Category Archives: family

Kick-About #38 Algae

I don’t know why I love this crab so much.

The prompt for the 38th Kick-About is one of Matisse’s lovely cut-outs, titled White Alga on Orange and Red Background. I’m a big fan of drawing with scissors as Matisse described it. But I didn’t pick up the scissors. For one thing, the bees kept swarming! Three more times. I mean, crikey! We have managed to capture each of the swarms. (Today I noticed that the neighbour‘s bees are swarming. I‘m letting that lot go.)

We now have not one hive, but four. The smallest swarm was successfully reunited with the original hive. I have learned so much in a fortnight! Because I absolutely can’t help myself, I have begun the process of naming the four hives after fictional places. (Scott argues in favour of One, Two, Three and Four. *sigh*)

The original hive is three boxes high, was neglected for the last few years, and became overpopulated. It’s no longer neglected or overpopulated, but it’s still tall. It is going to be either Gormenghast, or AnkhMorpork. Both are very appealing, so we will continue thinking about that.

The smallest new hive is called Dagobah. It’s getting supplementary feeding with sugar syrup. Some of those bees fell in the stormwater drain while we were bringing them down from an overhanging branch. I fished them out of the water with a net but things didn’t look good for the piles of cold, soggy bees on the ground and dark was falling, with rain forecast. (Told you we have been learning…) However, the next day when the sun reached them, they began to recover and almost all of them rose up in reincarnated glory and returned to the colony. After this swampy experience, the name seemed obvious. (There are several Star Wars fanatics in this household.)

The original swarm from my previous post is a Thing of Glory! It is buzzing and growing and brimming with pollen and nectar. Cells are filling with larvae as new bees are created. Hugo has named this hive Sanctaphrax. Perhaps he feels this new hive will be a home of intellectual pursuit and heroic deeds. At any rate, it’s a great opportunity to honour his favourite book series.

This only leaves one hive unnamed. It is middle sized and thriving. It has had a lucky beginning, in that we donated brood from the old city to help them build their new colony. I could name it Serendipity, but it has to be a fictional place. So we will think some more on that one.

Once again, I am talking more about bees than art! What is going on?

This is an accurate reflection of my world just at present, but it’s probably time to mention that as soon I saw the prompt for the Kick-About I thought of seaweed, (not bees) and in particular I thought of the seaweed I painted for When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna; the book I have just finished illustrating.

There are several pages featuring the sea in this book, and in three of them I took the opportunity to create underwater scenes full of colourful seaweed. So when I was working on ideas for the endpapers, one of them featured crabs and seaweed. I never finished this concept, because it didn’t seem as apt as some of the other ideas, but after spending a whole day painting tiny crabs, and working them into patterns, I did fall in love with the little guy at the top of this post, hiding behind his seaweed. He totally captured my heart. I made a few more little arrangements of crabs, but I wasn’t sure they worked as well when reduced in size.

Crabs. Are you confused? We’re on crabs now. Keep up!

Today I revisited the unfinished endpapers and played around a little bit more. They’re probably nicer on white, but hey.

And here are some small sections of this non-endpaper creation.

Thanks, Phil Gomm, for hosting the Kick-About. (I’m late again!)

Kick-About #37 plus Bees!

The prompt for the 37th Kick-About could hardly have been more suited to me and my natural inclinations. It’s inky and leafy and Australian. It’s Peter Mungkuri’s Punu Ngura (2019)

Punu Nura (Country with trees) © Peter Mungkuri, Iwantja Arts. 2019.

From the Yankunytjatjara, Southern Desert region comes this beautiful black and white ink drawing on paper by Peter Mungkuri. I’m glad this prompt was chosen because it has introduced me to Mungkuri’s work, which is perfectly balanced, sumptuously decorative and calmly natural all at the same time. It is well worth a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW website to see a collection of his work. Swoon!

What strikes me most is the combination of the loosest of ink splatters with far more careful and detailed patterning. I was going to explore some inkiness yesterday (Yep! Last minute again!) to see where an observation of Mungkuri’s work might take me, especially with regard to the use of white ink patterning over the top of the looser ink layers. But before I could begin something happened.

Our bees swarmed.

This happened last year and we weren’t prepared. The hive became overcrowded, and half the bees took off to find roomier accommodation. This time, we had not only added an extra box to our existing hive to give them extra space, but we had prepared a separate hive in case they swarmed, and had it ready for the new colony to use. Well, not perfectly ready. The frames were in, with wax and wire for the bees to build on. But I wasn’t completely finished with my exterior paint job.

This is the old hive with a new box added on top. But this colony is thriving and they needed more space than this.
New hive, unfinished. Artist dissatisfied.

This is our new hive in the middle of my paint assault a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop when the paint was so thickly applied that it needed a few hours to dry before I could apply anything more with a brush. Alas, other tasks have called me since then. I hadn’t yet reached a satisfactory conclusion when the bees swarmed.

I should be annoyed. Pesky bees. They sent me no email, no letter and didn’t phone to say they were leaving that day. Just… buzzed off.

But I’m not annoyed. Far from it. My spring day with the bees was uplifting, empowering, mindful and full of joy. So I’m ok with the paint job. In fact, we have installed the bees in the brood box only, so I can tweak the top box before we put it in position. The roof and base are harder to alter… but who knows what might be stealthily achieved at night with a daylight bulb…

So here is what happened in pictures (and just a few words).

We were lucky with the location the bees chose to hang out. They congregated in the empty block next door, just by a storm water outlet, hanging from a conjunction of branches in a Desert Ash. It might have been over the storm water drain. It might have been up too high to reach without a ladder. But they chose a spot just reachable from the ground and just far enough away from the concrete drain that we didn’t risk falling into it. Phew! (I could have done without the blackberry canes though.)

First we suited up. Hugo, sorry about the shut-eye photo. It was you or me. (Blogger’s prerogative.)
Then I sawed through the main branch in order to lift the swarm down to the box. It was a bit tricky because there were several branches tangled together and the bees were dangling lower with every jiggle. The blackberries bit me. They have no respect for bee suits.
We gave the branch a firm shake and most of the bees dropped into the box.
Hugo and I then gently scooped as many bees as we could up and dropped them into the box. Hugo worked out where the queen bees was (inside) and we gently placed the lid on the box, whilst blowing bees out of harm’s way in an undignified manner.
With the tricky part over, we decided to sit in the sunshine (on the handy concrete drain) to watch the bees for a while. Some of the bees were fanning their wings near the entrance on the right. We guessed the queen was on the inside near that point and we were hopeful that all was well.

After this we stepped away and shook the bees off our suits. But then I had to go back to have another look. Just because.

This is what it looked like straight afterwards. The bees were slowly moving towards the entrance and going into the box.
A couple of hours later, almost all were inside the box. We moved them into their proper location beside the other hive after dark and all seems well today.

That evening, I had a bit of a go at my inky exploration of Peter Mungkuri’s plant drawings, but my mind was full of bees. And joy. So it became an illustration of Hugo and me, arms uplifted to the swarming bees.

In painting it, I was tumbling three things together: what happened last year (they swarmed and disappeared) what happened this year (they swarmed and we were in the middle of it) and what happens every year (we have a dead tree stump that disgorges thousands of tiny moths once a year and they spiral upwards into the sky in the early evening attracting a feeding frenzy of bird life. It is quite the annual spectacle.)

Finished painting. Scanned in 6 parts and assembled.

Thanks again, Phil Gomm, for hosting the Kick-About. Sorry I’m late!

Hello Kick-About! (#36)

Look at that! I’ve jumped seamlessly from Kick-About #28 to Kick-About #36 without a single kick!

I was busy there for a while. By putting just about every other thing to one side, I have finished my picture book project for Allen and Unwin, and I’m very excited that I will have an advance copy of When You’re Older in my hands in late November this year. So Hip hip hoorah! But more on that another day. This rather hasty post will be about surrealism and the language of dreams.

The theme is Sheila Legge, seen above in costume in 1936 as a ‘Surrealist Phantom’ in Trafalgar Square to promote the opening of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition … Should I call it a costume? Because she is a living work of art, the living embodiment of a Salvador Dali painting Printemps nécrophilique.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be having vivid dreams and nightmares at the moment. Melbourne is currently still in lock-down while we wait for enough people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to allow us to step out without swamping hospitals and losing many more lives. Unlike so many others around the world who are facing real danger and hardship, I am here, at home, living in a kind of paradise with a partner in full time work, a roof over my head, a vista of green outside my windows and the company of my family. For all this I am truly grateful. Nevertheless the night time world of my dreams is a wild one – a Rousseau Paradise, rather than a Fragonard. This was even before I started re-reading short stories by Angela Carter and Leonora Carrington… Ahem.

So there’s a coincidence! Just when I was reading the short stories of Leonora Carrington, who met Max Ernst and became involved with the surrealists in 1937 at the age of 20, the Kick-About veered into the very same territory with Sheila Legge.

This book beside my bed… Could it be influencing my dreams?

All I have to offer the Kick-About today is the beginnings of a… something… featuring some bird-headed, flower-headed women. They will possibly eat one another. I may add colour if there’s anything left of them by tomorrow. (growls softly)

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 #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.

Curious Creatures Wild Minds (Activity)

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.)
  • Play the Exquisite Corpse game using the word prompts or the picture prompts. If you don’t know how, read this.
  • 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.

Downloads

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.)

The jpeg versions are below.

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!

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.