Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back to life

Two months passed by – back from under the ground, having seen the tree roots and spent a little quiet time in darkness. Now, trying to wake up and go on.

It's good to be back, working, creating.
Here's an invite (I designed it as tribute to my newly found love for Melbourne) to our upcoming exhibition, In the City, at the City Library 253 Flinders lane, upstairs gallery.
Opening next Wednesday, August 5.

Click on the invite to get the whole image, also in better quality.
(Haven't worked out how to optimise image import to this blog, sorry.)

Lots of work still to be done ... but we'll get there.

Awwww ...

A few days ago I received a compliment:

"You could so look like Abraham Lincoln if you put on a fake nose."


Well, I gathered it was a compliment, as the person said "could" instead of "would".
Thus, something to aspire to.

Weekday gold : )

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Magpie by Luke Davies and Inari Kiuru

Our book is finally out!

Well actually, it came out in May … But with the jewellery and silversmithing work towards the end of semester and all, I'd put this milestone out of my mind : ) But, anyway, here's some info and pics (click on them to see them a lot bigger). Magpie, written by Luke Davies, was my second book for children / young adults. The first? More here.
Taken up by ABC Books who became a part of HarperCollins along the way, Magpie took its shape under the gentle, patient, creative and fearless eyes of Jeanmarie Morosin and Belinda Bolliger, our editors. Luke Davies (the author of Candy which was also made into a film starring the late Heath Ledger; Speed of God, and Totem, to mention a few) poem about his childhood experience in country NSW was one of those ideal texts to illustrate, and I'm very happy about how it turned out, after some years of thinking and life changes which delayed the book. More notes after the illustrations, here's a taste of it:

Childhood Terror

At Minnamurra Avenue. The bush.
The creek. My father and I.
We went to the edge of the falls for revenge,
to find my attacker the magpie.

The afternoon grey, the black bird gone,
my sobbing subsiding. Dad held my hand,
hurled rocks into the empty trees, screamed
at the black bush, ‘Go away!’

I loved him for pretending.

… and there's more after this, but that shall be left for you to find out! : )

* * *

Luke's notes to the project (as appears at the end of Magpie)

This book is based fairly faithfully on a real event, though the real event involved a magpie attacking a human—that’s me—rather than a puppy dog. I lived on Minnamurra Avenue in Pymble, New South Wales, a small, leafy dead-end street along which ran a burbling creek.
I was building tunnels in a sand pile down the road with a few friends. Gradually they all wandered off, but I was so engrossed in the tunnel-building, I lost track of time—that is, until the first dramatic swoop. Pure terror. The next minute or so was horrifying, adrenalin-filled. The magpie kept attacking, kept swooping, and I had to cover about two hundred metres to my house. I was a blubbering mess by the time I got there. My dad said, ‘Right! We’ll go get that magpie!’

There was a little waterfall in the creek; it was probably only about two metres high—perhaps less! We stood on the edge of the road and threw rocks into the trees. I guess the point of the poem is that I knew the magpie wasn’t necessarily anywhere in sight by now, but that it was my father’s willingness, the action and the love and the pretending, that counted.
The poem was published as ‘Childhood Terror’ (not a great title for a children’s book!) in my book of poems Running with Light. (Thanks must go to Jeanmarie Morosin for recognising that the poem might work for children, in a different format.) Inari Kiuru’s stroke of brilliance was not just to convert father and son into dogs, but to imagine a more epic and extended journey towards love and bonding and trauma receding.

Inari's notes to the project (as written for publicity purposes for HC)

As Luke's poem, Magpie, is quite short and succinct, I knew from the very beginning that creating illustrations would be both very rewarding for the freedom the text allows, and very challenging, for the same reason. My editor Belinda Bolliger and Luke were both very patient and broad-minded throughout the process, and allowed the book to develop through large shifts in stylistic and conceptual ideas.

There is something about how the poem's structure that instantly made me think about a journey. The key trigger was the line "we went to the edge of the falls..." which suggests leaving home and travelling towards something unknown and perhaps also a little scary. The edge of the falls sounds like a place where anything could happen. Also, weather conditions and seasonal changes have always been important to me, and I draw a lot of inspiration from the natural world in my work as a designer, illustrator and jeweller. This is probably a characteristic Finnish quality as well as a purely personal tendency -- Finland is a large country with a small population where everyone comes face to face with the forest and unforgiving seasonal elements, and everyone's lives are tied into seasonal activities from practical reasons alone.

So, the description of "afternoon grey", as the father and son arrive at the falls, allowed me to imagine a whole day of travel, and play with colours which would show the light of a day from dusk to darkness. The notion of a walking for a while brought in the possibility to depict changing landscapes. Later, the journey extended into a longer, more epic trip, and you'll notice that there is quiet rain and scorching sunshine on the pages, too. I think that our moods and activities are somehow connected with the weather, even if very subtly, and the colours of the day are a powerful tool in telling a story.

I regard the golden yellow, vast open landscape as the architypal Aussie spring and summer scene which I wanted to use, in honour of the fact that the poem is a real childhood memory of the author, from semi-rural NSW. I really enjoyed working with earthy textures of the imaginary places that the journey covers. As my technique for this book was half hand-painting (black ink and brush for the character outlines and some details) and half digital, I was able to collect samples of textures from objects and surfaces, scan them in, and then work them in and around the calligraphy outlines. Bark, emery paper, close-up photography and burned clear acetate film were some of the materials I used in the landscapes.

And perhaps most importantly, the development of the images was a personal turning point as a creator of pictures, helping me to find a voice which I think is authentic for me as an illustrator and a story teller:

The father and son were not always going to be dogs. Almost for two years (the process from the beginning to the final book was rather long-winded as I changed states and professions on the way) I sketched a human dad and his young son. But somehow, I couldn't quite find the right expressions for them, and the two male figures on a journey came out too sentimental, figurative or "stiff" each time; they felt too literal and also restricted imagining the surroundings for them.

Then, almost by accident after doing a small, quick sketch of a barking dog, I realised that animals were the perfect answer. There was a palpable power in the bark of this tiny, dark and determined dog I'd just drawn (the original sketch actually became the final dad on the "GO AWAY!"-spread), and the free, almost childlike style of expression felt right immediately. Luke and Belinda also recognised this. I'd always enjoyed drawing caricatures and small strange animal-like figures, and dogs are especially expressive, interesting and rewarding to caricature, offering a chance to use exaggerated proportions, movement and familiar dog-like activities to deepen the narrative. Anyone can identify with an cartoon-like, simplified animal figure, whereas we we often tend to compare ourselves with human characters in search of likeness or difference, with the risk of feeling alienated from the key figures of a story.

The two dogs with their antics and huge size difference (people kept asking "what breed could the mother possibly be – a chihuahua and a stick insect cross was a popular guess) brought out and nourised my surreal bend, and the combination of the mismatched duo in strange landscapes seemed to fit the poem's metaphoric quality perfectly.