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Hello - welcome to my blog about children's book illustration, poetry, animals and way too many other things. I’m an artist in Tasmania, Australia. I recently illustrated 'The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land' by Anne Morgan, and two picture books about traditional life in Sudan (see left). If you'd like to see more, please use the links to my folio page and my profile at The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

At last, a reality TV show worth watching

I confess!  I've become hooked on a reality TV show - the fabulous Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.  So far, I've seen two episodes on Foxtel - the London and Glasgow portrait painting heats - and I can't get enough.  In each episode, a group of artists is selected after sending in self-portraits, and brought together in a 'portrait festival' in a UK city.  Three high-profile mystery sitters show up and are posed by the judges, whereupon the artists have four hours to complete a portrait.  The sitters are then allowed to choose a favourite portrait to take home, and the judges select a winner.  The public flock in to watch, and there are various side activities including caricatures, silhouette portraits and workshops.
This is not your average reality TV series.  Given that the Sky website has already posted the winner, there's not a lot of suspense.  Nor do you have to watch any souped-up-for-our-viewers emotional revelations, shock expulsions, long pauses by judges during which finalists squirm and tremble, or terrible makeovers to make the contestants more acceptable.   Instead you get real, solid artwork being created in front of you by real, solid, skilled artists of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience.  The different approaches and levels of finish achieved by the different contestants in four hours are breathtaking.  The photos on the website don't do justice to the excellence of most of the works, so it is much better to watch the show than to merely browse the gallery.  Well done to the makers of this series - I salute you.
I do miss 'portrait day' at art school.  I try to do portraits during life drawing sessions, but you don't get long, and often the model's back is turned.  This is a compendium of some of my sitters over the years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Illustrator meetings are back to TUESDAY mornings

A quick post to say that by popular demand, illustrator meetings in Hobart are now back to Tuesday mornings, 9.30 am, every week at Frankies Empire, 129 Elizabeth St.  There might be lots of us there ... or only one.  We might stay 30 minutes or two hours! For illustrators, comic book artists, animators, and anyone in allied fields.  Hope to see you there.

The picture is one I did this week for an upcoming SCBWI children's book event, Inside Story, to be held at Fullers in Hobart on 30th October - more details coming soon.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wilderness Society’s 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature

Planets are like porridge.  From The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land
Holy solar panel, Batman ... we won!
Anne Morgan's book, The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land and other eco-tales, illustrated by yours truly and published by Interactive Publications (IP Kidz), has won the Wilderness Society's 2014 Environment Award for Children's Literature, Young Readers category!  We tied with Bush Baby Rescue: Juliet Nearly a Vet Book 4 (Rebecca Johnson, illus by Kyla May, Puffin).  In the Picture Book category, the winner was Welcome Home by fellow Tasmanian Christina Booth (published by Ford Street). 
Anne was at the awards to pick up a big bouquet and our certificates, and will be over tomorrow to present mine in a mini-ceremony in my kitchen. Our local SCBWI members are very excited, bless them (https://www.facebook.com/scbwianz/posts/712008102212216) and there is an article in Books and Publishing about the awards.  Congratulations to the other winners and shortlisters, and a big thank you to the Wilderness Society for recognising our book and celebrating children's literature.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chasing atmospheric phenomena

Hobart's sky lights up in a recent sunset.
Since childhood, I've nursed a burning ambition to be completely idle.  That's right, I want to do nothing whatsoever except lie on the lawn in the sun with the dog, staring at the undersides of nasturtiums and the unfolding drama of the sky.  Tragically, this ambition remains unfulfilled owing to other competing ambitions such as being an artist/writer/scientist, eating, living in a house, etc.  But as old age approaches I realise there's still time.  Meanwhile, I content myself with staring at clouds for at least ten minutes a day.

I thought I was alone in this form of woolgathering until I happened upon a marvellous little publication called 'The Cloud Collector's Handbook' by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  This pocket-sized book is the official publication of the Cloud Appreciation Society, whose membership numbers nearly 36,000.  That's right, these folks love to watch clouds and they make no apology for it. I love this book as an artistic resource, since clouds offer so many possibilities for adding drama to a painting - after all, where would a haunted house painting be without a lurid mackerel sky? or a kite-flying scene without some fluffy cumulus? - but it's also endowed me with a new ambition, to see the fabulous Kelvin-Helmholtz wave cloud formation, not to mention the Brocken spectre (buy the book!)
Coincidentally, I recently attended art classes with Margaret Sonnemann, author of the gorgeous, locally produced Aurora Chaser's Handbook.  The aurora chasers are a group of fellow Tasmanians who spend their nights out gazing at the skies and taking extraordinary photos of our aurora australis.  So much to do, so little time!

The pie below features a cumulonimbus topping.  It may be time to do a little baking...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fire Engine Green

This week I've been working on a picture to promote Castlemaine author Toni Pellas' picture book, 'Fire Engine Green'.  Toni plans to do a crowdfunding campaign to produce this book, which explains red-green colourblindness to children, parents and teachers.  Although this form of colour vision is quite common, little attempt is made to accommodate it in the design of textbooks, software, websites, traffic signals and other vital resources - often leaving a sizeable chunk of the population disadvantaged.

Toni and I bounced ideas back and forth to find an idea that would represent the theme of the book and  be accessible to all forms of colour vision.  In the book's title scene Bartholomew, the hero, enthusiastically paints a green fire engine.  We wanted to use this scene, and Toni asked me to make the fire engine the actual colour that Bartholomew would see.  Toni went shopping with her son Rob, who inspired the book, to select a tone of green paint that he saw as similar to fire engine red.  Then she painted the fire engine.  It looked so great I used her painting in the picture.  To add a bit of fun and confusion, I put in a matching paint jar with only the letters RE left unobscured - red or green?

I checked the picture for tonal values and also ran it through a simulator to see how it would look to people with protanopia or deuteranopia (forms of red-green colourblindness).  I had to fiddle with the colours in Photoshop several times to create something that read clearly in all versions.

There is no cat mentioned in the book but I thought it would be nice to add one - NOT a ginger cat but a bluey white one that would
How the picture looks on black and white TV
look colourful to all types of vision. This has been a brain teaser but a lot of fun.  Toni has started a Facebook page about the project and is putting her own brainpower into networking and generating interest.
How the picture looks to someone with protanopia
How the banner looks to someone with deuteranopia

Monday, July 21, 2014

Good news - shortlisted for award!

Good news this week ... 'The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land and other eco-tales', written by Anne Morgan, illustrated by me, and published by IP Kidz, has been shortlisted for The Wilderness Society 2014 Environment Award for Childrens' Literature.   

Congratulations to Anne for thinking up the concept of the book, writing it and seeing it through from a picture book concept to a collection of funny, clever, recycled fairytales with environmental themes.  The picture on the left is from the book and portrays Cool Girl and seven fairly shortish guys, known for their musical ability.

Here are all the shortlisted books.  Congratulations also to Christina Booth, who is a fellow Tasmanian author/illustrator, for her lovely 'Welcome Home'.

Young Readers’ Shortlist: 
     Girl v the World: Sophie Bennett Saves the Planet by Meredith Badger (Hardie Grant Egmont)
     Bush Baby Rescue: Juliet Nearly a Vet, Book 4 by Rebecca Johnson Illustrated by Kyla may (Penguin Group Australia)
     The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land and other eco-tales by Anne Morgan Illustrated by Gay McKinnon  (Interactive Publications)  
Picture book shortlist 
     Welcome Home by Christina Booth (Ford Street Publishing)
     The Twelve Days of Christmas Island by Teresa Lagrange (Allen & Unwin)
     Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Penguin Group Australia)
     The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals by Marc Martin (Penguin Group Australia)
     Rainforest Lullaby by Sally Odgers Illustrated by Lisa Stewart (Scholastic Press)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sudan book launch and ABC TV story

They're launched and away! 
Last Wednesday the team behind the Sudan books was interviewed by ABC TV, for a 10-minute segment on 7.30 Tasmania, under the title 'Sharing Stories from Sudan'.  We love the resulting video, which can be seen using this link to the ABC archives:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-20/sharing-stories-from-sudan/5540234 (the sound doesn't work in every browser, but works in Internet Explorer). 
On Friday we had the launch at the Moonah Arts Centre, which was packed and standing room only!  There was a lovely atmosphere and somehow we fitted in a short film about the genesis of the books, a slideshow of Terry Whitebeach's photos of South Sudan, speeches, readings by Sarafino Enadio (narrator of the Boy book) and Paskalina Eiyo (narrator of the Girl book), singing by Paskalina, finger food and superb live music on traditional instruments provided by members of the Madi community.  The Writers Centre gave all the women in the creative team a huge and fragrant bunch of flowers - mine was the best bouquet I've ever had - and it was time to sign books.  I never made it to the signing table at the back of the room, as I had too many to sign while trying to walk there!
We're all exhausted but extremely happy.  A big thank you to the many people who came along to support the launch and the books.

Paskalina (left) sings and dances to the music of the Madi band
Left to right: me, Terry Whitebeach, Sarafino Enadio, Paskalina Eiyo and Chris Gallagher of TWC

Members of the audience

Marion Stoneman of TWC enjoys the music while selling books

I always wanted a wall covered in posters of my art!!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sudan book launch

The work is over!  Please come along and help us celebrate the launch of the two books I've been illustrating, 'When I was a boy in Sudan', and 'When I was a girl in Sudan', together with a related book for adults, 'A Little Peace'.  The launch will be held during Refugee Week on Friday 20th June, 5.30 - 8 pm at the Moonah Arts Centre, which is also hosting an exhibition of artworks for Refugee Week.  Book covers are on the LHS of this blog. 
I expect a very lively celebration.  All welcome!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Art from Trash exhibition in the Long Gallery - don't miss it!

On Saturday I saw the fabulous annual Art from Trash exhibition, run by Resource Work Cooperative.  It's in the Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Salamanca Square, Hobart and will run until June 4th.

I look forward to this event every year - it's one of my favourites on the art calendar - and it seems to get better and better.  This year's recycled artworks by adults and kids are bursting with raw creativity, humour, and ingenuity.  You can wander around for an hour, giggling gently or gasping in admiration at the unexpected uses of your unwanted household rubbish.  Have you ever imagined a beautifully coloured painting made entirely of bread bag tags? Or a barbed wire horse, or a gorgeous freeform lamp made of melted plastic bottles and wax crayons?

How about a nice pompom chandelier, pair of chairs and table?  These are just a few of the many gorgeous objects on display.  Go there now!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Living without red and green

Many years ago, while having lunch with some friends in Queensland, I admired a distant poinciana tree whose masses of red flowers stood out vibrantly against a background of rich green foliage. 

My companions were unimpressed.  'Is it flowering?' asked one of them indifferently.  
'I can't tell either,' said another.

Not one, but two of my lunch mates - both male scientists - were red/green colour blind. During the conversation that followed, words failed us and I became more and more puzzled as to what my friends were actually seeing.  Did the tree look all red to them? All green? Was it some unnamed colour that I myself couldn't perceive? 

During the 20-odd years that I worked in science, I found that this form of vision was quite common among my colleagues.  (In fact, about 8% of men of Northern European extraction are colour blind).  I learned not to make slides or maps that used red or green to distinguish different types of data.  Instead shapes, tones, and patterns were needed to ensure that everyone in the audience could quickly understand the information.

Thanks to the internet, today I have a slightly better idea of what my friends were seeing.  Here's a picture I posted a little while ago, which used a carefully worked out pink and green colour scheme:

And here's approximately what it looks like, to a person with red-green colour blindness:

Clearly, it could have looked better if I'd aimed for greater tonal contrast, to help counteract the merging of the reds and the greens.

The reason I've been pondering all this is that I've been asked to illustrate a very interesting and challenging picture book text, 'Fire Engine Green', by Castlemaine writer Toni Pellas.  Toni carries the gene for red/green colour blindness, and has many family members who can't distinguish these colours.  Her convivial and engaging text is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, explaining colour blindness to kinder and early primary school children.  Toni plans to run a Pozible crowdfunding campaign in a few months' time to generate interest and funds for the book.  During the lead-up to the campaign, I have time to enjoy doing research and playing with ideas for the illustrations.  I think it will call for appealing characters and drawings with strong tonal contrast, shapes, patterns, textures and just a few splashes of colour where necessary.
During my research I found some great websites.  Here's a fun online colour challenge, where you can arrange 100 squares to test your own level of colour vision acuity.  I have done the test on three different days - once with a perfect score, once with errors at the blue-green end, and once with errors at the pink-orange end.  It seems that anyone's colour vision acuity can vary from day to day!

See a simulation of how things look to people with different types of colour vision:

Check how your paintings look to people with different forms of colour vision: http://www.color-blindness.com/coblis-color-blindness-simulator.  The results are sobering!

Hobart Graphics Festival - June 5th - 8th

In my last post I mentioned an upcoming festival in Hobart featuring illustrators, cartoonists, graphic novelists, comic book artists and animators.  It's Her Majesty’s Favourite Really Great Graphical Festival and will be happening June 5th - 8th (soon!) with a few pre-festival events including the fabulous Captain Blueberry (aka Rachel Tribout)'s book launch 'The Monsters of Tasmania' on 28th May.  There's a great program featuring a zine fair, talks, live drawing performances and book launches.  I'll be one of several artists giving a talk at A Thousand Words - Thursday June 5th, 6pm at Constance gallery, 100 Goulburn St (entry by single gold coin donation, bar open, proceeds go to the gallery).  Featuring Tony Thorne, Sam Lyne, Gay McKinnon, Christopher Downes, Hiiragi, Rex Smeal, Paul Peart-Smith, Tom O’Hern and Sarah Catherine Firth.  Hope to see you there.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Messylox goes to Singapore! - and other news

April has been a very busy art month with lots happening.

My illustration of Messylox emptying the trash, from 'The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land' (left), was accepted for exhibition in the BIG (Book Illustrators Gallery) at the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2014!  I printed Messylox (extra large), rolled her in a tube and posted her off to Singapore, where she is now part of the BIG online illustrators gallery and will be on display during the festival.  Friends have hinted (actually, more than hinted, demanded) that I should fly to Singapore to join the festival and see Messylox in her glory.  In fact, I've been told to get new business cards in red for the festival, since this is a lucky colour.  Perhaps I will be able to go - if so, that will be my fourth conference in about three months.

There will be an illustrator's festival here in Hobart from 5th-8th June, and I've been invited to give a talk at Constance Art Gallery on 5th June - I'll post more when I have some publicity material for the festival.  There will be talks by several illustrators/animators/cartoonists including Chris Downes, Tony Thorne and Rex Smeal.

I've also finished the illustrations for 'When I was a girl in Sudan', Julie Hawkins has laid it out beautifully, and we hope to print both the Sudan books by early June.  The Tasmanian Writers' Centre has received grants from Tasmanian Regional Arts and the Tasmanian Community Fund to complete the project.  I've put the cover design over on the left hand side of the blog.

We've also found a bit of time to go travelling in the north of Tasmania and the Derwent Valley.  We saw gorgeous rural scenery and natural forests, and were able to glean apples, chestnuts, watercress, blackberries and mushrooms.  It's now coming into winter with the first snow on the peaks, and two tons of wood have arrived today for the stove.  My next jobs are to work on a preliminary illustration for a new book (more on that soon), making promotional postcards and updating my folio for the upcoming SCBWI conference in Sydney in July.  There's no time to miss making glass...