Illustration Friday: Propagate

Illustration Friday: Propagate

It’s still ten minutes to midnight! Just scraping in under the wire with a very quick pen, brush and ink sketch with colour added in Photoshop.

I was out at the movies with Ngaire, and then we had coffee (and a brownie with cream and chocolate sauce). I reached home a little before 11, picked some sprigs before I came in, dug out assorted pens, tied the twigs to them and set to. It was going to be all drawn with a dip pen but the nibs were giving me trouble, so this is a combination of dip pen, brush and felt-tipped calligraphy pen, with colour added after scanning.

ETA: The picture for “perspective” is now up as well:

January Short Book Reviews

An Older Kind of MagicPatricia Wrightson: A re-read to begin the year. One of my favourite urban fantasies – a very slight book of a very slight slice of Sydney – the house on the roof of a government department building where the caretaker’s children live, the halls of the department at night, a few city streets with their shop windows and facades and street lights, the great Gardens, and how they are all changed in the first hour of comet light and by the wild whispering things that live beneath the streets and in the gardens. It reminds me a very little of Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, but smaller and wilder – less madcap and more like… a sighting of a comet, the wind in the trees of the botanic gardens, the magic in the lights at crosswalks.

A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Prompted by having watched the most recent Holmes movie, I read the first novel out loud to my father. He used to read them to us when my mother was away (she usually did the reading) and I’m pretty sure I have read or heard all of the stories, although a very long time ago (I used to stay up late reading The Hound of the Baskervilles under the covers and consequently scaring myself witless when dingoes started howling up in the scrub). This is the book in which Watson first meets Holmes, and I was struck by how much more CSI it is than Agatha Christie (my first memory of Holmes is of him devising a test for discerning traces of blood in water). It is also amusing to meet Holmes with Watson for the first time – as they discuss their character flaws before deciding to take the rooms at Baker Street and as Watson tries to deduce Holmes’ profession by what he knows and, more amusingly, what he doesn’t (literature, how the solar system works). And then the second half of the book is a very sensational western romance/tragedy/account of the Mormon settlement of Utah. I had also recently seen the movie, and so although I knew of the great (and, I am sure, entirely deliberate) inaccuracies of the movie, it was fun to see all the little things which were kept – the American influences, Watson’s bulldog, Holmes’ experimenting on dogs, aspects of their personalities and relationship. It’s a cheerfully liberal reinterpretation, and utterly light and unpretentious, and I liked it.

The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens: Such a peculiar book, this. I am glad I read it (for Sam and the Bear of Bad News among many other reasons), but it is Dickens finding and hitting his stride, and although it may be the ‘first Victorian novel’ it is Dickens writing a Regency novel (it is set 14 years after Pride and Prejudice was published) – all mad-cap adventures and small-town politics and bucolic misadventures and aunts in high-waisted gowns running off with disreputable fortune-hunters. And then at the end, as the pace gentled and friends were gathered and journeys ended I started realising – this is Hobbiton, this is the Shire, this is Sam Gamgee as much as it is Sam Weller, this is Bilbo Baggins as much as it is Samuel Pickwick, this is the last of that England before the factories and the railways and the town planning laws and the electric wires.

Whose Body? – Dorothy Sayers: Published in 1923, this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and my second: I read Murder Must Advertise in 2008 (reviewed here) and bought both for my mother for Christmas. It is a decent little detective novel with a compelling character of whom I am anxious to read more, but notable for me first for the inclusion of shell-shock/PTSD post-WW1 (and subject of a very interesting series of articles on and for the way it is set in a time and a world that is almost recognisable – almost ours. There are police and fingerprinting and telephones and cars… and yet there are people who have never been in cars, and characters who have to struggle to work out how to use a telephone.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery: The concept behind the title is endearing, but it still makes me think of quirkily titled Alexander McCall Smith novels (and he does have wonderful titles) and on that basis this is one of the more misleadingly titled books I have read. It is the parallel stories of two inhabitants of an upmarket apartment building in Paris – an extremely intelligent, privileged suicidal child, and the disadvantaged concierge who conceals her own remarkable mind behind a veneer of the mediocrity people expect from her. It is full of philosophy and art-house films, but also occasionally surprising beauty and charming situations and (this is where it won me over) a brief summary of why The Hunt for Red October is a consummate film. I enjoyed it, although the style was too literary for me to look back on it with unalloyed affection, and I sobbed helplessly at the end – I suspect the ending was necessary for it to be literary fiction. It made me want to go and read Gillian’s Life Through Cellophane again, or watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, as an antidote.

Gently Down the Stream – Alan Hunter: A Lifeline Bookfest purchase – the cover featured in this post. This was written in the late 50s, but again there was that feeling of it being in a world that I almost know. Inspector Gently’s England is closer than Lord Peter Wimsey’s was – technology and investigative procedure have advanced, there is discussion of the dangers of tobacco – and yet the warnings are laughling dismissed and suspects are terrified of being hung for murder. I enjoyed the story – it was very particularl to and in love with its unlovely setting, and had a rather Midsummer Murders feel to it.

Mog’s Christmas – Judith Kerr: I grew up on this picture book and when I found it at the Lifeline Bookfest I bought it for my mother and took it home and we read it together with my dad and got teary-eyed again when the tree “stopped walking around and made itself all pretty”.

How the Queen Reigns – Dorothy Laird: There used to be a crazy-fabulous little vintage-with-a-focus-on-the-50s shop in Paddington: marching band costumes and pill-box hats and pearl collars and a small proprietor who sat low down behind a display case and kept all the change in a large tapestry handbag. That is where I bought this book. It is the 1961 updated edition and both interesting and obsessively detailed, at times laborious and frequently less than logically structured. It did, however, have two aspects of interest: a focus on the growth of the Commonwealth, and a portrait of the personality of the young Queen as a woman of strong mind and character, of her time and place and yet really admirable (and reminded me of my Australian grandmother).

Cameos of Crime M. O’Sullivan: I bought this (I think) in a second hand bookshop in Coolangatta and it was fascinating. It is a memoir of police and detective work in Queensland in the late 1800s and early 1900s – from working with trackers in mining camps to encouraging the use of plaster casts and the training of detectives in jiu jitsu, it is entertaining, shocking, enlightening. I loved it (if you can’t tell) not only for the stories but for the connections – the arrest that gave the name to a hill on the road I grew up on, the massacre that was remembered in stories of cursed families in my old home town, names and people and places – Captains Moonlight and Starlight, the Kelly Gang, Frank Gardiner. Scathing opinions on law and order in Chicago (as opposed to Brisbane). Police patrolling Woolloongabba on bicycles. Encounters with patriarchs of now-legendary families. Attitudes to race and gender which vary between the unexpectedly enlightened and the shocking (although, given the attitudes in some of those towns today, more than a century on, still arguably unexpectedly enlightened for the era). The authors own colourful views on police and juries and judges.  A colourful, eclectic, amusing book and worth reading if you can find it.

Imaginative Realism: How to paint what doesn’t exist – James Gurney: An art instruction book, but also one of great interest to non-artists – my parents kept it at home for a while (it was a Christmas present) to read through Gurney’s techniques and anecdotes. The process pictures and sketches are fascinating and the artwork – from Dinotopia to National Geographic – stunning.

Spectrum 16Cathy and Arnie Fenner: Always stunning, although this is one of the issues which the broader interpretation of ‘fantasy’ makes it a little more difficult to share with everyone.

Birthday card

My older nephew (and godson) turns 10 today (happy birthday!). I was put in charge of card-making from his aunts on this side of the family. So this is the front (you can see a larger version here:

Birthday card - front

And this is inside:

Birthday card - inside

The dragon’s facial expressions are oddly like those of my younger sister’s dog. Technical pens and digital colour.

In other news, on the weekend I finished the 7 illustrations I’ve been doing for an anthology of science fiction/fantasy stories for the 8-13 set. More on that in the course of time, I suppose.

Australian SpecFic Snapshot

The Australian SpecFic Snapshot has been happening this week – 5 questions asked of each of… quite a number of Australian speculative fiction writers, editors, fans and illustrators.

The interviews will be archived on ASif! but are being blogged here:

Kathryn Linge interviewed me (thank you Kathryn!) and I got very excitable and showed off a very small panel (but one of my favourite) from the Recent Project:

Sketchbook update – Christmas

Since I’ve been working on specific projects, the current sketchbook hasn’t been filling as fast as usual. It is, however, still in use and I am uploading pictures every now and then. Here are the latest uploads:

I don’t know what the tree at top left is, but it was fantastical (the whole of the Old Museum, where the Finders Keepers markets were held, is enchanting). At top right are the Black Hawk helicopters which were on maneuvres past my office window for several weeks.

Page 02

Top left is a game of Triad in progress (as in, the ball game from Battlestar Galactica). The musicians are friends of my parents (he built the bookcases in my room at my parents’ house and now go to the church my parents were going to when my dad could still get out – they are also folk musicians). Bottom right begins the queue to see Santa at Indooroopilly:

Page 03

And the queue continues over the page, together with a reappearance by the gift tags:

Page 04

Teapots at the Tea Centre, a shepherd, wise man and angel, my Christmas… branch, and my mother reading “A Visit from Saint Nick” to my nephews, with commentary and morals (there is a larger version here if you can’t read it).

Page 05

We had a traditional Christmas morning: stockings were opened and cross-examined, then we had hot cinnamon rolls, fresh-brewed coffee and orange juice, had showers, did dishes (we like delayed anticipation) and then settled in for opening of presents. Then my mother made blueberry pie (top left) and we lay around groaning until Christmas lunch at 5pm. That weekend I went up to Toowoomba and watched Sherlock Holmes with friends.

Page 06

The showing we were going to watch was sold out, so we bought tickets for the next, then went to a coffee shop and drew in each others’ notebooks – Lisa’s is at top right above, Anna’s at top left below, and Aimee’s on the right.

Page 07

Illustration Friday: Adrift

Illustration Friday: Adrift

So I bought a fedora… If this picture rings a bell, it is because in June last year the topic was “drifting” and I did a mock cover for this poem based on an old Piper sailing manual. This one is inspired by the cover of a 1960 Corgi edition of Alan Hunter’s Gently Down the Stream. It does not appear to be online. I decided to do a silhouette of the DI Dulac instead of the tonal illustration of Gently on Hunter’s cover, and a close-up of the corpse instead of the view of boatsheds and boats with a small and mysteriously-suspender-belted corpse in the reeds (mysterious because as far as I recall, no women or suspender-belted men were murdered in the novel). I’ve extracted an agreement from my sister that, if she won’t pose for me, she will take photos while I pose, but she went out to a barbeque so I have been running around the living room in a trench coat and fedora, sweltering, and lying down on the floor and jumping up again and trying to arrange my hair in 12 seconds, and attaching the camera to backs of chairs… After that part of the process was done, the rest of this happened on the computer, not in a vector program although if I were to do this again (or clean it up further) I would. And please note how I cleverly avoided having to spell “Shalott” correctly. Edited to add a scan of the original cover:

Gently Down the Stream

Edited to add: This is now available as a print on Redbubble.

Illustration Friday: Muddy

The Dog – Ogden Nash

Illustration Friday: Muddy

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state the dog is full of love.

I’ve also proved, by actual test,

Wet Dog