What I Did on My Holidays: Part the First – Brisbane Airport and Oslo

Note: If you click on a picture, that should take you through to its Flickr page, where you will have an option to view a larger version

This is a record of the slow-moving things I saw on my trip to Oslo and England for (among other things) the World Fantasy Convention 2013.

My flight out of Brisbane was delayed by 6 hours. Parts had to be flown up from Sydney twice.

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Raced through Changi airport (which is very long) and still made the connection! This is my confused impression of the flight. The part where I’m holding the blanket over my face is when I was watching Tarantino movies on too little sleep.

Scattered impressions: Flight

More sketches of the delay. But I and my luggage reached Oslo, via Helsinki (Helsinki airport is full of Moomins), as planned! I arrived in Norway as a blank slate, only having a few days and planning on spending that visiting an old friend. We had a lovely visit but Oslo, as it turns out, is also wonderful! We went to the Vigeland sculpture park, famous from lists of unintentionally terrifying statues. The inclusion on that list is unjust (also the least alarming of the statues). It is unsettling and beautiful – vast, weighty, humanist, nebulously meaningful and Giger-esque in the sense not of darkness but of belonging to a visual language which is almost but not-quite intelligible.

Also: Viking ships! A spare, dignified museum, with lines and artistic language utterly intelligible, but astonishing for scale and fluidity.

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It was getting cold and late, so my sketches from the Norse folk museum are merely “remember-to-come-back-here” sketches. But oh, that museum! It is acres of outdoor paths – a museum of buildings and streets, relocated entire. It was like walking through an Eyewitness Guide in the 20th century part, and back into East of the Sun, West of the Moon everywhere else.

The next day we went to the city hall. In my experience, civic buildings are usually either ancient and weighty or modern and utilitarian. This was 20th century and pregnant with meaning and detail – norse myths, World War II, vikings, mid-century art, painted ceilings, murals, mosaics. It reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ technologically developed fantasy worlds – deep, foreign and familiar.

Then some photography students asked us to pose for an assignment.

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It was too short a stay, (although quite a long time to have “To Noroway, to Noroway, to Noroway o’er the foam” stuck in my head) but I had to fly again – this time to England.

Next stop: Dartmoor.

I have returned!


I am back, I am dealing with jet lag which I never adequately believed in before, the sketchbook is scanned and I will begin posting it shortly.

However, to begin with, many congratulations to all the nominees and winners of the World Fantasy Award, and of course particular to Vincent Chong, winner of the Artist category with his sepia-soaked, textured worlds, and to my fellow nominees Didier Graffet and Dave Senior, with their clean effective design, J.K. Potter‘s dark collections and Chris Roberts‘ bright nightmares.

Off to travel in…

Time & Space

Early sketch developing ideas for the Once Upon A Time exhibition.

I’m off to the World Fantasy Convention and will be travelling for a month – Oslo, Dartmoor, Brighton and destinations as yet undecided.

Updates may happen here, but there is a higher chance of seeing sketches, cartoons and updates if you follow on Twitter, Facebook or (which I am still learning to use) Tumblr.

American Sketchbook – Part 3: San Francisco and LA

General notes: This is Part 2 of my sketchbook – Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. These are sketches with (mostly) Pitt Artist Pens in a little Moleskine sketchbook. You can see larger versions by clicking on the pictures, which will take you through to their Flickr page.

So then I flew to San Francisco, where Katharine and Matt collected me at the baggage carousel, having recognised me from behind based on my hair in my sketches of myself.

We wandered the streets, ate in Chinatown and the next morning went to Alcatraz, where we made up facts and discussed possible adventures which could take place on the island. Escape from Alcatraz with Evil Clowns?

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American Sketchbook – Part 2: Illuxcon, New York and Colorado

General notes: This is Part 2 of my sketchbook – Part 1 is here, and Part 3 is here. These are sketches with (mostly) Pitt Artist Pens in a little Moleskine sketchbook. You can see larger versions by clicking on the pictures, which will take you through to their Flickr page.

Here we begin with me hiring a bicycle in Toronto in order to get to the Merrill collection. I did not fall off. From Toronto, Jannie and I drove to Altoona, Pennsylvania for Illuxcon 5, which does not have the most up-to-date website but was jewel of a convention for fantasy illustrators, and a brave new world for me.

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American Sketchbook – Part 1: World Fantasy and Toronto

General notes: These are sketches with (mostly) Pitt Artist Pens in a little Moleskine sketchbook. You can see larger versions by clicking on the pictures, which will take you through to their Flickr page. Update: Part 2 and Part 3 are now up.

Summary: I had an amazing time! It was a very busy holiday, bouncing from Brisbane to New York state, Toronto, Pennsylvania, New Jersey/New York, Colorado and California. Either I was sitting and eating a lot or walking and eating a lot. World Fantasy was my first overseas convention, Illuxcon my first art convention, everyone was wonderful, I met people I hadn’t really thought of as people, just names on consistently amazing books and art. My plans to eat my way across a continent, conduct hands-on research of how an art show operates, and visit the locations of What’s Up Doc were also successful.

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What I did on my holidays – part 2

This is the second half of my Sydney sketches. The first half is here: What I did on my holidays – part 1

On Sunday morning, I sat outside a cafe near my hostel and drew a terrace house (turned hostel) across the street. The cafe owners asked me to do a mural based on it, but I explained I was leaving soon.

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I walked to the city, and updated Facebook and Twitter with this sketch – “The motto of all the mongoose family is ‘Run and find out!'”

I went to St Andrews Cathedral and St Phillips on Sunday. I love old hymns, but can’t get used to organ music – it sounds to me like a remixed traffic jam. I went to the Zine Fest at the MCA and drew hats.

I also went to a Zia Pina in the Rocks for calzone. I love Zia Pina because they serve lemonade in glass beer mugs. I am easily pleased.

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The next day, I drew outside the cafe which had asked me to do a mural. They gave me a permanent marker and I drew on their wall. We made arrangements involving coffee and pain au chocolat.

Oh, look! An actual photo of me:

After that, I walked to Newtown by degrees. Here is one of them:

It was sunny and windy. I walked and ate cinnamon waffles and shopped and tried on buttons for size (and was not subtle enough, as the button lady suggested that another variety would be a better size for a Coraline costume). I met Guan and Karen and Ben and Astrid again at Berkelouw Books in Newtown, then walked back across town to Berkelouws on Oxford Street, where I sat for a while to recover. Like this:

Then I went back to my dorm at the hostel for the last time, and gave possibly misguided advice to the Germans who wanted to know about the happening suburbs in Brisbane.

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On the last day I went into town again, and was chased by a sweeper in Hyde Park.

I stared at books and bought a pair of shoes (that’s two for the year! Another resolution to cross off the list!) and felt very decadent asking to have them delivered to my house. They have not yet arrived.

And that was the end of Sydney.

What I did on my holidays – Part 1

I will now relate the events of my trip to Sydney, with accompanying sketches and the quick cartoons which served as my Twitter and Facebook updates. You can see the sketchbook images at a larger size by clicking on a picture. That will take you to its Flickr page which will give you an option to see it at a larger size. The cartoons are in odd lights because I took them (usually on location) with my phone.

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First, to start the sketchbook, are some drawings from the “Art in the 21st Century” exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. It was an exhibit full of fun – slides from the top floor to the bottom, rooms full of balloons and finches, tables of Lego spires, walls of wishes. At their best, modern art galleries are like carnivals, with hundreds of people looking and making and wondering and having fun.

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I went down to Sydney for a week, flying mid-week and staying in a backpacker hostel in Kings Cross because that way I can spend more money on coffee and avoid the crushing loneliness that inhabits hotel rooms.

Here I am waiting for the train to the airport in Brisbane. You may recognise the station from such movies as Daybreakers.

Mostly I walked and drank coffee. Sometimes I sat in bookstores and recovered from walking, and drank coffee. The weather was beautiful. I drew birds, and was not attacked by seagulls.

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I went on my usual personal literary tour – the gardens and Pitt Street for An Older Kind of Magic, and the Rocks for Playing Beattie Bow. I meandered through Darlinghurst and started a story about maps and recursiveness (I finished the first draft today).

I went to the gallery, where it all became very recursive, with sketchers sketching sketchers of sketches.

The Archibald Prize exhibition was on, and I went for the first time ever.

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I sat in the Domain and watched people sleep on the grass between sports fields, then went to the State Library for more portraits, and then walked through the Rocks and up to Observatory Hill for the Salon de Refusés (the pictures which didn’t get into the Archibald finals). I saw Nick Stathopoulos’ luminous painting of Shaun Tan.

I went to two Sydney Writers Festival sessions with Karen,  saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4 with her and other friends, and was disappointed that it only contained 1 line from the book which ostensibly suggested it. I descended gracefully from bunkbeds without waking German backpackers.

I went to Carriageworks on the Saturday for the markets and drew dogs until Guan and Bec and Karen and Astrid arrived. I carried proteas and marshmallows for Bec, and met Emma Kidd at her stall at the Finders Keepers markets!

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I spent a lovely afternoon with Karen and Ben and Astrid. Ben kept comparing Astrid’s intelligence levels to various animals, trying to get an indication of her current developmental level.

On Saturday night I went to Bec’s for a fundraising dinner for Hope Street with Bec, Rachel, Karen, Ben, Astrid, Bec’s mother, George, Elsie, Lachlyn and Tamara. I think that was everyone. Dinner was delicious – chicken and couscous and butterscotch sauce and marshmallows and marinated figs.

To be continued… Part 2

Natcon Sketchbook – Conjecture 2009

As usual, if you want to see a larger version of a picture, click on it to go to its Flickr page, then click on “all sizes” above it.

A convention never seems like it’s over until it’s blogged. I have decided against a blow-by-blow account, mostly because I did not keep notes, but there are at least plenty of pictures, although as usual they are selected by the method of choosing what stood still long enough. So if you read this and are disappointed you are not in any of them, that is obviously because you were moving too fast.

Early Friday and south-east Queensland was covered with fog. I hoped it would lift and we would find ourselves in a Wyndham novel, but it was a very prosaic fog and the plane was only delayed by an hour.

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On the flight I amused myself creating small scenes of maritime tragedy on my fold-down tray. I think there are few English phrases more comforting than, “There is a whistle and a light for attracting attention”.

On arriving, I noted my knees were experiencing a wind chill factor, and checked into my possibly-haunted hotel. I had been worried that I would be lonely, in a nice hotel room all by myself, but then I realised this meant I could have all the hot showers I wanted to! I unpacked and felt very grown up, then went out for a milkshake.

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Before the convention, there were free tours of Haigh’s chocolate factory, with samples. As registration started, I caught up with lots of old and medium and new-ish and brand-new friends and did not draw anything until the next day but that does not mean nothing happened. The convention bags had tiny little matchboxes in them with real matches which actually worked (Kate Eltham tested them). Here are Peter M Ball and Karen Miller being mildy snarky at a panel on Urban Fantasy, which is a name for a moving-target of a genre. What I write is not urban fantasy anymore but no-one knows what it is. My characters do not wear low-slung leather trousers, but then that might be what’s missing.

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A rather heated steampunk panel, followed (I dimly recall) by lots of food and chocolate and talking and lacing of Emilly’s corset (corset-lacing forms a small but vital undercurrent of convention activities), and then the Maskobalo. I did in fact dance, but the lights were very bright and I was all in black, and also Sean Williams was DJing which meant I knew the words to most of the songs and therefore could dance to them and overheated and had to sit down. Catherine Scholz of the green dress, and Steve Scholz of the steampunk backpack were the fan guests of honour. Julie E. Czerneda was the international guest of honour but I did not get her in my sights long enough to draw.

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Conventions have a higher incidence of public knitting than almost anywhere else I know. Here is my costume (same as last weekend) and a sovereign remedy for the Perils Of Insisting On Authenticity, ie a gin martini. Most of the cleaning products in my hotel had exactly the same smell.

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We had the most awesome kids’ program, and almost everyone I spoke to wanted to go. They had marshmallow guns and pinatas and made ornithopters and TARDIS cookies. That is a TARDIS cookie at the top right. It had a little white marshmallow on it, but I ate that, and the icing was much bluer than this. The frightened looking object beneath it is a frog cake, which every South Australian says is an icon but none of them remember having eaten since they were 8 and I am not surprised. The top was very nice although it was a bit like eating frog-cake-brains because it is icing over mock-cream, but the cake underneath was just too sickly sweet.

I had coffee and lunch and dinner with lots of people (but not breakfast because my hotel had a pancake machine and I was not passing that up for any sort of society) but most of our time we spent in and around the bar, traumatising the bar staff and drinking far too much English Breakfast Tea.

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It was very sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end, but ends drag on and when I left Liz & Nigel’s room where we were having more tea after dinner, there were still plenty of people still sitting in the bar. I went back to my hotel and overheard some men asking to change rooms because of a creepy feeling, and then the hotel staff discussing other people who had asked to leave that room because of cold patches and vibrating beds, etc.

I stayed an extra day to see more of Adelaide than a foyer. Occasionally it rained and I would duck into a bookshop which, in retrospect, is possibly not as cost-effective as just buying an umbrella. I drew things and bought some patterned rubber rollers in a shop that recycles old building elements and wandered the streets on what I thought was a rather boring recommended walk, until I worked out that it was a busline and my instincts were correct.

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I bought chocolate and looked into arcades and went to the gallery again to see what it was like without the evil influence of Jason Fischer and Dirk Flinthart, but still all I could see in the renaissance paintings were saints with stigmata lasers. But it is a proper gallery, with high arched ceilings and green trim and very worth gold-lettered labels on the rooms and the museum had, as it ought, a room full of stuffed mammals which is always disconcerting. The best part was the Mawson exhibit, with real ice and a replica of the hut.

I had a wonderful time, and made new friends and caught up with old ones and talked until my voice went and drank a great deal of tea and ate too much and hardly slept and went for dinners with odd collections of people and formed the conclusion – as always happens at conventions in strange cities – that the city is populated mostly with people I know, and met artists and writers and raconteurs and bought too many books and wore my favourite shoes and wandered around a new city and can’t wait for the next one.

To the Volcano – Part 3

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”)