Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Art Day..."Dark Heart" - Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2014

Saturday 1st of March was opening day for "Dark Heart", an exhibition I've been looking forward to for some months. I always attend exhibitions with high expectations. Sometimes I'm disappointed (Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, 2013), sometimes I'm ambivalent (Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide, 2011) and sometimes I'm giddy with happiness (Ron Mueck, Melbourne, 2011).
Wonderfully for me, "Dark Heart" fell into this last category.
First stop was the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, where Patricia Piccinini's "Skywhale" was  hovering for a few hours on that day only. As we made our way through the gardens, the giant hot-air balloon sculpture could be seen peeking through the trees, and when in full view it was an amazing sight. I was surprised at how "fleshy" it appeared, especially when I looked back at the photos I took.
From the gardens we moved to the Art Gallery of South Australia, where our first experience of "Dark Heart" was a house that appeared to have either fallen from the sky or emerged from under the earth - for me it was wonderfully disconcerting and the concept and blackness of the building had a Wizard of Oz feeling about it.
Happily, photography was permitted inside the exhibition, and the photos below are only a tiny sample of the artwork on show. These were two of my favourite works. The first is a piece by Alex Seton called "Someone died trying to have a life like mine". When I entered the room and saw the mass of empty life-jackets strewn across the gallery floor, there was an immediate emotional reaction...then I realised that each and every life-jacket was in fact a perfect replica carved from marble. It was extraordinary.
The last group of photos are of Julia deVille's installation, "Phantasmagoria", a menagerie of taxidermied animals presented as children's toys in a Victorian-style child's bedroom. I guess this is the kind of artwork that really divides opinion. The reactions to the work in the small amount of time that I was there ranged from wonder and fascination to horror and bewilderment. I really enjoy deVille's work, so my reaction was the former. I won't go on here, but you can check out Julia's website and I should point out that all of these animals died of natural causes and to my knowledge Julia is in fact a vegan.
Like I said, this is a very small part of the "Dark Heart" exhibition and it's well worth a visit (or two) if you're in or near Adelaide. I will definitely be going back at least once.
We concluded our "Art Day" with a visit to the Adelaide Convention Centre to see Emma Hack's exhibition of her incredible body painting. You can see more of her work here. A great day overall, this is definitely the time of year when Adelaide shines.

First glimpse of the enormous sculpture, "Skywhale".

Full view.

Underneath the back end (tail).

Those lips!

The giant, pendulous breasts really 'amped up' the overall fleshiness of the work.

Side view.

The 'dropped house' outside the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Alex Seton's marble life-jackets.

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Julia deVille's "Phantasmagoria".

Emma Hack

Emma Hack

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Patricia Coombs & the "Dorrie" books

I learnt to read somewhere around the age of four. I have a very clear memory of the actual moment that the words in my "Dr Suess's Beginner Book Dictionary" made sense and became recognisable. From that time until the present, I have loved books and reading and could count on one hand the number of nights in my life where I haven't read myself to sleep. Even if I fall asleep without a book, I invariably wake an hour later and reach for whatever story I am currently engrossed in. I can't even imagine not reading every day and I am truly and deeply amazed by people who tell me they don't read for pleasure.
When I was primary school age, some of my absolute favourite books were the "Dorrie" series by American author and illustrator, Patricia Coombs. The books centred around a little witch called Dorrie who lived with her mother the Big Witch and her cat, Gink and a female cook. There was no father ever mentioned in the books and I wonder now if that played a sub-conscious part in their appeal for me, as I grew up without a dad in a completely female household.
I was lucky enough to live literally just down the road from a large and very well-stocked
community library. Whenever the Dorrie books were available I would borrow as many as my
card allowed and take them home to read and re-read until it was time to return them and hope
that new ones had come in.
Possibly even more than the stories themselves (which were, and are, completely wonderful) the
most  appealing aspect of the books was the incredible illustrations. I am lucky enough to own several of the twenty Dorrie books (click here for a full list) and when I look at them now, which I often do, I am no less impressed. The illustrations are mostly monochrome with occasional splashes of colour and are rendered with either ink or graphite. Each character has a distinctive and immediately recognisable silhouette and the mood of each story is deftly maintained throughout every book due to the skilled and sensitive use of these two mediums.
I'm sure that these books were very popular, but I've never met another person my age who read or remembers these books from their childhood. Perhaps they weren't in wide circulation in Australia? Pity. I read the books to my own daughters when they were younger and they all loved them. So, I'm sharing some of the illustrations here in the hope that more people will seek them out - I've heard that some are being re-printed, but I'll have to look into that further. Would love to hear from anyone else who read and loved these as a child.

Each book begins with these words.
("Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)

I love Dorrie's profile and her faithful companion, Gink.
("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)

Lovely pen and ink.
("Dorrie's Magic", 1962)

Splashes of colour heighten the atmosphere.
(Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)

Beautiful, soft graphite drawings.
("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)

("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)

("Dorrie and the Screebit Ghost", 1979)

("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Narrative Project

Towards the end of last year, one of my major assignments involved storyboarding a narrative of my choice. As children's picture books and stories played such a vital role in my childhood and beyond, I regarded this as an opportunity to explore the process of illustrating a children's text.
The story I chose to illustrate is called "Brave Molly" by Terry Jones, which is from a book of short tales by the author called "Fairy Tales" (Puffin Books, 1981). I love this collection of stories. They are a perfect mix of fantasy, humour, darkness and danger - all of which, I believe, are the essential components of a good fairytale. Besides, who doesn't love Terry Jones...he was always my favourite Python and he's worked with Brian Froud (the 'Lady Cottington' books).
Anyway, "Brave Molly" is a terrific little story about a small girl who encounters a big monster when she seeks shelter in an abandoned cottage to escape a thunderstorm. Ultimately, she discovers that the monster is not what he seems and finds her courage in the process. The story is full of fantastic imagery to illustrate and besides being very laborious and a steep learning curve, this whole process was a complete joy for me.
I did storyboard the entire story, even though I was only required to complete sixteen small
(80 x 90mm) cells and I'm continuing the project in my own time by rendering each spread at full
size with type.
I thought I'd share the process for one of the completed spreads here and then post more as I complete  the final versions.
1. Initial sketches for Molly and the Monster.

2. Rough line cells (there were many more of these, but the one on the right was
the concept I chose to go with so I've just shown one of the alternatives).

3. Tonal study for chosen cell.

4. Colour rough for spread.

5. Final spread (full size) - coloured pencil, gouache and ink
 on illustration board.

6. Final spread with type.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Little square sketchbook project

I am in love with square format sketchbooks. Particularly the little ones. I don't really know why this is, I just know that I am compelled to buy one whenever I see them, regardless of whether I need it or not. I now have quite a collection and am using several of them for various sketching and doodling.
My favourite so far is my 'Monsterface' book. It is very small (13cm x 13cm) and I'm slowly filling it with, you guessed it, monster faces.
I have a few self-set rules for this book - they must all be double page spreads, ink and graphite only (no colour) and they are all drawn directly with no roughs or rubbing out. I find it's a great way to exercise my brain and I'm always genuinely surprised at what emerges from the page. I carry the book with me most of the time and work on the 'doodles' during any spare minutes in the day.
I haven't cleaned these images up (hence the 'spine' through the middle of the image), they appear just as they do in the sketchbook.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An overdue update and some first semester drawings...

I can't quite believe it's been eight months since my last post. For those of you who don't know (an oversight by me, as confirmed by that last sentence), I have been studying full time at Uni SA since February this year. I made the decision to return to study (Bachelor of Design - illustration) around midway through 2011 for a number of reasons, the main one being, quite simply, that I needed to learn more.
So now I am back in a stimulating, challenging learning environment and I'm as happy as a clam. It's been a pretty gruelling pace for the last fifteen weeks, but I've achieved so much it's all been more than worth it. Now, I have five weeks break to recover (and do some much missed sculpting!) before it all starts again in second semester.
Of course, things ('things' being: campus, computers, referencing systems and above all, my age) are VERY different to the last time I was at Uni, which was *ahem* twenty-odd years ago. It took a while to find my feet, but the incredible and unwavering support of my husband and kids played a huge part in building my confidence and giving me the strength to persevere. Now the place seems like a second home and I can concentrate fully on absorbing the knowledge of my tutors and applying myself to the tasks at hand.
Anyway, I hope to be posting more regularly during my break and thought I'd share a few of my favourite drawings from the past few months. All of these were exercises completed as part of the Introductory Drawing course.

Shoes (cropping)

Still Life

Hands (continuous line)

Still Life


Coffee Break

Glass of water with spoon


Till next time.