Ekka Sketches

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.

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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.

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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.

Illustration Friday: 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.

Illustration Friday: Clutter


I try not to gather figurines, bric-a-brac or dust collectors. When I do, they gather on the bookshelf above my computer and look down at me reproachfully.

This is a quick photoshop sketch of Bruce and Jasmine, trying to get my fingers used to the wacom again (like many things, this process has been half learning to see in a certain way, and half getting my hands to obey me). I like the movement in it but would perhaps put more colour in if I were to do it again. Maybe some red in the shadows.

Comments and criticism are always welcome.

Take a screenshot, it will last longer.

Or, “Pining for the F(j)ords”.

This is the Google Maps street view of my house. It was probably taken this year, because you can see I’ve come up in parking hierarchy (that’s my car on the right), but early in the year because the house on the right is about three metres lower than it is now (houses in Brisbane levitate occasionally, and sometimes even do a midnight flit).

This is also the only photo I have of my nasty little Nissan, the car which was acquired as a stop-gap measure after my last car was stolen. This one came with a dead wasp on the back dashboard which I carefully never removed (by not vacuuming the car) because I couldn’t find anyone to laugh at my joke about it (“So there’s this dead wasp on the back dashboard, and I’ve left it there because I can’t work out if it’s a feature or a bug”).

And this is the only sketch I have of it:

Pining for the F(j)ords

At 6.30pm on Thursday I left my house to go late-night shopping, turned right out of my street, and a horrible metallic fluttering started up. With creative application of brake, accelerator, handbrake and gears, I got to the side of the road, called the mechanic to let them know I would be there soon, and drew the car (to the consternation of people coming home from work) because there was nothing else to do in the dark on the side of the road. RACQ arrived and made muttering noises, then called a tow truck, whose driver spent his days off cruising around south-east Queensland on his Harley and taking photos of wildflowers. He took me to Indro, and the mechanics drove me back, and I was home by eight, in time to catch the end of Inspector Rex.

The next day I discovered the engine is not worth repairing or (given the car) replacing. So I have to work out what to do with a defunct 1986 Nissan Pulsar and what to replace it with. Everyone says to get a new car, or at least something younger than 20 years. The trouble with having savings, though, is that I am very reluctant to spend them.

Well, that and I have spent the last few months swearing that (a) I wish I had a station wagon and (b) I will never buy a new car.

Vanuatu: To the Volcano – Part 2

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John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s sonnet “High Flight” begins “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…”.

I’ve known the poem for years, but never really understood the first line until we took off from Port Vila in the De Havilland Twin Otter, reputed to be very reliable, but the smallest plane I have ever paid to be in (I went up in a Cessna once, and saw a rainbow come down in the centre of a paddock, but that was a long time ago).

The airport in Port Vila is a large industrial shed divided in two: the domestic and international terminals. That’s the domestic departure gate on the right in the picture above.

Through the gate and on the tarmac were two very small aircraft. When it was time to board, our little group of passengers (laden with assorted luggage – bags and woven mats and cooking oil and bundles of fresh peanuts with their stalks tied together) walked out between the two. One had the reassuring words “In Emergency Cut Here” painted on the side near a dotted line. The pilots of the planes were leaning out talking to each other across the tarmac. A passenger ahead of me asked which flight was our flight number. The pilots looked blank and we milled around between the two planes until I called out, “Are you going to Tanna?” to one of the planes and the pilot laughed and said “Yes, that’s the right question!”. So we clambered up the stairs.

That’s the interior of the plane on the right. It seats 20. The stairs fold up into the plane (see the wriggly line about two thirds up the right side of that page? That’s the handrail of the stairs). There was no pressurisation. My elbow was pressed against an emergency exit door and cold air came in around the edges of the door. Cold air coming in around exit door pressed against elbow. From the back seat (where I was) we could see into cockpit. See the left-hand cockpit window? I’ve drawn the windscreen wiper there.

Twin Otters don’t need much of a run-up to take off. We leapt up and into the buffeting island winds. I could feel the plane strain and toss against the pull of the earth, and was very aware of the size of the plane and the wind whistling around the door. And then we pulled free and the engine didn’t seem to labour as loudly, and we were up above the island and the reefs and sandbanks, each circled by concentric rings of coloured sea.

Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…”. The words of “High Flight” suddenly made sense, and kept going through my mind, together with these lines from Judith Wright’s poem “The Idler”:

The islands ran like emeralds through his fingers
(Oparo, Manahiki, Tubuai)
till he turned truant, cleared the heads at dawn
and half-forgot the seasons, under that sky…


(Part 1 here).

Illustration Friday: Routine


My father refers to himself as a “high maintenance husband”, so for this week’s Illustration Friday topic “routine” I showed my mother giving him some routine maintenance. Not, as one of my housemates thought, being tortured.

I haven’t used scratchboard since the last time I used it for Illustration Friday (Worry, in May). It was easier this time (and this is a very small image: 5.5×7.5cm), but there are many things I will do differently next time – especially the shadows and outlines. After using pen and ink so much, scratchboard is an exercise in negative thinking.

Here’s the sketch:

Routine (sketch)

ETA: One of the comments made me realise that there are two possible misinterpetations: the torture; and that my father makes us wait on him hand and foot! He has MS and needs assistance to do a number of things now, including cutting his fingernails. But when he was up and about, he was anything but demanding :)

Comments, critiques and further possible misinterpretations welcome. I can learn!

Vanuatu: To the Volcano – Part 1

While in Vanuatu, I went on two jaunts by myself. On both occasions I expected to be thrown in with an existing group of tourists, and instead was alone with a guide. The first was a Saturday rainforest trail ride through some of the prettiest cattle country I have seen. The second time, I went to Tanna to see the volcano.

When I was little, a combination of factors (to wit: living in a wooden house with a wood-burning stove; living on a cattle property in a drought; growing up on novels of the Ash Wednesday fires; a well-read National Geographic with pictures of Mount St Helens; a children’s encyclopaedia which described in sufficiently lively detail the tale of the farmer in Mexico who found hot rocks popping out of his paddock and a week later the farm was covered by a live volcano; and my family’s general inability to get out of the house in a timely fashion) gave me nightmares about fiery pits and infernos for years. And then I read Isabella Bird’s accounts of climbing up and looking into volcanoes on Hawaii, and generally being Victorian and fabulous, and decided that I would quite like to see one. Her descriptions were awe-inspiring.

I did very little research before I went to Vanuatu, partly because I do fly by the seat of my pants and partly because I didn’t expect to be doing anything on any other islands. But then K and B washed in on the tide bearing tales of maritime adventures and videos of the volcano and I realised that I was right there, in Vanuatu, only a few islands away from a Real Live Volcano.

The rest of the group were kind enough to encourage me to go (and then give me a hard time later about skipping out on work), so when I went to the markets to buy cucumbers and pamplemousse, I kept walking to the thatch-roofed tour agencies and found an overnight trip to Tanna, including everything except dinner and the fee to enter the volcano area, for only a few hundred dollars. One of the shiny shop-front agencies offered a trip for over a thousand, but that did not include flights. The next day I collected my tickets, and the next morning I worked, had a quick lunch and caught a bus to the airport.

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Vanuatu: Sketchbook

My poor maltreated Moleskine. It is held together with duct tape now (on the inside, so I can’t pass it off as industrial punk) and has been soggy and dirty and flecked with volcanic ash and had a near miss in the Port in Port Vila.

But it survived and the picture pages are scanned and up as a set on Flickr: Vanuatu 2008 Moleskine.

This sketchbook has fewer receipts and brochures and tickets than the American one (although there are one or two pages of receipts and boarding passes I didn’t scan in), and is better scanned and – in the drawings at least – more colourful due to my acquisition of more markers. My handbag was (is) full of markers (and pencils, erasers, sharpeners, gel pens, blending pencils, etc).

But next time I will carry the book in a ziplock bag. Just in case.


Now, so far I only have one question to answer about Vanuatu, and my answer is: no, to the best of my knowledge there are no longer cannibals in Vanuatu; that doesn’t stop the tourist trade trading on that piece of history; and from time to time startled linguists have been ‘discovered’ by anthropologists searching for cannibal tribes.

Any other questions?


Illustration Friday: Detach


A sepia illustration for this week’s Illustration Friday topic: detach. Referenced surreptitiously from my father while we were watching Dr Who (although not a likeness, you can tell from the expression it’s not really his cup of tea).

Header Robin

This is one of a series of chapter-header illustrations I’ve been working on for an adaptation of a favourite legend, but was also drawn with this week’s theme in mind.


Newsflash: Two days ago I mentioned your opportunity to buy a villain (and other shocking objects) until 28 August 2008. Artscaresyou has now added an index of auction items, which should make the process of choosing (and bidding!) much easier. Here is how to bid, and the reason for the auction (i.e. Paul Haines’ bowels liver).

Vanuatu: Illustration

I haven’t forgotten Vanuatu: I’ve been uploading the sketchbook (almost there!) and sorting through photos for a presentation at church. Here are the illustrations I did for SIL/VBT. The originals are still on Efate. (If you want to see details, click on the picture which will take you to the Flickr page, and then above the picture click on “all sizes”).

LW wanted a design for a notecard from SIL/VBT (Summer Institute of Linguistics & Vanuatu Baebol Translesen (sp?)). It was to be photocopied and/or printed in black and white, so I did a few designs (based on things lying around in Vila) and styles: nautilus shells, basket/bags, frangipani.

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The middle nautilus shell (above) and the book and flowers (below) are my favourite:

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I went further with the basket design for the other illustration job. These are my thumbnail sketches and the cover for “Histri blong yumi” (our history), a collection LW was putting together of stories by translators’ children. The picture couldn’t be very specific to one island or one family, so I ended up doing a basket (I can’t remember which island this design was from, but I think either Efate or Pentecost) and hibiscus and frangipani and shells and a book. I asked LW what sort of things western children being brought up on the islands would likely carry around with them and she said the girls usually had beads and her sons had always had their shanghais and spent hours wrapping the handles with colourful designs in tape.

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