Category Archives: Other people’s work

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 #12 ‘The Cottingley Fairies’

The prompt for Kick-About #12 is the Cottingley Fairies! Remember those cheeky photographs that fooled everyone back in 1917? Hats off to Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (9) for scoring a hit without the use of PhotoShop. Who needs PhotoShop when you have cardboard cut-outs and a camera?

By Frances Griffiths (died 1986) – Scan of photograph, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27119285

I think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when this subject comes up, because I’m aghast that the man who created the most skeptical and scientific of fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes, could be so gullible as to believe that these photos were authentic. But the truth is, if I had been around in 1917, I would very likely have been one of the people who was fooled by them, simply because I would have wanted to be.

In 2009, a friend Annabel Butler and I found a small ceramic gnome in an op shop*. From memory the original gnome was a ghastly thing; cheap and badly painted with a red slash of paint across his mouth that was about as accurately applied as The Joker’s lipstick. He was only about 10-15 cm tall. We sneaked him into the garden of a local friend and said nothing about it.

The friend was a bit of a trickster herself, so we responded with denial and polite curiosity when she asked us if we had put it there. We followed up by putting a few more in every now and then, and moving them around the garden. We were surprised when her local enquiries became a little frantic and she became spooked. So we confessed. But it turned out that her two children were not spooked but charmed by the gnomes and took to calling them fairies. They were convinced that the fairies were alive and moved around when nobody was looking.

Naturally, we couldn’t let the children down…

Here I am painting tiny gum nuts with silver paint to make Christmas decorations for the fairies’ Christmas feast.
Annabel strings the gum nuts to make garlands.

The fairies multiplied enormously, built huts, got married in various gender pairings, even wrote the occasional letter which had to be delivered to the letterbox via a tiny, tiny rope ladder that took Annabel ages to make. There was a Christmas feast with a musical stage show featuring some ugly clowns. Then the fairies departed because we felt they had overstayed their welcome.

But I received a note from Sass, whose garden it was:

‘I wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed our visit from the fairies and how much the girls are missing them. They are asking questions I am unable to answer and wondering if they will ever return for a visit. The garden seems so very quiet and boring now without them. So if they happened to reappear for any unforseen reason we would welcome them back with open leaves.’ 

They returned in a hand-made covered wagon, charred by dragon fire and set up camp again. I can’t quite understand or believe how we found the time in those days for such activities.

Christmas feast with musical performance in the background on a hand-made stage with seashell footlights..
The Covered Wagon.

Looking at these photos, I’m reminded again of how seemingly unconvincing the installations were. It was the Powerful Energy of the children’s imaginations that brought them to life. How I love that Powerful Energy! And as an adult, I regularly delve into books I read as a child in an attempt to recapture the Power. I am forever hammering on the back of the wardrobe, so to speak.

I’ve made a couple of new ‘fairies’ for 2020, the stranger-than-fiction year. Possibly due to the poisoning of my mind by doom-scrolling through US election news, my 2020 fairies are a pair of Dickensian style villains, sloping back into the forest after getting up to goodness knows what… (Perhaps he is carrying a sack?) The female figure, superficially posing as a pretty thing, with gossamer wings and a lacy apron, has overly long stick insect arms and carries a thorny crook/trident. The male of the species is wearing a lacy collar that droops down in a hairy way from his neck. But the rest of his torso is naked and a bit bloated.

I tried the image out with my viral pattern overlaid in the background. I like the way it makes the scale of the figures ambiguous. It could be dandelion seeds or similar, or perhaps it’s a light effect in the sky. But I think I prefer the image without it. It takes it a little too close to 1960s psychedelic picture book art, and I’ve always preferred the more restrained 1950s art.

Because I’m so minimalist. Yep.

*(translation: thrift store)

The Kick-About #11 ‘TRAPPIST -1e’

Apologies to my email subscribers if you receive this twice. Due to operator error, the post became a draft again. And now in order to make it visible, I have to republish it. Hopefully that doesn’t mean it comes into your inbox again.

The prompt for Kick-About #11 is TRAPPIST -1e.

By NASA/JPL-Caltech – Cropped from: PIA22093: TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup – Updated Feb. 2018, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76364487

Does it look enticing to you? TRAPPIST-1e is one of the most potentially habitable exoplanets discovered so far. Your descendants may be living there one day. It is similar to the size of Earth and closely orbits a dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1 which is not as hot or bright as our sun. One side of TRAPPIST-1e faces permanently towards its host star, so the other side is in perpetual darkness. But apparently the best real estate would be the sliver of space between the eternally light and the eternally dark sides – the terminator line where temperatures may even be a cosy 0 °C (32 °F).

The artist’s impression above reminds me of a polished marble kitchen bench, albeit one from which all of your plates and utensils would slip off. It looks cold. It makes me want to crawl back into bed, snuggle up and feel grateful. However, it is beautiful.

I started painting some plants for this new world, and I imagined that they would all be turning towards the dim light of their star. So I made a world where everything was evolved to point in one direction only, sucking up the warmth, the light, the energy; a single-minded yearning, shared by every living thing on the planet.

It made me ponder on humankind’s perpetual yearning, which leads us to disaster over long roads and short. If only we could all focus as readily on the majesty and wonder of the world that we already inhabit. There was nothing I could paint for this new world that could rival the natural wonders in the one we already have. I made the new inhabitants – refugees from Earth – look on in wonder. And then, because of their pose, looking upwards within the vivid setting, it put me in mind of a propaganda poster. which made me laugh.

A Nudibranch Stag
A Basking Wolf Man
Basking Plants

Thanks again, Phil Gomm! This took me on a pleasurable journey this afternoon. I‘m posting this a bit early because I won’t have any more time to spend on it later in the week.

The Kick-About #10 ‘Romantic Museum’

The prompt for Kick-About #10 is one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes from 1946 titled ‘Romantic Museum’. I have a book of Cornell‘s bird boxes, and I love it, but I hadn’t seen this box.

Every person‘s experience of a work of art is different. Nevertheless I can’t help wondering how many people may see ‘mass isolation’ as I do in this piece – viewing it now, during a pandemic. I see a hand stitching quietly, small, intimate objects, windows and walls and another window over the entire thing. And finally a cloud of black sand infiltrating everything. This prompt was chosen by artist, Vanessa Clegg. I will be interested to read what she has come up with.

My response to this piece led me to paint a series of hearts partly hidden behind or framed by window shapes. I was thinking of them as hearts as I was painting, though they didn‘t look like hearts in the anatomical sense, nor as pictograms. They represented all those people; their feelings, quietly beating away, hidden behind windows and walls. A lot of them were in shades of red, but they changed to blue and other colours.

heart beating

I started thinking of all the ways hearts are described. All those corny yet evocative terms…

smouldering • aflame • stony • black • blue • hidden • heavy • bursting • in flight • weeping • broken • united • wounded • beating • battered • lifted • stolen • promised • given • taken • tender • gentle • faint • brave • open • loving • pure • of glass (thanks Blondie) • rotten • twin • frozen • bleeding

Blue tending to Black (A rubbish scan. It doesn’t capture the colours at all well.)

Then I thought of all the combinations I could have, starting with Blue Tending to Black. How about Pure – Frozen, or Stolen – Smouldering, Stony and Promised… but I realised That what was really giving me pleasure was the layering and texture. No surprises there. Layering and texture have been a focus for me for quite a while and are very evident in my most recent book illustration.

fan brush layering gouache, watercolour and black ink. (This fragment was painted as collage material for my current book project.)

In particular, I was using a fan brush to very lightly drag layers of watercolour and gouache across the painting. The delicacy of the fragmented lines entranced me. Also the way the colour changed as the paint dried, as gouache will do. It made the painting feel so alive. Each pass with the brush partly obscured the previous layer, but did not completely cover it. It felt like a metaphor for life. Which is really what artists are grappling with every day. And probably partly explains their angst! Every decision is a little goodbye to the past that cannot ever again be recovered exactly as it was. And a hello to a new possibility, that just may be more beautiful yet.

The passes with the brush became slower, more deliberate; crossing over left to right, top to bottom. Always with the heart in the window in mind. Then I found myself weaving.

Woven

And this was the result.

Thunderstorm Dancing live performance

Late last year I was excited to get a message from Colleen who teaches at Currimundi Special School in Queensland asking for permission to use projected images from Thunderstorm Dancing at an end of year concert.

Paul Coppens, founder of the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra, composed a piece of music to accompany the children’s performance, and provided a full orchestral backing track. The result was spectacular.

I wasn’t able to go up to see the performance, but I have seen a video on Paul’s website. You can see it here. (You’ll find the ’Thunderstorm Dancing‘ link at the bottom right of the screen.) It is only six minutes long and a delight. Thank you so much, Paul.

When I saw the book I was immediately inspired not only by the words but especially the pictures. These were my inspiration and the writing from then on was easy. So thank you very much. These school children are also an inspiration so combining all these elements, and seeing their reaction was my gratification. (Paul Coppens)

It makes me so happy to see the book used in this way. It is ideally suited to the classroom. The end of the performance is a stroke of genius by the teachers. Bravo!

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 has become a book published by the ILF.

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IMG_6650 one on one

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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 

hugo bookplate working 2

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.

bear campfire temp

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.

Share a Story poster final art web

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.

Share a Story poster final art web

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.

dirigible red

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…