We can all sometimes get so caught up in work and routine that we forget to appreciate the beautiful world we live in, and writers – illustrators are just as prone as anybody to forget. Sometimes we need someone to prod us into seeing things differently and in my case it was my wonderful wife, Gillian, who prised me out of my studio into the open air of the countryside and, eventually, for farmer McPhee, it was his animals.
This was an unusual book in that the roles of the writer and illustrator are back to front. Here, I came up with the storyline and roughed out the drawingsbeforeI approached my friend Margaret Mahy, to ask her if she would write the text. I had always wanted to do a picture book with Margaret and I was delighted when she shared my enthusiasm for the idea and agreed to help.
With Margaret writing in her inimitable way I was able to concentrate on the drawings and particularly the die-cuts and foldouts I wanted to complement the inward-looking, outward-looking theme of the book. I spent quite some time working through roughs and making paper models to get Farmer McPhee to walk through his die-cut cover and endpapers into his story.
In developing the illustrations I began with tonal compositions in brown then worked them through to colour.