April 2008


Appearances to the contrary, my life has not in fact been wholly consumed by drawing. I am still turning up for work, going to the theatre, rewatching Ladyhawke* and even writing.

I have not written about writing very much because it takes longer to finish a piece and there aren’t as many cool, useful and arguably necessary accessories, but I am still writing at least one hundred words every day. Sometimes they are only fragmentary scenes and conversations, glimpses of characters, playing with ideas. It is all practice – treading water at least if not actually going anywhere – and is self-regulating because eventually I get frustrated and want to produce something coherent and complete.

The main works in progress are currently (working titles): “The Magedan” – a sword and sorcery short story the real hero of which is the Rule of Law; “Chattering Jack” – a little old-school dark piece; and “Angie Nettles” – a rural fantasy/fairytale retelling.

The story I mentioned here has been further edited (thanks to Aimee’s very helpful critique) and after encouragement from my writing group has been sent out into the world again. It is an urban fantasy and people seem to have liked it but I am still alternating between toleration and loathing – at least the alternations are only daily now instead of every five minutes.

I am also considering overhauling two other stories – stretching “Fierce Bad Rabbit” into a proper story (which is problematic because currently it is wierd/dark/horror but if I lengthen it may become a murder mystery and change genres) and turning “Stars Over Pilgrim’s Ford” (a parable/excuse for a sword fight) completely inside out and into a prequel for “The Magedan”.

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If I post more about writing, I might talk about: The Problem with Positivity; Nuclear Testing Grounds; Longhand; Switching sides; and Jean Luis Borges and the Cultural Cringe. But those are only possibilities, not promises.

*No, it’s not a wonderful movie. It falls between To the Ends of Time and Lord of the Rings – subtract the difference and you get left with some odd facial expressions and corny lines, which Ladyhawke has plenty of. But the composition of the scenes is gorgeous – watched wide-screen format they are set up like the most beautiful fantasy paintings, or marvellous patterns of light and shadow. I was kind of awestruck, actually.

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This evening I downloaded Inkscape and, well, should have gone to bed an hour and a half ago. I have learned a great deal, had an enormous amount of fun and would do everything differently now that I know what I am doing, but here, for posterity, is my first ever vector image:

Leia

Wrinkles

This week’s Illustration Friday entry. Hand drawn, scanned, computer inked and lettered and I think I may stick with pen and ink for line work in future.

The paper dress and strawberries are from one of my favourite fairytales. The bride is from fairytales as well, but also from that tradition of advertisements in which domestic bliss is promised by household appliances.

[EDIT:
In answer to Leah’s question in the comments, I suspect the version I first read was from Grimm by way of Lang’s Red Fairy Book, as this is roughly the story The Three Dwarfs, The Three Little Men in the Woods. And here is a related French fairy tale (I don’t know where it is from originally) The Twelve Months, which I think I like better, as it is more poetic, though it finishes early and doesn’t meander on to tales of breaking ice in bare feet, being rescued by a prince, having a child, being changed into a duck in a moat, and finishes with happy endings and horrible punishments all around.]

Comments and criticism are both very welcome.

We are drawing up to ANZAC Day. The days are cool and the dawn on Friday will be chill but not icy. Trenchcoat weather at that hour. Young soldiers are selling hatpins in the city. The newspapers carry stories on the replacement of the Roma Street memorial. My secretary brings in Anzac biscuits for morning tea. I remember that my great-grandfather disinheriting my father over my mother, then met her and repented because she reminded him of the nurse he had been engaged to when he was at Gallipoli, and who was killed crossing France in a hospital train*. I might have scones and jam, in honour of that great-grandfather’s adventures with a jam tin in the trenches. My big sister’s family’s business is understaffed because an employee has gone to Turkey for the dawn service at Gallipoli. I remember watching my father march on t.v. once, but he won’t march this year. Once my father took my little sister and I to the dawn service and parade and the ‘gunfire breakfast’, but I think we were too young for what, according to him, is an actual gunfire breakfast**. I will probably turn on a country radio station and hear Eric Bogle sing “And the band played”, or “No Man’s Land”, or wish I had, and either that or Ataturk’s words will probably make me cry (I am susceptible). This morning, the trumpet students on our street all practiced “Reveille” and it rang through the bright early sunlight.***

*He put my mother in his will instead of my father.

**Rum and coffee.

Primitive

When I was very young, my parents (one an infantry officer from north shore Sydney, the other a nursing instructor raised on US Airforce bases) moved to a cattle property in western Queensland. It was a steep learning curve. They had to look up “heifer” in the dictionary, and we had very kind and helpful neighbours. My mother remembers the shock of standing with a baby on one hip, a two-year old at her side, watching her husband ride to work on a horse. We had a wood stove which doubled as a hot water heater, kerosene lamps (well, we had power but it went out a lot), a “thunderbox” at the end of the yard and brown dam water with mosquito larvae in it. I still remember using the party line telephone. It had no numbers on its face, just a crank handle to connect to the exchange and ring off. We had to repair our own stretch of line and the phone rang every time someone on the line had a call. We would only answer when it was our number, i.e. when the ring was long-short-long, which was morse code for ‘K’ (our number was “Jackson 6 K”). This was in the 1980s. When we were older and my father took us camping at the back of the property, my mother refused to go. She said it was primitive enough at the house.

I bought sepia ink on Friday and broke out the dip-pens today.

Rough for a still life

Fail

An illustration for an as-yet-unwritten article (or essay or… there are other possibilities for this) on the Chronicles of Narnia, tentatively titled “Did Susan Fail?” (or “Did Lewis Fail Susan?”). I’m not ready to give away my conclusions yet.

This picture takes up most of an A4 sheet and is much larger than I usually work. You can see it closer to the original size here.

It is pen and ink and about four hours work on the pencil and final. The pens were unipin Fine Lines, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.5 and 0.8. I had hoped to use my dip pen and new nibs on this, but convenience dictated the unipins.

Now I’m exhausted and my elbow hurts. If I had my time over, I would do a bit more research and put more symbolism in (I had vague plans for the design on the other side, but that will have to wait until an appropriate topic comes along). The research I did do was fun. One reason I like illustration is the research – it appeals to that part of me which likes to read the encyclopaedia.

Oh, and by way of comparison here is one of the thumbnail roughs for the picture, slightly larger than actual size:

Illustration Friday thumbnail

Comments and criticism are, as ever, welcome.

I should probably retitle these “Short Non-Printed Material Reviews”.

Phantom of the Opera – Live at the Lyric Theatre. C’mon, it’s Phantom – what can I say? I hadn’t seen it live before, and what struck me was the unashamed Gothic (as in, Northanger Abbey gothic) fun of the musical version (underwire nightdresses, the works) and how much I need to reread the book because I can’t remember now if there was an eight-sided mirrored room with an iron gallows (not in the musical). I went with (but did not sit with for a variety of reasons including the Dreadful Situation of wheelchair seating at the Lyric) my family, and we enjoyed it. It was well done but, ultimately, isn’t the only reason you are there the organ music in the first scene, the way The Poseidon Adventure can be as dreadful as it likes as long as they turn a ship upside down? Also, I worked out why you’re meant to “keep your hand at the level of your eyes”. That had been bugging me for years.

The Bucket List – I would have liked it as an amateur theatre production. Mawkishly sentimental, silly, obvious, degrading and with backdrops that look like they were painted for a film in 1950.

Run, Fatboy, Run – Better than The Bucket List. And, indeed, not awful. Ordinary, tainted and not the best work of any of the actors, and would have been better without the American influence (actually, I like the idea of an American trying to live in London and the cultural difference getting to the point that he just breaks and can’t take it anymore, but they didn’t do it well and this wasn’t the movie for it in any event). Dylan Moran played a dreadful human being, as he should.

Jumper – Better than The Bucket List. It was all about the special effects, because the story felt… ellided. It made me want to read the book but I don’t think there is one. Still, though I didn’t walk out feeling ten foot tall, I had fun.

CMC Rocks the Snowies – Better than The Bucket List, even if the mountains were shorter. It would be hard to give this a negative review. The taxi to the airport, the flight to Canberra, the bus to Thredbo, our lunch on the way, the lodges, the tickets to the festival, the gift bags with hats and peach schnapps and the side-venue with drinks and food on the Saturday were all paid for. The air was clear as crystal and the white stars did fairly blaze at midnight in the cold and frosty sky, etc., although there was a heatwave on Friday and we’d only packed jeans and boots. We took a skilift up the mountain and drank beer on a balcony and were very cozy in our cabins at night. There was a kiosk at the gate to the concert area which made fresh hot cinnamon doughnuts. I got to see The John Butler Trio live (and dreadlockless) and several country bands covered The Travelling Wilberries, which always makes me happy. A man took an odd fancy to my scarf, but the skiruns were scented of hay and even if you don’t know country music it is very easy to pick up the words and sing along to. People wore fancy boots and akubras and cowboy hats and generally it was just a fun weekend. The only dull spot was my inability to catch the colour of the mountain in coloured pencil.

Vantage Point – Better than The Bucket List. I think. Who puts Sigourney Weaver in a movie and then doesn’t use her? Hello? People? I enjoyed the structure of the story: eight (?) overlapping viewpoints putting it altogether, but oh! the corniness! the Americanness! the Quaid! “Don’t worry Mr President! I’ve got you!”.

Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger – Better than The Bucket List. An Australian Judy Blume novel, really, in which a young, awkward girl grows up, gains confidence, explores sexuality, accepts her & her families admitted oddities. Not a kid’s movie, unless you have prepared the kids, and it will probably be studied in school. I cried three times, twice over the duck (actually, I cried once over the duck and bawled the second time) and think the beanbag scene in the family psychologists office was one of the funniest things I’ve seen for a while. Also, I want a toy xylophone as a doorbell.

Be Kind, Rewind – Better than The Bucket List, by a very long way. I’ve seen bad reviews of Be Kind, Rewind, and they seem to fall into either “It’s a bad Michel Gondry Film” or “It’s a bad Comedy”. No, it doesn’t mess with reality like Eternal Sunshine. But I wouldn’t classify it as a Comedy – not because it isn’t funny (it is, and I would probably even watch a regular comedy that used this premise) but because it’s an American movie and it isn’t an American Comedy. Like Hidalgo, it suffers from preconceived expectations and reviewers’ inability to classify it. I loved it. It was, like Hidalgo, expansive, but the movie it reminded me most of (and which is referenced/refilmed twice in Be Kind) was Driving Miss Daisy. Not for any obvious reasons, but because it had a gentle, funny seriousness underlying it, and because halfway through the movie I consciously thought “please, please don’t finish yet” and by the time it did finish I thought, “That was an elegant sufficiency”.

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