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.


  1. It's beautiful Inari. Congratulations!

  2. Hi Melissa!
    I seem to have some technical issues with this blog at the moment; neither posts or replies to comments appear to be published. What strange times! Anyhow, thanks heaps for your comments, it feels good to have the work of many months, if not years, between covers and out there, finally. Luke's poem was such a pleasure to illustrate, so really the thanks go to him and to our brilliant editors!

  3. Hyvän näköisiä kuvia ja hyviä väriyhdistelmiä! Erinomainen on myös oma kommenttiosuutesi.

    Terveisin Iskä

  4. Kiitos, kiitos! Kirjojen pitaisi olla jo postissa, lahetan teidan pakettinne Vanttitien osoitteeseen, kaippa se sinne tulee kolmen viikon sisalla : )

  5. Congratulations! it looks very special

  6. Thank you, so kind of you. I never saw myself as an illustrator, just an image maker for random purposes, but this project particularly was a turning point in finding a freedom, a purpose. Only very recently too I've begun to make peace between creating pictures, two-dimensional thoughts, and the idea of being an object maker - it's just clicked that they're not two separated fields, but just extensions of one larger expression. Which can work hand in hand and support each other, rather than eat away at each other. I'd be really interested to chat with you more on how you feel about image / object creation as I know you're a talented, practicing visual artist as well as a jeweller. Hope you're going well x

  7. I saw it yesterday in the window of the Children's Bookshop on Nicholson Street :) Unfortunately they were closed...looks like a great book!! I love the 4th page down :)

  8. Hi Katie, thanks! And yes, hehe, the 4th image down... Many of the things the two dogs are doing are real life inspired - I remember when my family had a puppy, he didn't originally know how to raise his leg to pee, but only learned after seeing other male dogs "round the block" mark their trees and telephone poles : )
    Also, Opi (short for "Opium" - hi Dad!) could not howl until one day when my sister was playing with an empty paper towel roll and singing to it; somehow then in the dog's mind it clicked that this hollow sound was familiar, and he tentatively raised his snout into his Very First Howl! It was hilarious! And very moving too.
    And then there was the first time Opi was given a small sausage as a treat: on many occasions, the eager puppy had been told not to bite fingers, as he got a bit rough in his play. So when he saw the flesh coloured wiener sausage, he didn't dare to even lick it for a long time -- thinking it surely must have been a finger!

  9. The illustrations are so fantastic (so much so that my cat is trying to stop me type this as I think she is jealous of the dogs). They are so wonderfully doggy. You are so, so clever!

  10. A Blushing Woof-You!
    Cats are great too by the way, best regards to yours : )

  11. Gorgeous Inari - I snaffled up my copy weeks ago - will have to get you to sign it now.

  12. Hello Sally! - Can I sign (or should we say "mark") it "dog style"...?

    As in spread 4?? : D xxx

  13. Hmm... does that mean you're going to wee in my book?
    Can I just get a paw print perhaps?

  14. Well, both weeing and paw prints are present in that pic... so I guess, it just depends where your mind goes first! I'll paw it for you when you're back! X

  15. beautiful pics...! unfortunately the book doesn't seem available through Amazon..