The Sound of Picture Books Inspiration


For Matt creativity is creativity. He’s never made much of a distinction between painting and writing music, and from his earliest memories he has always created music in his imagination. It seemed natural that he would eventually be a composer as well as an author and artist. To help people understand his creative process, and to give them an insight into the way words, images, and music can be combined to create a far greater and richer sensory experience, Matt devised The Sound of Picture Books.

The Sound of Picture Books is a collaboration between Matt Ottley as an illustrator and composer, WASO (the West Australian Symphony Orchestra), The Literature Centre and Yamaha Music. It is a series of unique multi-modal workshops that bring the published books Matt has either collaborated on, or written and illustrated himself, to life through a journey of sound and imagery.


The Sound of Picture Books provide students of all ages, and adults with an innovative learning experience that leaves them excited about the boundless possibilities of music, art and literature. Each performance ranges from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours and is tailored to the specific audiences’ needs, so the same show can be adapted for young children, family groups, older children or for adults.

Below are two videos that provide a brief overview. The first is from a performance of “Tree” in 2014 with WASO, the Literature Centre and Yamaha. The second is a snippet from the “Parachute” DVD. Both books were written by Danny Parker and he was instrumental in helping create the original format of the workshops.

In many of the performances Matt is fortunate to work with the author, to provide further insights into the creative processes involved in creating picture books.

The Inspiration

In 2007 Matt composed music to accompany his award-winning book Requiem for a Beast, which was the beginning of something special for him. Matt was surprised to find that people assumed that he wrote the music after writing and illustrating the book, but in fact it was the other way around. The pictures and layout for the book all came directly out of the musical score. For Matt, music and images are integral aspects of the same thing.

Often Matt’s drawings and paintings begin from musical compositions in his head and he turns these into artworks, other times a drawing inspires notes and arrangements for a specific piece of music. Matt has been told that this is rather unusual, but it is something he has been doing all his life.

The Process

In 2013 Matt began composing music for some of his children’s books, the first one being Tree by Danny Parker.  With the help of some fantastic musicians from Hale School in Perth he produced a DVD which combined images from the book along with the text narrated by Danny to the music. The final product has two tracks, one with Danny’s narration, and one with only the music and images, enabling the listener to perform their own narration. Matt has since created scores for more of his books.

The Sound of Picture Books Scores

Matt has composed and performed music for the following books as part of The Sound of Picture Books initiative:

Performance Schedule (upcoming & previous)