Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In the closet

Here's the latest of the Hamlet backgrounds - Queen Gertrude's closet. The photo doesn't really convey the depth of the colours properly - they look richer in real life. Secret internal places, heavy, dripping velvet, muffling, suffocating lushness... these are the things I want to suggest. I also wanted this image to contrast with the cold, calculating-but-vertiginous sense of the King's room.

Call me unsympathetic, but I don't like Gertrude at all. She's sloppy and oozy and easily led. In my more searching, objective moments I wonder why I am quite so harsh on the old slapper. And I suspect that women's cruel judgements of one another may have a trace of insecurity in them: we hate what we fear could be lurking somewhere in us as well.

Compared to the other paintings, each of which took days and days of painstaking patterning, this one was done surprisingly quickly. And I did surprise myself with looser, easier, bigger brush strokes. For this I have to thank the wonderful Terry Denton, children's author and illustrator, and painter, with whom I spent a lovely time at the Perth Writers Festival last week. Terry showed me his sketchbook full of beautiful, loose-and-lively sketches, all splashed with vivid watercolours. They were amazing, and inspired me to set aside a bit more time for playing with colour and wet media. More immediately (because of course I pushed play aside and pounced obsessively onto Hamlet as soon as I hit Melbourne), he inspired me to try a slightly less "controlled" style for Gertrude's chamber. Ok, I'm not exactly flinging the ink about with abandon here, but compared to the extreme control of every milimetre in the other pictures, this one is quite spontaneous! And I enjoyed it immensely.

Here it is at a much earlier stage. I really like looking at work in progress, which is why I've started snapping a few pictures along the way:
In other, much more dramatic and exciting news, my mega-talented cousin, Eva Orner, won the Oscar for best documentary for her film Taxi to the Dark Side. And she called the US government war criminals. She is such a star!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Being green... and heading out West

Here's the fourth of my Hamlet backgrounds. While this is in some ways the simplest one so far, it was actually quite tricky to do - not least because after a few hours all those circles cease to look like cute little wasabi peas and start to pull weird optical illusion-type tricks on the eyes.

Painting all those dots gave me plenty of time to think about the connotations of particular shades of green. Green is traditionally thought to represent poison - perhaps because arsenic was used to make green pigments. And of course green is the colour of envy. It's the colour of many, many lovely things as well - not least being my first love, Kermit - but for this picture (the King's private rooms) I wanted to choose shades of green that suggested bitterness, poison, scheming, envy and unwholesomeness. So if you feel a bit queasy just looking at this image, then all is as it should be.

Here's a detail, which is quite pretty (but please excuse my blurry flashless photography):

Once again, those opaque acrylic inks amaze me. I originally painted a few other props into this picture, which took me ages because they involved lots of fidldy colour and detail. But I then decided that I didn't like them at all. These inks have such good opacity, and therefore covering power, that I just painted over the top of the unwanted items with my background green, painted some more wasabi peas over the top, and - magic!- you can't even see the joins.

However, after all that, my eyes were doing something very like this:

In other news, on Wednesday this week I'm off to the Perth Writers Festival, which is part of the Perth International Arts Festival. It looks like a fabulous program, and I've never been to Western Australia, so I'm looking forward to it very much. I'll be talking about Gatsby in a couple of sessions for older students in the schools program, and will be on two panels in the general program.

So hand me my party frock - I'm going West!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Doing anything on Valentines Day?

I'm doing a talk about Gatsby at the Port Philip / St Kilda Library this Thursday 14 February at 7 pm. So if you're not going to be sitting in a restaurant buying odourless cellophane-wrapped roses from wandering rose sellers, feel free to join me. The details (from the library website) are:

Graphic novelist talk - Nicki Greenberg and The Great Gatsby

Nicki Greenberg is a comic artist and illustrator who has recently produced an acclaimed graphic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Join Nicki for a discussion and presentation about the process of creating this faithful adaptation of Fitzgerald's jazz-age classic.

Where: St Kilda Library
Date: Thursday, February 14
When: 7-8pm
Bookings: required - 92096655

This is a FREE event

Light refreshments will be supplied

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A massy wheel

Here's a picture that took longer than I expected:
I'm very pleased with it, and especially happy with the perspective. I was aiming for a picture that suggested a certain depth and perspective, but whose elements were not actually "fixed" in space. In particular, I wanted some ambiguity about how near or far each wheel was to the viewer. In retrospect, this idea makes me think of Dali's Galatea of the Spheres:

Now there's a good way to feel inadequate: to view one's work next to that of Dali! Anyway, the detail was a killer, and just got more and more time-consuming. Here's my starting point, when I thought I could knock the picture over in a week:

As with the other Hamlet backgrounds, this was painted with liquid acrylic inks - my new favourite medium - on Winsor & Newton cartridge paper. Very pleased to report that my favourite paper is available once again, through the good people at The Art Shop online. Yay!

And now I'd better make up for all that time that got ground to dust between those wheels, and get back to the drawing desk!

Monday, February 4, 2008


On Saturday we had the good fortune to trip over the Linden Postcard Show in St Kilda. This is an exhibition of over 2,000 smallish-size artworks which cover every room of Linden Gallery from floor to ceiling once a year. Anyone can enter (for a small fee) and the result is a truly eye-popping variety of work. Prizes are awarded, and I was delighted to find that my mega-talented friend and fellow comic art grrl Jo (Josephine) Waite (no website, but her work is on Facebook) had won a prize for the second year in a row for one of her beautiful insect girl watercolours. Jo's painting will appear on one of Linden's postcards. Congratulations Madame Jo!

The works are all for sale, mostly at very accessible prices. I was inclined to buy something, but was too overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of pictures, and the gallery closed for the evening before I could make up my mind. Many of my favourites (including Jo's winning entry) had already been snapped up, too, within just a few hours of the show opening.

On the variety theme (sort of), last week I received copies of the Canadian edition of Gatsby! The book is published over there by Penguin Canada, and they have produced it in paperback rather than hardback. And it looks fabulous! They've used a slick, slightly glossy paper for the pages (Allen & Unwin produced the book with a lovely creamy matte paper). I had no say in Penguin's design choices, as I have not dealt with them directly, so this was a surprise for me - and as it turns out, a very pleasant one.

Glossy paper is not something that I would have thought to choose - I would have imagined it would be all wrong for the vintage photo album feel. But in paperback format it actually works really well - perhaps because it makes the pictures look so crisp and solid, and makes the pages feel very substantial. When you open the book, the extreme blackness of the black and the vividness of the sepia (colour is more vivid and bright on the glossy paper) really jump out at you. They've also given it a matte cover, which I like very much.

So I am very happy with it - though there is one little aspect that could perhaps have been done better. Some elements of the design on the back cover have been jostled around to fit the marginally smaller cover size, and this looks like it was done in a bit of a rush. Zoe Sadokierski, the superb designer who did the original cover, took the most wonderful care over every aspect of the design, but some of her beautiful work has been treated a bit carelessly by whoever did the rejigging - there are chunky drop-shadows, a "ghost" shadow that has appeared on top of an image, and some odd resizing. I suspect that noone will actually notice these things (especially if they haven't seen the original Australian edition), but it does alert me to the need to keep an eye on such changes! Call me picky, but I think it's important to treat design with care.

Spot the difference:

Finally, before I get back to work on the Hamlet backgrounds, an event coming up this week:

This Thursday 7 February the Belgrave Library is launching their new graphic novel collection, with hundreds of just-purchased volumes available for borrowing. I have been asked to come and launch the collection, and to give a talk about Gatsby and the process of making a graphic novel. Slow Glass Books will also be there selling various comic delights. Belgrave is a fair hike from the city, but for those who fancy a trip, the details are:

Thursday 7 February, 7pm
Belgrave Library
Reynolds Lane, Belgrave, 3160.
Melways Ref: 75 F10 (map here)

Right, now back to work!