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In the Studio with Juliana Oakley

last updated 23 February 2023

For this months installment of In the Studio, we caught up with the brilliant Juliana Oakley to talk all about her illustrations for Pocket Treasure, written by Wenda Shurety, published by Affirm Press.

When a new project comes in, it’s like opening a treasure chest. You have absolutely no idea what you’re going to find in there and it’s terribly exciting! Ok, you have some idea, but it’s not until you really start digging in that you realize just how interesting it’s going to be.

And so, it starts with research. I know many artists are ready with their pencils and paper to start sketching their ideas out the minute they open the manuscript but for me, before I get to that stage, I have to go through a sort of ‘brewing’ process. This is when I spend hours on the internet, collecting all sorts of information, references, looking through endless books for inspiration, and slowly some images begin to form in my mind, very fleeting at first, and only then I am ready to catch them.


It was no different with the Pocket Treasure. Who is Allira, what does she look like, what would she wear, what colour would suit her?

Allira is a native Australian and I wanted to be able to have that connection throughout the whole book. Australian nature is incredible and it became an inspiration for Allira’s dress pattern.


I love yellow. Allira is a happy little girl, living in sunny Australia, so it was an easy choice for the colour of her dress.

When I look at the colour palette for a project, I often pick one main colour that I know I want to use and I build the rest of the palette around it.


I usually do all my sketches digitally. I love that I can draw and erase again and again and again. I feel that it saves me from a lot of the frustration of doing it on paper.


But then, there are moments when I just can’t get it quite right, then paper comes out to help! This is the area I would really like to improve. I do have sketchbooks, with very sparse and erratic drawings in them, but I would love to make an everyday habit of drawing.

I don’t do thumbnails. I was quite happy to read that I am not the only one. I always feel like I need to draw a spread at full scale just to understand if it will work. I guess, just like for everyone, sometimes you can get it right almost straight away and sometimes you will draw many versions of the same spread before you stumble upon the right one.

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The next illustration is an example of when the very first idea works.


But with the next one I spent some time trying to find a good layout. And I am happy that I was able to add images of native Australian plants throughout the book.


I love illustrations that have beautiful textures and layers, but I also love illustrations consisting of bold blocks of colours, so it is an eternal struggle for me to find the balance between the two.

I really appreciate being able to work with the design team, for their eye for the details and the ability to push me in the right direction. And that was exactly the case when we were working on this book cover.


I am very happy with how it looks!

It was such a pleasure to work on the Pocket Treasure. Being a mum myself I found the story very easy to relate to. Hopefully it will appeal to many kids and parents out there!


To work with Juliana, get in contact here.

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