Endpapers (part one)

Endpapers are a particular favourite of mine, both old and new. I love to create the ends for the books that I illustrate. They’re wonderfully freeing, because they’re not required to go alongside an author’s text, nor do they need to follow along in the exact same style or medium as the other illustrations. They need to feel as though they belong in the same family as the rest of the book, but they can fly off in all sorts of playful directions, and frequently do.

Sometimes it’s lovely to take a purely decorative approach, using whatever medium seems complementary to the book, without direct reference to the story at all. Decorative endpapers may just be stripes, spots or splashes and can look beautiful, as though the reader is opening a brightly wrapped present – which in a way they are!

Mostly, I am so involved with the text that I can’t resist linking the ends to what’s inside. Sometimes I like to refer to a repeating motif in the book such as seagulls, and a little black cat as we see in Thunderstorm Dancing. Or I refer to the setting of the story, such as the forest in Leonard Doesn’t Dance. Sometimes I like to tell a bonus story without words, so that when the book has been read and the story is over, there is somewhere to linger and to imagine our characters in their next adventure or in their everyday lives.

Endpapers for Goodnight, Mice! by Frances Watts and Judy Watson.

Goodnight, Mice! is a bedtime book, so the ends are muted in colour and evocative of a pyjama pattern. But I really wanted to play around a little further with these sweet mice, so I made tiny, simplified sketches of all of the family members. It was fun creating shorthand versions of each of the characters. The twins of course, are causing mayhem with a pillow fight, and there are stylised feathers floating everywhere (made by pressing down hard with my poor, mistreated dip-pen nib).

Mitzi and Billy – up to mischief as usual.
I feel that Clementine will not be happy about this.
Books and bedtime go together like cheese and… mice. So I put lots of books on the ends as well.
I really hope Billy is not going to flush before Mitzi gets off the loo…
This is the original family from the internal illustrations. Still loose, but more fully formed. (That was not a toilet joke.)

The endpapers for Thunderstorm Dancing were originally to have been printed in two colours, which is why I set them up in black and blue, (black and red for the rear ends) but Allen and Unwin decided to print in four colour process instead. In the internal illustrations, I had sneaked in a playful visual gag where the cat is greedily eyeing off all the fish. I thought it only fair that he got to eat his fish in the end. So below you see him washing up after his meal. (The seagulls are not amused.) In this case, I decided to do the reverse of what I had done for Goodnight, Mice! Instead of shrinking and simplifying the characters from the book, I enlarged them and made them more naturalistic in style.

Front endpapers for Thunderstorm Dancing by Katrina Germein and Judy Watson.
Rear endpapers for Thunderstorm Dancing.
This is a detail of the cat as it appears, quite small, in one of the internal illustrations.
Front endpapers for Leonard Doesn’t Dance by Frances Watts and Judy Watson
Rear endpapers for Leonard Doesn’t Dance.

The ends for Leonard Doesn’t Dance are mostly decorative, but they also set the scene for the story. I wanted them to be sumptuous, because I enjoyed making Leonard’s forest world so much. The front and back ends are continuations of the same setting, except that the moon is lower in the sky after the birds have been partying all night. The party lights can be seen in the distance.

Endpapers from Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes and Judy Watson

These ends are mostly decorative too, but they hint that in this story we will be looking closely at the forest floor. They were a delight to make, involved a lot of glorious inky mess, and they have their very own classroom activity. You can find it here.

Now we get to my latest endpapers – the ends for When You’re Older.

When I was thinking about what kind of endpapers would be best for When You’re Older, one of my ideas included origami sea creatures, and one of them included a paper crown. They looked like this.

There were a few reasons why these ideas might have been fun and effective:

• Firstly, they are bright and cheerful and the scale of the images is large, which made a nice contrast with the fine detail of much of the book.

• Secondly, they are an easy way to communicate to someone choosing a book, that the story is suitable for a young child.

• Thirdly, they help set the opening scene in the homely world of the brother who is enjoying some paper craft. The crown concept shows us a close-up of what he is doing on the title and half title pages. The origami concept gives us an example of something he might do on a different day. And it leads the reader into the theme of sea creatures that repeats throughout the story.

In the end we decided that the treasure hunting scene (below) would be best, because it is truly dreamlike, and hints that we will be entering a world of the imagination. It reflects the illustration style of the adventure part of the book; full of detailed vegetation, creatures real and imagined and with our boys painted in silhouette. But it is subtly different, in that it is rainbow hued and uses blue instead of black for the details of the ship and characters. The blue has a hazy feel and helps to suggest the dream state. The feel of the endpapers is decorative, but it is really a ‘bonus story’.

Endpapers for When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna and Judy Watson

I had a second idea for a bonus story and I hoped to have different ends front and back, telling two dream adventure tales. But it would have taken too long to complete. I hope to make the second illustration as a standalone, and if I do it will be available as a print. (It involves a giant squid, deep sea diving and more treasure!)

In my next blog post, I’ll show you some of the artwork that went into making the endpapers and suggest some classroom activities around them.

Upcoming events to celebrate When You’re Older

Wednesday 23 March to Tuesday 19 April
Colour, Line and Collage: Mixed media works in and around books.
Exhibition of original works including the patchwork paintings featured in When You’re Older. Some prints of the illustrations will also be available to order.
At Streamline Publishing and Gallery
22 Commercial Place, Eltham 3095
Open Wednesday to Saturday 11am – 4pm, Every second Sunday 1pm – 4pm.
Enter from the Town Square.
for telephone enquiries call Cathy on 0409 0887 72
or email info@streamlinepublishing.com.au
Above Eltham Bookshop

Saturday 26 March – kids’ drawing / collage workshops and signed book sales.
5-7 year olds, 10am
8-12 year olds, 1pm
Frankston Library bookings page here
60 Playne Street, Frankston
Phone 03 9784 1020

Sunday 3 April WORKSHOP 2.30pm – 5.30pm
STORYBOARDING – taking a text and moulding its shape on the page.
A book illustration workshop for adults and young adults.
This three hour workshop will be hosted by
Eltham Bookshop and held at Streamline Publishing and Gallery
22 Commercial Place, Eltham 3095 (Above the bookshop)
To coincide with the launch of When You’re Older and the exhibition
Colour, Line and Collage: Mixed media works in and around books.
I will take participants through my process: How I responded to Sofie Laguna’s text and, together with the publishing team, brought her words together with my ideas to create finished art for the book. After a short break, participants will use a sample text to create a storyboard of their own.
Entry $80 includes a signed copy of the book, light refreshments and all materials.
Bookings can be made through Eltham Bookshop
Tel: (03) 9439 8700
Email: books@elthambookshop.com.au

Musings on drawing and architecture from a non-straight-liner

From Tansy Magill by Carol Ann Martin

Some people can draw any building or interior with a sensitivity that invests it with warmth and personality. I truly admire them. For me, all those straight lines are problematic. I don’t feel any love for drawing architectural shapes, even though I love architecture itself. I prefer the outdoors and organic forms, including people and animals. The surface textures, the curved lines and the movement of figures or landscape are much easier for me to successfully express.

Most illustrated books require at least some built spaces to be drawn, and I’ve dealt with this in different ways for different book projects. Here are a few of them.

Cover design by Sandra Nobes for ABC Kids (HarperCollins). I remember getting emotional when the publisher suggested the mice could be printed with a spot varnish. I felt that being soft and velvety creatures, they shouldn’t be made hard and shiny! I get quite attached to all the characters in my books and become a bit protective. Embarrassing, but true.

In Goodnight, Mice! By Frances Watts, I made the house organic, the walls, doorways and furniture curved. I took my inspiration from straw bale homes, wattle and daub homes, and hand-crafted furniture. Using a dip pen and ink, there was little opportunity to be overly fussy. Drawing with a dip pen sometimes feels like trying to control a half wild pony that’s running away with me.

The opening scene from Goodnight, Mice! showing a very small house with an enviable chimney.
Getting ready for bed, and selecting a book from a rather quirky bookcase.
The kind of bed that inspired the mousy furniture. (The mice must have used much smaller sticks!)
Sandra Nobes also designed this cover, for Allen and Unwin.
The book has just been re-released in paperback. Hooray!

With Thunderstorm Dancing by Katrina Germein, I was happy with the small drawing I did for the back cover (below). Perhaps it worked for me because of the loose lines of the dip pen but especially because of the small size. There’s no room to fuss with a 30mm wide building. Snuggling the building into the hill and embedding it in a stormy sky helps to give it a certain ‘rightness’. It takes on the personality of its surroundings.

A small windswept beach house and matching chook shed for the back cover of Thunderstorm Dancing.

The veranda was perhaps not as successful as I would have liked, being rather stiff, but I made the focus the stormy lighting; the contrast between dark clouds and the golden late afternoon glow of the beach and figures. I added texture to soften it a little. Eep!

A lot of straight lines for a non-straight-liner! Hopefully the focus remains firmly on the atmosphere.
An interior that had to look warm and cosy, yet storm-lit. My selection
of furniture reflects again my need to put curves in wherever possible! And it is funny to me
to see how often my colour scheme is a soft, bright red and a greenish teal.
This lovely cover design is by Amanda Tarlau, for Walker Books.

My garden shed from Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes, was created in a similar way. Mostly pencil and wash, but with added texture and digital colour. (Note the soft red and greenish teal colour scheme!) My architecture leaves room for improvement, but hopefully the warmth of the characters on the page, the light, foliage and pets set the right tone. And on the next page, we happily marched off into the bushland away from human structures! Phew!

Another black cat. I have a one-eyed black foster cat climbing over my drawing board as I’m typing this
and my three-legged dog Noodle appears in the illustration, proudly flourishing four entire legs.
Off into the natural world.

I also have an unpublished project, where the my buildings again reject straight lines. Based on the trulli of the Puglia region in Italy, they have lovely domed roofs and soft curving interiors. I even stayed in a glorious trullo here, and did some research for my illustrations.

Trulli from a dummy book
Trulli homes in Ostuni, Italy.

But it was exciting to take a different approach to the house in When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna. Here I used the straight lines of the room and other man-made objects to my advantage. I accentuated them, taking inspiration from the marvellous Ezra Jack Keats and pared them back to simple blocks of colour that mimic paper collage. Now they acted as a foil to the scenes beginning on the next page, where the story moves into the imagination and benefits from a strong contrast in style.

I know you’ve seen it already, but here is the cover of When You’re Older,
designed by Sandra Nobes for Allen and Unwin. Out 1 March 2022.
Straight lines, no regrets. The opening bedroom illustration in When You’re Older.

In the bedroom at the start of the narrative, we have animals and ships on wild seas contained in frames that have been reduced to a series of rectangles with no attempt to suggest a hook or a natural hanging angle. The boy too is sitting, waiting in a rectangular room like the paintings in their frames. But the small animals dotted around the room, the houseplant and the two kinds of boat (origami and painted) have fed his prodigious imagination which breaks loose as we turn the page.

Rampant curves and movement take over the book from here. (Do I spy soft red and greenish teal?)

Here everything has broken out of its containment and we see the beginning of an undulating landscape, teeming with life and with an exaggerated forward slant like a slingshot that has just been released to propel our characters forward into the world.

I’ve used the solid graphic shapes here and there through the book, most often for man-made things like bikes, ladders, tents, and the fanciful double-ringed shape that suggests a view  through binoculars. So the contrast between rampant texture and solid graphic shapes continues. But on the pages dedicated to the immense power of nature, it is not really in evidence at all, and expressive brushstrokes set the entire scene until we return at last to our original bedroom.

Upcoming events to celebrate When You’re Older

Wednesday 23 March to Tuesday 19 April
Colour, Line and Collage: Mixed media works in and around books.
Exhibition of original works including the patchwork paintings featured in When You’re Older. Some prints of the illustrations will also be available to order.
At Streamline Publishing and Gallery
22 Commercial Place, Eltham 3095
Open Wednesday to Saturday 11am – 4pm, Every second Sunday 1pm – 4pm.
Enter from the Town Square.
Above Eltham Bookshop

Saturday 26 March – kids’ drawing / collage workshops and signed book sales.
Frankston Library
60 Playne Street, Frankston
Phone 03 9784 1020

Sunday 3 April WORKSHOP 2.30pm – 5.30pm
STORYBOARDING – taking a text and moulding its shape on the page.
A book illustration workshop for adults and young adults.
This three hour workshop will be hosted by
Eltham Bookshop and held at Streamline Publishing and Gallery
22 Commercial Place, Eltham 3095 (Above the bookshop)
To coincide with the launch of When You’re Older and the exhibition
Colour, Line and Collage: Mixed media works in and around books.
I will take participants through my process: How I responded to Sofie Laguna’s text and, together with the publishing team, brought her words together with my ideas to create finished art for the book. After a short break, participants will use a sample text to create a storyboard of their own.
Entry $80 includes a signed copy of the book, light refreshments and all materials.
Bookings can be made through Eltham Bookshop
Tel: (03) 9439 8700
Email: books@elthambookshop.com.au

When You’re Older

In stores from 1 March, 2022.

On the first of March When You’re Older will be in bookshops. Hurrah! And I’ll be in two of them on the same day, decorating the windows to celebrate the release of the book. I’ll be starting out at The Little Bookroom and then zipping across to Readings Kids.

I’m really happy with the cover. We went all over the place exploring cover options, including under the sea and up a tree. But this one feels right. The focus is squarely on those two faces. They’re the heart and soul of the book. (I admit I’m a bit infatuated with the chest of drawers, too.)

Book designer Sandra Nobes did an amazing job with the typography. Her title lettering expresses the tall and short of our two characters, complete with small crown. And her selection of typeface for the creator names took inspiration from my hand-drawn letters and is a near perfect match with a few less curls. (You can see my curly writing above, with a baby seemingly floating over it!)

If you’re thinking the book is about nappy changes, don’t be fooled by the box of tissues, although you might need one yourself. Perhaps, like me when I first picked up the manuscript, you’re thinking that the book will be about sibling rivalry. It’s not.

Inspired by hopes for her own two children and interestingly by the imprisonment of journalist Peter Greste in 2013, Sofie Laguna’s words are about love and about brothers looking out for each other. About a big imagination. A big world. A big adventure and big danger.

There are also lots of tiny things.

One of the great joys of parenting small children for me, was the experience of reading aloud to them. I loved to witness their immersion in the world of each picture book; their interaction with the page as well as the story, fingers keenly pointing out the important parts, and often the tiny details. So while I was working on When You’re Older, I imagined little hands holding the book and little fingers pointing. Every lizard, butterfly and bird was made for this purpose. Every footprint in the snow.

I think there will be much counting! How many birds can you find? How many bats? Ducks, lizards, butterflies? These small things are only footnotes to the main story, I know. But I am so looking forward to seeing some real fingers exploring the book.

Please pop in and say hello if you’re in Melbourne on 1 March or in Mornington on 4 March. There will be signed books available to purchase. I’ll be the one with the paintbrushes and Posca pens, decorating the windows. And I look more or less like this.

How many fishes can you spot?

Bad Pet Portraits

Animals are my joy and consolation. If I’m struggling to concentrate, cramped by artistic angst, or simply need to warm up my drawing brain before starting work, it’ll be a bird, a dog, a horse, or sometimes a cat. (Cats are so much harder and it drives me round the bend sometimes.) But especially, it’ll be dogs. By the time I’ve scribbled half a dozen, my brain has usually caught up with my hand, (or is it the other way around?) and I’m ready to tackle a forklift or a crane… Who am I kidding? Never a forklift or a crane. Please don’t ask me to draw a forklift. Probably not a corkscrew. (Forklift authors, you know who you are.)

Anyway, when I noticed a little fundraising event coming up called Bad Pet Portraits, that raises funds for an organisation called Pets of the Homeless, my first thought was ‘I wonder if they would accept an erratic and occasionally good pet portraitist.’ Because this was for me!

We work to help keep vulnerable people and their pets together by alleviating the burden of providing essential pet care during times of hardship. Pets of the Homeless.

Happily, they didn’t seem to care at all what kind of pet portraitist I am, and I was signed up for a few hours of manic pet drawing. I’ve participated in two of their fundraisers now. The first time I attempted to make my portraits ‘bad’ or at least a bit funny, with mixed results. But really the stars of this show are the people like Phil Heckels whose pet portraits are pure magic and I can’t compete with that. So the second time around, I decided to just draw pets the way I draw pets, with the simple rule that I would draw them quickly and not fuss over them. In this I mostly succeeded and you can see some of the results below. (I did 23 in total, including a goat and several cats.)

This giant pooch, (a Great Dane mix perhaps?) died the day after my portrait was submitted and the owner was very grateful to have the portraits. (I did two of that one.) I felt so sad for the owner, but so glad I had drawn the dog.

Then artist Liz King-Sangster asked me if I’d draw her muse and beloved dog Gypsy. And here she is below. She has the most excellent ears and a happy face with a soft expression. I did fuss a little over Gypsy. Liz sent me the below photo as reference, with Gypsy lying on the ground looking very angular and with her front paws on the pebbles. I will not lie. I found the foreshortening somewhat challenging and the first time I drew her, I mistook her knee for a tail, and her tail for a very long foot! After lightening the photo, I discovered the truth. But ultimately, this pose defeated me. I couldn’t capture her expression, or her front feet! I have several sketches that demonstrate my struggles, but you will not be seeing them here. The most successful of them made her look cross-eyed.

Gypsy – the softest bag of coat hangers ever seen. All angles.

Not to be a quitter, I decided to look through Lizzie’s Instagram feed for more pictures of Gypsy to warm up on, and found this gorgeous photo of her looking slightly damp and full of joy. I can’t say the foreshortening was any less significant, but it worked okay this time, and I seem to have accidentally de-magnified her nose!

This next photo features Gypsy on her throne with a royally amused expression. My second attempt got closest to the humour, but I still haven’t nailed it. It’s all in the eyes. And true to form I drew it on the bottom corner of a bit of paper, so that I had to squish her royal highness onto the page.

Lastly, I found this rather hilarious photo of Gypsy with her squishy rugby ball, squinting her eyes in a very knowing way. The resulting drawing may not be Liz’s favourite of the images, but it made me smile. Fittingly it has returned to the true Bad Pet Portrait ethos.

I hope I get to meet the real Gypsy one day.

For anyone who is interested, the next Bad Pet Portraits event is in March 2022.

Kick-About #38 Algae

I don’t know why I love this crab so much.

The prompt for the 38th Kick-About is one of Matisse’s lovely cut-outs, titled White Alga on Orange and Red Background. I’m a big fan of drawing with scissors as Matisse described it. But I didn’t pick up the scissors. For one thing, the bees kept swarming! Three more times. I mean, crikey! We have managed to capture each of the swarms. (Today I noticed that the neighbour‘s bees are swarming. I‘m letting that lot go.)

We now have not one hive, but four. The smallest swarm was successfully reunited with the original hive. I have learned so much in a fortnight! Because I absolutely can’t help myself, I have begun the process of naming the four hives after fictional places. (Scott argues in favour of One, Two, Three and Four. *sigh*)

The original hive is three boxes high, was neglected for the last few years, and became overpopulated. It’s no longer neglected or overpopulated, but it’s still tall. It is going to be either Gormenghast, or AnkhMorpork. Both are very appealing, so we will continue thinking about that.

The smallest new hive is called Dagobah. It’s getting supplementary feeding with sugar syrup. Some of those bees fell in the stormwater drain while we were bringing them down from an overhanging branch. I fished them out of the water with a net but things didn’t look good for the piles of cold, soggy bees on the ground and dark was falling, with rain forecast. (Told you we have been learning…) However, the next day when the sun reached them, they began to recover and almost all of them rose up in reincarnated glory and returned to the colony. After this swampy experience, the name seemed obvious. (There are several Star Wars fanatics in this household.)

The original swarm from my previous post is a Thing of Glory! It is buzzing and growing and brimming with pollen and nectar. Cells are filling with larvae as new bees are created. Hugo has named this hive Sanctaphrax. Perhaps he feels this new hive will be a home of intellectual pursuit and heroic deeds. At any rate, it’s a great opportunity to honour his favourite book series.

This only leaves one hive unnamed. It is middle sized and thriving. It has had a lucky beginning, in that we donated brood from the old city to help them build their new colony. I could name it Serendipity, but it has to be a fictional place. So we will think some more on that one.

Once again, I am talking more about bees than art! What is going on?

This is an accurate reflection of my world just at present, but it’s probably time to mention that as soon I saw the prompt for the Kick-About I thought of seaweed, (not bees) and in particular I thought of the seaweed I painted for When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna; the book I have just finished illustrating.

There are several pages featuring the sea in this book, and in three of them I took the opportunity to create underwater scenes full of colourful seaweed. So when I was working on ideas for the endpapers, one of them featured crabs and seaweed. I never finished this concept, because it didn’t seem as apt as some of the other ideas, but after spending a whole day painting tiny crabs, and working them into patterns, I did fall in love with the little guy at the top of this post, hiding behind his seaweed. He totally captured my heart. I made a few more little arrangements of crabs, but I wasn’t sure they worked as well when reduced in size.

Crabs. Are you confused? We’re on crabs now. Keep up!

Today I revisited the unfinished endpapers and played around a little bit more. They’re probably nicer on white, but hey.

And here are some small sections of this non-endpaper creation.

Thanks, Phil Gomm, for hosting the Kick-About. (I’m late again!)

Kick-About #37 plus Bees!

The prompt for the 37th Kick-About could hardly have been more suited to me and my natural inclinations. It’s inky and leafy and Australian. It’s Peter Mungkuri’s Punu Ngura (2019)

Punu Nura (Country with trees) © Peter Mungkuri, Iwantja Arts. 2019.

From the Yankunytjatjara, Southern Desert region comes this beautiful black and white ink drawing on paper by Peter Mungkuri. I’m glad this prompt was chosen because it has introduced me to Mungkuri’s work, which is perfectly balanced, sumptuously decorative and calmly natural all at the same time. It is well worth a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW website to see a collection of his work. Swoon!

What strikes me most is the combination of the loosest of ink splatters with far more careful and detailed patterning. I was going to explore some inkiness yesterday (Yep! Last minute again!) to see where an observation of Mungkuri’s work might take me, especially with regard to the use of white ink patterning over the top of the looser ink layers. But before I could begin something happened.

Our bees swarmed.

This happened last year and we weren’t prepared. The hive became overcrowded, and half the bees took off to find roomier accommodation. This time, we had not only added an extra box to our existing hive to give them extra space, but we had prepared a separate hive in case they swarmed, and had it ready for the new colony to use. Well, not perfectly ready. The frames were in, with wax and wire for the bees to build on. But I wasn’t completely finished with my exterior paint job.

This is the old hive with a new box added on top. But this colony is thriving and they needed more space than this.
New hive, unfinished. Artist dissatisfied.

This is our new hive in the middle of my paint assault a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop when the paint was so thickly applied that it needed a few hours to dry before I could apply anything more with a brush. Alas, other tasks have called me since then. I hadn’t yet reached a satisfactory conclusion when the bees swarmed.

I should be annoyed. Pesky bees. They sent me no email, no letter and didn’t phone to say they were leaving that day. Just… buzzed off.

But I’m not annoyed. Far from it. My spring day with the bees was uplifting, empowering, mindful and full of joy. So I’m ok with the paint job. In fact, we have installed the bees in the brood box only, so I can tweak the top box before we put it in position. The roof and base are harder to alter… but who knows what might be stealthily achieved at night with a daylight bulb…

So here is what happened in pictures (and just a few words).

We were lucky with the location the bees chose to hang out. They congregated in the empty block next door, just by a storm water outlet, hanging from a conjunction of branches in a Desert Ash. It might have been over the storm water drain. It might have been up too high to reach without a ladder. But they chose a spot just reachable from the ground and just far enough away from the concrete drain that we didn’t risk falling into it. Phew! (I could have done without the blackberry canes though.)

First we suited up. Hugo, sorry about the shut-eye photo. It was you or me. (Blogger’s prerogative.)
Then I sawed through the main branch in order to lift the swarm down to the box. It was a bit tricky because there were several branches tangled together and the bees were dangling lower with every jiggle. The blackberries bit me. They have no respect for bee suits.
We gave the branch a firm shake and most of the bees dropped into the box.
Hugo and I then gently scooped as many bees as we could up and dropped them into the box. Hugo worked out where the queen bees was (inside) and we gently placed the lid on the box, whilst blowing bees out of harm’s way in an undignified manner.
With the tricky part over, we decided to sit in the sunshine (on the handy concrete drain) to watch the bees for a while. Some of the bees were fanning their wings near the entrance on the right. We guessed the queen was on the inside near that point and we were hopeful that all was well.

After this we stepped away and shook the bees off our suits. But then I had to go back to have another look. Just because.

This is what it looked like straight afterwards. The bees were slowly moving towards the entrance and going into the box.
A couple of hours later, almost all were inside the box. We moved them into their proper location beside the other hive after dark and all seems well today.

That evening, I had a bit of a go at my inky exploration of Peter Mungkuri’s plant drawings, but my mind was full of bees. And joy. So it became an illustration of Hugo and me, arms uplifted to the swarming bees.

In painting it, I was tumbling three things together: what happened last year (they swarmed and disappeared) what happened this year (they swarmed and we were in the middle of it) and what happens every year (we have a dead tree stump that disgorges thousands of tiny moths once a year and they spiral upwards into the sky in the early evening attracting a feeding frenzy of bird life. It is quite the annual spectacle.)

Finished painting. Scanned in 6 parts and assembled.

Thanks again, Phil Gomm, for hosting the Kick-About. Sorry I’m late!

Hello Kick-About! (#36)

Look at that! I’ve jumped seamlessly from Kick-About #28 to Kick-About #36 without a single kick!

I was busy there for a while. By putting just about every other thing to one side, I have finished my picture book project for Allen and Unwin, and I’m very excited that I will have an advance copy of When You’re Older in my hands in late November this year. So Hip hip hoorah! But more on that another day. This rather hasty post will be about surrealism and the language of dreams.

The theme is Sheila Legge, seen above in costume in 1936 as a ‘Surrealist Phantom’ in Trafalgar Square to promote the opening of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition … Should I call it a costume? Because she is a living work of art, the living embodiment of a Salvador Dali painting Printemps nécrophilique.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be having vivid dreams and nightmares at the moment. Melbourne is currently still in lock-down while we wait for enough people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to allow us to step out without swamping hospitals and losing many more lives. Unlike so many others around the world who are facing real danger and hardship, I am here, at home, living in a kind of paradise with a partner in full time work, a roof over my head, a vista of green outside my windows and the company of my family. For all this I am truly grateful. Nevertheless the night time world of my dreams is a wild one – a Rousseau Paradise, rather than a Fragonard. This was even before I started re-reading short stories by Angela Carter and Leonora Carrington… Ahem.

So there’s a coincidence! Just when I was reading the short stories of Leonora Carrington, who met Max Ernst and became involved with the surrealists in 1937 at the age of 20, the Kick-About veered into the very same territory with Sheila Legge.

This book beside my bed… Could it be influencing my dreams?

All I have to offer the Kick-About today is the beginnings of a… something… featuring some bird-headed, flower-headed women. They will possibly eat one another. I may add colour if there’s anything left of them by tomorrow. (growls softly)

The Kick-About #28

The Kick-about #28 takes a film by Howard Sooley, as a jumping off point. The subject of the film is Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. I loved the film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is not very thrilling because it’s simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about.

I’d love to do more but I haven’t time. However, this little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape. Looking at it now, I can see that I haven’t gone far enough with either. But I’ll post it anyway.

And here is Howard Sooley’s lovely short film. Enjoy!

The Kick-About #26

Time Out! For the twenty-sixth Kick-About Phil Gomm, blogger extraordinaire is celebrating a year of kicking about with artists from around the world.

This fortnight, Phil is doing all the work. He’s assembling a collection of everyone’s favourite kick from our year long kick-about. I participated in less than half of them, so that shouldn’t really be hard, but I’ve travelled down several dark, overgrown roads and I am fond of all of them. Those places of the imagination that are dripping, have hooting noises, and a buzz in the background; where a soft-looking plant will feel unnaturally firm to the touch, or a solid-looking branch will crumple in on itself as you brush by, or turn to look at you and hiss. The light is curious; dim and yet saturating the environment with too much colour.

Below are some of the places I’ve visited over the last year, and though they are dark, there is life. Pulsing with energy. Brimming with potential.

The Girl, the Snake and the Cicada. Girl meets snake.
The Girl, the Snake and the Cicada. Girl meets snake in a full colour forest.
More creepy fairytale imagery: a grotesque fairy, possibly involved in a kidnap.
Part of the settlement at TRAPPIST-1e including some of the local flora and fauna
Metropolis – the Eternal Gardens – the first version, before the women turned into bird people.
Metropolis – the Eternal Gardens with bird people.

Phil, thanks for the kick-about. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting the last one. Those Bird Ladies. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.

The Kick-About #25 ‘The Age of Aquarius.’

The prompt for Kick-About #25 The Age of Aquarius and it made me think of the song from the stage musical Hair.

I did go briefly down a rabbit hole to look up the meaning of the expression in astrological terms. It’s complex but predictably vague and controversial. The Age of Aquarius may have begun in 2600 BCE, or may have begun in the 20th Century or may be yet to begin. Having grown out of what limited interest I had in astrology years ago, this was not a direction that inspired art. It did lead me to quite an interesting little reading session about hippies, beatniks and the New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but the complexity of this material reminded me of why I was never very good at history in school and why I admire people who are good at history!

But visually, the culture of the ’60s and ’70s is interesting. In fact I already had a digital collage with a psychedelic flavour that I made in November last year after watching the progress of the US elections with horror and dread. I had a powerful craving for the dawn of a new era, and for women to play an important role in it.

In Australia, that thirst for a change of culture, and a redistribution of power is even stronger now. If you’re interested, journalist Leigh Sales talks about it here or there’s a briefer version on her Instagram page here.

This is my November collage. These women are welcoming a new dawn.

But what the heck. I had to make something new just for this prompt. So I decided that peace, love and harmony were the go, but sticking with the a secondary theme of female solidarity and friendship.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius

And here’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius being celebrated in a small way between two friends. The moon is definitely in the Seventh House. Need you even ask? It is quite peaceful, but it seems to be darker than the November artwork.

See? Seventh House.

A celebration of female friendship.

Naturally, I did my paper doll technique again. Draw them, then dress them. It never gets dull. I should have given the second woman another arm. But she manages ok without it. (You go, Sister!)

And you can hardly even see the giant pollarded woman in the forest behind them. She represents my anxiety and is taller than the tallest tree. But see how well she hides? She’s kind of cool though. She reminds me of all those centuries old mythical giants in story forests. Sometimes they’re sleeping, and they awake when they’re needed. A bit like anxiety, they have their uses. You just don’t want them hanging around at every party.

Thanks Phil. I’m looking forward to seeing what people choose for the anniversary edition.