Ken Searle

Andrew Daddo

Ken Searle is a full-time artist, best known for his large paintings in oil on canvas depicting the suburban and industrial areas of a number of Australian cities. He has works in collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Since 1976 he has had 17 solo exhibitions at Watters Gallery, East Sydney.  Examples of his work can be viewed on the Watters Gallery website,

Over the last fifteen years Ken has also worked as illustrator and designer of a number of innovative non-fiction picture books with Indigenous and environmental themes.

Either alone or in tandem with author Nadia Wheatley he has presented workshops in many primary and secondary schools across the country. These range from practical workshops in drawing and design to ‘show and tell’ presentations, in which Ken showcases his picture book illustration and design. He also shows examples of his art from beyond the world of book illustration, and discusses different techniques and various mediums ranging from oil paint, water colour, gouache, charcoal, pencil and pastel.

Themes reflected in Ken’s art and picture books:
* A strong sense of place and community
* A belief that Indigenous principles of learning are universal principles of learning.
* Commitment to conservation and the environment

Ken’s experience as a designer and book illustrator really began when he and author Nadia Wheatley were working as consultants at the school at Papunya (an Aboriginal community in the Western Desert, Northern Territory). While assisting the Anangu staff and students to develop resources for the Indigenous curriculum that the school had developed, Ken designed and helped illustrate the Papunya School Book of Country and History a collaborative account of the history of this internationally-famous Western Desert community, told from an Indigenous perspective. Acknowledged as a groundbreaking work in terms of both its visual and written text, this won a number of awards, including the Eve Pownall Award in the CBCA Awards 2002 and the History for Young People section of the NSW Premier’s History Awards for 2002.

Ken Searle was also the designer of When I was Little, Like You (Allen & Unwin, 2003), a picture book by Papunya author/illustrator Mary Malbunka, with whom Ken worked as mentor for long periods, both in Alice Springs and at his Sydney home. This book was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Awards (2003) and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (2004), as well as the Eve Pownall Award (2004).

With Walking With the Seasons in Kakadu Ken was the illustrator as well as designer. The text, by environmentalist Diane Lucas, reflects the many years she spent working with Indigenous people in the Kakadu area. As research for the illustrations, Ken explored the flood plain of Kakadu — gathering plant specimens, taking photographs and sketching the landscape. This picture book was shortlisted for the Australian Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing, 2004, and the Wilderness Society Picture Book Award (2004).

The picture book, Going Bushwas the result of another unique collaboration. In 2005 Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle ran an innovative environmental education project with children from Muslim, Catholic and state schools in Sydney’s south-west. The poetry and art of the students is showcased in this book, alongside Ken’s own artwork and an environmental text by Nadia Wheatley. Going Bush won the Wilderness Society Picture Book Award 2008 and was shortlisted for the 2008 Human Rights Award for a non-fiction book.

Teachers notes for Going Bush and Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu are available from Allen & Unwin.

Ken’s workshop topics include:
* Drawing and painting from place: for years 3 – 12
* Exploring the environment through art: for years 3 – 12
* Understanding picture book design and illustration: for years 3 – 12 and teachers

Ken’s most recent work as an illustrator and designer can be seen in Playground. Compiled by Nadia Wheatley with the support of Indigenous consultant Dr Jackie Huggins, this sumptuous book presents the voices of over a hundred Aboriginal Elders and young people talking about their experiences of growing up and learning.

Teachers notes for Playground are available from Allen & Unwin.