Category Archives: art and craft with kids

ILF Spinifex Writing Camp

My first work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

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Here are Gregg, me, Tina, Cindy and Ann. About to take to the skies.

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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.

Here’s my 400 word write up!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(Note: here she technically IS sitting around a kitchen table. We did all of our art workshops in the kitchen, while Tilly cooked up wonderful, healthy food for students and teachers.)

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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.

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Here I am being blown away by the two boys’ work. These two were fabulous at drawing characters. They were around the same age as my boys so I was on familiar territory.

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.

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Ready, set, write!

By the way, if you want to donate to the ILF, go here. They do great work!

More pics, in no particular order

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Here I am talking about how I illustrate, and Ann is photographing my feet ;-)

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Here’s Charlie preparing the students to write for their supper.

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frozen kangaroo tails

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Tilly Klein reading one of the many books donated by the ILF on the new reading mat.

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blobs can be addictive.

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Teachers and students were all trying out the different art materials. There were many periods of quiet activity, despite the number of people busy in the kitchen.

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‘Welcome to Tjuntjuntjara’ song led by Charlie on Ukelele

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Bookplates on Exhibition

The Australian Bookplate Award is running its exhibition until the 19 December at Library at The Dock, 107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands. I haven’t been down to see yet, but it looks as though at least one of our family bookplates will be part of the exhibition, judging from this lovely newspaper article. Click the link below to visit the article.

Under the covers: bookplates offer a window into ‘untold histories’

Robert Littlewood with some of the bookplates included in the exhibition.

Robert Littlewood with some of the bookplates included in the exhibition. Photo: Joe Armao

A Geoffrey Ricardo design.

A Geoffrey Ricardo design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Dianne Fogwell design.

A Dianne Fogwell design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Megan Fisher design.

A Megan Fisher design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Judy Watson design.

A Judy Watson design.  Photo: Joe Armao

A Larissa Macfarlane design.

A Larissa Macfarlane design. Photo: Joe Armao

My husband Scott thinks that bookplates bear a remarkable similarity to wine labels in many respects. I hadn’t thought of that (surprisingly) but had compared them with stamps. I can imagine opening a bottle of Amelia Beecroft Pinot Grigio though, it’s true.

I’m surprised that this biennial award doesn’t attract more entries. It’s a rather fascinating art form and so wonderfully relevant to book illustrators. It seems an especially appealing project for schools to participate in as well. But as I discovered The Australian Bookplate Design Award only this year, perhaps others too will fall in love with bookplates in the near future.

Bookplates – just for fun

A few weeks ago I noticed on an artists’ noticeboard that there was an Australian Bookplate Design Award coming up. Not being sure what a bookplate actually was, I read with interest. I quickly concluded that it was just my cup of tea. Books, cups of tea and small, quirky collectible artworks go together perfectly. If you’re interested, try searching the internet or Pinterest with the search terms ‘artist bookplate’ or ‘ex libris’. There are some amazing ones out there, and they are so wonderfully varied in style.

Best of all, there were several categories for entry into the competition, including one for primary school students. We have two of those in the house.

Arthur (12) drew his bookplate about ten minutes after I flagged the idea, without any preliminary work apart from a little research into the meaning of his name and his sun sign. In keeping with the traditional model of a bookplate (the coat of arms of the book owner), he came up with a kind of avatar for himself; a heraldic creature with roots in the notion of courage, and I suspect some DNA from Chewbacca of Star Wars fame. See below.

Arthur's heraldic beast bookplate

Arthur’s heraldic beast bookplate

Hugo (10) decided at the last minute to join in, and only because he was home from school with a cold at the time and looking for a quiet activity. His process was admirably logical, beginning with a warm up, and ending with a bookplate. See below. 

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Stage One: loosening up, exploring ideas 

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Stage Two: brainstorming birds and books

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Stage Three: I love this. From top to bottom, working out the composition and the gag.

Bookplate Hugo Watson

Stage 4: The final bookplate.

I made my two entries in a rush on the final day as well, thereby cleverly avoiding thinking out what my perfect bookplate design would be… ahem. I’ll show you my bookplates in the next post.

We sent them off to be digitally printed and trimmed, then raced them to the post office the next day for last minute delivery into the competition. This involved the boys signing each of their bookplates with very sharp pencils in very small writing at the post office; a fun and exciting process in itself!

Finally, on the weekend, we tested out our bookplates on real books! Which was SUPER fun, even though some were a bit crooked, and as you will see below, some interesting questions came up about the hierarchy of ownership. For instance if your big cousin wrote her name in the book in 2002 with silver pen on the right hand side, do you trump that with your own hand designed bookplate pasted into the left hand side in 2015?

And does that depend on how big your cousin is?

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Share a Story

Do you have a child? Share some stories together in 2015!

In fact… you don’t need to have a child. Who says this couldn’t be an aid to writers of any age?

The poster I worked on with Ann James and Justine Alltimes is finished and up on-line for you to download. This is the major project of Australian Children’s Laureate and Senior Australian of the Year Jackie French. I think it’s a great project and will work really well for teachers, librarians and families. It’s open-ended and inspiring.

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Concept by Jackie French, illustrations by Ann James, design by Judy Watson

As with any poster design, the challenge is for everyone to whittle the information down to a minimum so that the poster can have maximum impact. In this case, the poster is a calendar, so we had to include at least 12 different chunks of information, and of course there was much more as well.

So half way through the design process, I had to delete lots of little birds from the margins for the sake of the poster. I loved Ann’s little watercolour birds so much that I had sneaked them in all over the place, having conversations about this and that; chipping (or chirping) in with their suggestions. Follow a story, hatch a story, feed a story, dream a story… and so on. (I’d love to see how many variations kids could come up with on that theme.)

Some of the birds who flew off the poster. All by Ann James.

Some of Ann’s little birds who flew off the poster.

The illustrations were all done by Ann, and fiddled about by me. We used patterns from the V&A pattern book series, which we were only able to use because this is a not-for-profit project.

from the V&A pattern books © Victoria and Albert Museum. Cannot be used except for personal or non-profit projects.

from the V&A pattern books © Victoria and Albert Museum. Cannot be used except for personal or non-profit projects.

So this page of delicious doodles by Ann,

Ann's delightful doodles

Ann’s delicious doodles – trying out both brush and pencil. We weren’t sure what we would use at first.

Became this.

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Then this.dirigible - new 2Then this.

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Scrumptious red dirigible with inky sky blob. Check out Ann’s pencil work.

Then this, because there was too much red down the right hand side of the poster.

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Although several people so far have mistaken this dirigible for a submarine, it is a magnificent machine either way and it doesn’t matter in the least which it is, for the purposes of NAVIGATING A STORY. Yaay!

Some people may notice a lingering love of Thunderstorm Red and Thunderstorm Blue…

 

 

The Paunch on the Perch

Mr Owl (as yet un-named) progresses on this sunny spring afternoon, our last day in Camperdown.

Our lack of method is throwing up a few issues that will need to be addressed and at the moment the head looks too tall. But when he’s a little less soggy, we will be able to remedy that.

Mr Owl hanging from the clothes line, with some serious surgery about to begin. Some wire (which I could not get to go through his paper middle - not surprisingly) is tied around him to form the basis of his wings.

Mr Owl hanging from the clothes line, with some serious surgery about to begin. Some wire (which I could not get to go through his paper middle – not surprisingly) is tied around him to form the basis of his wings.

My apprentice poses with Mr Owl, newly attached to his perch. Arty did one leg, I did the other.

My apprentice poses with Mr Owl, newly attached to his perch. Arty did one leg, I did the other.

The mad professor at work. Thanks to Arthur for many of these photos. As you can see I had sticky fingers!

The mad professor at work. Thanks to Arthur for many of these photos. As you can see I had sticky fingers!

The wings and tail in progress c/o Arty. You see I ran out of wire for the second wing. Not to be too daunted, we carry on. Mr Owl will never be the best flier, I think, which reminds me of the Sett Owl from Isobelle Carmody's Little Fur series.

The wings and tail in progress, photo c/o Arty. You see I ran out of wire for the second wing. Not to be too daunted, we carry on. Mr Owl will never be the best flier, which reminds me of the wonderful Sett Owl from Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series.

gluey! Shortly after this, the dog threw up on the lawn next to me. You wanted to know that, didn't you?

Gluey! Shortly after this, the dog threw up on the lawn next to me. You wanted to know that, didn’t you?

Arty is working on making several beaks for us to choose from, when the moment arrives for Mr Owl's face!

Arty is working on making several beaks for us to choose from, when the moment arrives for Mr Owl’s face!

I hope you are enjoying all these photos of the washing. Where would we Australian's be without the marvellous 'Hills Hoist' clothes line?

I hope you are enjoying all these photos of the washing (sorry Nanna Gail). Where would we Australian’s be without the marvellous ‘Hills Hoist’ clothes line?

And now we leave him to drip dry for a while. Tomorrow he needs to be fit to travel to Melbourne in the car.

And now we leave him to drip dry for a while. Tomorrow he needs to be fit to travel to Melbourne in the car.

And now it’s back to work on Thunderstorm Dancing cover options in Nanna Gail’s sunny studio.

The Bird Lover

 

Okay, this post came down. Now it’s going up again because I hear some people have linked to it. Sorry about that. Decided I wasn’t keen on it. But here it is again. Have posted plenty of warts-and-all experimental doodles before now, so why not this one?

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Strange little doodle fellow with a Tove Jansson Groke nose…

For my bird loving Mum. (I know your nose doesn’t look like this, Mum.)

Furthermore… (in for a penny, in for a pound) here’s the earlier version of this pic. Which I decided was too dark. But it has a different, more raw and slightly spooky quality. Kids could have a go at something similar to this combining scraper board techniques with collage.

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Mad Experiments with Blobs

Now I know how Dr Frankenstein felt… It’s all good fun until you create a monster.

This is surely the Weirdest Blob Ever.

Firstly, I don’t know what this blob is made of… While the kids were doing their homework (boo!) and I was cooking dinner (actually it was cooking itself) I found a piece of paper in the kids’ art and craft drawer with this mysterious stain on it. It had no odour, nor any bloody fingerprints, so I assumed it was safe to use without notifying the police.

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The first thing I saw in it (although I was looking at it rotated 90 degrees anticlockwise) was the shoulder, face and tiny wings of a beast. He had strong haunches and was clearly crouching on top of something (invisible) and looking down.

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I drew him in. But what was the fragmented blob beneath him? He was not crouching on it. It might be something fighting him for the whatever-it-was in between them. Then I saw the woman’s face with the veil over her head. The woman was confronting the beast. So I drew her in. I decided she was some kind of Earth Mother figure and they were fighting for control over the Earth. So I drew the Earth in… and some decidedly weird explosions….

By this time the dinner was no longer cooking itself and needed some help, and the kids were asking questions and giggling and pushing each other at the homework bench. (That’s my lame excuse for the state of the Earth Mother’s hands… or claws.)

So I beat them all soundly and sent them to bed.

No, I mean I fed them, played Trivial Pursuit with them and sent them to the shower. (I lost at Trivial Pursuit of course.)

‘Now I’ll fix this weird blob with a bit of discreet colour’, thought I. ‘The colour will work its magic…’

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I have no scan of the first coloured phase. Sorry ’bout that. But you’ll have to take my word for it that the colour made the blob look even weirder. Especially since the space fight was going on (at that stage) in a completely white environment.

I’m not sure why they are fighting as the Creature looks quite amiable and isn’t even raising a paw against the Earth Mother. Maybe He is trying to protect the earth and She is the one who wants to destroy it with storms, hurricanes, asteroids and plague. I would ask them if I could, but they wouldn’t hear me.

Then I added watercolour to create dark space around them but it wasn’t dark enough and the contrast became so low that the effect was one of a brownish blob surrounded by a larger greyish blob. I added some Prismacolour black pencil as a quick experiment in increasing the contrast. It succeeded to a small degree. Too small a degree.

I scanned the whole blobby mess.

In an act of insanity (given the amount of work I have to do right now!) I added a further layer of tone (purple) in PhotoShop which more or less addressed the contrast problem, and added some stars and magic sparkles. (How low can you get?)

Finally, as if to confirm that I have lost my grasp with reality, I wrote this post about the history and evolution of a nondescript and very weird blob.

However, now that it has been so thoroughly described, it can no longer be deemed nondescript… at least in the 17th Century sense of that word which is to say ‘not previously described or identified scientifically’.

I feel there are still some holes in the scientific nature of this blob though, so perhaps a thesis?