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Making the Ordinary, Extraordinary!

Redefining Australiana – with Antonia Pesenti

Every month we catch up with one of the talented creatives behind the beautiful products that we stock at Puggle Post. This is a chance to really get to know our creatives and find out how and why their designs came to life.

And this month we feature Antonia Pesenti (the one with the big grin in the photo!), architect, designer and illustrator of the children’s books Alphabetical Sydney and Numerical Street. What may at first seem to be “ordinary” representations of life in Sydney and Australia, Antonia’s illustrations are truly unique, with an uncanny ability to stir up childhood memories. Everyday life becomes quite extraordinary and that’s the magic of these publications. Both books are proving to be a staple on many children’s shelves, not to mention fantastic mementos for tourists who just can’t get enough of Sydney and its surrounds.

Numerical Street Bell and Pesenti
Hillary Bell and Antonia Pesenti (author and illustrator of two popular children’s books)
Where did you grow up?
After arriving in Australia aged 3 from France, I grew up between suburban Sydney and the south coast. Alphabetical Sydney is definitely a reflection of parts of my childhood; bindis, icy poles, Mr Whippy etc.
 
When you lived aboard, what did you miss most about Australia?
I lived in Paris for 8 years and missed a lot about Australia. The weather! And then the birds. Every time I came back to visit I couldn’t believe the beautiful coloured parrots and lorikeets that squawk in Sydney’s trees. Our books always have birds in them, from the Ibis to the Myna Bird.
 
What do you love illustrating that’s typically Australian?
I love to try and capture the feel of a place,rather than people. I love the city, and the beauty of the ordinary – where I find my inspiration. I love that Hilary (who is a playwright) and I connect about this…. I think it’s in part because we both lived overseas for so long that we are used to being strangers in a city, looking closely at what surrounds us.
 
When illustrating Alphabetical Sydney, did you find yourself taking an adventure around Sydney to places you may not have even been to?
Probably more re-visiting places I knew. I went to about 100 delicatessen/milk bars, many of which have closed since. I always took my kids with me and felt obliged to buy something each time. Every time I took out my camera the poor shopkeepers thought I was some kind of health inspector.
 
In your opinion, what is one of Sydney’s best kept secrets?
There are so many. I love Ballast Point Park, Redleaf pool, all our beautiful ocean pools.
 
What’s your favourite illustrative spread in Numerical Street?
I love the colours and feel of the Keys Cut spread, number 12. These shops are small but always so jammed. In this case, with 12 of everything (shoes, padlocks, trophies, and medals).
 
There’s a real sense of multi-cultural Australia in Numerical Street – where do you think this stems from?
Hilary and I were really trying to capture the feel of ordinary Australian shopping street, the ones we walk down every day, almost without seeing them anymore. We visited so many of these streets and their shops, the 12 shops of Numerical Street were inspired by cake shops in the Blue mountains, upholsterers in Hurlstone Park, a hairdresser in Croydon, and a butcher in Moruya. Sadly our lively streets are disappearing too, many of the shops we visited and photographed during the 2 years we worked on the book have since closed.
You’ve attended various writers festivals and had your work exhibited but you still seem very involved at grass-roots level with children – visiting schools and being involved with Book Week. Why is this so important to you?
Kids are our audiences, and they have a lot to say, especially about place. They are much better at being in the moment than we are, they are always looking closely at what is around them. They know what kookaburra feathers look like, and how splotchy the tablecloth is after YumCha. And they really love books that engage with their observations.

We’d love to see more Australian based picture books. Do you have plans for more books or exciting projects you can tell us about?

Hilary and I have just started working on a new book, which feels very Australian. Think chlorine and the smell of sausage rolls. I have my first solo book coming out this year too, very bright and graphic which is for younger kids.
 
And finally, what does Modern Australiana mean to you?
I think it means capturing the unique qualities of Australia, without resorting to cliches. Looking beyond the tourist attractions to the quiet poetry of an Australian childhood.

 

Antonia Pesenti and family - Numerical Street Illustrator
Thank you Antonia Pesenti for sharing your story and providing the photos x
Click here to see all our Antonia Pesenti products
Alphabetical Sydney Numerical Street books

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