Welcome

My Photo
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!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Millions of cats (well, quite a lot)

I'm practising cats.  They're always good in illustrations, but my memory of cat shapes and movement has faded - so I've been flicking through breeding manuals to remind myself of all the fabulous varieties of cat shape, colour, furriness and character.  Like the old man in Wanda Gag's famous 1928 picture book, 'Millions of Cats', I find all cats beautiful and think nothing could be nicer than a whole hillside of them.  (Did Wanda write this book in order to give herself the chance to draw millions of cats, I wonder?)

Another fabulous cat picture book, which I saved from my grandmother's house and have pored over (haha) regularly since early childhood, is the gorgeous 'Blossom Finds A Home' by Joan Cass (1963), illustrated by William Stobbs.  Using simple, flat printed blocks of colour over stylized dry-brush black and white drawings, Stobbs perfectly captured the different characters - mischievous, gracious, scruffy, pathetic, mean - and adventures of a group of cats living around the docks of a UK seaside town.  I was completely fascinated by the little world he created with barges, fish and chip shops, milk bottles, fried kippers, fish skeletons, cobblestones and bits of rubbish blowing in the wind.  For a long time I was unable to find out anything about this book, but there are now a few copies on Amazon (quite pricey too).  Stobbs, as it turns out, was the head of design at the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades in the 1950's, and won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1959 for his work on two other books.  Well, bless him!  I learnt to draw cats from the Blossom book, and still find myself unintentionally drawing a Stobbs cat from time to time.

Cat, must you scratch?
I'm no match for your claws.
Here, break my string of beads;
Give me fleas. Yawn. Take pause.
Here's a sunpatch sized for you.
Stare me down. Get coy.
Bend me to your will.
Cat, make me your toy.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Be in a Jane Austen novel

If you're in Hobart this Saturday evening (23rd May) and want to feel like you're in a Jane Austen novel, come along to the Grand Regency Ball and Harp Concert at 7.30 pm at the Hobart Town Hall. The Ball is a fundraiser for the Harp Society, who have been invited to perform at a harp festival in France in 2016.  Regency costume is 'admired but not required' (I've been looking out my pearls, fan and shawl), there will be beer and mulled wine available, and everyone is asked to bring a plate of supper to share. Tickets are $25.  The Harp Society will provide the music and the dances will be called so you know what to do, but if you'd like to learn the dances in advance, there's a workshop on Saturday afternoon from 2-4 pm at Wesley Hall in Melville St for $8 each.  The recently rediscovered Mundy's Quadrille will be taught at the workshop only, and those who know it can dance it at the ball.  (I just keep thinking of the Lobster Quadrille, but maybe I'm up for it...)
This is a photo of last year's regency ball to get you in the mood.  You can come cross-dressed or as the downstairs help if you like.  Find your Mr Darcy and put on your dancing shoes!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New book, new studio... new poem...

Hello!  My long blogging silence has been due, not to idleness on the artistic front, but to having FAR TOO MUCH to do - just the way I like it.  First of all, I'm happy to say that this year I'll be working on a new book project with a wonderful Australian publisher... the details being secret at this time due to superstition, discretion and a desire to drive people mad with suspense... but all will be revealed when we get closer to publication.  It will take about two years to get the book out, and I can't post any of the artwork, so for the rest of the year I plan to write wildly irrelevant poems and put them on the blog with pictures.

In celebration of the new project, I've rented a thoroughly Parisian share studio up in the top corner of the historical McCann's music building in town.  The studio is a very well lit room actually containing the gold dome (our kitchen!) with its porthole opening onto a fabulous view of snow-covered Mt Wellington.  From the other windows, I can see everything happening up and down Elizabeth and Melville Streets - just perfect for a children's book illustrator.  It's also freezing, which completes the Parisian garret feel and is what we artists deserve for not getting a real job.  My fellow renter is Yolanda Zarins, who brightens my workdays with her beautiful textile art and habit of bringing in bits of vegetation, not to mention milk for our tea.  We have a birds' eye view of people smoking on the roof of the nearby multilevel carpark, laundry hanging on rooftops and in back alleys, fire engines, parking inspectors - hang on, that's MY car...

In honour of my ascension to such heights, here's a poem about an unfortunate young woman.

Selina Potts was so polite
That everything she said was trite.
She climbed a steeple with a bell
Got tangled in a rope, and fell.
Her last words (heard above the chime)
Were: 'Golly gosh, is that the time?'

You can see that, although she is plummeting alarmingly, Selina's expression remains fairly dispassionate and her dress is quite tidy.  A model child.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Life drawing in Hobart

Life drawing on Tuesday mornings in Hobart has moved to a new location.  It's from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm at St Francis Xavier Hall, 61 Adelaide St, South Hobart.  There's a carpark at the hall.  It's on every week except the third Tuesday of the month and costs $20.  The organiser is Angela Panaretos, phone 03 6265 9450 or 0415 910 377.

This is a really enjoyable life drawing group with lots of artists, good models, a morning tea break and no talking during drawing!  Baroque music is mercifully rare.  Our model today was the lovely strong and dignified Melanie.  That straight back comes from three visits to the gym per week.  I should be so diligent.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reading - your ticket to a lifetime of adventure!

Happy festival goers including Norman Jorgenson (L, in Viking helmet), organisers Anne Morgan (in green shirt) and Jessie Majhouri, Christina Booth, me, Wendy Orr, James Foley (hidden), Sheryl Gwyther, and smoke-breathing dragon Brunius
The above title was the motto for the fabulous Bruny Island Children's Literature Festival, Book an Adventure, which was held at Adventure Bay from 15-18 January.  I drove down to Bruny in pouring rain on the afternoon of the 14th January, with author Sheryl Gwyther, illustrator James Foley and all our luggage (including food, market stall and workshop materials) squeezed somehow into the Forester.  James, though squashed, had Sheryl and me in stitches during the ferry trip with the story and images from his forthcoming book as illustrator, My Dead Bunny (a terrifying tale).  On arrival, we had a cuppa with festival organiser extraordinaire Anne Morgan and were shown to our house, where we lit the woodstove and waited on further arrivals - including authors Wendy Orr, Susanne Gervay and many other drop-ins.  The weather never really improved, and we all wore the few warm clothes we'd brought for the entire festival!  Each night the woodstove was lit and we sat around it and talked books... or just fell asleep.
Christina Booth workshop
James Foley workshop
 The festival was a marvellous mix of workshops for children, entertainment including the Nim's Island films and talks about the books and films by Wendy Orr, a Captain Clawbeak play acted by the children, Viking activities, a day for authors and illustrators run by SCBWI, a market, good food and general hanging out.  I assisted at four workshops and enjoyed seeing the different approaches to working with children.  At Christina Booth's workshop, children created drawings of their own imaginary animal.  James Foley brought on some rapid-fire cartooning with facial expressions and body language to match.  Sheryl Gwyther had children write their own adventure story, and Peter Gouldthorpe brought depth with drawing in the third dimension.  I myself learnt something from all of the workshops - how to use reference material creatively, cartoon, plot a story and work with different viewpoints.

Sheryl Gwyther workshop
Peter Gouldthorpe workshop
 At the festival dinner (which was delicious) at the Hothouse Cafe, there was a competition to write the worst possible opening sentence for a children's book.  I am proud to report that I was shortlisted for my entry ('It's my belief, Sergeant, that this strangely dressed stranger was murdered!' curly red-headed freckled Josh exclaimed, peering shortsightedly over the wire rim of his spectacles with a quizzical look in his blue-green, slightly protruberant, thirteen-year-old eyes).  Sadly, I didn't win, but am consoled by the fact that several people thought my sentence was outstandingly terrible.

I think everyone was exhausted by the end, not least the wonderful organisers Anne Morgan and Jessie Mahjourie, but it was really marvellous to have an event of this nature and calibre here in Tasmania, and particularly special to have it on Bruny Island.  You can see some fabulous photos of the festival, including the play and Viking boat made on site, on the festival's Facebook page.


Thor couldn't come, but sent a Valkyrie instead











Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Market stall and origami envelopes

I'll be having a little market stall soon at Book an Adventure, the children's book festival on Bruny Island from 15-18 January.  The stall will be part of the Children's Book and Craft Fair in the Adventure Bay Hall (5 Kellaway Rd) from 10am - 12.30 pm on Sunday 18th Jan.  I will have my books to sell, critter cards (chook, wombat and many more), and glass pendants and earrings in summer colours.  I'll also be GIVING AWAY lots of origami envelopes.  If you would like to make your own, instructions are below.
Hope to see you at the book festival!


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Instructions for making origami envelopes.

1.  Fold a square piece of paper in half to form a triangle.  A 30 cm square will make an envelope large enough to hold the average card.



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2.  Fold down one apex to the centre of the base. 







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 3.  Fold one corner in, making sure it covers the folded-down apex by 1 cm or more.  Glue it down.







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4.  Fold the other corner across and then fold a flap of it back, from the centre of the envelope.










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 5.  Open out the flap and refold it into a diamond.  Glue this side of the envelope down.
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6.  Fold over the remaining apex and tuck into the diamond to close the envelope.  When using the envelope, be sure to use the BACK pocket.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Berry Christmas

Berry Christmas, everyone.  I had hoped very much to paint and post a funny picture of some fruitbats hanging on a Christmas tree ... but I just ran out of time.  There's so much fruit to pick!!!  

This is just a fraction of our crop.  It's as delicious as it looks.  A big thankyou to Jane and Andy for coming over and picking all the cherries that were above my reach.  My back hasn't been the same since I picked the redcurrants. 

So -- wishing everyone a cherry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Look forward to seeing you all in 2015.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of children's book festivals, Vikings and research vessels


Books in a jar at the launch
Yesterday was the pre-launch of the upcoming Book An Adventure Bruny Island Children's Literature Festival.  The festival will be a fabulous event on Bruny from January 15-18, featuring Viking activities and a Viking longship, workshops with popular Australian authors and illustrators, and a swag of events around the themes of reading and writing for fun and adventure (read Hobart Mercury article here).  I'll be there as a general gofer and illustration workshop assistant.
Norman Jorgensen Skypes us


At the launch yesterday, young Vikings from the Bruny Island primary school arrived (literally to screams of excitement from younger members of the crowd) and entertained us with a great call-and-response performance.  There are some lovely photos of this on the Festival's Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/bookanadventure.  We also had a Skype hook-up with the Norse god Thor, also known as Norman Jorgensen, author of 'The Last Viking'.  Norman fielded questions about his books in characteristic style.  One student asked, 'How did you become an illustrator?'  'Me?' retorted Norman. 'I can't draw to save my life.  I draw stick figures and James Foley turns them into proper illustrations.  He's doing a book without me now.  I hate him.'  After this we had a ukelele singalong about dragons, Lian Tanner declared the festival open, and there was time to eat food and admire the exhibition of illustrations and books in a jar.  I don't know who made these but I thought they were great.



The festival is now open for bookings via its website.  It's very cheap to attend but be quick - space is limited, and beautiful Bruny Island fills up quickly in summer.

Still on the topic of seafaring, I rejoiced this week to learn that the new CSIRO research vessel Investigator has finally earned her stripes and received a nickname.  All Antarctic and oceanographic research vessels in Hobart have nicknames, bestowed by those who use and love them.  L'Astrolabe is GastroLab.  The old Ice Bird was called Ice Bucket.  Aurora Australis, thanks to her striking colour, is the Orange Roughy.  Now Investigator joins these proud ranks.

She's the Procrastinator, and may God bless all who sail in her.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being watched by animals

I like watching animals.  Apart from spiders, they're soothing.  In 'The Way of All Flesh', Samuel Butler cures his hero Ernest of nervous prostration by sending him to the zoo to be dosed with 'a course of the larger mammals'.  I feel this really could work.  I once watched seals through an underwater theatre for an hour, and came out feeling like I'd spent a week at a Zen retreat.

But do animals get a kick out of watching us?

While doing yoga in the lounge room I happened to glance out the window.  There, frozen in astonishment on a branch, crouched a possum.  It stared at me with deep concern as I assumed the Warrior Two position.  Perhaps it was just hoping for some cereal or sausages. But what about the ibis that followed me round a Sydney park, peering over my shoulder while I wrote a personal letter?  I started to feel nervously that it really could read.

My best experience of being bird-watched was in the Cook Islands.  I was on a cross-island hike when the rare Rarotongan fly-catcher started chasing me from tree to tree along the trail.  I knew it was the rare Rarotongan fly-catcher because I'd just seen a picture of it on a tea-towel in a tourist shop.  I called my partner over and told him, 'Look, there's the rare Rarotongan fly-catcher.'  
'That?!' he snorted. 'That's just someone's pet canary.  It's obviously tame.'  The RRFC does look like a canary when young.  Its strange habit of human-watching may explain its rarity. 

Actually it's a good thing animals like to watch us.  Nobody has to feel boring as long as they've got a dog.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Inside Story in Hobart report

Heather Rose and Danielle Wood
Rachel Tribout and Daniel Patman
Coral Tulloch



Julie Hunt and me
Lindsey Little and twin Lauren (R, or is it L?)
Anne Morgan













‘Inside Story’ at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart (Oct 30th)  kicked off with a flamboyant de-wigging by glamorous author Angelica Banks.  Angelica’s twin alter egos, Heather Rose and Danielle Wood, impersonated their fictional writer Serendipity Smith, peeling off outer disguises to reveal the hardworking mothers underneath.  Next, Captain Blueberry – sometimes mistaken for author/illustrator Rachel Tribout – took us on a voyage of discovery with the Monsters of Tasmania.  And there were gasps as Coral Tulloch produced the 30-year-old dummy that inspired her recent book, The Journey.  That's a book dummy, not the other sort! I told the audience about an African campfire where you can always go to meet a little Girl in Sudan.

Alison Lester
Inside Story at Fullers Bookshop
Lindsey Little was expected to say a few words about her first novel James Munkers: Super Freak, but instead two eerily similar Guardians from another dimension materialised to tell the caustic truth about poor James.  Anne Morgan told us how to fight climate change by listening to chickens and marrying the princess with the Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, North Island of Australia escapee Alison Lester revealed where she got the idea for Kissed by the Moon, leaving the audience in no doubt that inspiration can be found in the humblest of places.  The happy crowd ate food inspired by the books, won lucky door prizes and bought books.  The authors and illustrators had a love-in and we all went home wrapped in the glow that is SCBWI.  Many thanks to Fullers Bookshop for hosting Inside Story in Hobart – we can’t wait for next time!