Thursday, August 8, 2019

New website!

Outside my studio window there is wind and rain falling on cold soil. Winter in south west Victoria, Australia, is a slow time. Inside, however, things have felt very fertile and fast.

Firstly, new website finally completed:
Huzzah! I created it myself, using the website-developing software 'Squarespace'. I highly recommend it! 'Squarespace' provides a nice, cleanly-designed template to plug your images and text into. And it's designed for the common rabble, so if you hit a problem you can just google it and read about how other folk bumbled their way through. It was a lot of work to complete, and sometimes shouty-work when I was completely frustrated at the technology, but truly satisfying in the end.

Secondly, I found a way to combine my weaving and illustration! The Space series, below.  How the series came about is explained further on my website
I'd like to work further on the Space series later, as I have an idea for a very conceptual picture book. But, for now, I'm working on another children's book manuscript. I've put my Space series idea on hold, with promises to bring it back out to the light, later. (Promises to whom I wonder? The characters? Or just myself? Ahh, the slight ache of leaving an idea whilst you tend to something else is a little like having 2 very little kids to care for. You always feel a bit guilty for neglecting one of them.)

I haven't done anymore weaving, as I've been enjoying illustrating, but I'm confident I'll come back to it when I need an alternative creative outlet.

Promotional postcards
I have been sending out promotional postcards to some publishers whom I admire the work of. I've actually never done a postcard mail out before so it took quite a lot of time, and sleuthing, to develop a mailing list of names. I hope it will bear fruit. I've been thinking a bit about self promotion lately and realised that, aside from this blog, I haven't done much self promotion at all in 20 odd years of work. 
My big gigs have really been 'lucky strikes'. I did do the rounds of publishers with my folio back in the 90's, when folk still hauled huge black folios up and down tram steps. That got me freelance work in educational publishing for a year or two. Then, when my son was tiny I worked as a graphic designer because I wanted a regular income. After my daughter was born I got a job cartooning for The Age but that job came after winning a national competition they held. My 2018 picture book gig came after a publisher saw my folio at my first 'Meet the Publishers' conference in 2016. So, I've had a few lucky breaks that, either side of having kids, have carried me through.
'Where to send them'
So it feels good to have a new website and a stack of postcards that have fluttered forth. But, more to the point, it feels good to know where to send the postcards. Because I have come to the realisation that I really want to focus on children's publishing.

There are some practical reasons for this; having a two year old at home means that I'm constantly at the Library looking at picture books. My teenagers are old enough to give good feedback. Also, illustrating 'Shoo Grumpers Shoo" through the pregnancy, birth and babyhood of my daughter proved that I could make it work and meet deadlines amongst the juggle of family life. And there were real pleasures in book illustration versus freelancing. I loved discovering the immersive pleasure of being in a creative world for months at a time! Plus, so much less admin, and you got to develop more of a relationship with your editor. So, my experience with illustrating my first picture book was a good one.

'Stop arseing about and just cut to the chase.'
But, some of this new clarity has come with being 43. For me, it's been confirmation of the good things that can come with 40; it's the age when you realise it's time to stop arseing about and just cut to the chase. For me that has meant stopping doing work that just falls into my lap and really think about where I want to be. So I'm choosing Kidlit. It feels like a place I could do good work in, and I feel it's important work to do. It feels like home, even though it's pretty new. So I'm here, sleeves rolled up, peeling stamps onto postcards, writing, drawing and hitting 'SEND'.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

New adventures in weaving.

'Decoding the Sea' Exhibition
F Project Gallery, Warrnambool, Victoria, until the 28th of April, 2019.
Works by Rachel Peters and Shelley Knoll-Miller

Ahh, my new creative crush: weaving. After years of working primarily as an illustrator/cartoonist with brief forays into sculpture it's been fun to put aside the pens for a while and explore something completely new. Due to some happenstance and serendipity, I can now show you what I've been working on as an exhibition spot became available for myself and dear friend and artist Rachel Peters. 

We've titled the exhibition "Decoding the Sea". To explain the title of this exhibition, Rachel's works feature teeny bits of plastic that she found washed up on her local beach. She has placed them in grid-like patterns and, when you stand back a few paces, they almost appear like hieroglyphics or a pictorial code. Our reflection was that the pollution that washes up on our beaches is telling us something, we just have to read the code. Decode the sea.
I love the spareness of Rachel's works. There are 35 works in this exhibition and Rachel's pieces, en masse, work beautifully together.

Weaving is such a change from my illustration work but very fulfilling, especially using 'beach rope'. 'Beach rope' is rope or nets that are found in the water or washed up on beaches. Locally the larger pieces usually come from recreational fishing but we also have a lot of little bits from the cray fishing that happens in south west Victoria. 

When left in the sea, this rope is dangerous to all marine life. We have two local environmental groups that clean our beaches and one of them (Beach Patrol 3280) was able to deliver to me several sacks of beach rope. So the beach rope forms about 50% of my latest weavings. During creation, it coats the whole studio floor in a fine layer of sand and fuzz, but it IS very effective in how it mimics seaweed and sea sponge. 
I love these weavings and hope to do more but as I mentioned in my last post about weaving, it will be a matter of securing buyers for this kind of work. I'm also keen to illustrate another picture book so we'll see what the year delivers!

Here is the local paper's write up on our exhibition:

The search for the Pear.

Pear series:  5. 'Recovering'
These six collages show someones search for a Pear. I was trying to capture common themes that we all share in our life's journey. The Pear can represent many things (meaning/ love/connection?) but I liked the idea of not explaining what the search was about but just letting the viewer muse about this themselves.
Each image represents one element of existence. Here they are as a narrative:

Below are 1. Questioning  and  2. Searching

Below are 3. Finding  and  4. Struggling 

 Below are 5. Recovering  and  6. Losing

This series was a chance to explore further the collage work I've been so enjoying. The image below was from an old box that had previously held tins of baked beans. I ripped it apart and really liked the ridges. I just love the tactility of collage-especially after so much of my cartooning work has gone digital. I also wanted to prepare some folio pieces that had a central character that travelled to different places, so this self-driven project served those two ends. It was nice to have the freedom.
Pear series:  6.'Losing'

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


After years of quietly dabbling in the dark arts of crochet, I've recently begun weaving. I was prompted to start by an invitation to be part of a local exhibition.

I live on the south western coast of Victoria, Australia, and locals had been despairing about the amount of 'sea junk' that washes up on our shores. A solution that presented itself was to gather some local artists with the brief to use the 'sea junk' to make something beautiful, as well as running some accompanying seminars to educate the public on the problem. So the weaving above was made by unravelling the damaged net below, as well as additional wool, and other smaller pieces of sea rope debri.

I hope to make more of these weavings. It's infinitely satisfying to cut up something that is really dangerous for sea life. It's a great challenge to try and make something beautiful from it. Finding a market may prove tricky as they are time consuming to create so I need to sell them at a higher price to make it worth my while to create them. The regional centre I'm based near, Warrnambool, has a limited market for higher-end artworks. So I'm toying with starting an etsy page, and also chatting to galleries and sellers in Melbourne. We'll see how that goes...

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Picture book delivered!

The FIRST copies of the FIRST picture book I've illustrated arrived today! 
Amusingly, our eccentric small-town postie mistook me for the teachers wife and delivered the box to our local school. So, after some initial confusion, I got to crack open the Scholastic box surrounded by my eldest daughter and school buddies. A sweet moment-as was finally introducing toddler Tessa to the book! She and the book have such a history together.  I discovered I was pregnant at the same time as getting the job of illustrating "Shoo Grumpers Shoo". I had to lean over a very pregnant belly to draw most of it. It was quite surreal to snuggle up in bed tonight and read it together. They aren't quite siblings, but something akin to that. 

After years of drawing cartoons, which are usually published quite quickly, it has been strange to switch to the much longer process of childrens book publishing. It's taken almost 2 years from the first conversation with the publisher to actually holding the book in my hands. Delaaaaayed gratification.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

It's so hard to find good help.

This introduction is rather tardy but let's make it official. Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to my new Illustrators assistant, Tessa Wren Knoll-Miller. She is small but inspiring.
Well, she was small. Now she's huge.
Just to give you a sense of her style, here is what she's been working on tonight in the studio.

Scholastic have moved the release of the picture book "Shoo Grumpers Shoo" to mid-late 2018 so the baby did come before the book, and it's all worked out swimmingly.

It's alarming how long it's been since I updated this blog but I am lovingly attentive to my social media accounts. I'll try and pull my blogger socks up but, until then, visit my facebook  or instagram for all the latest.

Keep on 'truckin.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A book, baby!

Hey ho!
The good people at Scholastic Publishing have employed me to illustrate a children's book, 'bless 'em. The lesson here is of the 'Feel the fear but do it anyway" variety as it was the brief terror of showing my folio at the "Meet the Publishers" conference that led to me getting the gig. Seems you do have to "Risk it for the biscuit". (That's a movie reference from Oddball which was, incidentally, filmed just down the road.)

So I've been busy scribbling away in the studio, buying fancy illustrators supplies online and eating large amounts of yoghurt. The sudden uptake in yoghurt consumption is due to my other project, which is due around the same time as final art for the book. I give you, dear bloggee, The book and The baby. Both currently being lovingly incubated and due for completion around the start of next year. Below is a picture of the bump, sitting happily next to my signed contract with Scholastic. I'll keep you posted with news of both.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Beard, Pipe, Beret.

I will be cartooning at a great conference later in the month and in preparation for it they asked me to contribute the usual photo and short blurb about myself. Most of the speakers at the conference are academics. Their photos and bios have gravitas.
The most recent photos of myself, however, were taken accidentally when the kids were doing tricks on the trampoline and stopped for advice on how to get the camera to film things. So I'm blurry, carrying a load of washing and looking a little distracted/harrassed. Sometimes my head doesn't even feature in-shot. In the voice-over, David Attenborough would describe me as being in my natural habitat. Well, yes, David, you are correct, but I don't think these photos carry the gravitas that I need as a professional artist.

Which led me to do a little pondering on what kind of photo does give you the "I'm a deeply successful, wildly talented, artist person" vibe. A quick search of art history revealed that Great Artists of the world have three key elements to their appearance: Beard, Pipe and Beret. So I went with that.

I'm very pleased with the results.
Though I would like to add that if you do overplay it a little you can end up looking like Popeye, the sailor man. See bottom, second from right.

Thanks go to my skilled photographers (aged 9 and 11 years old).

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Artist in Residence

Q.  What kind of institution has an everlasting bucket of chips, a happy birthday cake that sings to you and a track for guinea pig racing? 

A.  A Super School, as imagined by students from a tiny school in the bottom bit of Australia.

Just finished a residency with St. Patricks Primary School in Port Fairy, Victoria. The kids and I worked together to produce this artwork which is a "Super School". The children imagined what they'd like a Super School to include and then drew those elements. I then cut them up, and constructed the collage. I used spacers behind some of the drawings to give the work a three dimensional appearance. The coloured work around the edges was contributed by the preps and grade one children who lacked the fine motor skills to do detailed cartoons but had great crayon skills and combined some gorgeous colours.
Collage detail
I worked with every class in the school, holding cartooning workshops over three weeks. The fourth week was spent with just the grade sixes, cutting out younger kids work and doing final drawings. At this point I felt like a renaissance painter with a stable of my own little artists "We need some roads, draw me some roads! Trees! Let's add treeeees!" The children were very accomodating.
Full image of our 'Super school'
This project taught me to never underestimate the creative force of young minds. Their ideas for a what a Super school should include were both practical-a waterslide that teaches you everything- and the wacky -hand-standing penguin, rocket ships and a wrestling ring. 

I also encouraged students to critique their own ideas and try and evaluate the implications of them. For example, if a super school DID include a ravenous beast that ate all bullies (and sometimes teachers) what problems might this possibly present? How might the students overcome these problems? The answers were surprisingly pragmatic and imaginative i.e. for the example above, the monster doesn't actually fully digest the bullies (and teachers), he just pooes them out again and they consider it a lesson learned.

By the way, St.Patricks Primary School, Port Fairy, has the best artist-in-residence program I've seen, with a different artist every two years. Is it a co-incidence that this small town won the title of the WORLDS most liveable community in 2012? I think not.
It took out 'Under 20,000 population' prize and the shire's mayor had to go and dig out his best suit and passport and fly to Abu Dhabi to be presented with the prize.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why I windexed my art folio.

Last week, I had 10 book illustrations to complete and a book pitch to write. I felt a bit like this:
Now, with all of that completed, I feel like this:
I'm all ready for Kid Lit Vic 2016. I even windexed my art folio.
Following this conference is another school adventure-a residency with St.Patricks, Port Fairy, Victoria.
We are imagining, and drawing, our 'dream school'. Should be fun!