My photo
Hello, and welcome to my art blog from Tasmania, Australia. I've spent time as a plant geneticist, teacher's assistant, painter, glass artist and book illustrator. I'm usually in the studio, the classroom or the lab. If you'd like to see more, please try the links to my folio page or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Exhibition at Kingston LINC in February

Please drop by and see my exhibition of illustrated poems at the very nice Kingston LINC in February (starts 1st Feb, ends 28th Feb.)  The poems are mostly funny and short, and were written by Ray Kelley (thanks, Dad!) and myself.  The illustrations are all new, as I've done them specially for the exhibition.  The three shown here are for the poems Such Darling Dodos, A Bit Thick, and Please Vacate the Boardwalk for the Wombat (this last is rather a long ballad about the hazards of Tasmanian bushwalking, too long to fit in the display cabinet, but I hope to fit the picture in.) 

My work will be in the foyer cabinet and there will be works by other illustrators on display around the library, including some lovely pictures by my friend, Andrea Potter.

Here's a taster of one of the poems:

Wake in Fright

Into my midnight roof the bison drill
Their hooves in a stampede to wake the dead;
And I'm the one dead to the world, until
They jolt me from my bed.

"It's not a herd of beasts, it's only one,"
My wife assures me, as I quake in fear.
"To reach his tree he has to take a run --
It's just our possum, dear."

Ray Kelley

Sunday, July 2, 2017

National Tree Days: 28th and 30th July

Australia's National Tree Day is coming on Sunday 30th July, preceded by Schools Tree Day on Friday 28th July. 

National Tree Day brings together communities to plant and care for trees, particularly native vegetation.  You can join a pre-existing event, register an event, enter a schools competition and/or share Tree Day stories.  You can even take a photo of your dog with a tree to enter the 'Dogs Love Trees' competition.  Get involved by visiting the National Tree Day website.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival

I picked up a program yesterday for the fifth Bay of Fires Winter Arts Festival (June 10-12).

It sounds like a hoot.  Apart from the annual Bay of Fires Art Prize (a cool $20,000 in prize money), there will be an arts market, workshops (including Rubbish to Art, Plein Air Landscape and Make A Zombie Keychain), open studios and gardens, live music and a BBQ competition.

Actually, there are so many good things on that I can't decide which to do.  Plein Air Landscape is off the agenda.  This is Tasmania in winter, people!  Rubbish to Art is tempting.  The open gardens have potted plants and worm juice for sale.  The Beer Blues BBQ is a must-do.  Barbecuing has become a form of performance art in Tasmania, with slow-cookin', smokin' mobile BBQ artists travelling to championships around the state.  The BBQ prize money is $5,500, which is more than you get for illustrating a book.  The only aggravating thing about BBQ competitions is that you can smell the meat, but you can't eat it.  The judges eat it.  However, apparently there will be catering for the masses at this particular event.

Then there's the flaming torch closing ceremony on the beach at St Helens, culminating in the lighting of a communal fire pot.  Who could resist that?

I didn't do this picture of Bean and Carrot-Top specially for the Bay of Fires Art Prize, but you can see the bay in the background.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Earth Day eco-dyes

Silk dyed with Tasmanian eucalypts
Yesterday was Earth Day everywhere on the planet.  I went to the March for Science in Hobart.  We didn't actually march, but we showed up to support facts, reason, research, scientific literacy for everyone, funding for science, and the use of scientific evidence to inform political decisions.  We showed up to support using our brains.  We showed up to support thinking and education and objectivity.  These things are not really admired any more.  Still, people showed up in droves, all around the world.  Hallelujah!

While I was at the rally, a scientific experiment was happening in my kitchen.  I wrapped a large piece of silk with some fresh leaves of Eucalyptus morrisbyi, a very rare endemic eucalypt from southern Tasmania, and let it boil in plain water for a couple of hours.  (The leaves were from a planted specimen.)  I wanted to try this species because it is closely related to Eucalyptus cordata, the Tasmanian silver gum.  To my amazement, I learnt recently that Eucalyptus cordata - which is also rare and endemic to southern Tasmania - is renowned globally as a dye plant.  I had no idea of this when I named my blog after it back in 2010.  I've always thought it the most beautiful of eucalypts, but I am a little biased because I did about ten years of genetic research on it, and have seen all of its natural populations, including pure tall stands on cold mountains with shining crowns of silver leaves. 

Eucalyptus morrisbyi print
Turmeric and blackberry dyes
You can see from the top photo that Eucalyptus cordata gives heart-shaped red leaf prints when silk is wrapped around it and boiled in plain water.  Eucalyptus morrisbyi gives much softer, more subtle prints, although with work I may be able to improve this.

I also tried my hand at wrapping fabric in the Japanese shibori method and dyeing with powdered turmeric and wild blackberry.  The turmeric is very easy to use and gives a bright yellow within 20 minutes on cotton muslin.  Blackberry (with a dash of vinegar) is a little more challenging, but the fabric can be soaked in the dye in a glass jar in the sun for a few days to take up the colour.

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!!