Tag Archives: home school

Leaf Litter Endpapers (activity)

You don’t need to own Searching for Cicadas to do this activity. But here’s what the book looks like.

It’s written by Lesley Gibbes and illustrated by Judy Watson. Published in 2019 by Walker Books Australia.

It’s about the life cycle of cicadas, but also about family and connecting with nature, and it’s set in Australia.

You can make the activity as simple or as complex as you like. It’s suitable for all ages. Take an hour, or take a week on it. Budding field naturalists may like to make a life of it.

Part One: How I illustrated the endpapers for Searching for Cicadas

These are the endpapers (or ends or end sheets) for Searching for Cicadas. They are a decorative element binding the cover of the book to the first page, but they also hint at what the book is about. Here, they are all about leaf litter and the natural world beneath our feet.

First I went outside into the garden. I took photos of the leaf litter under some trees. I gathered up samples of twigs, leaves (both green and decomposing ones), seeds, cones and feathers. I also walked into our local nature reserve and collected other samples.

I spread these samples out on my work bench, and began drawing and painting them, attempting to capture the character of the plants: the branching patterns, the blobs of lichen on the stems, the angles and curves. I had no particular method. I was just playing, and seeing what might come out of it. I knew I would be using the best bits, discarding lots, changing some up on the computer.

This collage of an acacia twig (wattle) was made with scissors, glue and some paper I had printed with a linear texture. I wanted to suggest the longitudinal nerves seen in some wattle leaves*, and to arrange the leaves on the stem in a recognisable way. *see note in Additional Information at the bottom of this post.
These are some of the twigs and leaves that I painted with ink and watercolour on cartridge paper. I was pleased with the apparent ‘movement’ on this page of twigs, as they seemed to be dancing across the space together. So I used them in their original arrangement as they had been painted. (You can see them in the endpapers, in red.)
It was important to paint the less classically graceful twigs. These broken or awkward little elements have their own beauty, and give an authenticity to the artwork that can’t be achieved if everything is too pretty.
These small leaves were painted in ink and had a simple centre vein incised into them. I changed these on the computer later, to make them multicoloured. They add a playful jewel brightness on the third layer down in the final artwork.
This was my favourite assemblage to paint and draw. It had a lot of awkward little sticks with lots of character, knobs and jutting bits. It had a couple of rosella feathers and some decomposing leaves. And it had some gum leaves with all sorts of beautiful blemishes.
This is a monotype of paint ’blobs’ – they were to suggest the shadows and holes in the soil for the bottom layer of my collage. I made several of these pages of blobs. The red and blue swishes of texture you can see in the background of the finished endpapers, were monotype prints as well.

The next part was scanning and assembling the artwork in PhotoShop. It’s not so relevant here. Except for one thing. My job was to find the music in the arrangement of pieces. They needed to fill a rectangle, but also more. They needed to dance across it using the power of their shapes, their colours and their textures.

Now it’s time for you to make stuff!

Part Two: beginning your leaf litter project

Peg out or choose a small area of your garden where nature is evident. If you don’t have any natural, growing parts in your garden, perhaps you can walk to a local park? Or can you borrow a neighbour’s bit of garden?
Take a look at your chosen space and see what’s there. You can make an artwork but you can also make a field naturalist’s study of the area! Take photos if you have a device. Or draw on the spot if the weather is good. Try to notice as much as you can from the bottom most layer to the very top. Look for tiny animals like bugs, tiny plants, leaves (old and new) shells, skeletons, feathers, seeds, nuts, flowers, holes, rocks and even little footprints! What can you find? Your area will be different from mine.

Part Three: making a leaf litter collage

Make a collection of anything you can bring indoors to study and draw. (Try not to damage your garden or park and leave living creatures where they are.)
Now you can go for your life with pencils, crayons, pastels, paint. Whatever materials you are lucky enough to have at hand. There are no rules. You are going to study and draw or paint the things in your collection. If you have a favourite leaf or shape, that you find easy to draw, do lots of that thing. You will be able to use it as the repeating element in your collage to hold the whole composition together.
Be inventive! You could paint or scribble on torn paper to represent bark. Or use bits of newspaper or something else.
Don’t forget to look at your photos too. There might be bits that you couldn’t bring indoors. I’ve made this photo very contrasty (black and white) so that you can see the music in the shapes. Can you see how the white leaf shapes are dancing across the dark background? There is a she-oke cone as well. It is a focal point in the image – something for the other shapes to dance around.
When you have painted and drawn and scribbled and torn all the bits and pieces that you like, you can begin to make your collage. You aren’t making endpapers for a book, so you can make any pattern that you like. Hooray! This is the original collage I made for the front cover of the book. I used scissors and glue, just like you. No computer was involved.

All you need is a piece of paper or cardboard to stick things on, scissors, a glue stick and whatever art materials you like. You can begin by drawing on the paper to make a background. And after that, keep adding layers until your collage feels just right.

At the end, don’t forget that a good trim can make a world of difference. Is there a bit you don’t like? Cut it off. Your collage can change shape; become smaller. YOU are the boss of your artwork. (Not Mum, Dad or a sibling. And especially not the cat.) Enjoy!

Bonus Challenge: what is that?

• See how many plants you can identify. 

• Are they local or exotic species? 

• What are some of the ways that botanists or horticulturalists identify plants?  

• How many insects or evidence of other wild animals did you spot? Can you find out about their life cycle? 

• Do you think any of the plants and animals depend on each other? (In Searching for Cicadas, we find out that the Black Prince cicada is found mostly on She-okes near a river.)

• Are there feathers? What bird do you think they came from? (use your detective skills) 

• Make a poster and draw (or glue onto it) all of the things you found. Are some of them connected to each other? (For example, does a beetle live in a rotting log? Why do you think he lives there?) What have you found out about nature in your chosen space?

Bonus Challenge: Focus on one element (as an illustrator)

Pick one creature or plant and make a special study of it. Read about it and draw it lots of times until you can do it fairly easily, without copying a photo. (This is what I had to do with cicadas.) 

I had to draw cicadas over and over again before they looked right. All those legs and wing veins! This was one of my early drawings of a cicada nymph. It is just fine as a drawing, but it didn’t fit in with the style of the book.
I had to draw more nymphs to make them look friendlier. Then I had to make them look less cartoony!
Here’s part of a final illustration. You can see some of my favourite twigs on here! And the nymph from above, in full colour and with her eye changed to make it less cartoony.

Have you mastered a plant or animal? Now make your special plant or animal into a character and write a story or comic strip about it. Hooray!

Bonus Mini-challenge: seasons

At a different time of the year, what do you think you would see in the same space? Would it be different? Make a drawing to show what you think it might look like.

Additional information

For a book that teaches children about the anatomy of a book, including endpapers, try Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books by Frances Watts and David Legge.

For general information about endpapers, you could try this, or this blog post.

If you’re in Victoria, Australia, and you love plants, animals and the natural world, you can join the Victorian Field Naturalists Club. There are meetings and great activities for kids and adults, and you can meet people who love the same stuff! If you’re somewhere else, you can probably find a club near you. Get your hands and feet dirty!

My acacia (wattle) ‘leaves’ in the collage above are not really leaves. They are actually phyllodes. My next activity wanders into the anatomy of acacias. You can find it here, later today.

Searching for Cicadas

Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by me. Published by Walker Books Australia, 2019. I’m thrilled that this book has been shortlisted for the Eve Pownall award for information books, CBCA Book of the Year awards 2020.

Hello! I hope you are getting some time outdoors, even if it’s to dig around in a little bit of garden or a pot plant. Or walking around the block with your dog, or cat, or ferret. Every time I go outside and breath some outdoor air I feel so much better.

Searching for Cicadas was recently shortlisted for an award. Hooray! I have never been shortlisted for a CBCA award before so I didn’t realise I would be getting emails with interview questions. Today I had to get myself organised and answer some of them and one of the questions was:

“What are your top tips for parents who might be teaching their kids at home with this book?”

That’s a big question, and it would take me about a week to answer, so instead, I suggested an activity for kids and parents. It’s based on the endpapers for the book. (Here are the endpapers, below.)

Making the endpapers was the most fun part of illustrating ‘Searching for Cicadas’. It’s no secret that I love endpapers.

Because people might like to skip my chatting and get straight to the activity, I will upload it as a separate blog post. As soon as it is uploaded (tomorrow) I will add the link here.

You can make the activity as simple or as complex as you like. It will be suitable for all ages. Take an hour, or take a week on it. Budding field naturalists may like to make a life of it, and if they do, I send them a big hug.

I will endeavour to edit the activity as I receive feedback from teachers.