Observation Journal — First Sentences

On this observation journal page, I was taking some more time on another favourite first sentence (following on from my earlier attempt to batch-process first lines).

Double-page spread of observation journal: On the left page, five things seen, heard, done, and a picture; On the right, thoughts on first lines.
Left page: “Greengrocer’s glowing with oranges, lemons, apples, melons, tomatoes”; also, I forgot how to draw a shopping trolley

Really, it was just an excuse to spend some time in the first line of Sarah Caudwell’s Thus Was Adonis Murdered:

Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth.

Handwritten thoughts on the first line of Thus Was Adonis Murdered.

I love this first sentence. There’s no reference to persons, places, or events. There is, however, a very clear narrator: portentous, comically formal with fits of frank informality, weighty and oblique but perhaps (perhaps) not as complex as they perceive themselves to be.

And there’s already, here, a note of the relief and resignation on which the narrator (though not the plot) will end the book — ultimately, the narrator (Hilary Tamar) is more concerned about their own overlooked brilliance than the guilt or innocence of the accused Julia.

It’s punchy and funny and a little startling, and a definite Mood. There’s no action, but there is a tension — between the latinate and English words; elevated diction vs brevity; lofty principles vs grumpy relief; that very brevity vs the irony and doubled negatives. Why “thank God”? What has happened, what due was not given, who would express themselves this way? (If you’ve read the books, you’ll know this is a question that is immediately, constantly, yet also never answered.)

I then did a couple of replacement exercises (from Stanley Fish, see also previously: bodysnatching). I switched out each element (without particular attention to elegance of phrasing) to get, e.g. “Breakfast seeks, thank the cook, no pinnacle save omelette” and “The star requests, thank agents, no special treatment save a sedan chair.”

What this brought out (for me) was the personification, the irony, the echoes of Pride & Prejudice in the dubious veracity of a broad statement, and how difficult it is not to be sarcastic when using this particular sentence structure.

It’s also just a great book.

A previous take on Caudwell: The Caudwell Manoeuvre.

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Cover art for WQ Magazine!

Front cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow:
T, shears, moon, tortoise, rabbit, mayfly, girl with flag, I, swallow, M, shark, acorn, comet, pomegranate, rakali, E

Here is my cover art for Issue 273 of WQ Magazine, the member magazine of the Queensland Writers Centre (for whom I’m giving a map illustration workshop this Saturday!).

The theme of the issue was TIME, so all the motifs tie back to that in some way (and in my mind!). There are a few references to favourite books in there, but for now I’ll let you work those out for yourself (most of them have more than one meaning anyway). I’m very happy with how it came out!

I drew the original art with brush and ink, then coloured it digitally. There are a few extra motifs not shown here, but I will put them up in a process post soon.

WQ magazine is provided free to members, but QWC do supply additional copies and copies to non-members for five dollars (plus, I imagine, postage) if you contact them with your details.

The have also given me permission to sell prints of the full art, and those are now up at INPRNT and Redbubble (the repeating/square version is also on Redbubble if you prefer e.g. a scarf or a notebook).

I will put up a proper process post soon, as well.

Back cover of magazine in brown, blue, and yellow: Memorial clock, cast iron bed, globe, hour glass, steam engine, crocheted collar, hot air balloon, man with scarf running, candle burning at both ends, ice skate, retro dinosaur, urn with flowers, mouse, python, skull

Observation Journal — Little Groves

This observation journal page was an exploration of what I like about “little woods and wildernesses” in art and stories and life, and as art and stories.

I’d found one on a walk — a stand of she-oaks in a flood reserve, dense and insular — which led to this page and the June 2020 calendar: Ominous Groves.

Double-page spread of observation journal, densely hand-written. On the left, five things seen, heard, and done, and a picture of a cake server. On the right, thoughts on groves.
On the left, an exercise in describing the day’s clouds: furled, fogged, shirred, ruched, rippled, and the crescent moon diffuse through them.

So I went in pursuit of the idea, in search of no grand conclusions (at this point) but trying, I suppose, to find the way in.

The right page of the observation journal, with handwritten thoughts on small forests.

Their origins (for me): CS Lewis and Robert Frost and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen and Susan Coolidge and Midsomer Murders, T. H. White, ballads and fairy-tales and home and backyards and parks and childhood. Not Tolkien, whose sense of forests is vast, but Baynes’ illustrations for Tolkien.

Four ink drawing coloured in greeny-blue. A ruined castle behind trees. Two women circling a stand of trees. A statue carrying a jar and a statue of a dancing faun among trees. A skull below and a ghost within a canopy of trees.
My favourites (now more muted) from the June 2020 Calendar

A few points:

  • The pocket-sized-ness of them, and the way they fit into unexpected pockets of the world. (And their ornamental possibilities).
  • Their closely-bound contradictions — pretty but wilderness, ornamental but feral, good but not tame, small but eternal, tiny but encompassing.
  • The existence of an enclosed world, contained, self-possessed and possess-able, cut off from other concerns and yet full of its own rustling existence. Set apart from the outer world, in terms of light and shade, temperature and inhabitants and sound. Different from the staginess of more flamboyant settings, with which a grove might seem to have more in common.
  • The necessity of finding a gate into them, and that they are (after all) bigger on the inside.
  • Their function as a gate to other worlds — forest as psychopomp.
  • Their opacity — their threats and secrets and how they function (small as they are) as a weighted point on the world.
  • What they mean to time — separated from it, bending it, a place where time might be lost, or a treasury of lost time.
  • What is beneath them — from what soil they grow, and what happens among their roots, and how they pin layers of time and worlds together.
  • That they can function as a shorthand for stories (I realise this isn’t a novel idea, but I need to stumble into thoughts for myself) — their function and structure, metaphorically, but mostly their enchantment.

At the time I felt I hadn’t got very far with this look at groves (although the calendar is not nothing!). But in retrospect, particularly in the light of some projects I’m working on now, revisiting this page has brought several ideas (for and about stories) into focus.

And I do like them!

Sketching mysteries

I’ve been sketching when I watch TV with my housemate in the evenings. Currently, that means I’m sketching Midsomer Murders. This is in the service of (a) having something to do with my hands and (b) test-driving Procreate on an iPad Pro I’ve hired for a month. (It turns out this is an option! I searched for business equipment hire places, and hired it along with an Apple Pencil — they rent Cintiqs, too, and I was planning on trialling both, but the iPad Pro is already very promising and considerably more useful than the very old one I last used.)

This is not my first time sketching Midsomer Murders, but last time I was using it as a source of passers-by in lieu of being able to watch actual people (see Beyond the main event — experiments with sketching).

This time I’m using it for speed-sketching characters (since I’m watching with someone else, I can’t keep pausing). It’s an effective way to watch a fairly familiar show. I definitely notice certain demographic idiosyncrasies more than usual, for good as well as ill — there are lots of great character actors with interesting faces in episodic murder mysteries, and they skew older so there’s more to work with in terms of visible structure.

Also, while people don’t hold their poses, they keep reappearing, so you can try the same person again from different angles.

It was also very good practice to draw people in the act of speaking, the different ways they move their mouths, and how their teeth fit into them, which comes up less in some fields of illustration than in others.

And of course the ongoing reminder that the faster the sketch, the more happy I am likely to be with it. Here are two of my favourites.

Kind-of-sort-of Ruby Wilmott (Julia McKenzie) and Jack Fothergill (Sam Kelly)

Books read, things seen: May 2021

Books

  • Emporium of the Imagination — Tabitha Bird. Magical shops and enchanted telephones in Boonah, Queensland. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • Claudia and Mean Janine — Raina Telgemeier / Ann M Martin. The Baby-Sitters Club is solid and Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptation is lovely. I might have cried.
  • [Title TBC], Corella Press. Three 19th century ghost stories — more information in due course!
  • The Bee and the Orange Tree — Melissa Ashley. Salonnières and murder. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen — Krissy Kneen. Family secrets and the Alexandrine women. (Krissy moderated our panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • All the Murmuring Bones — Angela Slatter. Of course I loved it but I was reading it while thinking about a drawing for the cover of the limited edition hardback, and forgot to tell the author so she only saw my frowning spatial-reasoning face. The paperback is out now from Titan and the limited edition hardback will be from Tartarus.
  • Kiki’s Delivery ServiceEiko Kadono
  • Batman: A Death in the Family — Starlin, Aparo, DeCarlo
  • The Rock from the Sky — Jon Klassen. One of my sisters described Klassen’s ‘hat’ trilogy as “Cohen Brothers for kids”, so if you image a Cohen Brothers science-fiction picture book…
  • Craft in the Real World — Matthew Salesses. A really interesting and useful re-approach to workshopping writing. Dense with thoughts and techniques. I also really appreciated the structure which, instead of fitting ideas to the shape of standardised non-fiction chapters, moves from commentary to dot-point lists, to collated thoughts, as most relevant and efficient for the material.
  • The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes — Neil Gaiman, art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III and Robbie Busch. A reread. That vigorous, untidy, grungy, horrific, insinuating, baroque, beautiful art still gets me by the throat.
  • Provocation — Meg Vann. The first of Meg’s chapbook thrillers from Brain Jar Press. Murderous happenings in the State Library…

Movies

  • Wrath of Man
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead

Observation Journal — story structures

An observation journal page from my birthday last year, in which — while very full of cake — I attempted to think about the shapes of short stories (written and drawn).

Two-page observation journal spread. On the left, five things seen/heard/done and a sketch of a birthday balloon in a bathroom sink. On the right, densely handwritten short story thoughts.
I do rather like those scribbly bird frames on the left

All that needs to be written about story structure probably has been. Personally I suspect that, as with art composition, “be deliberate” does a lot of the heavy lifting. (That said, Kim Wilkins (through the University of Queensland and the Novelist’s Bootcamp) and Angela Slatter have taught me most of the practical side of structure, and I recommend both).

But (to the despair of friends and mentors) I understand things best by thinking/blundering my way into them, and sometimes the act of reinventing of the wheel is more valuable than the individual wheel itself. This page began a series of exercises tinkering with how stories work in my head.

First, I applied observations to a structure:

  • I drew a table of the second-most basic story outline: Beginning — Middle — End.
  • Next I filled each cell randomly with observations from some of the left-side journal pages.
  • Then I thought about which ones felt like a story, and what sort of moods/actions were happening in the sections.

Then I made a list of those moods/actions. Some were suggested by the table above (e.g. a beginning in which something is squeaking in the breeze felt a bit ominous). Some I’d observed in other favourite short stories. Here’s the (non-comprehensive) list:

  • Ominous
  • Formation of goal
  • Inkling
  • Foreshadow doom
  • Meet-cute
  • Fragments
  • Situation
  • Door
  • Metaphor
  • Suspicion
  • Compounded
  • Quiet progression towards goal
  • Red herring
  • Proceed towards doom
  • Complication
  • Facets
  • Failures
  • Something [gets] through
  • Peel back
  • Twist (of plot or knife)
  • Achieves goal
  • Solution
  • [Evade] doom
  • HEA [Happily Ever After]
  • Whole
  • Success
  • Pushed back
  • Truth & consequence

Finally, I rearranged those elements into a story outline: Beginning — Middle — End. I made notes on what stories (existing or otherwise) those evoked. For example, “Foreshadowed doom — Facets — HEA” suggested a sort of Sliding Doors / Run Lola Run situation.

This page has been useful for a number of reasons:

  • It kicked off an occasional series of thoughts on plots I like (more to come on this).
  • It’s been helpful for teasing initial ideas out into more of a story shape.
  • It’s been useful for adjusting and restructuring ideas.
  • It’s a reminder of the importance of movement, because at the very least the story has to get from one mood to the next.
  • It gives me a working framework that I understand from the inside out.
  • It’s helped me get a lot better at reading stories and noticing what the author is doing, and talking about it.

WRITING/ART EXERCISE

  • Pick a few stories (written or drawn or a single very narrative illustration) you like, or have encountered lately.
  • Think of how they start, continue, and finish. With a lot of illustrations and some very short stories, some of those aspects are implied.
  • Jot down a list of the big mood/effect/movement of each section.
    For example, I’m looking at the cover of Dungeon Critters right now, and you could say that it starts in ominous shadow and proceeds through vigorous confusion into overwhelming luminousness. Or perhaps it begins in a cavern and proceeds through a fight through brambles to threatening reward. There isn’t a correct answer — it’s a matter of how you see stories.
  • Now pick three entries from your list (or mine above) and assign them to “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”. (You can read anything as a metaphor.)
  • Consider whether you know any other stories/images that would fit that model?
  • Could you invent a story that would suit that shape? If you’re stuck for ideas, pick something innocuous you’ve seen today (a deliveryman? someone making toast?) and apply it to the story. Do a quick sketch (written or drawn) of the idea.

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Observation Journal — written sketches and samplers

On this observation journal page, I was trying to use the journal in the same way I use my sketchbooks.

Double page of observation journal. On the right, five things seen, heard, and done, and a drawing of a fat pigeon.
On the right, a dot point list of ways people held their hands at a cafe.

There are three approaches here.

Left page: casual sketches (written and drawn)

The left page often functions as a sort of sketchbook, anyway — little notes on the day, attempts to capture a sound or a movement or a glimpse (as here: pigeon shadows sliding up a roof to meet their pigeons). Some of these would work as drawings, but might need more work to capture what I wanted to remember (as compared to, say, a sketch of a single puffed-up topknot pigeon).

On this day, I took the observation journal with me on a walk, which is a sure way to fill the page up up far too quickly, and also to walk extremely slowly. But it creates a lovely lyrical impression of the day.

I’ve used this approach for some space/place-based projects — one is forthcoming, but of course Travelogues was written that way, and I’ve talked before (see: Sketching with words) about using this approach when writing Flyaway.

Left page: ROYGBIV

I also did a variant of the ROYGBIV exercise here (see: Observation Exercises). I was looking for colours from the spectrum (in order) in plants that I passed. This is complicated by my limited botanical knowledge, but it creates both a lovely structure for looking at the world and — as a result — a framework for an image of a place and time (Oxley at the end of autumn). Here’s the list:

Bottle-brush/poinsettia; duranta/grevillea; banksia candles/jacaranda leaves; new leaves on various/olive-honeyeater; eyes on ditto/spear on bird-of-paradise flowers; ditto/shadows in rolled tiger-tree bark in cleft; lavender-y patches of bark ditto; purply-pink berries (?); periwinkles; tips & edges of succulents.

Right page: A themed sketch / sampler

When sketching in my sketchbook, I will often pick a single topic to sketch (see sketchbook posts generally). These are frequently (but not exclusively) hands — hands in cafes, hands on books, hands on guitars…

Sketching thematically is useful for several reasons:

  • It’s a great way to pass time.
  • It makes me look closely at something obvious, and find the variety and personality in it.
  • It creates a framework for capturing an aspect of a setting (or moment or demographic).
  • It creates a useful thesaurus or sampler — even if I don’t refer back to the sketchbook, these poses are somewhere now in my hands or mind (see also: On making samplers of various kinds).
  • It can turn into a piece of art on its own (October calendar: Cold hands).

So this observation journal exercise was the same activity, but written.

Dot point list of ways people held their hands

It is a list of the ways people were holding their hands in a cafe.

They are loosely sorted into phone-holders (“Hand holding laptop & notebook, one finger extended to wrap phone & clasp against book”), coffee-holders (“Fingers tucked under saucers, thumbs on edges, fingers supporting sides (of saucers)”); and other (“One hand loosely clasping cardigan closed, other towing dog”). 

I was surprised at the variety (although I shouldn’t have been) — perhaps because when I draw hands it’s just a matter of arranging lines and shadow — I use the same lines, the same shadows. But when I write these notes, I suddenly need to use a whole vocabulary of words for movements (flexed? extended? crooked?) that I don’t usually default to.

Pen drawing of fat topknot pigeon

Writing/art activity

  • Take up a position from which you can observe life. I’m a fan of cafes because the life is in motion so no-one knows if I recorded it accurately or not. Socially-distanced vaccine queues are an option. Livestreams and documentary footage and birds out the window also work.
  • Pick a common/obvious detail of life: how people hold their hands in a cafe, or what they do with their feet in a supermarket queue, or what they do with their faces when listening on Zoom, or how dogs wait…
  • Fill a page with sketches (written or drawn) of just that detail — all the versions you can notice, the commonalities, the slight variations, the personalities that come through.
  • Switch — if you’re a writer, try sketching a couple poses (they can be diagrams); if you’re an artist, see what words you need to capture them.
  • If you want, do a quick (written or drawn) sketch of a scene in your preferred genre or from a favourite drawing, and see if you can incorporate that detail — a dragon waiting the way you saw a dog sprawled in the middle of a thoroughfare, a royal advisor holding a goblet the unexpectedly complicated way someone held a glass in a cafe, a detective scuffing their shoe childishly while thinking… See what it does to the scene or the character.

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Library sketching — Next Library Camp at the State Library of Queensland

Edit: The library post is now up on Public Libraries Connect blog, and also links to a Next Library Camp Flickr album that is now online — so you can compare the pictures to the sketches.

On 31 May 2021 I had the honour and delight of sketching proceedings at the Next Library Camp at the State Library of Queensland (in connection with Aarhus Public Libraries with whom we had a short video linkup, so that librarians could call and wave to each other across timezones).

All five subjects of the Dangerous Women podcast (I was pleased I got them all in)

I was working in a pocket Moleskine sketchbook with Pitt Artist pens — I’ve written more about why and how I use so much blue and yellow for rapid sketches here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.

Zoom, and an escalating standard of props among storytelling librarians

It was a very full and interesting and thought-provoking day, organised for the State Library by Jackie Ryan (to be found at e.g. LinkedIn, UQP, Burgerforce), who has cultivated that really valuable creative gift of being able to put the right people together in the right room, and let good conversations happen.

I sketched for most of it, with occasional pauses to breathe/eat/stretch my hands. At the end, I presented the art and talked about the story of the day as filtered through a sketchbook — the necessity of selecting, the power of limitations, the charm of tiny details, the way those tiny details can accompany and elaborate on more formal records of an event, the mood and attitudes and fashion, the poses and thoughtfulness, the interactions of groups and personalities.

And below I present: all the sketches, with very high-level captions! I will link to the State Library blog post about the day when it goes live, which will have much more information. Not shown, because I was eating: catering (and the stories thereof) by Eritrean restaurant Mu’ooz.

Continue reading

May 2021 — round-up of posts

Pencil sketch with digital colour of me grumpily editing

Here is quick summary of the May blog posts (not including Patreon posts).

The starred posts have art and writing exercises (tags: writing exerciseart exercise), but most of the observation journal posts can generally be adapted for those purposes too.

Glimpse of dragon head and the lettering "Hoard"

Posts over on Patreon, at various tiers, included: two process posts on a yet-to-be-published map, two weeks worth of Observation Journal pages, a sneak-peek at a design for an art-swap, some examples of how I use computers in non-digital drawing, a new Dalek, and some dragon-themed stationery.

Biro drawing of mermaid on a hillock.
I had to stop the Mermay mermaid drawings due to other deadlines I couldn’t turn into mermaid excuses. I did sketch this one while I was at the writers festival.

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like these about it, patrons at (patreon.com/tanaudel) get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee or two at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Silhouette pen drawing of mermaid reading a book.

June 2021 Calendar — Dragons

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel

Dragonlets for the June calendar! Wriggling all over the place. You will notice distinct design homages to Smaug (as depicted in Tolkien’s drawings), particularly the tiny wings with a single anchor-point, and the three-pronged tail. It turns out tiny wings are MUCH easier to manage for decorative purposes. Others are more in line with my usual dragons.

Here’s a glimpse of the project’s beginnings in my notebook, where most calendars begin.

I was originally planning mermaids, for the Mermay illustration challenge, but we just had mermaids in February

I drew these to a grid, which was a puzzle, getting them all to fit — especially since I wanted some to go off one edge and back on the other (to better repeat).

There’s a printed grid under this sheet of paper, which I used as a guide — all the dragons take up 10 squares.

Once I’d sketched out the dragons, I used that set of dragons as the base for another set of sketches (each dragon filling the same space as its twin, but facing the other way. I put those together and darkened the sketches on the computer, then used a lightbox to ink the finals on clean paper before tidying and colouring them on the computer.

Hunt Crowquill 102 nib and Winsor & Newton black ink, on Canson illustration 250gsm paper

I’ve also wrangled it into a repeating pattern, which is now up on clothes, stationery, prints & etc at Redbubble! I will put it on Spoonflower, too. Oh, and the February mermaids are now up on Redbubble, too.

And here (for personal use) are the printable versions. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.