Dub Leffler is an illustrator, writer, animator and mixed media artist, working in the arts through books, film, television, muralism and art education. He has taught and workshopped illustration in Australia, Scotland, Indonesia and the United States. He is a prominent children’s book illustrator and author, collaborating with Sally Morgan, Banksy, Coral Vass and others, and is known for his soft realistic portraits and emotional landscapes. He is descended from the Bigambul and Mandandanji people of southwest Queensland as well as being of French, Syrian and Irish heritage. He lives with his daughter and family of chickens on the Central Coast of New South Wales in Darkinjung country. His award-winning bestseller picture book Once There Was A Boy (2011) received international recognition, was acquired by the Library of Congress and was featured several times at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. More recently, Leffler illustrated Sorry Day (2018), written by Coral Vass, which won the 2019 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Black Cockatoo (2018), which he illustrated, was also an Honour Book that year. At last count, Dub has created 25 books.
When I first read a story, I try to sum the whole thing into one picture – the king image. It’s the culmination and summary of the story. That image dictates what the whole book looks like and it becomes a benchmark for the colors and the media and the style. And I think of the landscape as a character. They have to have a life and an energy. When I’m out bush and things are still, they aren’t still - I love getting lost in landscapes.
I’m inspired by Henri Rousseau; his paintings are really illustrations that can be taken so many ways and his landscapes have really informed my work. The landscape is both disappearing and inviting you closer and bringing you in. I’m also a big fan of Mark Rothko; that openness visually and also metaphorically. It helps me a lot with leading people into the book and bringing people back out, taking them into and out of the journey of the book.
All around where I live in New South Wales are these old Aboriginal rock carvings, and you can see that there’s intent, that there’s a massive story there, that it’s a form of proto-writing. I’m proud that we’ve been telling stories with pictures for a long time and imbuing them with a lot of meaning. I like being a part of that tradition. You can say so much with an image. I only create half the picture: the other half is finished by the reader. They will take something from it but they’ll also give it something, they’ll give it meaning, and that meaning will be different from the next person. I love that people can give it their own story, there’s an openness there. The written word is more black and white, it’s more laid out for you. Images give a lot more freedom.
To hear more about my artistic process and inspirations, watch the Artist Talk Video below.
My name is Dub Leffler. I’m a Bigambul and Mandandanji Aboriginal man, and I think of myself as a storyteller and illustration of books as my medium. The way I grew up was white. I was adopted by a white family but I always knew I had Aboriginal heritage. When I was 25 I started tracking down my birth family and discovered that there was a whole file about me. It said, “the baby is a most attractive child and darkish, but not markedly Aboriginal-looking in appearance.” It was this clinical diagnosis about how Aboriginal I don’t look. This identity, of being both black and white, it’s my passport. I sometimes feel like I’m an undercover brother because I can speak from both sides – from white and black - and that’s a privilege, that’s a powerful thing.
When I’m working on an Aboriginal character, it’s important to me that they’re successful and they’re strong. And when they’re put into situations, that they don’t give up. It’s good for fair kids to see that. It gives them a sense of power. I like to show kids what they can be… you can’t be what you can’t see! When they see themselves somewhere, it opens up their world. They can see a path forward. Because other people often try to define you, I want to combat that and show kids that there is a choice. There’s self-ownership and self-determination there. That’s why it’s important for Aboriginal people to illustrate other Aboriginal people, for us to dictate who we are rather than others doing that to us.