Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Comic Book Funny

Well, the Hamlet backgrounds are DONE! And have been safely delivered to the wonderful people at Allen & Unwin so they can have them professionally scanned. I also had a fruitful talk with A&U's super-designer, Bruno, to nut out the techno-mysteries of Photoshop modes, colour profiles, scanning and printing. It's a great relief to get these things sorted at the start of a project (well, it's sort of the start - if you call a year's worth of preparatory work the start...) rather than in a state of nailbiting-will-this-work?-horror at the end.

Gatsby was my Photoshop initiation, and as such I had no idea of what kind of pitfalls might open up in front of the innocent scribbler accustomed to nothing more technical than the angle of her steel nib. I did lots of things the long, hard way, and probably took a couple of years off super-editor Jodie's life with the "surprises" that arose when we tried to get my electronic files ready for print. It all worked out in the end, of course, but neither of us needs to go through that kind of suspense again!

So with the backgrounds under my belt, I'm really really looking forward to painting actual characters - in fact, to painting anything that doesn't involve thousands of tiny repetitive patterns, dots, circles, tiles...

In other news, some of us comic types are showing off at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, in a series of panels, live scribbles and exhibitions. It's called Comic Book Funny, it's on for three more Saturdays, and it's free! Here's a short article about it from The Age, featuring Comic Book Funnyman extraordinaire and organiser-of-the-show David Blumenstein, along with this little Bug. Note how I am laughing hysterically in the photo while David just looks cool.

Details for Comic Book Funny:
Saturdays 29 March, 6 April and 12 April - 4pm
Bella Union Bar
Trades Hall
Cnr Victoria and Lygon Streets
South Carlton.

And here's what David says about it:

Stand-up comedy is lovely, but it’s got a Twilight Zone-style mirror world which lives on paper and feeds on ink: the world of the underground cartoonist.

Australia’s vigorous community of independent comic book makers spend their days as clerks, shopgirls, students, teachers, ad artists, animators and telemarketers. By night the spotlight drops onto their drawing boards and their pens and brushes come out to play.

Their work is angry, scatological, satiric, whimsical and just plain funny.

Comic Book Funny is a series of free events presenting the often hilarious, occasionally touching and always purchasable works of Australia’s funniest comics auteurs -- the print analogue to the rest of the Comedy Festival.

Drop by the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall each Saturday at 4pm and you’ll meet a few more talented cartoonists. See their wares! Ask them questions! Drink with them! Admire their ink-stained fingers!

Featuring Australia’s best and funniest cartoonists: Gerard Ashworth, Neale Blanden, David Blumenstein, Bernard Caleo, Pat Grant, Nicki Greenberg, Ben Hutchings, Dean Rankine, Glenn Smith, Ross Tesoriero, Andrew Weldon and more!

David Blumenstein and Ben Hutchings will be podcasting local comics talk and general silliness during the festival, at

Monday, March 24, 2008


Here's a close-up of some of the detail from the latest Hamlet background. It's smaller in real life (on an A3 piece of paper), and boy, did those little tiles take a long time to paint!

This picture is, of course, inspired by the amazing "trencadis" (broken tile) mosaic work of Antoni Gaudi. As shown in these snaps taken on our visit to Barcelona three years ago:
(ceiling detail from "marketplace" in Parc Guell)

(more ceiling work in Parc Guell)

(roof detail, Casa Batllo)

Imagine the work of placing all those tiles together on such an enormous scale... passion plus vision plus painstaking process... Contemplating work like Gaudi's is my version of a religious experience.

Sigh! The wonders of Barcelona. I miss it very much. I miss seeing art and architecture like this almost as much as I miss home-cured anchovies and bocadillos con fuet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gatsby talk at The Pines Library Thursday 20 March

In all the recent rushing I forgot to mention that I'm doing another library chat-and-slideshow about making Gatsby. It's tomorrow night, Thursday 20 March, at The Pines Library in East Doncaster. The fine people from Angus & Robertson will be there selling books, and there will be snacks, I believe.

Thursday 20 March, 6.30 pm
The Pines Library
Corner Reynolds and Blackburn Roads
Doncaster East
Bus from Melbourne CBD: number 304

It's a pretty odd time to organise such an event - the evening before the Easter long weekend. But then, my last library gig was on Valentines Day... Soon people will think I have no life.

Actually, it seems quite possible that I've left some vital components of my life on one of the six budget airline flights that I've taken in the past few weeks. All that travel has worn me out, and I'm looking forward desperately to a quiet long weekend with the Big Squid. Ok, with the Big Squid and my acrylic inks.

And they say I don't know how to take a holiday...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ravens and graves

Here's a detail from the graveyard background for Hamlet - probably the most literal of the backgrounds in both colouring and layout. I wanted this set to look bright and springlike, as a foil for the sadness of Ophelia's untimely, flower-strewn death, and also because the brightness suits the gravediggers' comedy routine at the start of the scene. The colours and the shape of the little flowers were very much inspired by that Vittorio Zecchin image from the Thousand and One Nights - and I think it could probably do with even more of the flowers creeping up over the gravestones.

Ravens and graveyards seem to go together in the ominous imagination, so it's apt that I received this excellent news last week: The Great Gatsby has been selected as a "White Raven" for the 2008 Bologna Book Fair!

As my wonderful publisher explained: "This means that it is one of the 250 outstanding new international books for children and young adults that have been selected for The White Ravens 2008 from the thousands of books that the International Youth library in Munich received as review copies from publishers, authors, illustrators, and organisations from all over the world from the last calendar year. The books for this exhibition will be displayed at the International Youth Library stand at the Bologna Children's Book Fair."


Sunday, March 9, 2008

An absolute rose

"An absolute rose" is something Daisy calls Nick in The Great Gatsby. It's also what this accidental sculpture made me think of. Pity about my blurry, camera-jiggling flashless photography, but I rather like the idea. It's sitting on my desk, saved from the bin by its rosy appeal.

The ink has been in play this week and I've finished another of the Hamlet backgrounds, but I'm very weary thanks to a bunch of interstate trips crammed into a short time. Hopefully this next couple of days will be a good reviver before I head off once again on Wednesday to go to the Somerset Celebration of Literature - a writers festival focusing on childrens and young adult literature. Should be fun!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gimme texture!

Today I've been playing with watercolour paints on good quality Arches watercolour paper. I am spectacularly bad with watercolours (although, like all beginners, I have the occasional lucky break) - but I love the luminosity of the colours, and most especially, I love the look of the texture of the paper.

The whole business of stretching watercolour paper is quite fiddly. My first attempts failed, as the masking tape I used to tape the soaked sheets to any portable flat surface I could find (the glass on framed paintings, a rubber cutting board, an old cupboard door and two baking trays!) failed to stick. So back into the bath went all the (very buckled) paper, and I tried again with that unbelievably sticky gummed artists tape. For the record, even that doesn't stick to non-stick baking trays!

Anyway, this morning I attacked a few of my stretched sheets with reckless abandon and painted some big splodgy things that are supposed to be clouds. The results are pretty ugly, though there are little sections that look slightly pleasing. The thing I liked best was that when I scanned one of these sections on my amazing super-dooper new scanner (Epson Perfection V500 Photo... mmmmm...), you could see all the lovely textured tooth of the paper in the scanned image.

This got me thinking about a way to tweak my Hamlet backgrounds a little. Of course they are hand-painted, but they're done on W&N's lovely smooth cartridge - and when scanned, the colours look just a little bit flat. So this afternoon I made my first ever texture to use in Photoshop, by scanning a blank sheet of that beautiful Arches watercolour paper.

I applied the texture to a test scan of one of the Hamlet backgrounds, and - presto! - the result looks like this (note - this is enlarged. The actual image, and therefore the grain, is smaller):

I'm delighted with the effect - it just adds a nice organic touch to the image, and reminds you that it is made of paint on paper. I'll probably play with the direction of the texture lighting a bit, too, and see what looks most natural. Funny how a layer of technological intervention is required to create an organic, "real" feeling of paint, when the original image most definitely is paint on paper!

It's a huge time-eater, this business of tweaking pictures in Photoshop. I actually try and avoid doing it wherever possible, because the temptation can be to massage everything until it either melts into goo or looks terribly artificial. The trick is knowing when to stop - preferably sooner rather than later.

Seasoned photoshop people probably know how to make textures already, but for those who don't (like me until 15 minutes ago), it is super easy:

  1. Scan your textured material, or take a photo. I scanned my paper at 600dpi, in colour, and lowered the brightness a bit.
  2. Convert it to grayscale.
  3. Save it as a psd file.
  4. To apply the texture to a layer in another image, have that image open in RGB mode. Go to Filter > texture > texturiser. In the drop-down of texture styles, pick "load texture" and just browse and find your texture. Then you can fiddle with the depth, lighting etc
Cool! Even a Photoshop puddler like me can do it!

Now I think it's time to put those baking trays to the purpose for which they were intended - I'm going to make a batch of vegetarian pasties!