Bendigo Writers Council workshop

Scenes from the October Writers Explore

by Scott Vandervalk

Vibrant is the best word to use when describing Chris Kennett’s illustrations. But not only are his characters vibrant in colour, they simply lift off the page. The Bendigonian artist has been on my radar for a few years now, starting with Alpha Monsters, which he also wrote. I read this book years ago to my son, Will, on one of our regular library trips. And then more recently, as Will and I took turns reading the Pixel Raiders books to each other (illustrated by Chris and written by Bajo and Hex of Good Game fame).

I took Will along to the Bendigo Writers Council, knowing I always find great to listen to, but hoping too that Will could get a little something out of it (or at the least, a signed Pixel Raiders book).

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Chris Kennett took us through a show-and-tell, of where he started his career, and where he’s gone since. Chris is now a digital artist and draws exclusively in Photoshop (his comfort zone), but once upon a time he drew comic strips as a 16-year-old. In his days post-high school, he worked in a council office in the UK as a photocopier. Some time later he found himself in Australia, self-employed and drawing caricatures, all the while developing his Flash skills, before eventually scoring a gig as a freelancer making e-card animations. 

Chris has put the hard work in, and sent showreels and illustrated folios out to various companies, and this work paid off. He’s been approached by studios to work in animation and character design, even working on some animated Garfield episodes. During all this freelance work, he tinkered with writing his own books, and Alpha Monsters was born (Scholastic, 2011), an entertaining alphabet book with cartoon monster illustrations.

Two of Chris’ more recent significant projects include being lead character designer for The Day My Butt Went Psycho, a cartoon series based on the Andy Griffith book of the same name (‘A dream job!’ Chris exclaimed), and more recently, Chris was approached by Random House to illustrate the Star Wars Little Golden Books.

Each of his experiences was a learning curve in style or technique. Particularly with the Star Wars books, Chris had to learn to not be as precious with his illustrations, being flexible enough to work with decisions from on high.

Chris is a great speaker and you can see it was his passion and desire that drove him onwards

and kept him aloft in the industry. He’s built a solid portfolio of work over the years, and working from home, it’s his discipline and ritual (and flexibility) that keeps him working and managing deadlines.

Will was focused and attentive throughout the entire session, and was keen not only to get his book signed, but to ask Chris a question or two about his work. Will would have been about 5-years-old when we first read Alpha Monsters, and now he’s 10-years-old, and he asked if we could get the book to read again as Chris showed off some of the monsters within.

Before we finished for the night, Chris used his random book title generator to inspire the room to write about the Super Fairy Whale Who Forgot Everything to see what sort of story, or synopsis, or even poetry could be put together on the spot.

I haven’t been able to attend as many of this years’ BWC speaker sessions as I’d like, but Chris Kennett was one of the names easily able to draw me away from home. He’s had such an interesting and varied career and tells his own story in a compelling way.

(Just as a postscript to this, Will attended the gaming convention PAX the weekend just gone by and managed to get Bajo and Hex to sign the same Pixel Raiders book that Chris Kennett did!)

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Many thanks to Bendigo Writer's Council and Scott Vandervalk for allowing me to reproduce this excerpt from their November Newsletter. I had great fun talking with this enthusiastic and talented bunch. If you live in the Bendigo region and you'd like to find out more about the BWC then you can find out more about them and their upcoming events here 

Thanks for stopping by

Chris K