This had me really thinking. It led me in all sorts of directions.
One of my ideas was a weird and very complex dot-to-dot image that would be different for every person who embarked upon it because the connections between numerals would be created by answering a series of questions about family, friends and neighbours. The end result would be a deeply personal web of lines in different colours. But given the shortness of time I have for making art for art’s sake, it felt like a laborious task. I drew the dots though. :-)
My next idea involved painting some areas of adjacent colour, each area representing a member of my immediate family. I intended to overlay those colour areas with lines connecting the people, each line representing an interaction. I was interested to see how this would look and began a practice run on paper, while I prepared a large wood panel in the garage for painting.
However when I went to paint the wood panel over the weekend, that painting took off in its own direction and turned into something about grasslands rather than family. (More on that later, but here’s what the unfinished painting in the garage looks like in case you wanted to know.)
Well, I thought of opting out for this fortnight, but then I remembered the unfinished practice run on paper. I chopped it into strips and collected my family into eight piles. Two teens, myself, Scott, and all four grandparents. Although one of them isn’t with us any more, he is already deeply woven into the fabric of our family.
Then I took up a discarded piece of work from an earlier kick-about and began weaving the strands of the family together.
So this is my family. Though separated by space, and even time, we are woven inextricably. Our colours harmonise and clash depending on the day and on which other threads are adjacent, but we strengthen each other over all. And a tug on one thread, will summon help from several other threads.
Chopping sections off into small interludes was a fun follow up. Here are some mini family interactions.
It’s nearly, nearly Book Week 2020! Hurrah! And I love the theme this year.
Perhaps you are at school. Perhaps you are at home school. Either way, here is a game you can play with family, friends or classmates. It’s a drawing game, a writing game, (or could it be an acting game, a dancing game or something else?) and it’s based on something I have found to be true for me. Sometimes it’s easier to start with something, rather than nothing. Sometimes you need a little leg up, before you can go galloping off on your creative journey.
It’s very simple…
Step One. Download the pdf with all of the pages I have prepared for you. (Here is the pdf.) Or download the jpegs if that works better for you. (They’re at the bottom of this post in the Downloads section.)
Step Two. Chop them up and stick them into some bowls or hats or boxes. (If you are a keen scissor user, you will enjoy lots of cutting up beforehand. If you are not so keen, you could do the close-your-eyes-and-stab-with-a-pencil technique, which is similar to the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey technique.)
Step Three. Close your eyes and pull as many or as few selections out as you want. I suggest one head, one body, a couple of personality traits and anything else you want is extra. (But free!)
How many prompts should you choose? Probably you’ll find it easier if you pick only a few prompts. If you have too many prompts you might get into a tangle. Important note: if you don’t like what you pull, chuck it back and try another one. It’s meant to be fun.
Step Four. Draw your Curious Creature and write about its Wild Mind.
Step Five. Teachers and parents are SO GOOD at thinking outside the box, so they will immediately see that this is an open-ended activity and can be used in lots of ways. For example…
Pair off with another person and see what happens when your two Curious Creatures meet. Write about what happens.
Pair off with another person and swap heads. (Not yours, silly. Just the picture.)
Is your bit of writing worth re-writing into a longer story, shorter story, poem, comic strip, same story different character, play or skit?
Stick all the Curious Creatures up on display and choose whichever one you like to write about or draw.
Vote for one of them as President or Prime Minister. Talk about why you chose him or her. What personality traits might be useful for a leader?
Form a group and make a Great Big Very Curious Creature with lots of heads and bodies. Add wings, extra legs, tails, hair, whatever you like.
Make a jungle for all your Curious Creatures.
Which personality traits do you think best describe you? Do you know what all of them mean? (I added some of my favourite words and you might like to look them up.)
Think of a book character in one of your favourite books. Which personality traits might match that character? Can you write a scene that didn’t happen in the book, showing those personality traits?
Can a Curious Creature or a person have two personality traits that don’t seem to match? (For example: cautious and fun-loving, bossy and sensitive, fierce and warm.) Explore!
To show willing, everyone in my family had a little go at this activity last night. And here’s the proof. (One of them wasn’t very willing actually.)
The Chocolate Cat-Astrophe (A Halloween inspired story about a cat-duck at Easter.)
Sidney heard his mum calling and opened his eyes. He was feeling a little sick. He wiped the tell-tale chocolate from his bill. Probably everyone would have mistaken it for mud anyway.
‘Coming, Mum’ he groaned, not sure his voice would carry down to the kitchen. He rolled off the bed and noticed that his furry tummy, usually a graceful 3cm off the floor, was dragging uncomfortably on the shag pile rug as he swayed towards the door.
He opened the door and extended his head out into the corridor. His sister skipped past and grinned at him.
‘Dinner smells great!’ she said. And scampered down the stairs.
‘Burp’ replied Sidney, and dragged himself to the top step. His belly had rolled the lint from the carpet into a fuzzy ball under his belly button. It felt a lot like someone was poking him in the tummy. He tried to ignore it.
‘Hope you haven’t eaten all your chocolate already, Sid.’ she called over her shoulder. ‘It’s apple pie for dessert.’ She disappeared into the kitchen.
Sidney took one step down.
His stomach stayed on the top step.
Sidney took a second step down.
His stomach settled with a sigh on the landing. It refused to move.
Cat bodies are stretchy so Sidney was able to take a third step down. His stomach countered by making a move in the opposite direction. There was an uncomfortable twisting sensation.
‘Sid!’ called a voice from downstairs.
‘Coming’ squeaked Sid.
His stomach took another determined step along the corridor. Away from the stairs. Behind him he felt his back paw open the bathroom door.
He stretched his neck downwards and took in a long, loving sniff of roast dinner.
Then he felt a sharp jerk and his chin bumped the stairs as he was dragged upwards. One, two, three steps.
Sidney grabbed the carpet with his claws.
He saw a blue bathroom light glowing on his white front paws as they clung to the slowly buckling carpet.
Then in a smooth, powerful movement like a heavy sea swell, Sidney and the carpet were pulled backwards into the bathroom.
The door slammed shut.
The PDF with all the pages in one document is here. (You might need a pdf reader on your computer to open and print the pages. If you don’t have a pdf reader of some kind you can download one of those free from here.)
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
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.
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
Part Three: making a leaf litter collage
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
I nearly wrote ‘Leonard dances into bookshops’. But then I remembered that Leonard Doesn’t Dance… or does he?
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.
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.
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!
My first work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
Here are Gregg, me, Tina, Cindy and Ann. About to take to the skies.
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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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.
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
Here I am talking about how I illustrate, and Ann is photographing my feet ;-)
Here’s Charlie preparing the students to write for their supper.
frozen kangaroo tails
Tilly Klein reading one of the many books donated by the ILF on the new reading mat.
blobs can be addictive.
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.
‘Welcome to Tjuntjuntjara’ song led by Charlie on Ukelele
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.
Robert Littlewood with some of the bookplates included in the exhibition. Photo: Joe Armao
A Geoffrey Ricardo design. Photo: Joe Armao
A Dianne Fogwell design. Photo: Joe Armao
A Megan Fisher design. Photo: Joe Armao
A Judy Watson design. Photo: Joe Armao
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.
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
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.
Stage One: loosening up, exploring ideas
Stage Two: brainstorming birds and books
Stage Three: I love this. From top to bottom, working out the composition and the gag.
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?
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 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.
Ann’s delicious doodles – trying out both brush and pencil. We weren’t sure what we would use at first.
Then this.Then this.
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.
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…