Storybook illustrator Gavin Bishop to receive honorary doctorate

Author and illustrator Gavin Bishop in his studio. Bishop will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of ...
John Kirk-Anderson

Author and illustrator Gavin Bishop in his studio. Bishop will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Canterbury at its December 14 graduation ceremony.

The style of art on which Gavin Bishop has built his career was considered low-brow when he was a student in the 1960s.

Now, after publishing 70 books, his delicate ink and water colour illustrations have earned him an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Canterbury.

A three-time recipient of the NZ Children's Book of the Year award and a recent addition to the New Year honours list, Bishop is no stranger to success.

He said this accolade was yet another vindication of the work of children's book authors.

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"I'm a bit nervous about the whole thing, it seems a bit big for me. When you're a writer for children you don't think in these terms."

Illustration, he said, can't be separated from storytelling, and his stories – which range from his first picture book Mrs McGinty and the Bizarre Plant​, to his child-friendly exploration of New Zealand's colonisation The House that Jack Built and more autobiographical works like Piano Rock and Teddy One-Eye have been school library staples for many years.

Several have been translated into other languages: Scholastic offered to republish The House that Jack Built in Maori when it realised the book wasn't being printed anymore.

But during his years at the then Ilam School of Fine Arts painting your subject matter made you a "second rate artist," Bishop said.

"Non-representational art was the flavour of the day."

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He became part of a group of artists who stuck to their conventions, drew everything by hand and didn't like to trace or copy.

Everything they made "we had to initiate it ourselves," he said.

Graphic and digital tools play a large role in younger illustrators' work but Bishop, 70, is a traditionalist.

"I really like still having a good piece of watercolour paper and seeing what will happen to the surface.

"I love the kind of terror involved in attacking a piece of paper with paint, when you think I could utterly screw this up."

Some of his family will see him receive his doctorate at UC's education, health and human development graduation ceremony on December 14.

If there was one person he wished would attend, it's his late tutor and long-time Listener illustrator Russell Clark.

"He would get a telegram on a Monday from Wellington asking him to do an illustration that had to be a specific size with two Maori children, and he was really good at coming up with those images," Bishop said.

"He was inspirational."

 

 - Stuff

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