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.)
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.
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.
I rarely do a still life. For me, TheThings 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.
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 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. :-)
Thanks again, Phil! A lovely interlude in a busy time.
This year, while I’ve been lurking in my home studio during Melbourne’s lock-down, two of my picture books have been going around all over the place doing things without me.
CBCA Book Week 2020
Searching for Cicadas has given me a wonderful inside look at the CBCA awards this year, by being shortlisted for the Eve Pownall award. I was intending to get out to schools this Book Week to enjoy the buzz among teachers and students, but due to the lock-down, any school visits would have been via Zoom, and that’s a bridge too far for this phone-phobic introvert. (Although I don’t rule it out later on.)
But I enjoyed the Book Week buzz on line – the costumes, the amazing books, the teachers doing their thing. I loved the YouTube video presentation of awards. It featured insightful comments from school students of all ages and intimate presentations from book creators; all the more special because of their personal setting in people’s homes. Indigenous Australia—both the people and the land—had a strong and resonating voice. You can view the entire thing here. The judges’ report and a description of all the winning, honour and shortlisted books can be downloaded here. Thankyou CBCA, for the sterling work you do.
A couple of weeks ago, a rather different bit of recognition came my way and I confess to feeling a bit emotional about it when I heard. Far from here, in Obermenzing in the western part of Munich, is a castle full of books. It’s called Blutenburg Castle and is the home of the Internationale Jugendbibliothek, the International Youth Library. It was founded in 1949 by Jella Lepman and it has become an internationally recognised centre for children’s and youth literature. Its central purpose is to ‘promote global children’s and youth literature of high aesthetic and literary quality and of significance for cultural literacy.’ And each year a team of experts select books from all over the world to be named White Ravens and to be presented at the Bologna Children’s Books Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The gorgeous artwork on the cover of the White Ravens catalogue is by Emma AdBåge. You can see more of her work here.
Royal Zoological Society of NSW Whitley Awards 2020
Oh boy! What is a RZS, NSW Whitley award? It’s a celebration of all things nerdy and naturalist. That sounds like my husband. But nope. It’s a book award, this time from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW. ‘Awarded annually, the Whitley Awards are presented for outstanding publications that profile the unique wildlife of the Australasian region.’
I’m happy to say that Searching for Cicadas is a recipient of the award in the children’s story category. You can find the full list here. The beautiful sticker features a sugar glider, who would probably eat my cicadas, but that’s a price I’m prepared to pay. Thank you Royal Zoological Society of NSW.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!