Category Archives: art and craft with kids

Leaf Litter Endpapers (activity)

You don’t need to own Searching for Cicadas to do this activity. But here’s what the book looks like.

It’s written by Lesley Gibbes and illustrated by Judy Watson. Published in 2019 by Walker Books Australia.

It’s about the life cycle of cicadas, but also about family and connecting with nature, and it’s set in Australia.

You can make the activity as simple or as complex as you like. It’s suitable for all ages. Take an hour, or take a week on it. Budding field naturalists may like to make a life of it.

Part One: How I illustrated the endpapers for Searching for Cicadas

These are the endpapers (or ends or end sheets) for Searching for Cicadas. They are a decorative element binding the cover of the book to the first page, but they also hint at what the book is about. Here, they are all about leaf litter and the natural world beneath our feet.

First I went outside into the garden. I took photos of the leaf litter under some trees. I gathered up samples of twigs, leaves (both green and decomposing ones), seeds, cones and feathers. I also walked into our local nature reserve and collected other samples.

I spread these samples out on my work bench, and began drawing and painting them, attempting to capture the character of the plants: the branching patterns, the blobs of lichen on the stems, the angles and curves. I had no particular method. I was just playing, and seeing what might come out of it. I knew I would be using the best bits, discarding lots, changing some up on the computer.

This collage of an acacia twig (wattle) was made with scissors, glue and some paper I had printed with a linear texture. I wanted to suggest the longitudinal nerves seen in some wattle leaves*, and to arrange the leaves on the stem in a recognisable way. *see note in Additional Information at the bottom of this post.
These are some of the twigs and leaves that I painted with ink and watercolour on cartridge paper. I was pleased with the apparent ‘movement’ on this page of twigs, as they seemed to be dancing across the space together. So I used them in their original arrangement as they had been painted. (You can see them in the endpapers, in red.)
It was important to paint the less classically graceful twigs. These broken or awkward little elements have their own beauty, and give an authenticity to the artwork that can’t be achieved if everything is too pretty.
These small leaves were painted in ink and had a simple centre vein incised into them. I changed these on the computer later, to make them multicoloured. They add a playful jewel brightness on the third layer down in the final artwork.
This was my favourite assemblage to paint and draw. It had a lot of awkward little sticks with lots of character, knobs and jutting bits. It had a couple of rosella feathers and some decomposing leaves. And it had some gum leaves with all sorts of beautiful blemishes.
This is a monotype of paint ’blobs’ – they were to suggest the shadows and holes in the soil for the bottom layer of my collage. I made several of these pages of blobs. The red and blue swishes of texture you can see in the background of the finished endpapers, were monotype prints as well.

The next part was scanning and assembling the artwork in PhotoShop. It’s not so relevant here. Except for one thing. My job was to find the music in the arrangement of pieces. They needed to fill a rectangle, but also more. They needed to dance across it using the power of their shapes, their colours and their textures.

Now it’s time for you to make stuff!

Part Two: beginning your leaf litter project

Peg out or choose a small area of your garden where nature is evident. If you don’t have any natural, growing parts in your garden, perhaps you can walk to a local park? Or can you borrow a neighbour’s bit of garden?
Take a look at your chosen space and see what’s there. You can make an artwork but you can also make a field naturalist’s study of the area! Take photos if you have a device. Or draw on the spot if the weather is good. Try to notice as much as you can from the bottom most layer to the very top. Look for tiny animals like bugs, tiny plants, leaves (old and new) shells, skeletons, feathers, seeds, nuts, flowers, holes, rocks and even little footprints! What can you find? Your area will be different from mine.

Part Three: making a leaf litter collage

Make a collection of anything you can bring indoors to study and draw. (Try not to damage your garden or park and leave living creatures where they are.)
Now you can go for your life with pencils, crayons, pastels, paint. Whatever materials you are lucky enough to have at hand. There are no rules. You are going to study and draw or paint the things in your collection. If you have a favourite leaf or shape, that you find easy to draw, do lots of that thing. You will be able to use it as the repeating element in your collage to hold the whole composition together.
Be inventive! You could paint or scribble on torn paper to represent bark. Or use bits of newspaper or something else.
Don’t forget to look at your photos too. There might be bits that you couldn’t bring indoors. I’ve made this photo very contrasty (black and white) so that you can see the music in the shapes. Can you see how the white leaf shapes are dancing across the dark background? There is a she-oke cone as well. It is a focal point in the image – something for the other shapes to dance around.
When you have painted and drawn and scribbled and torn all the bits and pieces that you like, you can begin to make your collage. You aren’t making endpapers for a book, so you can make any pattern that you like. Hooray! This is the original collage I made for the front cover of the book. I used scissors and glue, just like you. No computer was involved.

All you need is a piece of paper or cardboard to stick things on, scissors, a glue stick and whatever art materials you like. You can begin by drawing on the paper to make a background. And after that, keep adding layers until your collage feels just right.

At the end, don’t forget that a good trim can make a world of difference. Is there a bit you don’t like? Cut it off. Your collage can change shape; become smaller. YOU are the boss of your artwork. (Not Mum, Dad or a sibling. And especially not the cat.) Enjoy!

Bonus Challenge: what is that?

• See how many plants you can identify. 

• Are they local or exotic species? 

• What are some of the ways that botanists or horticulturalists identify plants?  

• How many insects or evidence of other wild animals did you spot? Can you find out about their life cycle? 

• Do you think any of the plants and animals depend on each other? (In Searching for Cicadas, we find out that the Black Prince cicada is found mostly on She-okes near a river.)

• Are there feathers? What bird do you think they came from? (use your detective skills) 

• Make a poster and draw (or glue onto it) all of the things you found. Are some of them connected to each other? (For example, does a beetle live in a rotting log? Why do you think he lives there?) What have you found out about nature in your chosen space?

Bonus Challenge: Focus on one element (as an illustrator)

Pick one creature or plant and make a special study of it. Read about it and draw it lots of times until you can do it fairly easily, without copying a photo. (This is what I had to do with cicadas.) 

I had to draw cicadas over and over again before they looked right. All those legs and wing veins! This was one of my early drawings of a cicada nymph. It is just fine as a drawing, but it didn’t fit in with the style of the book.
I had to draw more nymphs to make them look friendlier. Then I had to make them look less cartoony!
Here’s part of a final illustration. You can see some of my favourite twigs on here! And the nymph from above, in full colour and with her eye changed to make it less cartoony.

Have you mastered a plant or animal? Now make your special plant or animal into a character and write a story or comic strip about it. Hooray!

Bonus Mini-challenge: seasons

At a different time of the year, what do you think you would see in the same space? Would it be different? Make a drawing to show what you think it might look like.

Additional information

For a book that teaches children about the anatomy of a book, including endpapers, try Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books by Frances Watts and David Legge.

For general information about endpapers, you could try this, or this blog post.

If you’re in Victoria, Australia, and you love plants, animals and the natural world, you can join the Victorian Field Naturalists Club. There are meetings and great activities for kids and adults, and you can meet people who love the same stuff! If you’re somewhere else, you can probably find a club near you. Get your hands and feet dirty!

My acacia (wattle) ‘leaves’ in the collage above are not really leaves. They are actually phyllodes. My next activity wanders into the anatomy of acacias. You can find it here, later today.

Searching for Cicadas

Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by me. Published by Walker Books Australia, 2019. I’m thrilled that this book has been shortlisted for the Eve Pownall award for information books, CBCA Book of the Year awards 2020.

Hello! I hope you are getting some time outdoors, even if it’s to dig around in a little bit of garden or a pot plant. Or walking around the block with your dog, or cat, or ferret. Every time I go outside and breath some outdoor air I feel so much better.

Searching for Cicadas was recently shortlisted for an award. Hooray! I have never been shortlisted for a CBCA award before so I didn’t realise I would be getting emails with interview questions. Today I had to get myself organised and answer some of them and one of the questions was:

“What are your top tips for parents who might be teaching their kids at home with this book?”

That’s a big question, and it would take me about a week to answer, so instead, I suggested an activity for kids and parents. It’s based on the endpapers for the book. (Here are the endpapers, below.)

Making the endpapers was the most fun part of illustrating ‘Searching for Cicadas’. It’s no secret that I love endpapers.

Because people might like to skip my chatting and get straight to the activity, I will upload it as a separate blog post. As soon as it is uploaded (tomorrow) I will add the link here.

You can make the activity as simple or as complex as you like. It will be suitable for all ages. Take an hour, or take a week on it. Budding field naturalists may like to make a life of it, and if they do, I send them a big hug.

I will endeavour to edit the activity as I receive feedback from teachers.

Thunderstorm Dancing live performance

Late last year I was excited to get a message from Colleen who teaches at Currimundi Special School in Queensland asking for permission to use projected images from Thunderstorm Dancing at an end of year concert.

Paul Coppens, founder of the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra, composed a piece of music to accompany the children’s performance, and provided a full orchestral backing track. The result was spectacular.

I wasn’t able to go up to see the performance, but I have seen a video on Paul’s website. You can see it here. (You’ll find the ’Thunderstorm Dancing‘ link at the bottom right of the screen.) It is only six minutes long and a delight. Thank you so much, Paul.

When I saw the book I was immediately inspired not only by the words but especially the pictures. These were my inspiration and the writing from then on was easy. So thank you very much. These school children are also an inspiration so combining all these elements, and seeing their reaction was my gratification. (Paul Coppens)

It makes me so happy to see the book used in this way. It is ideally suited to the classroom. The end of the performance is a stroke of genius by the teachers. Bravo!

Leonard galumphs into bookshops

I nearly wrote ‘Leonard dances into bookshops’. But then I remembered that Leonard Doesn’t Dance… or does he?

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I’m very fond of that great galumphing bird. I relate to him very much. The initial enthusiasm, the self doubt, the impulse to hide away in a thorny tree, the desire to be with my friends that usually draws me out of the tree. And like Leonard, I have some fabulous friends.

My thanks to the team at Harper Collins and to Frances Watts, for patiently waiting for Leonard as he put one lanky leg in front of another (tripping over several times) and eventually became finished art; now a book.

This lovely cover was designed by Hannah Janzen.

I had been initially drawn to a white cover, because black ink on white paper was a signature part of making the artwork. There was a lot of ink involved. Brushed on, drawn on, printed, wiped and smudged onto white paper. Big broad strokes, and fine textured marks. So my original idea was to have an inky black and white cover, with a pop of red on Leonard’s face, and a scattering of brilliantly coloured birds flung around it like a double handful of lollies, and wrapping around both covers.

The team at Harper Collins didn’t think the white design was indicative of what was inside: a rampant world of jungly colour. This was perfectly true, and is why editors are so great! and Hannah did a fabulous job of designing something rich and celebratory.

Here are some of the lolly birds from the white cover design. Some of them found their way onto the new cover anyway. Perhaps you can spot them.

I visited the Grade Sixes at Derinya Primary School a few weeks back and we had a great time talking about Leonard Doesn’t Dance, story arcs, tension and making storyboards for picture books. There is just so much to talk about! A two hour session went by in a flash. I will be signing up with Creativenet Speakers’ Agency very shortly, so if any schools or groups of lovely librarians within Cooee of Melbourne would like to book a workshop and talk with me, that will be the place to go.

I have another book released this month as well! A very leafy book about cicadas. More on that soon. Enjoy your week!

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 has become a book 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.

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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.

dirigible blue

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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