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Kim Michelle Toft (1960–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

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Born 1960, in Dalby, Queensland, Australia; partner of Allan Sheather; Education: Diploma of Teaching; Certificate of Design. Politics: "Green." Hobbies and other interests: Collecting glasses and crockery, cooking and dining out, swimming, astrology, live music, walking on the beach.

Addresses

Office—P.O. Box 693, Ballina, New South Wales 2478, Australia. Agent—Rod Hare, Unit 4/21 Mary St., Surrey Hills, New South Wales 2010, Australia.

Kim Michelle Toft (Photo courtesy of Kim Michelle Toft.)

Career

Primary school teacher in North Queensland, Australia, 1979–84; graphic designer in South Australia, Australia, 1984–88; silk artist, Shelly Beach, New South Wales, Australia, 1991–; illustrator and author, 1995–; Silkim Books (publishing company), founder and owner, 2005–. Artist-in-residence at Underwater World Mooloolaba; Barrier Reef Aquarium; Out of the Box '98 Brisbane; Ipswich Children's Literature Festival; Somerset Children's Literature Festival, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia; and Freemantle Children's Centre, Perth, Western Australia, Australia. Motivational speaker; leads silk workshops for adults and children. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia; Sheraton Mirage, Gold Coast, Queensland; Marriott, Surfers Paradise, Queensland; 12th Annual Maui Marine Art Expo, Maui, Hawaii; and elsewhere in Hawaii.

Member

World Wildlife Foundation (member, local dune care group).

Honors Awards

Honour Book Award, Australia Book Council, and Whitley Award for Best Children's Book, both 1998, Best Children's Book designation, Benjamin Franklin Awards for Independent Publishing, and Teacher's Choice Award, both 1999, and Best Primary Book designation, Royal Zoological Awards, all for One Less Fish; notable book citation, Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA), 2000, and Whitley Award Certificate of Merit, both for Neptune's Nursery; notable book designation in the children's information book category, CBCA, Best Picture Book designation, Australian Wilderness Society, and Green Earth Book Award, and Whitely Award Australia, all for The World That We Want.

Writings

SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS

(With Allan Sheather) One Less Fish, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1997, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1998.

(With Allan Sheather) Neptune's Nursery, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1999, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2000.

The World That We Want, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2004, Charles-bridge (Watertown, MA), 2005.

A Sea of Words: An ABC of the Deep Blue Sea, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2006.

ILLUSTRATOR

Alan Brown, Turtle's Song (picture book), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2001.

Work in Progress

12 Underwater Days of Christmas; The Forgotten Ocean, about the evolution of central Australia.

Sidelights

Kim Michelle Toft is the author and illustrator of several books that introduce children to the wonders of the fragile ocean ecosystem. In her first book, One Less Fish, Toft counts down from twelve fish to zero as the creatures are killed by fishermen, discarded trash, and other marine hazards. Another book, Neptune's Nursery, shows how various sea creatures, including humpback whales, manta rays, and seahorses, are born and raised by their parents. This title was described as "a radiant peek into an oceanic nursery" by School Library Journal contributor Patricia Manning. In a more recent title, The World That We Want, Toft's cumulative rhyme shows how all of the ecosystems of the earth depend on each other, including the "This is the beach that meets the mangrove that follows the river that weaves through the forest that filters the air that circles the world that we want." However, her books are most notable for their illustrations. As Kathy Piehl described in a review of The World That We Want for School Library Journal, "The arresting, brilliantly hued illustrations were drawn and painted on silk." A Publishers Weekly also praised Toft's artwork for that title, calling it "luminous."

Toft told SATA: "As I sat in my room at the age of four, spending hours upon hours drawing my favorite Walt Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, I had no idea that one day I would be creating my own characters and writing stories about them.

"Growing up in suburbia in Brisbane in the 1960s and 1970s, I always had a feeling that there was more to the world than my backyard. I was an only child and I often felt very lonely, as my mum and stepfather worked full time. I would amuse myself drawing and watching far too much television! I believe both things helped fuel my imagination and would take me to different worlds. Drawing was the one thing I did well and therefore it was something I always got great satisfaction out of.

"School was hard for me because I always felt like an outsider. Instead of playing sport, I would prefer to draw. Then in high school I ran the school magazine and once again, I felt like I didn't fit in with the 'norm.' Art was my elective subject all through school and I loved it. I also love learning about the history of art and the artists' lives.

"Even though I wanted to be an art teacher I opted for the primary-school teaching course and once completed I taught for four and a half years in far north Queensland, where I discovered the immense beauty of tropical Australia. The strong feelings I developed there toward the environment would stay with me all through my life. Although I loved teaching I felt I was moving further and further away from my art. I decided to go back to college to study art and design. I moved to Adelaide, moved into a share house on the beach, and completed a two-year course in graphic design. I then worked as a graphic designer for another two years, designing wine bottle labels, cat food labels, and logos for businesses. I enjoyed the designing, but the commercial aspect of the advertising industry did little to enrich my soul. However, I learnt a lot about layout and design, typesetting and photography—little did I know then that I would use these skills to produce the children's books I create today.

"I decided to make another change and moved from Adelaide, back closer to my mum who was living on the Gold Coast. I set up house in northern New South Wales, a place I had always loved, and I still live here today. Still on the water and still being 'blown away' by the timeless beauty of the ocean.

"I have made many changes in my life. It was not easy at times making such major decisions, like giving up a good career to move to a totally different place and do a totally different thing. Each time it was like starting from scratch, but I knew there was more to discover about myself and my career path.

"My goal when I moved to northern New South Wales was to become a full-time artist and make a living out of it! However, you need money to pay the rent and buy food, so I worked in bars, restaurants and galleries part-time so I could draw and paint at home. It was in these early days that I worked with a lady who was painting on silk to produce unique clothing. I learnt a lot about the medium and marveled at the incredible range of colours you could achieve on silk. It was like no other medium I had ever used. I started experimenting more and more with the silk, until finally I went out on my own and started creating large underwater paintings.

"I was fortunate enough in the beginning of my silk painting career to meet the right people who helped me set up exhibitions of my work at the big hotels like the Sheraton Hotels in Port Douglas, Gold Coast and Hawaii. I was also lucky enough to find my market, people who loved the coastal habitats I painted and had the money to buy them. I have met some amazing people over the past fourteen years of exhibiting. People from all around the world, and one of my biggest highlights was selling a painting to Mick Jagger (from the Rolling Stones) and his wife then, Jerry Hall. But once again I felt there was something missing. Painting to sell has limited rewards and I wanted to do something more meaningful.

"In 1992 I did do something more meaningful: I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Casey Elle. Perhaps it was the emergence of picture books again in my life that got me thinking about writing and illustrating my own books. I had always collected children's books and I had also kept all my treasured Golden Books from when I was a child. So I decided that books were where I wanted to head.

"With the help of Casey's dad, Allan Sheather, we wrote One Less Fish together. Then armed with my silk portfolio and the manuscript, I begged to see noted publishers University of Queensland Press, who signed me up two weeks after our first meeting. Neptune's Nursery was my next book. It was also co-written by Allan Sheather. Both books are still being published and can be found in countries all around the world. Turtle's Song was next, which was written by an English author, Alan Brown. I painted the illustrations, once again on silk and once again all with strong environmental emphasis. My first totally solo effort is The World That We Want. It is my favorite to date and looks at the fragile balance in nature and in particular the coastal habitats of far north Queensland. It took three years to complete and some of the illustrations took three months to paint. One illustration is 4.5 meters long and 1.2 meters wide! All the illustrations from this book are on a national tour. The total wall space needed to exhibit all the illustrations is 30 meters! I was very proud when I saw them altogether for the first time.

"It has also been an honor to win many national and international awards for my books. Knowing that they are being read and appreciated by children from all around the world is also a wonderful buzz.

"When I am not touring or teaching, I try to paint and draw for twenty hours per week and spend ten hours writing or researching per week. I also do between 5-10 hours of bookwork, promotional work and work-related activities, i.e. going to the framers, galleries, delivering work, and packing and signing books.

"I love my life now; living on the beach with my daughter Casey, writing and illustrating books about things I feel passionate about like the coastal environment, and touring to teach children about my books and my art.

"I have done a complete cycle, drawing, painting, designing and teaching. It is all an ongoing journey. Each decision I make, each painting I complete and each book which is created brings me closer to my dream of becoming a successful children's book author and illustrator and buying my own house on the beach.

"So my advice to anyone who wants to become a success through artistic pursuits is to keep true to your dreams. DO IT, don't just say it; don't worry about what other people think or do, and just enjoy the journey toward the world that you want."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Toft, Kim Michelle, The World That We Want, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2004, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2005.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of One Less Fish, p. 1883; December 15, 2000, John Peters, review of Neptune's Nursery, p. 823.

Publishers Weekly, October 10, 2005, review of The World That We Want, p. 60.

School Library Journal, October, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Neptune's Nursery, p. 140; September, 2005, Kathy Piehl, review of The World That We Want, p. 197.

ONLINE

Booked Out Speakers Agency Web site, http://www.bookedout.com.au/ (April 8, 2006), "Kim Michelle Toft."

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