Animator-turned-illustrator, Aleck Morton, shares his creative process for crafting his first picture book, Allen the Alien.

Allen the Alien is your first picture book. What was it about children’s book illustration that interested you?

I’ve drawn for my whole life and I think to be able to put my characters into a book feels like the ultimate goal for them. Almost all of my favourite illustrators are children’s book illustrators so I’ve always hoped I’d be able to follow in their footsteps and have a book of my own.

What did you enjoy about illustrating Allen the Alien?

From the very first character designs I was hooked and to be able to create a whole world for the two of them was awesome. I’d done single illustrations and scenes in my work before but not this amount for one story so it was a mammoth task but every turn was a learning experience and super fun.

What did you find challenging or was there anything that surprised you?

I think understanding the flow of a reading book and how a page turn can impact the reader was really something that I tried to keep in my mind at all times. There were ideas I had for some scenes but if they didn’t connect with a scenario or composition from the previous or next page then they had to change, so it was this evolving jigsaw piece. What I liked about the process was that it was always about moving the story forward and you were constantly thinking about where each illustration could take you so it did feel like editing film in a way, so different but so familiar at the same time.

Did you have a specific process that you followed? Can you give us some insights?

For the illustration process I always use a black Bic biro, nothing fancy just the cheapest version! All my sketches are done with that then scanned in and built up with Photoshop. I might do lots of different body parts and expressions but normally its based on the one ‘perfect’ sketch of the character, I'm really bad at drawing with Photoshop so its always got to be drawn in biro and scanned. I’ll then build up textures and colour using my library of photos which is just a load of plastic, fabric, paint, rust and skin textures. I've scared many people who’ve watched me build a character out of lots of skin, a work-in-progress looks very freaky!

For the book build I started out by laying out the text on a 32 page storyboard template to see how the whole book would look like. This is really helpful to see how the words might sit on the page and which pages would work as a double page spread. It gives a great early idea of rhythm and pace. Then I'll work with a storyboard template and sketch out several ideas for each page picking out my favourite ones to put into a 32 page book template with the text underneath. Once that has a tick of approval its off to flesh out the pages into line drawings before colouring and texturing. Super simple right?

Is there anything you would change about this process in the future?

The way I illustrate can be very painstaking and slow so it would be nice to work out a quicker way of creating these characters but whether that would ruin the look is the big question. So, for the moment, I’ll stick with the weird textures and lots of skin and paint that brings them to life!

What was it like to collaborate with author, Stephanie Ward, on this book?

I haven’t actually met Stephanie but it was a pleasure to be asked to illustrate for her and there was so much life in the story it would’ve been hard not to come up with ideas straight away.

How has your career as a screen editor and animator on Australian TV influenced your work as an illustrator?

I actually do most of most sketches and doodles whilst I'm thinking on edit jobs (or meetings, shhh don't tell the boss!) so in a way that ‘fulltime job’ has given me license to be free to come up with ideas. It has also given me an eye for composition that might be slightly different than if I’d studied illustration, a lot of the time I almost create a character as if they could animate or think of how it could transition to the next page. I feel like I'm always learning from the people I work with and love watching animators work because animators are the masters of the transition and if I can steal a bit of their magic I will!

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Illustration-wise I’ll be part of an exhibition and book with Melbourne art legend MP Fikaris in Aug ’24 and trying to get my first written picture book ready for publisher's eyes. My feature documentary directorial debut is looking for completion funding so hopefully ill be showing that to the world next year too which is very exciting. I hope the future is as varied as it has been recently and I look forward to making it up as I go along!