Thursday 31 December 2015

Happy New Year!

And many thanks to all visitors throughout 2015 – good luck for your creative work in 2016!

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Sunday 27 December 2015

Saturday 26 December 2015

Monday 21 December 2015

Saturday 19 December 2015

Friday 18 December 2015

Thursday 17 December 2015

Monday 14 December 2015

Hippo 5 (final), acrylic, oil and charcoal on canvas, 150 x 100cm

Friday 11 December 2015

Hippo 1, acrylic wash on gesso-primed canvas, 150 x 100cm

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Monday 7 December 2015

Sunday 6 December 2015

Rooftop in winter sun, oil on board, 20 x 15cm
Much appreciation to everyone for the terrific turnout at my Little Brunswick exhibition at Tinning Street Presents, and special thanks to Belinda Wiltshire for the excellent 'random' arrangement of 70+ little paintings within the space (no small task); to Nick Blackmore for the recycled-timber frames, to gallery volunteers at Tinnng St and McPherson Wine of Mt Waverley for providing the very nice bubbly. The exhibition runs until the 13th (Sunday), find out more about it here.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Monday 30 November 2015

Sunday 29 November 2015

Saturday 28 November 2015

Friday 27 November 2015

Seven days a week (grocery store parking lot), oil on board, 20 x 15cm

Thursday 26 November 2015

The man in the cypress tree, clay sculpture & digital

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Tales from Outer Suburbia, Finnish edition, 2015

Tales from Outer Suburbia has enjoyed translation within about 15 territories over the years, but it's the Finnish one I've been hanging out for, given that half my family is Finnish. Other Scandinavian countries have been very quick to produce their own editions of most of my books, given the appreciation of melancholy humor and surrealism in the far north, but until now the land of the Moomin has remained elusive. Kiitos paljon (many thanks) to publisher Lasten Keskus ja Kirjapaja Oy and translator Jaana Kapari-Jatta.

Monday 23 November 2015

Bring-your-animal-spirit-to-work day, sketchbook doodle, pen

Saturday 21 November 2015

Friday 20 November 2015

Thursday 19 November 2015

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Sunday 15 November 2015

The Red Tree, giclee print 30 x 33cm

I've worked with Books Illustrated to produce a very limited edition of what is probably my most popular image, the final page from The Red Tree (Lothian Books, 2001). Previously I have created a smaller to-scale edition in my own studio, but all 500 of these sold out some time ago. This new edition is twice the size and a much smaller signed edition of 53, and already selling fast. You can buy one here while stocks last.

All proceeds from sales of these prints go to the ACLA – the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance. The principle project of this organisation is the appointment of an Australian Children’s Laureate every two years - a national ambassador for reading and story. Previous ambassadors have been Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor (2012/13), and our current Laureate is Jackie French. Find out more about their workshops, activities and events here.

Thanks also to Splitting Image who kindly donated their services to produce these prints, and of course to Books Illustrated (who have also just released a new range of my Singing Bones prints which you can check out here).

Saturday 14 November 2015

I noticed this sign nailed to a tree in a local neighbourhood the other day, and felt there was something weirdly familiar about it. On closer inspection I was very surprised to see it was actually one of my own stories from Tales from Outer Suburbia, about a water buffalo that used to live on a vacant lot of overgrown grass, but who has long since left. Life imitating art? Or just absorbing it back to where it rightfully belongs. Thanks to whoever nailed it to this tree!

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Monday 9 November 2015


I'm having an exhibition of about fifty oil paintings at Tinning Street Presents, a small gallery in the heart of Brunswick, from December 3 -13. Visitors to this blog will be aware that I've been painting observational images on small panels for some years now, many of them depicting everyday scenes of inner suburban Melbourne where I've been living and working since 2006. Here's a chance to see what they properly look like (and they will be for sale too). For more information, please visit Tinning St.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday 1 November 2015

Friday 30 October 2015

Thursday 29 October 2015

Friday 23 October 2015

The blue cow, pastel A2, 2009, Bundanon Trust Collection

Wednesday 21 October 2015

The Master Thief, clay, bronze patina and candle, 25cm tall
Melbournites who missed the Singing Bones exhibition can still see some sculptures at Carlton's Readings bookshop on Lygon Street this week, in their front window display until Monday (with many thanks to the staff at Readings). One of these, above, illustrates one of my favourite Grimm tales about a brilliant con artist, able to convince people the world is ending using nothing more than crabs and candles.

Monday 19 October 2015

Thursday 15 October 2015

The Singing Bone: sculpture notes

While I was working on illustrations for Grimms Märchen and The Singing Bones, I remembered to document a little of my process, so here it is. I don't think there's anything special about it and I imagine there are many other ways to create effective sculptural illustrations (some no doubt better than mine). In any case, below is a step-by-step example of how I approached this task, fairly consistently over 75 works. The Grimm story I am illustrating here is 'The Singing Bone', from which I drew my own collection title, about one brother murdering another in order to claim a reward for killing a wild boar.

Interestingly, I did not make the kind of preliminary drawings for this project that I normally would, and often started making the first thing that came to mind upon reading each story (also unusual for me). I guess I was very interested in capturing an immediate gut-reaction, and just getting my hands dirty without over-thinking things too much.

Here's my basic structure for one figure, made of papier mache and wire. I usually start by bending a strong wire into a rough shape, then squeezing pulp around it. I make the pulp by ripping a newspaper into strips, soaking it in a bucket of water until broken down, then straining it. I then mix it with a tapioca- or potato-flour glue (a little flour in a saucepan of water, gradually heated until viscous and clear). My dad used this technique a lot as a child in Malaysia and the resulting form, once dried in the sun, is extremely hard, durable and very light (I used to make a lot of masks with him as a kid). It can also be cut with a knife. The 'lumpiness' of these shapes are quite suggestive and this process typically introduces a lot of accidental forms, often a good thing.

Here I'm starting to add air-drying clay over the form, working quite quickly, not thinking too much about the result. I find it's important not to get bogged down in detail, and 'let nature take its course' to some extent. There are different kinds of air drying clay: I've used DAS, which is (I think) a kind of finely pulped paper, so also quite light when dry. It's not as subtle as real clay, but I've gotten used to its character and find it quite versatile (the terracotta-coloured kind seems easier to work with than the white one, having less elasticity). Why not just use real clay? I wanted to introduce objects and other materials into my figures, of a sort than kiln firing would not allow. I also like the immediacy of working with air-drying clay, and how easily you can later add to it, wet on dry if need be.

A little more modeling, but still pretty rough. As a shape takes form, I'm thinking of how the emotion or attitude of a character can be conveyed through very simple body language, especially as my figures don't usually have expressive faces (or any faces at all sometimes). Here, I was aiming for a sense of a man about to strike his brother with a club as they are walking home. In the story the violence is disturbingly casual, even psychopathic in its lack of empathy, so I wanted something cold in the attitude of my figure.

A little more refinement of surface, adding some unity of weight and curve to the back and limbs.

Once the form is dry, I carve into it with knives, files and sandpaper. The final style of the figure is largely defined by this carving. It's also easier to simplify and smooth surfaces this way, and again it discourages me from adding too much detail. I very much wanted these figures to have a bluntness about then, without too many distracting embellishments.
A few layers of acrylic paint later and the figure has a stony appearance. I often change my mind about colour, painting a sculpture multiple times, but that only adds to the complexity of the surface, as if the object has had some life of its own, some history. Rubbing back with a damp cloth before acrylic paint has cured, or with turps in the case of oils, produces a very nice, natural-looking surface.

With the hapless victim added, I tried out different compositions in front of the camera. Something seemed missing until I added rocks from a local gardening-supply store, lending a theatrical and elemental feeling to the scene. The hard overhead lighting with a cool lamp created the right atmosphere, a certain claustrophobia and starkness: a timeless pause before the critical moment of action. The narrow focus with fore-and background blur also isolates the figures and sustains their small scale: the act is tiny but terrible, happening  far away from the the light of a larger world. The final image was edited slightly in Photoshop, mainly darkening the sky. I try to keep digital editing as minimal as possible, and get as much as possible right in the initial photography, just because 'real' solutions usually look much better than digital ones.