Welcome to my blog! Here you'll find many samples of my finished art, conceptual work, unpublished material, and other miscellaneous jobs. You can find a complete list of my published books at this link.

I currently have signed copies of THE GREAT MONTEFIACO, WHACKO THE CHOOK, THE PUMPKIN EATER FROM PONDICHERRY, and THE SHIKKER COLA COWS available for purchase. For more info, please contact me at whackothechook@internode.on.net


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

SMECK: Part III

Once all the characters were completed, I got to work on Smeck’s island home, along with an assortment of small props to go with it.




The island was made from styrofoam, wire mesh, air-drying clay, and paper magiclay. The palm fronds are wire and layered paper.

I tried a few different methods to create the illusion of rippling water — plastic bags, satin fabric, etc. I even tried cutting and pasting the water in photoshop, which looked okay but felt like too much work later on. It was this experiment however which help form a template for the look and colour of the rest of the book —


In the end I settled on large sheets of painted paper and varnish for the water, and a painted sky backdrop I used for nearly every photo.


The two things which filled me with excitement and dread simultaneously, was the Sea Thingy and the Pirate ship. I had always expected I’d find a cheap and easy alternative to making these; I tried realising them as painted cut-outs, but I just couldn’t get excited about that. I needed them to be as dramatic as possible, as they do mark crucial highlights in the story.

I had to at least make the Sea Thingy as a sculpture. But making him to scale with the other characters (which ranged from about 2” high to 7” or more) was out of the question. I didn’t have the space, funds, or ability to make it 2 or more metres big, so I reduced his size to about half. I set to work making a solid armature from hard wire, bulked it up with putty and styrofoam, then set about sculpting with air-drying clay for the solid bits, but for the parts that needed to be posable (the eye region) I used silk and Paperclay. The shell was made from clay and plaster of paris. The tentacles, of which I made only two (and multiplied later with the help of photoshop), were made from thick aluminium wire, and hobby fill kept in place with string. The skin was made from silk with a thin layer of Paperclay, which was flexible enough to allow the tentacles to be posed in any position. He took 2 months to complete.





I wish I had documented the stages photographically as I was making this character, but as time was in short supply I didn’t have time to document much at all. For the whole book there is very little in the way of photographs showing my process.

The ‘Rag n Bone’. That is the name I gave the Pirate Ship. It is cockney rhyming slang for a toilet (‘the throne’). A toilet was my starting point for the design of the ship. Why a toilet? There is often an association made between spiders and outdoor toilets, so it seemed appropriate that it’s captain, a big hairy spider, should live in and commandeer an old dirty toilet.

I left the ship until last. It filled me with panic every time I thought about it. I knew making it would take a long time out of my schedule. I pondered long and hard about quick and easy ways to accomplish it, but none of it would do. I remember vividly the moment I went upstairs and broke the news to my wife — “honey, I’m making the ship”. “I don’t want to know” was her response, throwing her arms in the air as she walked away.

For the next two or more months the ship came together very slowly...






I used whatever materials and bits of junk I could find around my studio, and other odds and ends found on roads and footpaths. I started with a mixing bowl for the hull, and added onto it wire meshing, clay, putty, timber, lots of balsa wood, bamboo and dowling for the masts, painted silk for the sails and flags, cardboard, and bits of rusted wire. Super Sculpy was used for the Magritte inspired Mermaid figurehead —





The only thing I can remember buying specifically for the ship was the model ship rigging which I bought from a local hobby shop. I studied a lot of photos and paintings of old ships, I even watched Youtube clips on the subject, just to get an idea of the function of each rope. I also went on board the ship "Notorious" when it docked in Brisbane and took a lot of mental notes. I ended up faking much of it though.


I hadn’t made a model with this level of detail before, so I was flying blind. I made it all up as I went along, inventing different techniques for overcoming problems. For example, for the balustrades that lined the edge of the ship, I secured a drill horizontally onto the bench top with clamps, and using a narrow dowel fastened into the drill one end and slotted into place in a timber block the other end, I had created a miniature makeshift lathe. It worked surprisingly well. A small chisel and creased sandpaper was used to create the grooves. It wasn’t perfect, but it achieved the rough-edged look I was after.

The ship was by far the most challenging and time-consuming of all the props made, but I was very happy I persevered with it. It looks infinitely better than the ship I designed on paper, and painting it two-dimensionally would have been a nightmare. The same could be said about all the characters and props. However, I didn’t make it to scale with the characters, or the Sea Thingy. It was too small for the characters, and too big for the Sea Thingy. It was becoming apparent that Photoshop would play a massive part in the post-photography stage down the track.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, April 3, 2017

SMECK: Part II

Around the time I started the roughs for Smeck, I made a fixed model of it's central character from wire and polymer clay. I made this for basic reference, but it didn't come in handy too often.


Much later, whilst at my wits end from the countless false starts I had already made with the final stages, I found myself sitting at my work table with a roll of aluminium armature wire, some Multi-purpose Putty, newly discovered Paper Magiclay, amongst other bits and pieces of found items. By this stage I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I constructed one of the pirates from the book — the Mosquito.




I painted him with dark tones, then dry brushed on the lighter tones. I really enjoyed the process, and I thought it looked pretty good. So I started on the spectacled Beetle (the ship’s doctor) in the same way, but refining my approach and adding different materials. He also looked pretty good, and in my opinion better than how I had drawn him.



I brought materials to the lunch table at work and pushed to one side the self-consciousness I feel when being watched creating art. Here I was mainly doing the wire armatures, then adding the padding and ‘flesh’ at home. But I started doing everything — armatures, sculpting and painting whenever and wherever I could. I was enjoying the process so much that finally a creative spurt took hold. I no longer needed to warm-up, I could hit the ground running each time I got the materials and equipment out.

I still didn't know why I was doing it this way, at the most I thought they’d make good reference models if I decided to give painting another shot. I was also expecting to get tired of this process before making any significant progress anyway, but before I knew it I was working on more characters.















And so, this creative burst served me for the next 2-3 years. It became a reason to get up every morning. I would hurry to work just so I could squeeze in 30 minutes before 7am. I would be giddy with excitement waiting for lunch time, just so I could keep working on my models. I felt a purpose every day, and I was no longer feeling despair at having thrown away my illustration career for the most mundane of paid jobs.
Still, I didn’t know what on earth I was going to do with these models once they were made. It was assumed I’d photograph them in some way, but that would require large sets, expensive lighting, a fancy camera — things I didn’t possess and areas of expertise I just didn’t have. But the key to getting anything done and to maintain my motivation was to avoid looking at the big picture in any way. My destination was thwart with insurmountable obstacles, that was clear, but if I let this thought be entertained in my mind for too long I would have quickly talked myself out of it. Instead I focussed on the little things, one small model at a time. A part of me was still resigned to the fact that my steam would run out eventually anyway, sooner rather than later. If I called it quits altogether I wouldn't have minded because I was having so much fun making the models anyway. I had learned so much that this experience would have been compensation enough. I was secretly praying the publisher would save me the bother of quitting and just tell me they no longer wanted to publish it, just so I didn’t have to see it through. But my enthusiasm didn’t waiver (not until the absolute final stages anyway), and I kept on chipping away at it ever so slowly.

By the time one year had passed, and I had reached my original deadline, in that time I had created models for the entire pirate crew. There was also Minnie the Mermaid, who was extremely fiddly to make, and the cause of much loud cussing during photography much later on...


And of course there was Smeck, complete with 9 interchangeable heads —






One of the most crucial props made was Smeck's ukulele —


At less than 2cm in length it was very intricate. It was made mainly from cardboard, with strings fashioned from my dog's hair.

But I still had a heap of other things to make.

I told the publisher what I was doing and explained my unideal circumstances, and at the rate I was going I would need yet another year to complete the book. Again, I was secretly praying they would say no to my request and I would have no choice but to abandon this madness. But they didn't. The were more than accommodating. Sigh...


TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

SMECK: Part I

It’s been so long since I made a blog post, I’m not sure how to begin. In posts of the past I’ve covered everything in the process of making picture books that there’s little point in going through all that again — Story, character studies, storyboards, roughs, colour studies, final art, it’s always the same process. I can always refer to these later on if that’s of interest to anybody...


But what sets Smeck apart from anything else I’ve done is my whole approach doing the finished art.

There were a few contributing reasons why I did it this way. The big one was the circumstances in my life at the time of starting the final stages. In 2013 I became a proud dad. With the financial pressures that come with parenthood I decided illustration was no longer a financially viable way to support my family. For almost 15 years I had always just managed to scrape by on my meagre earnings from freelancing, but in the five or more years leading up to 2013 I was finding it particularly difficult. The cost of living was increasing and my income and workload had decreased. It was time for a change. So I got a “real” job.  I became a "Logistics Assistant" (that’s fancy talk for ‘Mailman’).


But having a full time job and being a parent posed a serious hindrance when it came to illustration. I didn’t want to give up on books altogether, but spare time was in critical short supply, and the idea of illustrating a book was extremely daunting and impractical. The problem was I had one contract already signed and committed to, along with another book I had expressed interest in. The first one ‘Smeck’ was one that I had written, and Windy Hollow Books had agreed to publish it thanks to Helen Chamberlin whom I had worked with previously. The other one was for Koala Books (Scholastic). Despite doing a lot of character sketches and roughs for the latter, as I hadn’t signed a contract by that point, I reluctantly declined to proceed with it and focussed solely on my own book.

By mid to late 2013 I had already finished all the rough art, which had been approved by the publisher.


Now, having only weekends at my disposal I commenced the final stage. I was keen to get back into using oil paints, which I had not used since my early books (The Great Montefiasco, Circus Carnivore). Oil paints, to me, are like fine china to be brought out only on special occasions. I love the endless possibilities and the vibrancy of oil paint, and was enjoying working this way, but I soon hit a snag.

Before hand, when I was illustrating full time, I had so much time on my hands that I would procrastinate endlessly. I could sit and stare at blank paper for as long as I needed, patiently waiting for inspiration to come. If it didn’t I’d put a movie on to help, or listen to some music, or watch some other creative person at work on YouTube. I could take a walk in the park and read a book, or just kick a ball for my dog. Eventually, after some time ‘warming up’, it would hit me. A creative burst would spring forth and I would work intensely for hours and hours, not stopping until physical and mental fatigue kicked in. It didn’t always happen like this, but there was that time at my disposal if I needed it.

That is how I used to work.

With my new lifestyle change, there was no longer any room to work in this manner. The weariness that comes with getting up at 4:45am every morning, and working an 8 hour day, then coming home to a young needy child and exasperated wife, along with the mental exhaustion that comes with that, doing any art in my usual fashion was near impossible.

Being a parent has made me realise how precious and how fleeting time is. It’s a trite thing to say I know. But I have learned in the last 3+ years how to squeeze the most out of my day, how to utilise every spare minute. Procrastination has become a dirty word. The internet is perfect for procrastinators, Social Media in particular. I withdrew from social media almost altogether. Blogging and making Facebook posts would just use up my valuable time.

I spent my weekends trying to paint. With the knowledge that no time could be spent ‘warming up’ anymore, I tried to hit the ground running every time I started a painting, and subsequently everything I was producing just plain sucked! I did several paintings and hated them all. I then changed mediums. I tried acrylic, it was worse. I tried pen and ink cross-hatching...


This seemed promising, and I was liking how it was coming along, but I burnt myself out after the billionth line on the third or forth picture completed. What did seem promising about this method, was that I found it easy to get into a rhythm before long. I was also able to work on it in my lunch break and get quite a bit done in short periods of spare time. Before long I began discovering bits of time here and there where I could achieve quite a surprising amount — 20-30 minutes before work, 20 minutes at morning tea, 30-45 minutes at lunch time, 1-2 sometimes 3 hours at night. I even managed to get bits done waiting for the bus in the afternoon, and even on the bus trip home. All this time added up significantly, and I was achieving a lot. However, I was becoming unsatisfied with the end result (though in hindsight, these attempts don't look that bad). I needed to be completely happy with my work and the process, but I had been here before and I was getting bored of the hatching three drawings in. I just didn’t have the motivation to sustain the rest of the book. Furthermore, the book needed to be in colour. I made a few colour experiments in photoshop using a very limited palette, but I just wasn’t sure the publisher would go for it.


I desperately needed to try my hand at something different, something exciting. But what?

I abandoned the line work, and tried other mediums I had less experience in — lead pencil, coloured pencils, oil pastels, even scratchboard.



I was used to starting and restarting artwork with previous projects, but never to this extent. Nothing was working for me. By this stage I was extremely frustrated and on many occasions so very very close to emailing the publisher to say “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. Here’s your advance back, please terminate my contract, I’m done!”.

TO BE CONTINUED...