Category Archives: The Kick-About

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 #28

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

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

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

The Kick-About #26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Seventh House.

A celebration of female friendship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve missed these kick-abouts over the last few months. So this image is pretty much how I feel about joining in again!

This woman, if not the actual quote, seems so infinitely suited to the kinds of figures I have been painting in ink over the last year or so. You’d think that’s the direction I’d go. But no. I’ve taken a more mundane direction. Because I’ve been fostering cats for the local RSPCA.

Cats in Australia are a problem. They’re often mistreated, rarely desexed, often dumped, and the feral population is gigantic, doing enormous damage to our wildlife. Click here to find out more. My lovely foster cat arrived painfully thin, with four bouncing babies. All five of them have now been successfully adopted. Hooray! Go well, little ones.

I was drawing them to get my cat drawing skills up. They weren’t very good at holding their modelling poses while they were awake… Ahem! They have that in common with small children. But it was certainly a delight to have them around for a few weeks.

Technically these guys once were wild, having been picked up as strays. But at the same time, they were affectionate and tame. So they are not really my response to this prompt. My response was I think a little influenced by a far superior cat painting, by William Kentridge that is on the wall of my studio in postcard form. But really it was just a fun play about with ink. Fairly large scale on cartridge. Here he is below, significantly reduced in size.

I swished up a few garden plants for him to prowl in. Then combined the two in Photoshop.

I altered his head and paws a bit to bring him into a more domestic cat proportion, and away from the original, more expressionist type. He represents the suburban animal who is both wild and tame at the same time. Every time he goes outside, he becomes his own ancestor – a wild animal. Our suburban gardens are his hunting ground. It is a fascinating thing, albeit devastating to our wildlife.

Thanks again, Phil. As always, I enjoyed this little detour. And as always, it sparked off a series of new ideas. I woke up at 2 o’clock this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I soothed myself with thinking about painting this cat prowling in a forest and somewhere between 2.30 and dawn, a wordless picture book has been born, fully-formed in my mind. (Well, not quite fully formed.)

Kitten playground equipment.

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

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

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

The Lap Sitter

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

The Kick

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

The Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kick-About #13 ‘Ersilia’

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

Ersilia, from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

This had me really thinking. It led me in all sorts of directions.

One of my ideas was a weird and very complex dot-to-dot image that would be different for every person who embarked upon it because the connections between numerals would be created by answering a series of questions about family, friends and neighbours. The end result would be a deeply personal web of lines in different colours. But given the shortness of time I have for making art for art’s sake, it felt like a laborious task. I drew the dots though. :-)

My next idea involved painting some areas of adjacent colour, each area representing a member of my immediate family. I intended to overlay those colour areas with lines connecting the people, each line representing an interaction. I was interested to see how this would look and began a practice run on paper, while I prepared a large wood panel in the garage for painting.

However when I went to paint the wood panel over the weekend, that painting took off in its own direction and turned into something about grasslands rather than family. (More on that later, but here’s what the unfinished painting in the garage looks like in case you wanted to know.)

Well, I thought of opting out for this fortnight, but then I remembered the unfinished practice run on paper. I chopped it into strips and collected my family into eight piles. Two teens, myself, Scott, and all four grandparents. Although one of them isn’t with us any more, he is already deeply woven into the fabric of our family.

Then I took up a discarded piece of work from an earlier kick-about and began weaving the strands of the family together.

So this is my family. Though separated by space, and even time, we are woven inextricably. Our colours harmonise and clash depending on the day and on which other threads are adjacent, but we strengthen each other over all. And a tug on one thread, will summon help from several other threads.

Chopping sections off into small interludes was a fun follow up. Here are some mini family interactions.

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

Christmas Day

Christmas day after lunch

Covid-19 Isolation

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