ARTIST, AUTHOR AND CAKE-MAKER ROSS MURRAY INTERVIEWED (2021): Muki, Pickles and an upside-down cake

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ARTIST, AUTHOR AND CAKE-MAKER ROSS MURRAY INTERVIEWED (2021): Muki, Pickles and an upside-down cake

Mt Maunganui's Ross Murray is one of Elsewhere's favourite illustrators and artists whose work has reached far beyond these shores.

His clients have included Lonely Planet, NASA, Disney, Rolling Stone Magazine and The Washington Post, and among many at home, Garage Project.

His distinctive graphic work evokes the landscapes and cultural life of Aotearoa New Zealand, his graphic episodic book Rufus Marigold dealt with anxiety issues, and his posters and commercial art evoke a kind of collective Kiwi memory of summer places, takeways and dairies, petrol stations, bungalows and iconography unique to this country.

Ross_Murray_Muki_and_Pickkles_BeatnikPublishing_1100xHe wrote a piece for us about his 10 favourite album cover designs but now we turn attention to a cute but serious and digressive children's book Muki and Pickles which is about friendship and cooperation . . . and includes his illustrated recipe for a peach upside down cake.

Time for a chat . . .


Describe your recent experience of lockdown with your family?
We’re a family of introverts so we’ve had a really nice time. Our kids enjoy home learning and I find it easy working from home. We’ve done plenty of walking and biking and enjoyed the peace and quiet of empty streets.

What was the journey like creating the characters Muki and Pickles? (Is Muki the favourite?) Are they based on anyone/anything in particular?
The characters are a mash-up of the different personalities of my two daughters. Ella is a voracious reader; Millie loves making stuff and going on adventures. Conversely, Ella can be quite outgoing whereas Millie is very introspective. In terms of the physical characters, Ella was really into rabbits at the time. She drew them religiously!Screen_Shot_2021_09_17_at_3.44.09_PM

I took some of her ideas and developed them. Our favourite TV show at the time was Yo Gabba Gabba, and I think this had a visual influence on the character design. The name “Muki” was a mis-spelled version of the word “monkey” that Ella wrote when she was little. And “Pickles” was one of Millie’s many nicknames when she was a baby.

The story of Muki and Pickles; how did this come about? (or were the characters developed beforehand?)

We were on holiday in the Coromandel and going for a lot of bush walks. On the trail were a number of rogue peach trees and the story kind of developed from there. Our family - my wife, especially - are big on foraging. There’s so much food out there that people don’t even notice, let alone eat!

How long did it take to illustrate and write this story? Was it over a long period or done in a short burst?
Screen_Shot_2021_09_17_at_3.44.45_PMI actually started on Muki and Pickles about five years ago! It’s a project I’ve worked on very slowly and intermittently in between other things. Needless to say it’s very exciting to now be able to release it into the wild.

What do you absolutely love about this book?

I love the gentle, meandering pace of it. Also how it’s kind of obsessed with food. Those greedy bunnies are a very accurate reflection of our family.

With your incredible international portfolio of work, what drew you to a niche independent publisher like Beatnik?
Screen_Shot_2021_09_17_at_3.48.18_PMMy first picture book was published in North America only and I liked the idea of making a book that New Zealanders could get their hands on. I’ve admired Beatnik since they started publishing. They’ve got a wonderful diversity to their catalogue which aligns with my approach to making stuff. The fact that Muki and Pickles is a celebration of both food and books made it a perfect fit.

Is it true that you make a mean Upside-Down Peach Cake?

Surprisingly, yes! I’m very good at eating but not so much at baking. Millie and my wife, Kate, are the experts in the kitchen, but our family Upside-Down Peach Cake recipe is so simple that even I can make it.

Do you have any words of encouragement for any budding artists/illustrators/designers starting out?

Draw what you love! Seriously - follow your interests, you never know where they might take you.

To order Muki and Pickles go to the Beatnik website here.

For more on Ross Murray and to see more of his work check out his website where he has prints and other merch for sale.

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