There are places you cannot go, except by bear.
Here is the story of my journey into Terra Incognita.
I found myself at my desk with a handful of old childhood photos.
It is was an effort to recall the details shown in these pictures, of my parents’ first home on Salisbury Road in suburban Sydney.
What I do remember are isolated yet strong vignettes, beyond which lies Terra Incognita; the suppositions of a short-sighted three year old girl.
I can recall my mothers’ face as she tells me a scary bedtime story, about a creature which will get me if I venture out after dark. In my mind I can see it; just over the back fence waits The Nacht Geger —cue creepy music— here comes — The Night Rooster! It’s legs are scaly; with claws that scrape and clack as the massive hunched shape moves behind the fence palings.
I now know that The Nacht Geger is in fact a vampire, however my mother softened the story somewhat by turning the monster inexplicably into a rooster. The melodrama makes me smile now, but the feeling behind my fears remains, fixed like some prehistoric insect encased in a coffin of amber.
Salisbury road was a place of wonder, and terror, and magic. Beyond the fence were monsters and sitting upon my mother’s dresser lay a jar filled with bubbles, suspended miraculously in goo; her pink hair gel was both mystical and beyond my comprehension.
Surrounded by these memories, I am transported to that house in spirit, if not body, to my old bedroom.
I begin to draw the room and soon, the child I was finds a place into the drawing. The room is indistinct but the sensation of the place carries the drawing forward. The image of the room falls away as something new begins to take shape, a beast, with a coat that’s rough and limbs that are heavy. I am a cartographer, journeying off the edge of the map; the edge of the photographs, into my memories of monsters.
I sit back and look at the girl in alarm… for she has climbed onto the beasts’ back; the back of a bear. But her face is so distant and so composed that I am less worried by this turn of events. Plainly, she knows something that I do not.
The bear looks this way and that, as I scrape away at the oil paint. Suddenly, a moment of recognition flashes across its’ face, as it turns and regards me. A salutary beast has arrived from the land behind the back fence.
I now understand the meaning of the drawing; that the fearful mien of the Nacht Geger came out of the same place as did the bear.
Forty seven years late perhaps, but a rescue is at hand.
Perhaps there is an upside to the fact that I was able to scare the living wits out of myself as a child; Terra Incognita has monsters, but also helpful creatures alike. What I have found, is a curious sense of underlying rationale in the creation of images such as this. It gives me courage to go over the back fence in art and in story, and it gives me courage in life too.
This bear eats Night Roosters on toast.
The Book Hedge
A book hedge, that is what is required.
Dreamt of Birds
Further to the theme of birds, this painting is part of a work in progress titled ‘Dreamt of Birds’.
I have a small pile of drawings and text at this stage, and an ongoing excuse to crash around in the woods.
Children’s Writer’s Guild
The Children’s Writer’s Guild was brought to my attention by a friend. One thing led to another and now I am extremely pleased to say that my work has been accepted by the Children’s Writer’s Guild for their website.
For this, I must thank Shelia Wright and Joshua Wright of CWG.
Their site features some wonderful writing and illustration and is well worth looking at – link here.
From the Children’s Writer’s Guild website
I created this image specifically for my Picture Book. The book’s plot surrounds a family having recently relocated and the child, Rose, wishing for something that will help her to regain her sense of place in the world.
Anyone with children would know this feeling … be it fever, nightmares, lost toys or most likely, all of these at once. There will come a time when everyone in the house is awake and staring out the window, at a complete loss. Your four year old is in the pit of despair and all you can do is join them. It is a leveler. That was what I drew on, to illustrate the moment in the story when an impasse is reached. Rose’s problem is now everyone’s problem … and on another level is simply voicing a shared unease, loss and displacement.
I used a line and wash technique, as I find it to be the most direct, expressive and simple illustrative style for the type of story I write.
Something that interests me greatly, is the life of characters beyond the small lit stage of a picture book.
|I’m off to Singapore next month. Apologies in advance for the many photographs which will be part of my next letter.Illustrations from ‘Hasel and Rose’ have been accepted into the Book Illustrator’s Gallery at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.Click on image for link..
ASIAN FESTIVAL OF
30 MAY – 6 JUNE 2015
NATIONAL LIBRARY BUILDING,
AFCC is a festival that brings together content creators and producers with parents, teachers, librarians and anyone interested in quality Asian content for children around the world.
The patterns of life manifest in the small and insignificant,
as well as the large and astounding.
|Until next time, I wish you well.Kindest regards,
I hope you are all well.Once again, please enjoy my musings in words and images.Since my last letter, I decided that my Illustrated Letter needed an Illustrated Letterhead … so now it has.
As a child, courage was not so much in my heart as in my pocket. Hidden within my jacket was a cloth toy who assured me, that all would be well. My favourite toy recently reappeared in my life via a photograph and with it, the sense of friendship and courage it inspired in me; the impetus for my first picture book.
(My toy and me)
When I was writing ‘Hasel and Rose’, an incident on a tram gave me a defining image of friendship and also of overcoming fear. What happened that day changed how I depicted Rose and her Wish Thing… it cemented an idea in my mind of the unique relationship between them as a girl and her toy.
I found myself on a writing residency in Melbourne, enjoying the atmosphere of the bayside. The facades of the houses were neat and well kept, while the rooflines sported chaotic silhouettes of chimney stacks and aerials. The leaning fences of the back lanes were overhung by vines and shrubs, which contrasted strongly with the formal faces of the Esplanade homes. I was confident that here, I had found a setting for my book.
(Initial sketch of back lane – H&R)
Later in the afternoon, I set home on a tram. A group of teenagers were sitting at the back of the carriage, and naturally, I sat in the middle. A few rows in front of me sat a young man, roughly the same age as those at the rear. The group behind was lobbing abuse over my head at the boy sitting by himself, who they apparently knew. He could hear the abuse plainly enough but the group took care not to attract attention from others.
I was looking right at him when something caught my eye, a movement in the hood of his jacket. With this he reached back into the folds of the fabric … and the tiny white head of a kitten emerged. The small feline wobbled onto the boys’ shoulder and he stroked it in a gentle, absent way.
It was an unexpected delight to see a kitten’s head where you wouldn’t expect one to be. However, there was an element of discomfort as well… the boy had made himself very vulnerable in that moment. At the sight of the tiny animal, a fresh wave of ridicule flowed over my head from the united force behind.
The boy sat seemingly emotionless, waiting for his stop. The tram ground to a halt and he quickly swung off, skating away with the kitten once again snug in the hood of his jacket, its whiskered face hidden from view.
The carriage lurched back into action as did the laughter of the boys behind me. The atmosphere eventually shifted as the insults died off.
What struck me was the connection between what had just played out in front of me and my childhood photo. There was a recognizable sense of drawing courage from a bond, be it with an animal or a toy, of vulnerability and a protection invoked.
What I saw on the tram that day left me with a beautiful pictorial device; thereafter Rose carried Hasel in her cardigan hood.
(The Salubrious beast)
I have just recovered our lounge to the delight of most family members and the suspicion of ‘she with tail’.To those who cohabit with us, on our lounges and in our lives…The Salubrious Beast.
A short and courteous email arrived recently – asking if I am still painting and where I am showing.
In typing out an answer, I spent the afternoon thinking back over my time as a painter and remembering some of the people I have met.
One such memorable person was Eva Breuer. Eva was renowned for her art savvy as a highly respected gallery director/art dealer and I had the privilege of her selling my paintings.
(Girl at old piano)
She once asked me to donate a painting to the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute auction. My motivation was personal; a number of my family members and friends had been affected by cancer. Besides, it was common knowledge that Eva had been fighting cancer herself.
(Portrait with striped sleeves)
By whatever coincidence, I had recently completed just the right piece, ‘Portrait with striped sleeves’ the image of a girl on the verge of womanhood.
Sadly, Eva passed away from cancer in 2010 and her gallery closed its doors last year.
(Soggy yard with a soggy dog in it – 2015)
I did eventually return to the email and my reply – ‘Yes, I am still painting, but not for shows or galleries at the moment. It is somewhat liberating to paint an idea and/or urge as it comes to me, without the deadlines and expectation. I think my work is all the better for it. I would be happy to email you images as they are finished if you are interested’.
Initial drawings and sketches help me explore in many ways. They sometimes reveal what is the best tack to take, when producing final art.
(Figure at Dickson canal)
As the visual story unfolds, it is a feedback that I find indispensable in creating characters and the world they inhabit.
In this instance, a girl and her sister in the garden called out for a strong and bold palette with bright light and dense shade.At a certain point in creating a new story, I experience a mixed sense of excitement and panic. This painting came about during such a panic; a dialogue goes around in my head … catch this feeling …catch the face … give her a home, so that the whole thing becomes real – Caroline Magerl.
St Imbecile of the Waters.
(St Imbecile of the waters)
There is such a thing as beginners luck, and my uncle Willi Wolf had lots of it.
As a child, I would visit Willi in his Coogee flat. He was a congenial host, apparently a life of driving buses in Sydney had made him patient. Willi used his spare time at the Randwick bus depot to become regional chess champion, a skill he tried to teach me during a visit … once… but I preferred to eat his tuna sandwiches on white bread and look out the window.
Light from the Tasman streamed through that window, giving the flat an atmosphere of a dingy sea cave. The view on rough days; Wedding Cake Island was a smear of foam in the sea, unreachable and therefore endlessly fascinating to me.
(Flying Fish – etching)
The constant presence of the sea must have caused an idea to form in Willi’s mind. Why not, he was young after all and he could drive a bus… so Willi began to build a plywood boat in the living room of his flat. You could do things like that in Coogee then, or so I was told.
Willi had gotten quite a long way into the build when the boat was in need of a lead keel. He obtained the lead and prepared to melt the toxic metal in a cooking pot … on the stovetop. Once it was good and hot, he began to pour the molten lead into the keel cavity. The plywood keel received the streaming silver liquid and then began to smoke. Flames sprung up with frightening speed, blackening and then consuming the ply. I have a picture in my mind of the little Coogee flat glowing like a beacon. No real harm was done, but the ship of Willi’s dreams was unsalvageable.
Something, however did emerge from the ashes. My father with seafaring dreams of his own was building a steel yacht which was eventually to become our home. Dad convinced Willi to resurrect his dream and offered to build him a new yacht. So in a little ship yard next to the Glebe dump, Dad built a new yacht for Willi. It was launched and Willi Wolf set forth in the good ship ‘Lupus’.
The passage from Sydney to Southport was as far as my uncle went and it wasn’t smooth sailing, but that’s a story for another time.
However, the bus driver went to sea and the sea was kinder than the Sydney peak hour – St Imbecile of the waters saw to that.
(Oh, what a beautiful pussy you are)
There is such a thing as beginners luck, and there is also the luck of fools, in this instance seagoing ones and my family has produced some stellar examples of this variety. Foolishness should not be enquired into though … you might just want to begin something and St Imbecile does not like a clever dick.
As committed and dedicated as writers and illustrators are … the people who help promote our work equally deserve our recognition.
I recently made acquaintance with Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast, someone I personally want to recognize here.
(Our first breath of cool weather this morning and with it that feeling that everything changed overnight)
I do this because I enjoy it. My thoughts on a book will be the same whether the book comes from the publisher, the bookstore, the library, the author him or herself, or a long-forgotten, dusty, cobwebbed corner of a shelf in a used-books store.
The Asian Festival of Children’s Content,
I promised or perhaps that should be threatened, some photos from my trip last month; so here they are.
The Book Illustrator’s Gallery in the Singapore National Library.
Meeting up with Christopher Cheng and Sarah Mounsey
.Signing books at Kinokuniya
One of the local sights on the night of the SCWBI dinner.
A midnight photo of the koi at the Changi Airport pond.
The fish so charmingly asleep, while the travellers drift by in a caffeinated limbo.
I must end this letter now, as my winter garden beckons.
Till next time.