Category Archives: creative process

The Kick-About #28

The Kick-about #28 takes a film by Howard Sooley, as a jumping off point. The subject of the film is Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. I loved the film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is not very thrilling because it’s simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about.

I’d love to do more but I haven’t time. However, this little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape. Looking at it now, I can see that I haven’t gone far enough with either. But I’ll post it anyway.

And here is Howard Sooley’s lovely short film. Enjoy!

The Kick-About #26

Time Out! For the twenty-sixth Kick-About Phil Gomm, blogger extraordinaire is celebrating a year of kicking about with artists from around the world.

This fortnight, Phil is doing all the work. He’s assembling a collection of everyone’s favourite kick from our year long kick-about. I participated in less than half of them, so that shouldn’t really be hard, but I’ve travelled down several dark, overgrown roads and I am fond of all of them. Those places of the imagination that are dripping, have hooting noises, and a buzz in the background; where a soft-looking plant will feel unnaturally firm to the touch, or a solid-looking branch will crumple in on itself as you brush by, or turn to look at you and hiss. The light is curious; dim and yet saturating the environment with too much colour.

Below are some of the places I’ve visited over the last year, and though they are dark, there is life. Pulsing with energy. Brimming with potential.

The Girl, the Snake and the Cicada. Girl meets snake.
The Girl, the Snake and the Cicada. Girl meets snake in a full colour forest.
More creepy fairytale imagery: a grotesque fairy, possibly involved in a kidnap.
Part of the settlement at TRAPPIST-1e including some of the local flora and fauna
Metropolis – the Eternal Gardens – the first version, before the women turned into bird people.
Metropolis – the Eternal Gardens with bird people.

Phil, thanks for the kick-about. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting the last one. Those Bird Ladies. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.

The Kick-About #25 ‘The Age of Aquarius.’

The prompt for Kick-About #25 The Age of Aquarius and it made me think of the song from the stage musical Hair.

I did go briefly down a rabbit hole to look up the meaning of the expression in astrological terms. It’s complex but predictably vague and controversial. The Age of Aquarius may have begun in 2600 BCE, or may have begun in the 20th Century or may be yet to begin. Having grown out of what limited interest I had in astrology years ago, this was not a direction that inspired art. It did lead me to quite an interesting little reading session about hippies, beatniks and the New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but the complexity of this material reminded me of why I was never very good at history in school and why I admire people who are good at history!

But visually, the culture of the ’60s and ’70s is interesting. In fact I already had a digital collage with a psychedelic flavour that I made in November last year after watching the progress of the US elections with horror and dread. I had a powerful craving for the dawn of a new era, and for women to play an important role in it.

In Australia, that thirst for a change of culture, and a redistribution of power is even stronger now. If you’re interested, journalist Leigh Sales talks about it here or there’s a briefer version on her Instagram page here.

This is my November collage. These women are welcoming a new dawn.

But what the heck. I had to make something new just for this prompt. So I decided that peace, love and harmony were the go, but sticking with the a secondary theme of female solidarity and friendship.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius

And here’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius being celebrated in a small way between two friends. The moon is definitely in the Seventh House. Need you even ask? It is quite peaceful, but it seems to be darker than the November artwork.

See? Seventh House.

A celebration of female friendship.

Naturally, I did my paper doll technique again. Draw them, then dress them. It never gets dull. I should have given the second woman another arm. But she manages ok without it. (You go, Sister!)

And you can hardly even see the giant pollarded woman in the forest behind them. She represents my anxiety and is taller than the tallest tree. But see how well she hides? She’s kind of cool though. She reminds me of all those centuries old mythical giants in story forests. Sometimes they’re sleeping, and they awake when they’re needed. A bit like anxiety, they have their uses. You just don’t want them hanging around at every party.

Thanks Phil. I’m looking forward to seeing what people choose for the anniversary edition.

The Kick-About #24 ‘You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.’

The prompt for Kick-About #24 is a something Isadora Duncan said.

You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.’

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.)

Kitten playground equipment.

The Kick-About #18 ‘Still Life with Blue Vase (the roosbeef)’

The prompt for Kick-About #18 is Fernand Leger’s painting, below.

I’m running late again, for this Kick-about, and I missed the Christmas one. So I have just whizzed down to my supremely messy studio (in need of a good clear out before work commences next week) and painted a few quick Christmas dinner themed sketches inspired by Leger’s perfect little still life. Since I’ve just been to see Joy Hester: Remember Me, at Heide, it felt pretty easy to swing into black ink outlines with minimal colour.

The Lap Sitter

I was a little too hasty with my first sketch. Not having the exact brush pen I was wanting to hand, I used the one that was there. The ink is grey-pale and not waterproof. So when I threw a bit of ink on, it melted. I thought it would, but sometimes I like that look. I switched to waterproof ink and brush with pencil for the next two sketches. I liked the scratchy impulsiveness of the thrown down colour pencil. And then I didn’t really notice my medium any more, because it became all about the people in the images.

The Kick

I rarely do a still life. For me, The Things are all about the people that use them. So I became lost in some invented people and what their moods and relationships might be. In my final image, it was interesting to find that despite the small crowd of people in the central part of the drawing, the subject was really the man at extreme left and the slightly harassed mother at the extreme right. It became all about their isolation within the crowd.

The Feast

As a matter of fact everyone in this last image looks as though he or she is disengaged or separate somehow. Which is often the case at family Christmas gatherings, I think. It can be an emotional time for people, especially for the introverts, and for those who have more than their fair share of family problems. Having said that, our family gathering this Christmas was a warm and relaxed thing and I felt that the connection between people was both grateful and strong. After such a year we were so lucky to have a moment of relatively unfettered togetherness in Victoria before the next Covid cases came along. I’m counting my blessings.

Looking at the three here, the first two are the strongest, and perhaps they suit the medium best: lots of white space; not too much going on; a clear focus. Also, the large central area of red. But I enjoyed doing all three.

Thanks Phil. I’ll try to be on time next time. :-) x

The Kick-About #16 ‘The Woods Are Lovely, Dark And Deep’

The prompt for Kick-About #16 is from a Robert Frost poem. You can read the entire the poem here. It’s a lovely one.

I’m pretty pushed for time at the moment, so I have been missing Kick-About challenges lately. And I’m late for this one. But I couldn’t resist doing a pretty literal interpretation of this one very hastily this morning!

I added some trolls playing chess on the lake. And who knows? Maybe Robert Frost was imagining the same thing. However, I’ve taken them out again for now. It needs more work balancing the composition than I have time for today. Another little job for January, perhaps. :-)

More work needed here. But Lots of fun for a lazy day.

Thanks again, Phil! A lovely interlude in a busy time.

The Kick-About #13 ‘Ersilia’

The prompt for Kick-About #13 is an excerpt from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Ersilia, from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

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.

Dromana beach weekend
toddler birthday party (strong double grandmother presence)
teen birthday party
In the garden at Camperdown
First day of school.

Christmas Day

Christmas day after lunch

Covid-19 Isolation

Thanks again, Phil! So much fun to join in.

The Kick-About #9 ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’

Hello from Locked Down Melbourne. We are a little way off the easing of restrictions, but they are on the horizon. I cleared out and organised my linen cupboard on the weekend. It brought me great comfort. I now realise that we have about 80 pillowcases. Hmmm.

But today was the first day of spring. The hens are laying, the wild birds are fiercely courting, nesting, and engaging in aerial warfare. The garden is in uproar where Scott has been landscaping with giant rocks. The garden is his sandpit. And also his linen cupboard.

Oh yes! The kick-about. This was an inspired choice of prompt. We were to respond to a very lively piece of music, to blow away the cobwebs. In truth, I think I am still stuck in the Kick-About #7 Ennui, but the idea of having energy and the space and freedom to expend it is appealing. I listened to the music while walking around the local nature reserve on a windy, sunny day. It was glorious.

The fast machine was a billy cart in my mind. But that seemed too earthbound. And perhaps due to my caged bird mentality at the moment, my thoughts turned towards flight. Some little ink sketches resulted.

This slightly steampunk, ragged little witch has a broomstick that is a first cousin to a billy cart.

Once again I was planning an animation. But my computer obstinately refuses to export a video file. Phooey!

But I had revisited the work of Eadweard Muybridge earlier in the week when I was drawing running dogs for When You‘re Older.

V0048768 A dog running. Photogravure after Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A dog running. Photogravure after Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. 1887 By: Eadweard Muybridge and University of Pennsylvania.Published: 1887 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

This gave me the idea to arrange my little steampunk witch drawings into a tribute to Muybridge‘s sequence photographs. It was fun. But in the end, I felt they looked better on a plain white background.

Here are a couple of frames from the obdurate animation file.

This last image does not bode ill for my little witch. In the final frame she sits up. I wanted a cheeky smile to emerge. However, when I drew it in, she looked demonic. So I removed. it. Ha ha!

Metropolis

I have joined in a Kick About! It’s a bit of creative play organised by Phil Gomm over at Red’s Kingdom. Phil provides a prompt and we have a couple of weeks or so to make something. It’s casual. Lovely!

I have been wanting to do something calm and creative to harvest all this turbulent Isolation Energy. (The dreams! Is anyone else having crazy dreams?) There seem to be a lot of Creative Challenges that have popped up to keep people busy during isolation. But with already more than enough actual work to complete, they weren’t calling to me.

Then I saw Phil Cooper’s glorious artwork for the previous Kick About topic, and I jumped on the band wagon. The current theme is Metropolis, which could mean any metropolis, but I have taken it to be the 1927 German expressionist Sci-fi film by Fritz Lang, because it’s one of my favourite films. I have fond memories of being taken along to it as a teenager by my big brother. My eyes were nearly popping out of my head.

I started with my usual black ink. I chopped up and printed from a few bits of foam to create an impression of the Metropolis City. And a fountain of water.

But some of the most compelling memories of the movie for me were the scenes in the Rich Men’s pleasure gardens. I was thinking of using the city scene as a backdrop behind the gardens. I coloured it and knocked back the contrast, but ultimately it was too distracting to use behind my main subject, which had more than enough going on with the plants.

The Pleasure Gardens are extraordinary. They are stupendously opulent, and are filled with tumescent plants and feature a scalloped grotto and various fountains. In them two very striking scenes take place. In one, an unprepossessing petty official pompously selects a concubine, as though choosing a piece of fruit from a fruit bowl. She is to entertain Freder, later that day.

In the other scene, Freder frolics with the girl in the garden, playing a game of chasey around a fountain, when suddenly from a doorway, the angelic Maria appears surrounded by children. ‘Look, these are our brothers,’ she says.

Some of my doodles of small 1920s children.

Need I say it? Freder is dumbstruck. Smitten. The poor concubine becomes insignificant, and her distress is evident in her face and posture, as she fails to retain Freder’s attention. She’ll be demoted, no doubt. Or something…

I wasn’t really sure which of these scenes I was going to play about with. It turned out to be sort of both. But really, the gardens themselves became the main subject.

I placed the children and Maria in the garden, and some concubines. But they seemed somehow too literal, and it was too busy. Surprisingly, it was Freder’s moment of suspense and call to action that won me over. And only he remained in this scene.

I decided to make a second scene featuring the bureaucrat selecting the concubine and had several goes at different forms for the women, some exaggerating their body parts and others not.

I was pleased with my version of the bureaucrat as a stiff little penguin creature with big eyes and yellow socks. So after a few different versions, battling to find a balance between background and foreground, whilst still using my favourite black ink for the figures, I made the girls into bird people as well.

It’s still not entirely resolved. Especially with regards to the background colour. But I really enjoyed using a muted art deco palette, heavily infused with black, because it suggested the darkness of the film without actually being black and white.

It’s just a Kick About. So that’s it for now. It did give me lots of ideas, and took me into some wacky places that were very refreshing. Thanks so much Phil Gomm and also Phil Cooper!

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.