand you worked for Weta Digital for some time. Which movie or show was your favourite to work on?
Tintin was really fun and I really enjoyed watching the film. My job was to paint 3D models on the computer. On Tintin I worked on loads of old vintage cars and props from the 1920s.
I hear you’re now combining being an at home dad with your writing and illustration. What is an average day like for you?
I have 2 teenagers, Rory 16 and Leila 14, who are fairly independent now. My 10 year old Alfie needs a bit more help in the morning. Once they are at school, I crack into my work and I’m at it until about 1pm. Then it’s housework, shopping, cooking etc. If I get 3-4 hours working on my books I’m happy.
I’ve heard you had a boat named Scuffy, and wondered if the boat is named after the tugboat of Scuffy the Tugboat fame? That was one of my childhood favourites.
Yes, Scuffy was built by my dad. It’s also the boat in the classic kiwi kids book ‘Herbert The Sea Dog’ by Robyn Belton. If you look on the back pages of that book there is a photo of me with my dog Punch, who was Herbert's brother. We had quite a few adventures in Scuffy!
Can you tell us a bit about your adventures on the boat?
The best adventure was a journey through Abel Tasman National Park. This was back in the 80s when the place wasn’t so hopping with tourists. One time we slept out on the beach and woke up to little blue penguins jumping over us! Also we once had a pod of pilot whales beside the boat, which was pretty unforgettable.
What were your favourite books as a child?
I wish I was better at remembering names. Here are a few -
Where The Wild Things Are (and all things Sendak)
The Duck In The Gun (Joy Cowley and Robyn Belton)
The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
Thidwick The Big Hearted Moose (and all things Suess)
As a little boy I loved Pooh Bear. I was a big Bill Peet fan and of course Tintin, Asterix. I also loved Calvin and Hobbes... as does my 10 year old now!
What do you enjoy reading now?
I’ve been reading Lord Of The Rings out loud to Alfie. It’s taking us a very long time now, it can be hard work sometimes! We had to have a break and read a light hearted David Walliams book ‘Bad Dad’ .
I really enjoyed reading your earlier book Watch out for the Weka. Your illustrations of Alf leaping from the water to chase after the cheeky weka are sure to cause plenty of giggles. To finish off, I wondered if you have any embarrassing moments you’d be willing to share?
Well... along a similar line. I was once night swimming with my brother (skinny dipping) and we got pulled along by a current and ended up very far away from our pile of clothes. We ended up having to run back in the nude for miles down the main road with cars peeping at us to find our clothes!
- More titles by Ned Barraud
- Our kids' pages about New Zealand birds and animals
- Ned Barraud's website, Facebook page, and Instagram