I’ve missed these kick-abouts over the last few months. So this image is pretty much how I feel about joining in again!
This woman, if not the actual quote, seems so infinitely suited to the kinds of figures I have been painting in ink over the last year or so. You’d think that’s the direction I’d go. But no. I’ve taken a more mundane direction. Because I’ve been fostering cats for the local RSPCA.
Cats in Australia are a problem. They’re often mistreated, rarely desexed, often dumped, and the feral population is gigantic, doing enormous damage to our wildlife. Click here to find out more. My lovely foster cat arrived painfully thin, with four bouncing babies. All five of them have now been successfully adopted. Hooray! Go well, little ones.
I was drawing them to get my cat drawing skills up. They weren’t very good at holding their modelling poses while they were awake… Ahem! They have that in common with small children. But it was certainly a delight to have them around for a few weeks.
Technically these guys once were wild, having been picked up as strays. But at the same time, they were affectionate and tame. So they are not really my response to this prompt. My response was I think a little influenced by a far superior cat painting, by William Kentridge that is on the wall of my studio in postcard form. But really it was just a fun play about with ink. Fairly large scale on cartridge. Here he is below, significantly reduced in size.
I swished up a few garden plants for him to prowl in. Then combined the two in Photoshop.
I altered his head and paws a bit to bring him into a more domestic cat proportion, and away from the original, more expressionist type. He represents the suburban animal who is both wild and tame at the same time. Every time he goes outside, he becomes his own ancestor – a wild animal. Our suburban gardens are his hunting ground. It is a fascinating thing, albeit devastating to our wildlife.
Thanks again, Phil. As always, I enjoyed this little detour. And as always, it sparked off a series of new ideas. I woke up at 2 o’clock this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I soothed myself with thinking about painting this cat prowling in a forest and somewhere between 2.30 and dawn, a wordless picture book has been born, fully-formed in my mind. (Well, not quite fully formed.)
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.)
I might see you at Federation Square, if you are Melbourne based. Please say hi, if you are in the area. I’d love to see you.
I’m bringing a small number of limited edition prints to sell at the book stall along with signed books.
Below are some prints from the actual book, that will be for sale. And following them you’ll see some altered book prints which show the inspiration for the medium that was used in the book. But they also show the difference between the artificially created cream and the natural vintage book parchment.
The parchment is naturally a much dirtier colour… which appeals to my inky nature, but the Allen & Unwin book designer Sandra Nobes very rightly recommended a clean cream for the book itself, and this is where PhotoShop was my ally. Thanks Sandra and PhotoShop.
Here’s a lesser known part of the job of being a drawing machine. When we sign books for people, it is a nice thing for them if the signature comes with a little doodle, drawn for them, right before their very own eyes. And it’s nice to be able to do that for them. It makes us happy too. If it works.
But the inscription is done in pen and can’t be rubbed out or corrected.
And when we draw during the usual course of our day, we usually do many drafts of any illustration before we get it right.
And if we mess up our inscription doodle we have the problem of either sending a deplorable doodle out into the world defacing the otherwise pristine title page of a newly purchased book, or replacing the book with a new one… which we might also mess up.
Now remember that some of us are very temperamental drawing machines, the kind whose engines won’t start unless the key is turned in just the right particular way, may never run very well on a Tuesday, and if the oil runs low we are likely to smoke. You will now realise that the aforementioned anxieties at the back of our minds can cause a little fumble in the fingers; a wobble in the wrist; a twitch in the felt-tip… and then…
That is why I am practising my book signatures today.
With Best Fishes – practising my book signing today and this is page four. Ahem.
I have spoken to illustrators who say they won’t do it any more. They will write anything but won’t draw. (And I’m not even going to discuss the issue of spelling difficult names correctly… or easy names for that matter.)
I was led off the trail of birds this afternoon. I had an important task to complete that was overdue. Lisa S contacted me many months ago to ask about my Cornish Rex artwork and she has been waiting patiently in New York for a signed copy of Thunderstorm Dancing for a long time. Boy is she tired!
Because she has been waiting so long, she got some little bonuses in her bundle. Some Cornish doodles. Lisa has two Cornish Rex cats. One is black (Nigel). One is white (Finley).
Today, I have finally wrapped up a signed copy of Thunderstorm Dancing for Lisa and it will go into the post tomorrow, bedecked with cats.
Tucked into the book:
A little white Cornish sketch painted on the endpapers of ‘The Book of British Villages’. I was going to paint him on a map of Cornwall, but I got engrossed in this one instead.
The little white cat with his friend the black cat, drawn on a (terrible) 1980s dress pattern
Thunderstorm Dancing all wrapped up:
Ready for the post bag
And finally, a doodle on the envelope:
parcel ready for stamps
When I was at the post office a few days ago, the only stamps they had were husky dogs… That’s not going to go down well! Fingers crossed there are some stamps there tomorrow that are more feline friendly.
Hugo’s letter, just because he loved this envelope so much. What could I do?
I’ve always loved illustrated envelopes and illustrated packages. For an earlier mention go here. But now I am lucky enough to own a book full of them, thanks to my friend Geri Barr who gave me one just because I like them…
Or was it because she has a secret agenda? Perhaps she buys them for all of her illustrator friends and is right now amassing a HUGE and VALUABLE (requires all caps) collection of illustrated envelopes addressed to her. Aha! That’s it!
I wonder if it’s too late to copy her… Geri, you devil.
Some interesting things I was able to confirm while I experimented with illustrating standard (yes, cheap) envelopes:
• Wet media make your standard (cheap) envelopes buckle in an alarming way (but pencils and felt tips are great and very portable)
• Home made envelopes would be really, really special and you could make them from thick watercolour paper and use whatever media your heart desires.
• Illustrated envelopes look okay when they are drawn (and coloured – optional) but look so much better, after the address goes on. Unfortunately I can’t publish them on-line with the lettering intact because that would be rude to recipients. But you can take my word for it. If you want to.
• Choice of stamp can be crucial to success. If you live with a stamp collector, you’re set. If you don’t, you have to go to the post office and ask the people behind the counter to show you their REAL stamps which are hidden in a drawer. They will look a bit annoyed. Be prepared.
• All this is just dandy until you realise that you can’t send an empty envelope. After all the time you spent laboriously illustrating an envelope for your friend, you now have to write a letter! Or send them a cheque if you have more money than time. But do this quickly, cheques will be extinct even before REAL stamps.
Enjoy envelope decorating, and letter writing if you can find some time, because it is very satisfying, and ever so much fun to receive one.
I’ll be helping set up the stand with Ann James and Ann Haddon and generally loitering about with my eyes out on stalks. And I’ll have a stint or two doing drawing demonstrations, which should be fun. The only shame is that the fair is for book industry folk and is not open to the public so I won’t have any children coming to visit. I love the conversations that happen with children when I am drawing for them.
There will be several other Australian children’s authors and illustrators there too (and the numbers are rising). And intriguing lectures. Some of last year’s ones were called things like:
Not for girls, neither for boys: free novels to grow up freely
The universal language of fairy tales
Stories and lines (in the Illustrator’s Café… I might spend a bit of time there)
How to Animate Your Children Story (meaning to turn it into an animation)
Illustration beyond the page (What happens when illustration leaves the book and expands to new worlds. From children’s plays on dogs and hyenas, to body painting the Book of Ester.)
The Future of Education is already here: Literature for Children and Young People in the Cloud
Writing for children, a different outlook on the world
Show us your illustration!
And many, many more. So I am looking forward to some great conversations and much inspiration.
I’ll also get time to pop down and visit my friend David Capon in Puglia, Southern Italy, here. Wow! How beautiful is Casa della Scrittrice?
This is Puglia. Those trulli remind me of a scene I absolutely loved in The Horse and his Boy by C S Lewis. Does anyone remember the scene where Shasta is outside the walls of the city of Tashbaan, alone amongst the tombs and the sun goes down? A cat comes and keeps him company. (The cat is Aslan in disguise of course.) I just LOVE a magical cat.
One of the beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes
The Scribble Cornish of yesterday, became a fully drawn and painted Cartoon Cornish after dinner last night. I started out to do an inky depiction, with wet edges, to suggest the fuzz, as per all of my work this year really. Fast and loose… But strangely I found myself taking the unprecedented step of using a sharpened Prismacolour pencil to draw in some detail, as the Prismacolour Artstick was frustrating me by going off rather too wildly on its own tangents.
And although, this picture is not exactly as I would want it, I have to say, I quite enjoyed being careful… relatively careful… for a few moments :-)