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.
A book about summer and family… and cicadas of course
Two books in one year is outrageous for me. I’m a slow cooker of books. Especially picture books. Each one is for me such a journey of discovery and striving and learning and change. So they emerge slowly.
But speaking of emergence, this is a book about cicadas… cicadas emerge slowly too! Some of them spend several years underground in their nymph form. One species spends seventeen years underground, which is longer than I have ever taken to illustrate a book… thankfully. Then they dig their way up into the light, shed their outer casing, dry their wings and sing a song to the summer. The boys do, anyway. And I’ll bet not many people know that they cover their ears when they are singing so that they don’t deafen themselves. Lesley taught me that.
There are so many bits of fascinating information in Lesley Gibbes‘s text. And there are more than insects here too. There’s a narrative featuring a grandfather and child who go looking for cicadas on an overnight camping trip. And that is what I call fun.
Cicadas, summer and grandparents go together like cheese and biscuits. There’s something about these wonderfully noisy creatures (the cicadas, not the grandparents) that fascinates adults and children alike, and while we are sharing our fascination, we share a time, that later becomes a treasured memory. It did for me. I remember holding cicadas on my hand and collecting the empty shells (exoskeletons) and attaching them to the front of my clothes by their hooky little feet. They looked very decorative, along with the ripe cherry earrings hanging from my ears.
I consider myself lucky to have been offered the opportunity to illustrate a Nature Storybook for Walker Books. It’s a series that I’ve admired for a long time. It features a double layer of text; story and scientific fact alongside one another in a child-friendly format. There are quite a few in the series, all beautiful. (I’d love to own an original painting from Dingo by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks. And check out Tannya’s dog paintings!)
A few years ago I did quite a bit of illustration work for Museum Victoria where I got a taste for illustrating New Things That I Knew Nothing About. You research, scribble, take notes, panic, draw, draw again until you get it right… or right enough. (It’s never perfect.) This was a bit like that. It was really satisfying to learn to draw a cicada. I’m not confident I’d be able to draw a convincing one now, but for a few moments in time, I could do it.
And best of all was illustrating the Australian bush and the leaf litter. It made me want to make great big paintings of leaf litter.
There were once a woman and her son who loved chickens.
One day the woman looked at the grapes in her fridge and decided that they were no longer appetising enough for her family to eat. So she and her son took some of the grapes out to feed to the chickens in the garden.
Because the garden was on a steep slope with a hard driveway running through it, the grapes were inclined to roll and the woman and her son laughed in delight to see the chickens run up and down the hill chasing the grapes and one another.
But after a short while, the woman noticed that one of the chickens was standing still and jerking its head in an uncomfortable manner. And although her son laughed to see the chicken dancing, the woman saw that this was because the chicken was trying to dislodge a grape that was stuck in its throat.
The boy picked up the chicken and saw that foam was accumulating in its throat as it struggled to breathe. The woman took the chicken and tried to reach a finger down its throat to retrieve the grape. But the throat was too long and too narrow. Then she saw that the bird’s comb was turning blue and that it would soon die if she could not clear its airway. So she gently but firmly blew once down the bird’s throat.
Although this inflated the chicken momentarily in quite a surprising way, it did not dislodge the grape and the boy began to cry. Then the woman in desperation, felt amongst the feathers on the front of the chicken’s neck. She found to her surprise that the grape was very easily detected and she quickly pushed the round lump upwards into the bird’s mouth and out onto the ground where she stamped it flat before another chicken could take it.
The bird began to breathe again and sat contentedly in the woman’s arms as she comforted the boy. Soon the boy stopped crying, and the chicken began scratching around the garden with the others as before.
The next day, the woman saw the remaining grapes in her fridge, which were not good enough for the family to eat, but yet not poor enough to throw onto the compost heap and she said to herself. ‘I will not make the same mistake again. This time I will cut up the grapes so that they do not stick in the chicken’s throat.’ And she pulled out a large chopping board and a very sharp knife and began to slice the grapes.
But the grapes began to roll about the board, and the woman was hard put to cut them without losing them onto the floor. So she held each grape closely and cut them individually saying to herself, ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’. But holding one grape a little too closely, she accidentally cut off the very tip of her finger and she bled and bled.
The chickens did not mind the blood, nor the tip of the finger. Not a single chicken choked on a grape and there were three eggs in the nesting box that day, each with a yolk as round and yellow as the sun.
It’s the second week of the school holidays and I’m back in the studio today after a busy week with the family. The boys are visiting with their grandparents in the country all this week. And I have no work to show you yet, so I thought I’d just say hi.
I really love the autumn in Victoria. The light is soft and warm with honey tones like a dessert wine. (yum.) It’s the best time of year for closing your eyes and lying in the sun,
for shaking apples from the apple tree,
or for having the Last Great Water Fight of the season.
But in the midst of this mellow finale, the wild birds have been rowdy today for some reason, as they were back in the spring when they were fighting for nesting sites and mates and eating each other’s babies!
This afternoon I saw a kookaburra nearly stun itself by attacking its reflection in our lounge room window, as a grey butcherbird watched closely, waiting for an opportunity. While the kookaburra sat on a branch recovering its composure, the butcherbird (3 flights up) dived down and audibly clouted it on the top of the head. Is that adding insult to injury, or injury to injury? The kookaburra raised its head feathers in lieu of a comb or a finger and looked outraged and rumpled but didn’t pursue.
Our chicken girls weren’t rowdy though. In fact, they were a little alarmed by the swooping and noises in the trees around them when I let them out this afternoon.
A chicken conference under the sheokes.
Takara demonstrates her funky chicken dance as three kookaburras overhead cause some concern with their noisy display.
Our two Salmon Faverolles, Takara and Cressida Cowell eating peanuts in the driveway. Takara (on the left) has started laying and hence the big, red comb. Cressida is a late bloomer and a big, fat baby who galumphs about tripping over her ugg boots. She is by far our largest and heaviest chicken and at the bottom of the pecking order. It’s amusing to watch tiny Storm scold her whilst barely reaching up to Cressida’s fluffy chin at full stretch.
Meanwhile, back in the studio, for want of new artwork to show you today, here are some of the musicians that didn’t make it through the auditions recently.
They don’t mind. They have a regular gig down at The Swamp on Thursday nights.
Here are a pair of cockatoos do-si-doing. They are going to try to squeeze into a spread for Leonard Doesn’t Dance tomorrow.
My drawing board now that the sun has gone down,
My black Cornish Rex inkwell,
and last of all, something that isn’t here yet. The Squirrel. A wood fired stove that will soon be warming my studio. Woohoo!
Yes, last weekend was sublimely sunny. A perfect summer weekend. But here, our experience had rather a wet theme.
This was how it began.
To be continued…?
I will say this though. This morning started in a very similar way. Me in pyjamas answering a knocking at the front door. But this morning it was a school morning, I had slept through the alarm, and the kids were due to leave for school in 15 minutes.
Comics seemed the only way to express my feelings for the way our weekend went.
Bonneted girl in too many frills. (From a vintage cabinet card portrait photo)
Over the summer school holidays, I had the pleasure of pulling out all the monotype equipment, unused for many months, and taking it for an outing to the back garden of the new house. There is a space under the decking that’s perfect for fine weather art activities. The boys and I set up two trestle tables there and had a lovely afternoon of printing in the warm air.
While the boys printed an assortment of monsters, animals and fancy lettering (most of which they remembered to reverse as they drew), I printed chickens, dogs and portraits of them drawing. They were mostly autonomous because they had printed before and are old enough to manage on their own, but my focus was divided between my own drawings and theirs, so I came back a few days later and had another go on my own.
Author Ann Martin had kindly posted me her collection of cabinet card photos after my last post on vintage clothing (here) and I decided to use these as the basis for my monotypes. I had also been admiring one of my favourite books Detour Art.
I LOVE that book, (one of my favourite Christmas presents ever!) and browsing through it again led me to look up and explore further the work of Thornton Dial Sr. who died only last month. You can see the video A Day With Thornton Dial Sr. here.
Thornton Dial’s work ranges between sculpture using found objects through to several dynamic painting styles. One of his loose drawing styles made me itch to print some monotypes and add either dry pastel or watercolour to them. I love the way his rapid line work dances with the limited colours he adds.
Below are some of Thornton Dial’s works that make my heart race!
As you will see, my own work is nothing like his whatsoever. As with most artistic adventures, the artwork takes on a life of its own, and mine were no exception. They were mostly drawn using a continuous single line, using a heavy crayon pressed firmly on the back of the paper. I was seeking a heavy line with bleed but also a loose line, and was mostly successful in this.
Bearded man – first take. The original did not look as heavy as this darkened photo and I increased the pressure when drawing the subsequent images.
Bearded man – second take. (These were drawn from the same photo, so you can see that I was not attempting to achieve a likeness.) This is the image that I was most pleased with. I have an irresistible urge to add an off yellow background and pink to his tie, so he may yet be ruined, but I have taken the precaution this morning of gluing him to a cardboard backing in order to prevent buckling when I take paint to him.
This chap had a rather ridiculous face in the original photo. And my rendition made him possibly more ridiculous. But he does rather remind me of an idiotic version of Jude Law. (sorry Jude Law.)
After completing a few other prints, including the frilly little lass at the top of the post, I brought the prints indoors to dry so that I could add colour. I started with the first bearded man, because the outline was too weak to stand alone and I thought that by adding colour I’d either ruin it (and not mind) or redeem it.
Actually, I did neither.
The paper buckled a little but not too much as it is a heavy weight paper. I solidified some of the outlines and I had an absolute ball throwing the colour on. But I’m not overly excited about him. And I didn’t leave enough white space for him to breathe. He may have been better on a white background.
I then added colour to clown-like ‘Jude Law’. By golly it was fun to slosh the paint on a large piece of paper! I stopped after that. The girl would not benefit from colour and the other bearded man, being my favourite, deserved some thought and a backing board before proceeding, if at all.
I’ve now done the backing board, and I must decide his fate!
It’s school holidays, we’ve moved house recently, and I’m working on one of my most important projects: connecting my kids with new local friends before school starts at the end of the month. Today… PLAY DATE.
For those who think they have mastered sketching people at the swimming pool (hysterical laughter) the next challenge is obviously to sketch at Gravity Zone, one of Melbourne’s trampoline play centres where children and the occasional energetic adult bounce around in a state of perpetual motion and happy exuberance. So I took my sketch materials to the play date.
One of the children vomited as I was watching, but I didn’t sketch that. Luckily it was not on a trampoline but in the café area…
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.