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

8 thoughts on “Musings on drawing and architecture from a non-straight-liner

  1. Anonymous

    Congratulations on your new book. I love your process, very interesting and all the research you have done for the architecture etc. Love the colour scheme as well…Just right! Thanks, x donna

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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