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Behind the scenes with illustrator Michael Hili

Image courtesy of Michael Hili Image courtesy of Michael Hili


Meet Michael Hili; the man behind the coloured pencils.

It can be hard to find the perfect present for your dad. After all, every man is different, and not every dad is into polo shirts and socks. So for Father’s Day this year, we’ve made shopping for your old man easy.

First we  decided on four commonly known dad types – Dapper Dad, Classic Dad, Daddy Cool and Action Dad. Then we asked Australian artist Michael Hili to bring each archetype to life.

Here, we speak to the illustrator about learning how to draw, colouring pencils, and why he still sees his dad as a large, heroic stick figure made from bright colours.


Image courtesy of Michael Hili Image courtesy of Michael Hili


What is your earliest memory of drawing a picture?

A blue-breasted swallow with my uncle Joe. It was a copy of a framed picture that hung in our family dining room. My uncle was a quiet man with a kind smile who smoked cigarettes and drank black coffee; we never had much one-on-one time. He sat me down at the dining table with some paper and pencils and just began drawing. I remember being enamored by his accuracy and confidence – I didn’t even know he could draw. He didn’t try to teach me or give me childish encouragement, it seemed clear enough that I was to draw the bird how I saw best and he would do the same.

What was your main source of inspiration for the four archetypal dads?

I’m not sure I have been asked to draw a Dad since I was in primary school. I can remember doing this using crayons and coloured pencils, making huge heroic figures using simple lines. Everybody draws these illustrations when they are young. Although we learn to draw better or stop altogether, I think that bright, expressive colours and simple lines are still a beautiful and a true depiction of the people we love, the people we look up to.

My dad is an unrelenting source of encouragement and support. When I begin a project he is right in there researching the people and histories involved. Although we have both evolved as individuals, the intensity at which he supports me hasn’t weakened from when I was child, and I guess I still see him as a large heroic stick figure made from bright colours.

How did you become a professional illustrator?

I drew a lot of goofy things on scrap pieces of paper. Mainly on those brown paper bags you used to get your lunch in from the tuck shop.

Your favourite part about your job?

The point in a drawing at which you can begin talking to the characters on the page… “Oops, sorry friend, I gave you a funny nose there.”

Image courtesy of Michael Hili Image courtesy of Michael Hili


Tell us about the materials you used to create the series?

A lot of the same things I used as a kid – crayons, colored pencils, those great waxy China-pencils that you can draw on overhead projection sheets with.

Do you listen to music while you draw?

Of course. A usual day starts with my staples Dirty Three or Pavarotti and Friends – that track he did with Bryan Adams is a real banger. Then I usually move on to something groovy for the afternoon, local is always best. I’m finding it difficult to stop listening to Earthquake Magnificent, Pond and Sun God Replica of late.

Your favourite thing to draw is…?

Birds with long necks, I love birds. Sometimes giraffes also. Oh, and fruit that look like people.

Your idea of the perfect Father’s Day gift?

My grandfather is Maltese and I once got to eat seafood with him on a beautiful beach in Gozo off the northern tip of the Maltese mainland. My grandfather loves Malta and he loves seafood, he grinned like a little kid. I think he even laughed a little to himself he was so happy. When my Nanu smiles like this everybody smiles – it was a perfect moment.

I wish that I could give my dad and my brother (who is now also a father to two remarkable rat-bags) a little time travel, to have them there on the beach with my grandfather and me in Malta. Full of octopus, chuckling at how happy my grandfather was to be home.

Need the perfect Father’s Day gift?