September 2008


Packed

I decided to offer a selection of famous luggage for this week’s Illustration Friday topic, “Packed”. (If some seem obscure, it was going to be called “Literary Luggage”, but one is from a movie).

Literary luggage is often very revealing of characters, more so than real luggage (I hope). It is an object lesson, a key to personality, sometimes an aid or extension of it. Some luggage is simply a reflection of a character’s position: Anne Shirley’s “very old carpetbag”; the Grand Sophy’s piles of luggage. Even then it can reveal personality: Anne’s cheerful, fragile optimism; the avalanche of Sophy’s character.

Sometimes it encapsulates personality and interests: Larry Durrell’s trunks of books and briefcase with spare clothes; the Children of Cherry Tree Farm’s selections for their traveling trunk.

But almost always it contains magic: bags of tricks and mysteries, promises and possibilities, lists bare of verbs to be populated by the imagination with the bizarre and enlightening and hilarious.

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Clique (coloured)

I spent Sunday afternoon sewing velvet trim onto a satin dress and watching The Adventures of Robin Hood (the one with Errol Flynn), and continued the theme last night sitting cross-legged at the coffee-table watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights (the one with Carey Elwes whose sword-play, incidentally, is better than Flynn’s) and doing a picture on scratchboard. A friend was telling me last week about her gothic literature class, and it is not impossible that the picture was influenced by that, but possibly also by the use of shadows in the fight in TAoRH (the version in RH:MiT with the hand shadows cracked me up – spoofs improve close upon the heels of the original).

The original scratchboard picture is about 5cmx10cm (2x4inches), coloured in Photoshop. Here is the black and white version:

Clique

The Ekka is the Queensland Exhibition – the state show, culmination of all the local shows. Cattle and horses and parades and pavilions, dagwood dogs, fairy floss, strawberries and cream, rides (I went the swinging chairs, which was fun but a bit lonely). My favourite parts are the cattle pavilion, which is always sweet-smelling and somnolent, and the dog trials, and the food.

As no-one wanted to come along with me (even though I had a spare pass), I took my sketchbook and managed to get a little drawing in. Maybe more next year. You can see larger versions of these by clicking on a picture to go to its Flickr page, and then clicking on “all sizes” above the picture.

Page 39

I started sketching at the woodcut arena (right-hand page above). It was a windy day (the Ekka Winds come every August), so between the sawdust blowing in my eyes and the fact that in the speed chainsaw event the men split a log into seven posts in about a minute, I’m surprised I caught as much as I did.

Page 40

Top left: There is always lots of free food in the Woolworths pavilion – exotic dips and spreads, olives, cordials, dessert wines, yoghurts and fudge – but most of it tastes so good I end up paying and taking it home. In the handcrafts pavilion (bottom left) there was a demonstration of cake decorating, with a mirror above the presenter so you could see what her hands were doing. The dog show (right) is a lot of fun. I would have liked to have spent more time there in a better seat – the dachshunds were hard to see.

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The horses (bottom left) were far enough away that the horses were about the same size as the dachshunds, but it spared me having to capture too much detail. Middle left: there are always fabulous wigs from show bags (also, chocolate). Bottom right is a large and faintly iridiscent plush kangaroo that regarded me unblinkingly from over a seat in the train on the way home.

The gold ink and red bleed-through on the right-hand page are from using the last page of my sketchbook for tests when buying pens – which is an indication that I’ve finally finished scanning this sketchbook in. It’s all up at Flickr here: Sketchbook 05/08 – 08/08.

I promised details of some of the books I bought in Paddington the other weekend. As a warning for the sensitive, this post starts with cars and then gets a little more feminine, but I’ve saved the worst till last.

The first is a guide on car holidays from BP – the artwork is hilariously exuberant, but the advice is sometimes just as enthralling. Note the panel of advice for ladies (a larger version is here), “the easiest way to change the wheel is to find the nearest male”.

BP Holiday Digest

It also helpfully begins its “What to do now you’re bogged” section by telling you everything you probably did wrong to get into that situation.

More advice for ladies comes in the form of the following books on, hem, becoming a woman. The first is You’re a Young Lady Now, a really rather sweet book from Kotex (copyright 1952-3). This copy was printed in Australia, but when my (American) mother saw it she said that it was exactly the same as the one her mother gave her in the ’50s, so we had a nostalgia/feminine bonding session while my father looked on from the sidelines. But… belts? pins? Ladies of my era, be grateful you grew up when you did!

"You're a Young Lady"

Inside, the illustrations are of a cheerful and rather robust girl who doesn’t seem to give up her tomboyish ways altogether in spite of the vicissitudes of impending adulthood. I am intrigued by the perspective in this picture, however. I think it is just so rigorous and yet… something’s missing.

Jeans Girl

However, for all its charm, it does contain such words of wisdom as “You see, many girls imagine they feel worse than they actually do. They get in a dither just by thinking too much about themselves”. (I recently heard PMS explained as follows (I don’t recall where): if men knew that every 27 days someone was going to hit them in the groin with a sledgehammer and there was nothing they could do about it, they would start getting pretty uptight around day 24 too).

Then there is the blue book put out by Modess (“rhymes with Oh Yes”) which contains pictures of girls dancing (not too energetically), riding and washing their hair (not dangerous, but don’t let the water be too hot or cold) and helpfully explains that “one of the main purposes in life of every human being – man or woman – is to create, produce and bring up the next generation”.

Growing Up

But the real horror lies below…

(more…)

island

A combination of a staff retreat at Noosa and reading My Family and Other Creatures. With maybe just a touch of Lord of the Flies.

Pitt Artist Pens in my pocket sketchbook. The original is a little smaller than this.

At the Whitegrass Airport on Tanna, F (small and organised and quiet) and her husband C (with a cheerful smile and hair in an impressive top-knot) and the driver whose name I never did quite catch collected me. F and C climbed in the back of the Hilux and we set off over unpaved roads towards the other side of the island.

We stopped at a co-op to buy three eggs. A few kilometres further we picked up more supplies and some extra people for the back. We passed an inlet where some goats were climbing, and a group of peace corps workers walking down the road and came to another smaller store with Bible verses painted over the door and a hurricane lantern hanging in the trees nearby to advertise a kava bar. A little girl wanted to join us but was only allowed to pass up bunches of bok choy and fresh peanuts with their stems tied together. Then the owner of our truck appeared and took over driving. He was friendly, but spent most of the drive on the phone, swearing at one of his drivers (a new mobile phone company had opened across Vanuatu the week before, and the coverage was better than in Australia). We went back to the co-op where some chickens ignored us, then back to the small store and bought potatoes and bok choy and added a few more people to the back. It must have been at this point that the little girl joined us after all.

We turned inland – past coconut palms and overgrown plantations, bougainvillea apparently coexisting peacefully with other plants, farming families walking down the road waving and smiling and swinging their bush knives, cows tethered on banks or blundering loose in the road and regarding us with that particular unimpressed expression native to all cows, past extravagantly-tailed roosters and neat compact pigs which waited intelligently for the truck to pass before crossing the road. We stopped at a little outdoor market under a spreading tree and the driver bought more fresh peanuts, still on the stalk and with a sweet vegetable crispness, which we ate as the truck laboured over rutted, slick hill road.

At last we came over the top of the island and saw the sea on the other side. The horizon seemed as high as we were and the mother-of-pearl ocean fell down to the shore far below us. Down there was an iron-grey plain of ash and the volcano – smaller than I imagined but more barren, a black cone smoking distantly and rumbling.

On the other side of the plain, which was cut by clear streams, we found an ash road between the trees and almost ran over a puppy. Someone recognised it, so it was picked up by one leg and added to the back of the truck. We drove to the driver’s bungalows, unloaded most of the people and supplies, then went back down the ash road and up a rutted side road to our bungalows. I put my bag in my bungalow and then W (driver) and P (guide) and I left in the dark and drove to the volcano.

The main ash roads had been smooth and firm, but the track to the volcano was very rough, well beyond corrugations, and by now it was very dark. We drove to the base and then P and I walked up, P a bit behind me, shining the torch on the path. It didn’t take long to reach the top and then we were on the edge of the volcano.

K and B had described the volcano to me, but it would have been hard to have been prepared. I had been mesmerised by Isabella Bird’s descriptions, but this was not a lake of fire. Instead, a great black sulphorous pit fell away below us, and from the darkness at irregular intervals fire flew upwards. The earth would gather itself with a great roar like the rushing of the sea and then glowing molten rocks would fly up into the air, from far below us high into the sky and fall, whistling and glowing orange against the night. There was more than one cone and they would explode alternately, sometimes a hiss of glitter, sometimes howling and shrieking. Many of the glowing rocks fell back into the earth, but some seemed to stop suddenly in mid-air, fallen on the sides of the cone which was otherwise invisible in the darkness. Huge rocks rough with glassy knobs lay around us, fruits of more violent explosions – some within the last few weeks.

It was hard to turn away – it felt disrespectful. Walking back down, the volcano rumbling and venting behind us, I looked across to another mountain, cold and dark, with the plume of the milky way sailing up from it like an explosion of ice.

(Part 1 here; Part 2 here; still to come: Part 4 “Things that didn’t kill me”)

Aimee kindly pointed out that my review of The House of Many Ways was actually a review The Game, which I reviewed in April. I thought I hadn’t read it quite so recently. Here’s the update:

The House of Many Ways – Dianne Wynne Jones. A sequel, insofar as she writes such things, to Howl’s Moving Castle  and Castles in the Air. It takes place in the same world, at least, and Howl and Sophie and Calcifer put in appearances, not always as themselves. I enjoyed this, but (obviously) didn’t find it as memorable as the first two. The main characters were a delightful combination of practical and spoiled, yet both aware of their own flaws (and a little more keenly aware of each others’), and the book felt self-contained as if it had told all the story necessary, rather than spilling out all over the place like some of her books.

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