Fiona Levings, 2020 Ian Wilson Memorial Fellowship

The opportunity provided by the 2020 Ian Wilson Memorial Fellowship enabled me to advance work on the illustration of my non-fiction picture book Before the Mountain had a Name. Telling the geological story of Hobart’s Kunanyi/Mt Wellington this book covers 270 million years of evolutionary history. Extensive research into climate, landscape, flora and fauna are required in order to produce illustration spreads that are true to the facts of this incredible earth story.

The time provided by the Fellowship allowed me to organise my work and establish an illustrative process which I was then able to progress throughout my time in Adelaide.  The draft text was story-boarded into page spreads, each of which represented a specific age/era in the history of the mountain.  I was then able to tackle each spread individually, undertaking research to identify (fossil) lifeforms appropriate to each.  Research involved accessing primary scientific sources (books, journal papers as well as museum and field specimens both on and offline).  In addition, the Fellowship allowed me to access palaeontological expertise from several South Australian institutions.  

Research for each geological era was consolidated into a virtual catalogue of known landform, climate, plant and animal lifeforms.  Where possible, lifeforms were captured as sketches including original fossil/skeletal material and reconstructed forms.  This information was then synthesised to construct initial (half-scale) spread designs.  Five geological eras were catalogued and designed across the fellowship period - the Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Oligocene and Pleistocene.  A sixth era – the Cretaceous – was commenced but not completed.  In total, six spread designs were completed along with over 40 pages of sketches representing well over half of the research required for the book.



Whilst in Adelaide I was able to take advantage of contacts made through the May Gibbs Children's Literacy Trust to meet palaeontologists and science writers who are expert in their fields.  I was able to visit the South Australian Museum several times to access its collections and expertise.  On my first visit I met with Dr Jim Gehling to discuss science writing for children; later I met with Reg Nelon and Neville Alley, authors of geological guide books. 

I was very fortunate to make contact with several experts from Flinders University.  I met with Dr Rob Wells to discuss megafauna, Dr Danielle Clode to talk about science writing and publishing and was able to establish email contact with Dr Jim Long to ask (and receive) advice regarding Permian marine life.  I was able to take advantage of the proximity of the University of Adelaide to access papers and books in its collection that were not obtainable online and to use the plant collection in the Adelaide Botanical Gardens to inform sketches of ancient plant forms.  


The Adelaide Writers Festival enabled me to attend several events in the first week of my fellowship featuring authors and scientists Tim Flannery, Ross Garnaut, Heather Critchlow, Nicola Redhouse and Vicki Laveau-Harvie.   Unfortunately, planned meetings with Comics with Friends, designer Greg Horsfeld and dinner with the Echidna’s Writers Group were cancelled during my final week due to the encroaching social restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  


If we’re looking at numbers on pages then the benefits of this Fellowship to the progress of this book are tangible – over half of the research for this highly complex illustration project was able to be completed in the time allowed.  Contacts were established (and are being maintained) with people who are expert in the field of palaeontology.  The book moved from a text with an idea for how it might look to text with some serious science backing up how it will look.  Personally, the true benefits of this fellowship were less tangible.  From working on my own, on a project of my own, I arrived into a world of people who not only understood but actually valued what I was doing.  In this world, spending time researching a book for the benefit of children was a worthy goal.  Validation seems simple but it is such a huge boost to any creator.  Strangers read my text, liked it and encouraged me to keep going.  The illustration of this book is a marathon and there is still a long way to go.  Having completed this Fellowship - and having been met with such fellowship – I feel encouraged to continue.  It has given me confidence that I am doing something worth doing, lighting my forward path with hope and fresh motivation.  

Even in these dark times.  

Thank you so much.  


Fiona Levings pic from DropBox


Leave a comment