The title of this series of quick sketches is “Woman trying to cool herself down without (completely) waking up”.
‘The Female Radiator”
The title of this series of quick sketches is “Woman trying to cool herself down without (completely) waking up”.
‘The Female Radiator”
It’s early winter. Everybody’s out of the house. For just a few minutes. Too little time to do any serious work. I nearly sat down with the dogs in front of the newly laid fire and gazed into it…
But instead, hello.
Three books on the go at once here. I’m working hard at them. All of the projects are rewarding, but when I’m working on one, I have to try hard not to worry about the others. But enough of that.
Last weekend I took 24 hours to work on something outside my books. It’s outside my books, because it sprang out of them. (All three.) And now it has a life of its own. It’s mostly trees and plants and spaces and light, but those spaces have things in them, and stories. The something will go in lots of ways from here. But for now (since I only have a few moments) just a few images of the germination.
They’re back. So I’ll go and cook dinner.
Hi there. I’ve missed you. Work on Leonard Doesn’t Dance is going well. And I’m also working on another exciting project. A picture book by Sofie Laguna called When You’re Older. It’s a bit tricky working on two; just when I’m submerged deeply in one, I have to haul myself out by the scruff of the neck and focus on the other. But it’s fine, because both are lovely books.
Leonard and his pigeon friends are learning the can-can. I can’t do the can-can. (I might yet learn… A fake leg might be helpful.) But pigeons can can-can.
Here’s a small section of what I’m working on today. The background is in progress so the yellow area is sketched in. And all around what you see here are plants and other birds and a couple of beasts. But this is one of the white pages. The full colour pages look different.
They look like this.
I’m using a big mix of media in this book. I’m printmaking, painting, drawing, collaging and digitising. (I’m doing the same for When You’re Older, but with a different colour palette.)
The printmaking is the most fun part. There’s something so intoxicating about printmaking. When the outcome is uncertain, due to the variability of the process, you are always on the brink of something… and it could be wonderful. It could be a treasure. Those op-shoppers among you will understand the feeling as it’s rather similar.
The print below is saved to my computer with the ignominious title ‘Disappointing Flowers’. But once colour and collage treatment are added, it actually works very well.
This is a quick mock-up showing how the application of colour and a trim here and there, bring a disappointing print into a context that works. At least, for me. It’s not from the book.
This one I was truly delighted with. It’s such a simple pattern, printed with a single block and roughly aligned. The roughness appeals to my deepest instincts in a way that nothing tidy or perfect can do. And the print has become a raw material like a delicious cheese that I might put into some cooking.
And here are some of the inky painted areas I’m using. These too, will be barely recognisable when I’ve finished colouring and ornamenting them on the computer, but for me, the shapes produced with a brush have more animation than anything I can draw directly on the screen.
Now it’s back to the page. Some ducks are calling for my attention.
Yes. I think some of them are Call Ducks.
I have been AWOL for a while, with back surgery and other challenges to deal with. So although Katrina Germein had asked me late last year to do a little sketch of the Cat Called Thunder to use in celebration of the second birthday of our book together, I had not until now been able to work on it.
It seemed a friendly little task to use as a portal back into work, so I cleared the drawing board last week, (quite some task!) and set about trying to draw my little Cornish Rex again.
It takes me some time to learn to draw any of my book characters in a way that speaks true. And I have found also that after enough time has elapsed since that intensive process of making a book, the character is lost again. I can recognise him or her perfectly; can spot an imposter a mile away… but that doesn’t mean that I can make my hand produce the authentic version (below) on demand.
In most cases, this really doesn’t matter. And I wasn’t too bothered about creating the perfect Thunder picture for a birthday invitation, (indeed the cat in the book varies considerably in scale and type) but it was a nice exercise and got my fingers inky again.
I did a lot of sketches and none of them really captured him in his entirety. The little sketch below captured his lively personality (and undershot jaw!) but the body was incorrect.
Here are just a few of the doodles. You will see that at some point I began suggesting the number 2 in various ways.
Since none of them hit the mark perfectly, I coloured up three of the best. (See top and below) I’m not sure if this design makes it look as though Thunder is pooping out a fish bone. I hope not, as this could be painful. He suffers for my art. *sigh*
And my favourite of the sketches looks nothing whatever like the original character, and is the Flick-of-the-Wrist-Cornish who is like an exclamation mark come to life.
Purrs to you all. And I will see you soon!
A little way down is a brief write up of my June trip to Tjuntjuntjara. I wrote it for the IBBY newsletter after I got back. Quite a lot has gone on since then, but I’ve not had the time and head space to write blog posts. But it’s time to start catching up before I forget how to blog. So I’m cheating and putting the IBBY story up here to get started. If the style seems a little unlike my usual, it’s because I had to keep it to 400 words so there was no room for shenanigans!
And before we go on, I LOVED my trip to Tjuntjuntjara, but it was scary because:
• I had never participated in a school creative camp before and the team did not have any definite plans beforehand. We were making up the program as we went along, according to the needs of the kids, which were unknown until we got there. So I couldn’t really prepare much beforehand. (Although, in hindsight, I should have had more of a go at this!)
• I am not a confident flier and I had to catch three planes each way, one leg being on a light plane. (I could phrase that better, but I’m quite liking the mental image of myself balancing with one leg on a light plane, the other… who knows where? on an albatross, perhaps.)
• I am not, as yet an experienced public speaker, despite the best of intentions…
• my back is jiggered at the moment so the trip was bound to be uncomfortable.
In June I travelled with ILF staff Tina and Cindy, and author illustrators Gregg Dreise and Ann James to Tjuntjuntjara, an aboriginal community in WA, 550 km east of Kalgoorlie. There we spent an intense three days working with the students to produce a story and artwork to be published next year.
Ten children participated in the writing camp; only two from Tjuntjuntjara School. The rest had driven across the desert with their teachers from other communities, over 200 km away and two were from Firbank Grammar in Melbourne. The children had spent a day getting to know each other before we got there.
Gregg Dreise, a talented extrovert, performed songs, drew, painted, talked, led story making sessions and taught the kids to paint and throw boomerangs. His modified didgeridoo, the ‘didgeridon’t’, was a happiness generating kid-magnet. Gregg was our Batman Utility Belt. He could do anything.
Ann James has a quiet, accessible manner of talking, as though she’s sitting around a kitchen table, even when she’s up in front of a crowd. On the first day Ann deftly demonstrated the art materials that we brought. She encouraged the kids to dive in and try everything before finding their favourite medium, and then supported them in producing a series of illustrations for their writing over the latter two days of the camp.
I was able to scan some of the first day’s work and whizz them up in PhotoShop with some text to show the students how their work might look on a printed page. Working with the kids one-on-one over the next two days as they revised their writing and worked up their illustrations, I felt so privileged. Some were shy to begin with but we connected very quickly by sharing ideas about their work. It was an intimate and enriching experience and fabulous to witness their stories taking physical form. I can’t wait to see the artwork again after it is professionally scanned, as I’ll be designing the book to be published by the ILF.
Tjuntjuntjara Principal Charlie Klein pulled all the different parts of the day together for the kids, making sense of everything, and memorably making them write for their dinner and their beds at the end of each day on a giant roll of brown paper. We had to do it too on the last day. The kids told us we were cheating if we drew pictures.
frozen kangaroo tails
There were once a woman and her son who loved chickens.
One day the woman looked at the grapes in her fridge and decided that they were no longer appetising enough for her family to eat. So she and her son took some of the grapes out to feed to the chickens in the garden.
Because the garden was on a steep slope with a hard driveway running through it, the grapes were inclined to roll and the woman and her son laughed in delight to see the chickens run up and down the hill chasing the grapes and one another.
But after a short while, the woman noticed that one of the chickens was standing still and jerking its head in an uncomfortable manner. And although her son laughed to see the chicken dancing, the woman saw that this was because the chicken was trying to dislodge a grape that was stuck in its throat.
The boy picked up the chicken and saw that foam was accumulating in its throat as it struggled to breathe. The woman took the chicken and tried to reach a finger down its throat to retrieve the grape. But the throat was too long and too narrow. Then she saw that the bird’s comb was turning blue and that it would soon die if she could not clear its airway. So she gently but firmly blew once down the bird’s throat.
Although this inflated the chicken momentarily in quite a surprising way, it did not dislodge the grape and the boy began to cry. Then the woman in desperation, felt amongst the feathers on the front of the chicken’s neck. She found to her surprise that the grape was very easily detected and she quickly pushed the round lump upwards into the bird’s mouth and out onto the ground where she stamped it flat before another chicken could take it.
The bird began to breathe again and sat contentedly in the woman’s arms as she comforted the boy. Soon the boy stopped crying, and the chicken began scratching around the garden with the others as before.
The next day, the woman saw the remaining grapes in her fridge, which were not good enough for the family to eat, but yet not poor enough to throw onto the compost heap and she said to herself. ‘I will not make the same mistake again. This time I will cut up the grapes so that they do not stick in the chicken’s throat.’ And she pulled out a large chopping board and a very sharp knife and began to slice the grapes.
But the grapes began to roll about the board, and the woman was hard put to cut them without losing them onto the floor. So she held each grape closely and cut them individually saying to herself, ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’. But holding one grape a little too closely, she accidentally cut off the very tip of her finger and she bled and bled.
The chickens did not mind the blood, nor the tip of the finger. Not a single chicken choked on a grape and there were three eggs in the nesting box that day, each with a yolk as round and yellow as the sun.
Today I have been working on the mid section of roughs for Leonard Doesn’t Dance. It’s a difficult time for poor Leonard.
As I was drawing, in search of the right feeling in his posture and expression, I thought it might be interesting to picture book enthusiasts to see some of the thought that go into each illustration. So here we go.
I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read my notes on the page. Leonard is feeling sorrow, resignation, defeat, regret, longing. Expressions I want to avoid include alarm, fear, guilt, anxiety or furtiveness.
Those who draw will know how a tiny variation in the curve of an eye or eyebrow, or the tilt of a head may change an intended sorrow into an accidental horror.
No.3. The heavy line at 10 o’clock on the eye gives the expression wretchedness. Otherwise the large, round eye looking backwards might have indicated a fear of pursuit.
No.4. This is my preferred facial expression. It says best what I think Leonard is feeling.
No. 1. The expression seems a mix between extreme mortification and horror, with a bit of disgust thrown in. The up-curving neck shows too much energy. I want Leonard to look a little defeated.
No. 6 Although I like the body posture with raised wings, the face here is not quite as good as that of No.4. The head tilt is less submissive, more head-butt. The crest is more raised, the eye less miserable.
No.2. Utter dejection with 1920s silent movie era eye makeup! Leonard is not even looking back, just downwards. I think I’d rather he looks wistfully backwards as it indicates a suppressed longing to join in. I don’t want our boy to be completely bereft of spirit. Poor lad.
Sometimes a thing like this can be positively excruciating if you can’t get it right. But today I enjoyed it. Leonard is very accommodating.
In Leonard’s case, I have the eye to work with and also the caruncle (a patch of coloured skin) around his eye, which acts as an eyebrow or an underscore for the expression in his eye. And living with a flock of chickens has taught me what a sick or miserable chicken looks like; the hunch, the fluffed up feathers, and sometimes the dropped wings.
But with Leonard’s crest I depart from the nature of birds. A fluffed up crest in the real world might indicate bird misery, but I’m using Leonard’s crest more in the way of ears like a dog, that drop when miserable, raise when interest is sparked. That is probably a language more readily identifiable to children, since more have dogs than chickens… in Australia at least.
So that covers the face. What about the body?
He’s retreating, so he’s best drawn partly from behind. The fluffed up hunched shoulders, I mentioned earlier. He should look clumsy, so I experimented with leg postures. He has just alighted so I need to suggest the flight just finished. And he’s walking away and downwards, so I have to suggest the forward downwards movement as well.
One challenge is the wings. Raised wings (6) could suggest a certain lifting of spirits. Spread wings look nicely clumsy (5) but tend to get in the way of the main subject (his lowered face). Lowered wings (2, 4) may be best for misery but are not so good for movement and flight. (In 2 he looks positively beaten. It’s a bit much.)
Today as I was working on this, I once again remembered my fabulous school art teacher Cecily Osborn. I remember her explaining how artists can seek to depict movement in a motionless work of art. She used the ancient Greek sculpture of a discus thrower Discobolus by Myron as an example. The sculpture doesn’t depict any real life movement employed by an athlete whilst throwing a discus, but instead attempts to creatively suggest the movement that came before as well as hinting at the movement to follow the instant in time depicted by the sculpture. The sculptor borrows our imagination to evoke a movement that he can’t create in reality.
“The potential energy expressed in this sculpture’s tightly wound pose, expressing the moment of stasis just before the release, is an example of the advancement of Classical sculpture from Archaic.” (says Wikipedia)
I’m very serious today, aren’t I? Do you think I am overthinking this?
I don’t think so. These thoughts take longer to describe than they do to think. All this and more goes through an illustrator’s head as he or she is drawing. And a lot of it is subconscious too. But it’s part of what makes the pictures work, it’s part of observing our world, and how the experiences of life feed into an artist’s work. I love that about my job.
But here are a couple of over-excited woodpeckers, because I wasn’t just drawing misery today.