My photo
Hello - welcome to my blog about drawing, children's book illustration, poetry, animals and way too many other things. I’m an artist in Tasmania, Australia. I recently illustrated 'The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land' by Anne Morgan, and two picture books about traditional life in Sudan (see left). I'm currently illustrating a new picture book as author-illustrator. If you'd like to see more, please use the links to my folio page and my profile at The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kitty Hawk

My view of the Wright flyer
I've just visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, right in the wake of Hurricane Matthew (see pics below).  The locals were cheerful and unfazed by the fact that sand dunes had been rearranged, low lying areas flooded and power cut.  The Banks are beautiful with wild Atlantic beaches inhabited by horses, a rich history and a series of stunning light houses.  On my must-see list was the site at Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made history on December 17, 1903.  Anyone trying to do anything new or difficult should enjoy reading about Orville and Wilbur Wright and just how they managed to achieve the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft at a time when other inventors were chasing significantly different ideas for powered flight.

Cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew
First of all, they had each other and belonged to a family that valued their endeavours.  Their mother was the original mechanical genius of the clan, and the Wrights built bicycles and other machines, which gave them the confidence to pursue their own concepts.  Between 1900 and 1903, the brothers thoroughly enjoyed spending their spare time camping in wooden shacks among the sand dunes at Kill Devil Hills.  The location gave them open space and plenty of wind power, as well as friendship with a local family.

Flights of stairs washed up on the Outer Banks
I bought two of these books!
First they built a glider and flew it as a kite.  Next, they progressed to manned glider flights.  They built their own wind tunnel to work with drag and lift.  By 1902 they had a new glider design and had learnt how to control its flight.  In 1903 they worked with their shop mechanic to produce a lightweight engine and finally, after numerous disappointments, they achieved sustained flight at Big Kill Devil Hill.  Seeing the monument built there, I finally understood why their plane had no wheels: because they were on soft sand, it was launched from a rail.

It was a big thrill to visit the site, but the Outer Banks were full of other surprises for me.  Among them - this hand-painted mural on the wall of the local supermarket, advertising books by local author Charles Harry Whedbee, who had a very popular TV talk show in the 1960's.  I went straight in and bought two of them.  The first has been reprinted twenty times!  Legends around the lost colony of Roanoke, Blackbeard the pirate and more were collected by Charles during his years of the talk show and compiled into these testaments.  The books are a ripping read, but on top of that, I love the whole concept of that mural advertisement and am determined to have one myself!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The blossoming plum

My illustration today is for a haiku by Issa (1763 - 1827).

The blossoming plum!
Today all the fires of hell remain empty.

Hobart today is the embodiment of this gorgeous haiku.  Pink and white plum and almond blossom everywhere, and magnolias bowed down with enormous flowers.  I'm off to the Botanical Gardens!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Proudly presenting ...

This is Tarremah Steiner School student Tara Sharman, for whom I acted as a mentor this term.  Along with other Year 8 students at Tarremah, Tara was asked to design and complete an independent project to develop her skills and gain experience in any area she chose.  Each student was expected to find a mentor (through cold calling if necessary), plan and pace a project to completion, keep a journal and give a three-minute presentation about the process and results.  Projects were many and varied - song writing, cheese making, building a gypsy caravan, working in a chef's kitchen, and building a pendulum-operated drawing machine, among others.  Tara, a keen writer, decided that her project would be to write and illustrate a picture book.

It was a real joy meeting Tara, discussing ideas for the book she finally chose to develop - A Day With The Dinosaurs - and working out how to capture those ideas on paper.  Tara wrote a lovely flowing text, which we broke down into page spreads.  Here's her blurb for the back cover:  There were spiky dinosaurs and loud dinosaurs and dinosaurs as tall as the highest trees.  There were dinosaurs for Bruce and dinosaurs for Bailey and dinosaurs for everyone else.  But there wasn't one for me...

In the end, Tara's hero Henry gets his dinosaur, but not without trials.  Planning the page-by-page artwork, practising drawing techniques and finishing the book were also not without trials - a common experience for all the Year 8 students, judging by their talks which I attended last Thursday night.  Most spoke of last-minute dramas and the helping efforts of heroic parents.  Tara talked of how she had seriously under-estimated the difficulties of making a picture book.  I can relate to that experience, and although Tara thought she was receiving inspiration from me, I was equally inspired by her.  Listening to the talks, for the first time I realised that several of my friends were also mentors for Tarremah students - scientific friend Cherie had taught cheese making; glass artists Ruth and Merinda had taught kilnworking techniques; animator Rex had helped with computer animation.  I would really recommend doing this to anyone who is asked.  Tara's great enthusiasm and fresh ideas brought a lot of fun to my studio, and I am very proud to have my own signed-by-the-author copy of 'A Day With The Dinosaurs'.

Well done Tara!!

Monday, July 18, 2016

What I did in Fiji

Dawn at Navutu Bay in the Yasawas
Bula! Bula!

I've just blown in on the gale after two sun-soaked weeks in the former Cannibal Isles, now surely the most friendly and welcoming archipelago in the world ... Fiji.  I've never visited there before, but I hope to go back soon and often.  It's a ravishing, extravagantly lovely place, even five months after Cyclone Winston.  Most of the places we visited had suffered damage to homes, vegetation and the reef, even loss of life or livelihood.  Trees were stripped bare and uprooted, and extensive areas of reef were destroyed.  But the trees are in fresh leaf, new outcrops of colourful coral are blooming on dead grey shelves, and the Fijian spirit seems unstoppable.  One local explained to us how lucky it was that the cyclone had only devastated half of Fiji, so that the other half could help them.
Taiwai weaves a palm leaf basket at Navutu

Placing palm leaf baskets filled with fish and other meats on the lovo
Community spirit is very strong in Fiji, and much of our pleasure in going there came from meeting the locals and other travellers from Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US.  Although some of the places we visited were very remote, others had an astonishing traffic of ferries, sea-planes, cruise ships, dive boats and dinghies.  Fijians clearly enjoy life and their own identity immensely, love to celebrate, and will play the guitar and sing to you at the drop of a hat.  The arts are a natural part of community life and everybody's birthright.  It costs nothing to arrange hibiscus flowers or weave a palm leaf mat, so why not decorate?  As for the food, their perfectly cooked meals of fresh fish, chicken, and pork with root vegetables, fruit and coconuts - sometimes cooked in the lovo, a bed of hot coals on which food is laid in palm leaf baskets, covered and buried in sand - are only too huge and delicious, and I came back 2.5 kg heavier.
Walu for dinner!

In the Yasawas, we witnessed the arrival of a newly acquired dive boat.  As it appeared in the passage between islands, all the men from the resort leapt into tinnies and roared out to escort it in.  The women lined the shore, laughing, clapping, singing sonorously and waving banners.  As the decorated fleet approached, we saw standing in the prows of two beaten-up tinnies a pair of stern Fijian warriors with folded arms, wearing nothing but body paint and grass skirts.  Much hilarity from the women.  Suddenly and dramatically all the men dived into the water, rushed up the beach and chased the women, who fled screaming delightedly.  Then they all returned, the women piled into the new boat singing, and off it went for a maiden voyage around the island.  (In fact the boat was so heavily laden we feared its maiden voyage might also be its last, but all went well.)  The kava bowl stood ready on the mat for all and sundry, and drums were beaten.  I'm thinking of developing a similar ritual in Australia for when we get a new family car... minus the water, of course.

I admit to being very relaxed but I did put in some effort and, as well as helping Taiwai with the palm leaf basket above, with Mark's help I constructed 'Birdie', a sculpture made entirely from found beach materials on the island of Ono:
'Birdie' at Mai Dive on Ono
Birdie was quite popular with the staff and guests, many of whom wanted to know what kind of bird she was.  People variously guessed her to be a chicken, a heron and a roadrunner.  Personally I hadn't thought quite so concretely, but thought she was rather stylish and clearly knew a thing or two.

We were in the water every day and visited some superb coral gardens replete with smartly dressed fish.  In the Yasawas we went for a night snorkel to check out the reef night life.  It seemed to be mainly jellyfish.  'Don't worry,' said the guide airily, 'they don't sting.'  This proved approximate: they didn't sting much, or perhaps they didn't sting by local standards.

Shallow reef at Paradise Cove in the Yasawas
Getting an overview of our next snorkelling site

Sunset on the reef
Leaving the Mamanucas
When you leave Fiji, the locals sing you a song called 'Isa Lei'.  As explained to us by a Fijian, 'Isa Lei' means many things including good-bye, love, happiness and sadness.  Here is an English translation given to us of the version they sang to us when we left Navutu Bay.

Isa, Isa you are my only treasure;
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken?
As the roses will miss the sun at dawning,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.

Isa, Isa, my heart was filled with pleasure,
From the moment I heard your tender greeting;
'Mid the sunshine, we spent the hours together,
Now so swiftly those happy hours are fleeting.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.

Farewell, Navutu Bay
O'er the ocean your island home is calling,
Happy country where roses bloom in splendour;
O, if I could but journey there beside you,
Then forever my heart would sing in rapture.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O, forget not, when you're far away
Precious moments beside dear Navutu Bay.

 Farewell and vinaka, dear Fiji.. we'll be back.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


I've been eco-dyeing with my friend Sophia.  This is my first attempt - last night, we dyed pieces of cotton fabric, but Sophia also does beautiful work with new wool and silk fabrics.  I can't divulge any trade secrets, but you can see that different eucalypt leaves figure prominently.  The leaves print with astonishing clarity right down to the veins, thanks to their own natural pigments.  The colours can vary from soft greens and greys through to browns and quite intense reds.

Getting the dye right requires a lot of experimentation, which luckily I didn't have to do, as Sophia has done the hard work.  I'm happy to say, though, that in the past I did the experimental work with glass, and Sophia made things in my kiln, so the creative exchange has come full circle.  I'm not sure what I'll do with my pieces, which are long runners - I'll probably make a pair of wall hangings.

I also went to life drawing in the morning.  It's hard to say which was more fun.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

On being without a generational identity

This week, I thought I'd try my hand at a folk song - something really moving about the past.  How hard can it be, right?  I've dug deep and drawn on my own personal tragedy, i.e. being born in the gap between two much-studied generations.  If you can believe it, for most of my life I've been excluded from any major demographic, which comes in handy because no ads are directed at me, although lately some busybody tried to lump me in with the tail end of the baby boomers... such nonsense.  I don't have a tune for this song and I can't sing or play the guitar, so I'm looking out for talent.  Send your demo here!

Here's what I've got so far:


I missed my chance at the baby boom -
The Fifties were gone when I entered the room.
Gen X came next but I didn't get in
No one wanted to own me as kin.
Other folks know where they belong
But I was born with my timing wrong:
When they say I'm nothing, I laugh and shrug
I don't see why they should be so smug.

What could be worse than baby boomers?
Greedy, selfish over-consumers!
Started as hippies and rock'n'rollers
Now they're old with gold in their molars.
They grabbed it all and left none for us
We got to the stop and they'd stolen the bus.
Lawless, clueless, bra-less brats -
Yeah, my elder siblings are just like that.

And I can't say much in favour of X-ers
So gender-neutral, you can't tell what their sex is.
Sensitive, educated, wimpy and wet
Just how soft can a generation get?
Trampled on by their parents and kids
No, I wouldn't be Gen X for quids.
They just lie down and act like a mat!
Yeah, my younger siblings are just like that.

It's sad they're all too young or old
I give advice, but they won't be told.
It's not their fault they're unfit for this earth -
The accident was one of birth.
Perfectly poised on history's pivot
Out on my own and I don't care a divot
Hurrah for being generation-free
The apogee of demography's ME.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A sense of proportion

This week's illustration is for Ray Kelley, who writes:

A Disproportionary Tale

Child, hear what happened when young Bess
Played with her yo-yo to excess.
She spurned her doll and teddy bear
To take that 'cool spool' everywhere;
All day she spun it to and fro
With dazzling skill, prestissimo.
In time this caused (to her alarm)
Enlargement of her yoyo arm
To freakish length as well as girth,
Until her knuckles grazed the earth
On that side, and she looked skew-whiff...
Time to take out your handkerchief
For Bess, who nevermore will spin
Her yo-yo out, and reel it in.
Child, overuse of natural talents
Throws you completely out of balance.

Very true, Dad.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Life drawing has started again in South Hobart

A quick post to say that after a Christmas break, life drawing has started again on Tuesdays in South Hobart - see the LHS of the blog for details.  Today's model was Rob.  A perfect face for Anthony van Dyck to paint!  Alas, he didn't come along, so we just did what we could. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Life drawing Tuesday

Today's life drawing session in South Hobart was packed.  Everyone drew well and there was lively discussion due to the full house.  Our model, Alfred, was so popular that we asked him to return and sit for his portrait another day.  If you're looking for life drawing in Hobart, dates and location for sessions are on the left hand side of the blog.

I find this is a form of study I can't do without.  I can throw the drawings away (and do! by the thousand) but the knowledge remains in my mind.  Sometimes by looking through old drawings I find just the right gesture.  In the drawing on the left, I wanted to capture the way Alfred held his head.  Having only a short time to draw is best, as the quickly drawn lines keep their vitality.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Millions of cats (well, quite a lot)

I'm practising cats.  They're always good in illustrations, but my memory of cat shapes and movement has faded - so I've been flicking through breeding manuals to remind myself of all the fabulous varieties of cat shape, colour, furriness and character.  Like the old man in Wanda Gag's famous 1928 picture book, 'Millions of Cats', I find all cats beautiful and think nothing could be nicer than a whole hillside of them.  (Did Wanda write this book in order to give herself the chance to draw millions of cats, I wonder?)

Another fabulous cat picture book, which I saved from my grandmother's house and have pored over (haha) regularly since early childhood, is the gorgeous 'Blossom Finds A Home' by Joan Cass (1963), illustrated by William Stobbs.  Using simple, flat printed blocks of colour over stylized dry-brush black and white drawings, Stobbs perfectly captured the different characters - mischievous, gracious, scruffy, pathetic, mean - and adventures of a group of cats living around the docks of a UK seaside town.  I was completely fascinated by the little world he created with barges, fish and chip shops, milk bottles, fried kippers, fish skeletons, cobblestones and bits of rubbish blowing in the wind.  For a long time I was unable to find out anything about this book, but there are now a few copies on Amazon (quite pricey too).  Stobbs, as it turns out, was the head of design at the London School of Printing and Kindred Trades in the 1950's, and won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1959 for his work on two other books.  Well, bless him!  I learnt to draw cats from the Blossom book, and still find myself unintentionally drawing a Stobbs cat from time to time.

Cat, must you scratch?
I'm no match for your claws.
Here, break my string of beads;
Give me fleas. Yawn. Take pause.
Here's a sunpatch sized for you.
Stare me down. Get coy.
Bend me to your will.
Cat, make me your toy.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Be in a Jane Austen novel

If you're in Hobart this Saturday evening (23rd May) and want to feel like you're in a Jane Austen novel, come along to the Grand Regency Ball and Harp Concert at 7.30 pm at the Hobart Town Hall. The Ball is a fundraiser for the Harp Society, who have been invited to perform at a harp festival in France in 2016.  Regency costume is 'admired but not required' (I've been looking out my pearls, fan and shawl), there will be beer and mulled wine available, and everyone is asked to bring a plate of supper to share. Tickets are $25.  The Harp Society will provide the music and the dances will be called so you know what to do, but if you'd like to learn the dances in advance, there's a workshop on Saturday afternoon from 2-4 pm at Wesley Hall in Melville St for $8 each.  The recently rediscovered Mundy's Quadrille will be taught at the workshop only, and those who know it can dance it at the ball.  (I just keep thinking of the Lobster Quadrille, but maybe I'm up for it...)
This is a photo of last year's regency ball to get you in the mood.  You can come cross-dressed or as the downstairs help if you like.  Find your Mr Darcy and put on your dancing shoes!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New book, new studio... new poem...

Hello!  My long blogging silence has been due, not to idleness on the artistic front, but to having FAR TOO MUCH to do - just the way I like it.  First of all, I'm happy to say that this year I'll be working on a new book project with a wonderful Australian publisher... the details being secret at this time due to superstition, discretion and a desire to drive people mad with suspense... but all will be revealed when we get closer to publication.  It will take about two years to get the book out, and I can't post any of the artwork, so for the rest of the year I plan to write wildly irrelevant poems and put them on the blog with pictures.

In celebration of the new project, I've rented a thoroughly Parisian share studio up in the top corner of the historical McCann's music building in town.  The studio is a very well lit room actually containing the gold dome (our kitchen!) with its porthole opening onto a fabulous view of snow-covered Mt Wellington.  From the other windows, I can see everything happening up and down Elizabeth and Melville Streets - just perfect for a children's book illustrator.  It's also freezing, which completes the Parisian garret feel and is what we artists deserve for not getting a real job.  My fellow renter is Yolanda Zarins, who brightens my workdays with her beautiful textile art and habit of bringing in bits of vegetation, not to mention milk for our tea.  We have a birds' eye view of people smoking on the roof of the nearby multilevel carpark, laundry hanging on rooftops and in back alleys, fire engines, parking inspectors - hang on, that's MY car...

In honour of my ascension to such heights, here's a poem about an unfortunate young woman.

Selina Potts was so polite
That everything she said was trite.
She climbed a steeple with a bell
Got tangled in a rope, and fell.
Her last words (heard above the chime)
Were: 'Golly gosh, is that the time?'

You can see that, although she is plummeting alarmingly, Selina's expression remains fairly dispassionate and her dress is quite tidy.  A model child.