Award will give Blackheath artist top-class mentoring

Winner: Charmaine Ledden-Lewis with her easel at her kitchen table in Blackheath.
Winner: Charmaine Ledden-Lewis with her easel at her kitchen table in Blackheath.

Would-be book illustrator Charmaine Ledden-Lewis has been given the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Blackheath mother of two has won an award which will give her $10,000, a year-long mentorship and the chance to illustrate the first children's book from writer Bruce Pascoe.

Ms Leddin-Lewis was announced last month as the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator award, a biennial prize that identifies new talent in children's book illustration. It is presented by leading Indigenous publisher, Magabala Books.

"I'm not sniffing at the money but that wasn't the 'wow' for me," Ms Ledden-Lewis said. "It was that I get to work with Bruce Pascoe and get a lot of mentoring."

Little lost calf: Charmaine Ledden-Lewis's illustration

Little lost calf: Charmaine Ledden-Lewis's illustration

Pascoe is the author of Dark Emu, a hugely successful bookwhich challenged traditional notions of pre-colonial Aborigines as simple hunter-gatherers.

For Ms Ledden-Lewis, a Bundjalung woman, the opportunity to enter for the award came when her second child had just started pre-school.

"It was the perfect time with the boys going to school," she said. "I had been pondering what I was going to do professionally."

She had always done art at school (Winmalee Public and Winmalee High), and had done some sign writing but has had no professional training.

Her mother and aunt, both teacher librarians, alerted her to the award, which is the legacy of the Kestin Family Foundation.

"It's incredible. I still get teary-eyed when I think about it," Ms Ledden-Lewis said. "It's one of the best things that's happened in my life - and I have had two wonderful boys and a wonderful partner."

Entries for the award were judged by celebrated author-illustrators Sally Morgan, Bronwyn Bancroft, Ann James and Magabala Books' publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh.

Comments from the judges about Ms Ledden-Lewis's work said that it "showed great interpretation", "incredible use of perspective", "created a strong sense of place" and revealed "enormous potential".

Little calf reunited with mother.

Little calf reunited with mother.

"We're excited to work with Charmaine as her spreads are visually stunning, creating a wow moment for all judges," said Ms Bin Salleh. "We're looking forward to releasing Bruce Pascoe's first ever children's book with her illustrations in 2020."