Category Archives: Other people’s work

ILF Spinifex Writing Camp

My first work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

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Here are Gregg, me, Tina, Cindy and Ann. About to take to the skies.

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A little way down is a brief write up of my June trip to Tjuntjuntjara. I wrote it for the IBBY newsletter after I got back. Quite a lot has gone on since then, but I’ve not had the time and head space to write blog posts. But it’s time to start catching up before I forget how to blog. So I’m cheating and putting the IBBY story up here to get started. If the style seems a little unlike my usual, it’s because I had to keep it to 400 words so there was no room for shenanigans!

And before we go on, I LOVED my trip to Tjuntjuntjara, but it was scary because:

• I had never participated in a school creative camp before and the team did not have any definite plans beforehand. We were making up the program as we went along, according to the needs of the kids, which were unknown until we got there. So I couldn’t really prepare much beforehand. (Although, in hindsight, I should have had more of a go at this!)

• I am not a confident flier and I had to catch three planes each way, one leg being on a light plane. (I could phrase that better, but I’m quite liking the mental image of myself balancing with one leg on a light plane, the other… who knows where? on an albatross, perhaps.)

• I am not, as yet an experienced public speaker, despite the best of intentions…

• my back is jiggered at the moment so the trip was bound to be uncomfortable.

Here’s my 400 word write up!

In June I travelled with ILF staff Tina and Cindy, and author illustrators Gregg Dreise and Ann James to Tjuntjuntjara, an aboriginal community in WA, 550 km east of Kalgoorlie. There we spent an intense three days working with the students to produce a story and artwork to be published next year.

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Ten children participated in the writing camp; only two from Tjuntjuntjara School. The rest had driven across the desert with their teachers from other communities, over 200 km away and two were from Firbank Grammar in Melbourne. The children had spent a day getting to know each other before we got there.

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Gregg Dreise, a talented extrovert, performed songs, drew, painted, talked, led story making sessions and taught the kids to paint and throw boomerangs. His modified didgeridoo, the ‘didgeridon’t’, was a happiness generating kid-magnet. Gregg was our Batman Utility Belt. He could do anything.

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Ann James has a quiet, accessible manner of talking, as though she’s sitting around a kitchen table, even when she’s up in front of a crowd. On the first day Ann deftly demonstrated the art materials that we brought. She encouraged the kids to dive in and try everything before finding their favourite medium, and then supported them in producing a series of illustrations for their writing over the latter two days of the camp.

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(Note: here she technically IS sitting around a kitchen table. We did all of our art workshops in the kitchen, while Tilly cooked up wonderful, healthy food for students and teachers.)

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I was able to scan some of the first day’s work and whizz them up in PhotoShop with some text to show the students how their work might look on a printed page. Working with the kids one-on-one over the next two days as they revised their writing and worked up their illustrations, I felt so privileged. Some were shy to begin with but we connected very quickly by sharing ideas about their work. It was an intimate and enriching experience and fabulous to witness their stories taking physical form. I can’t wait to see the artwork again after it is professionally scanned, as I’ll be designing the book to be published by the ILF.

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Here I am being blown away by the two boys’ work. These two were fabulous at drawing characters. They were around the same age as my boys so I was on familiar territory.

Tjuntjuntjara Principal Charlie Klein pulled all the different parts of the day together for the kids, making sense of everything, and memorably making them write for their dinner and their beds at the end of each day on a giant roll of brown paper. We had to do it too on the last day. The kids told us we were cheating if we drew pictures.

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Ready, set, write!

By the way, if you want to donate to the ILF, go here. They do great work!

More pics, in no particular order

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Here I am talking about how I illustrate, and Ann is photographing my feet ;-)

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Here’s Charlie preparing the students to write for their supper.

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frozen kangaroo tails

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Tilly Klein reading one of the many books donated by the ILF on the new reading mat.

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blobs can be addictive.

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Teachers and students were all trying out the different art materials. There were many periods of quiet activity, despite the number of people busy in the kitchen.

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‘Welcome to Tjuntjuntjara’ song led by Charlie on Ukelele

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Bookplates – just for fun

A few weeks ago I noticed on an artists’ noticeboard that there was an Australian Bookplate Design Award coming up. Not being sure what a bookplate actually was, I read with interest. I quickly concluded that it was just my cup of tea. Books, cups of tea and small, quirky collectible artworks go together perfectly. If you’re interested, try searching the internet or Pinterest with the search terms ‘artist bookplate’ or ‘ex libris’. There are some amazing ones out there, and they are so wonderfully varied in style.

Best of all, there were several categories for entry into the competition, including one for primary school students. We have two of those in the house.

Arthur (12) drew his bookplate about ten minutes after I flagged the idea, without any preliminary work apart from a little research into the meaning of his name and his sun sign. In keeping with the traditional model of a bookplate (the coat of arms of the book owner), he came up with a kind of avatar for himself; a heraldic creature with roots in the notion of courage, and I suspect some DNA from Chewbacca of Star Wars fame. See below.

Arthur's heraldic beast bookplate

Arthur’s heraldic beast bookplate

Hugo (10) decided at the last minute to join in, and only because he was home from school with a cold at the time and looking for a quiet activity. His process was admirably logical, beginning with a warm up, and ending with a bookplate. See below. 

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Stage One: loosening up, exploring ideas 

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Stage Two: brainstorming birds and books

Hugo working drawings Bookplate award 3

Stage Three: I love this. From top to bottom, working out the composition and the gag.

Bookplate Hugo Watson

Stage 4: The final bookplate.

I made my two entries in a rush on the final day as well, thereby cleverly avoiding thinking out what my perfect bookplate design would be… ahem. I’ll show you my bookplates in the next post.

We sent them off to be digitally printed and trimmed, then raced them to the post office the next day for last minute delivery into the competition. This involved the boys signing each of their bookplates with very sharp pencils in very small writing at the post office; a fun and exciting process in itself!

Finally, on the weekend, we tested out our bookplates on real books! Which was SUPER fun, even though some were a bit crooked, and as you will see below, some interesting questions came up about the hierarchy of ownership. For instance if your big cousin wrote her name in the book in 2002 with silver pen on the right hand side, do you trump that with your own hand designed bookplate pasted into the left hand side in 2015?

And does that depend on how big your cousin is?

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Bear’s campfire story

Here’s Bear with Boy.

Bear and Boy came about when I was working on the Share A Story poster with the team from the Australian Children’s Laureate.

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Ann James and I were initially scribbling away at the same time, tossing ideas around for ways to illustrate themes like ‘grow a story’, ‘hunt a story’, ‘hear a story’. We had few preconceived ideas about how we were going to make the poster concept work and we were playing for all we were worth. During this process I drew Bear and Boy, which I later coloured, because I liked the sketch, but I didn’t bother finishing it off perfectly.

But I was primarily the designer for this job, and it quickly became obvious that for the sake of visual cohesion, Ann’s illustrations would look better throughout; not mixed with some of mine. I moved to the computer and started colouring and experimenting with pattern, until we found something that was starting to work. Justine Alltimes and Ann Haddon provided invaluable insight and art direction.

Asking Ann to produce all sorts of obscure drawings on demand was like popping coins into the Best-Ever-Slot-Machine, and watching exciting and unexpected treats pop out. At speed. So much fun!

While from Ann’s point of view, it was fun to watch her drawings merge with colour and pattern and start to form a composition on the poster.

Ann James' Red Riding Hood and friend wolf (with mysterious dark figure looming behind!)

Ann James’ Red Riding Hood and Friend Wolf (with mysterious dark figure looming behind!) © Ann James 2015

Add classic vintage Australian Stamps

Add classic vintage Australian Stamps

Merge using a bit of digital magic along with some V&A pattern.

Merge using a bit of digital magic along with a V&A pattern in the background. Voila!

Being a fan of blobs, I liked the original inky halo around Mr Wolf. But the consensus was that there was not enough contrast to identify his shape against the background patterning, so he had to have a digital bath… or perhaps shave.

If you’d like to download the Share A Story free poster-calendar, conceived by Laureate Jackie French and illustrated by Ann James, go here. It is a great, open-ended way to engage your children with stories.

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Book Signing Phobia

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…

Doom!

That is why I am practising my book signatures today.

With Best Fishes

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 have spoken to illustrators who say ‘it’s important to make the mark.’

I have watched with awe, some illustrators who sign and doodle with ease.

I have watched with awe, one illustrator who was CLEVER enough to get a rubber stamp made up in advance! (Yes, OtherJude, that was very clever!)

And I have used my bookmark giveaways to circumvent this problem with some success. (It’s much less stressful to draw on a bookmark, than a $25 book.)

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Anyway, see you at the next book signing!

I’m ready.

I think.

Enjoy your bookmark!

Enjoy your bookmark!

Share a Story

Do you have a child? Share some stories together in 2015!

In fact… you don’t need to have a child. Who says this couldn’t be an aid to writers of any age?

The poster I worked on with Ann James and Justine Alltimes is finished and up on-line for you to download. This is the major project of Australian Children’s Laureate and Senior Australian of the Year Jackie French. I think it’s a great project and will work really well for teachers, librarians and families. It’s open-ended and inspiring.

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Concept by Jackie French, illustrations by Ann James, design by Judy Watson

As with any poster design, the challenge is for everyone to whittle the information down to a minimum so that the poster can have maximum impact. In this case, the poster is a calendar, so we had to include at least 12 different chunks of information, and of course there was much more as well.

So half way through the design process, I had to delete lots of little birds from the margins for the sake of the poster. I loved Ann’s little watercolour birds so much that I had sneaked them in all over the place, having conversations about this and that; chipping (or chirping) in with their suggestions. Follow a story, hatch a story, feed a story, dream a story… and so on. (I’d love to see how many variations kids could come up with on that theme.)

Some of the birds who flew off the poster. All by Ann James.

Some of Ann’s little birds who flew off the poster.

The illustrations were all done by Ann, and fiddled about by me. We used patterns from the V&A pattern book series, which we were only able to use because this is a not-for-profit project.

from the V&A pattern books © Victoria and Albert Museum. Cannot be used except for personal or non-profit projects.

from the V&A pattern books © Victoria and Albert Museum. Cannot be used except for personal or non-profit projects.

So this page of delicious doodles by Ann,

Ann's delightful doodles

Ann’s delicious doodles – trying out both brush and pencil. We weren’t sure what we would use at first.

Became this.

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Then this.dirigible - new 2Then this.

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Scrumptious red dirigible with inky sky blob. Check out Ann’s pencil work.

Then this, because there was too much red down the right hand side of the poster.

dirigible blue

Although several people so far have mistaken this dirigible for a submarine, it is a magnificent machine either way and it doesn’t matter in the least which it is, for the purposes of NAVIGATING A STORY. Yaay!

Some people may notice a lingering love of Thunderstorm Red and Thunderstorm Blue…

 

 

Bologna Children’s Book Fair, here I come!

Oh boy! My air ticket is about to be booked for this!

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I can’t quite believe it. I’m letting myself be swept along and away.

Thunderstorm Dancing will be going on a holiday to meet lots of people at the fair, and one of the spreads from the book will be featured in the Hello From Australia exhibition, organised by Books Illustrated.

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?

Trulli houses from my-italy-piedmont-marche-and-more dot com

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

One of the beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes

Actually they also remind me of another favourite book, Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers.

At the end of the book, the three robbers build an orphanage with domes the same shape as their hats.

At the end of the book, the three robbers build an orphanage with domes the same shape as their hats.

It’s a busy time. More soon.

 

 

Blobby bookmarks

Last weekend was the Warrnambool Books Children’s Book Festival in celebration of the bookshop’s 30th anniversary. I was a guest illustrator on Friday and did a school visit at St Joseph’s Primary School before a book signing at the family owned bookshop.

While I was there, I decided to mix up two ideas from other clever illustrators. I have seen Jude Rossell giving out bookmarks with small illustrations on them at illustrator events. And Alexis Deacon has described his fun practice of painting or drawing blobs and then turning them into something here and here and most awesomely here.

I was just after something simple and quick to do in between signing books, so mine were pretty basic but the kids loved them. Here are some of the bookmarks I did the next day at home, simply because they were so much fun. In fact it was rather hard to stop!

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They take about one minute each.

• First paint a pale grey-brown blob with some interesting projections and bumps.

• Then paint a few more while the first one dries.

• Go back to the dry blob and add a few lines with a felt tip pen to turn it into whatever springs to mind.

• Finally, add a touch of colour if you want to. (I didn’t do this to many of them in the bookshop. They were very simple.)

My two boys joined in with great enthusiasm and did some fabulous ones. It is a good activity to do with kids, and taps into their wonderful imaginations. In the case of my two boys, it was fun to see how they formed an alliance whereby Arthur would paint the blobs, and then after they dried, would ask Hugo what the blob should be. Hugo, with barely a split second’s hesitation would say: ‘That’s a pig blowing a trumpet. That’s a fish with legs. That’s a cow shouting.’ And so on. Arthur happily drew them after that.

Like me, they found it hard to stop once started :-)