My Work

Australian Fairy Tale Society

You may have heard of the Australian Fairy Tale Society. You may even be a member – if so, you know how amazing this group of people are. If neither of the following apply to you, then you’re in for a treat.

The AFTS is national society, with branches in several states and territories, that aims “To explore fairy tales through an Australian perspective and to stimulate the creation of Australian interpretations: academic, creative, and performative.”

The society is an incredible mix of academics, artists, storytellers, musicians, writers and fairy tale lovers; a full spectrum of knowledge and enthusiasm that makes for a magical mix.

In a few weeks the AFTS are holding their annual conference, this year in Melbourne at the Glen Era Town Hall, on Saturday June 24th. If you’re remotely interested in Fairy Tales and their influence on our history and culture (and vice versa!), or art, or storytelling, or literature, then this is the where you need to be!

I’ll be up on stage talking about my creative process and previewing new illustrations from the upcoming book Vasilisa The Wise, and selling prints too, including a very limited edition (for now) of a print that won’t otherwise be released until the book is! It’s one of my very favourite illustrations from the Vasilisa, and one that only a few people have seen.

Thankfully I’m up fairly early, so I can listen to the wonderful array of presentations without breathing into a paper bag. Just look at that fantastic line-up! I hope to see you there!

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In addition to the yearly conference, the AFTS produce a bi-monthly ezine, which truly is a wonder to behold. The current issue on Sleeping Beauty comes in at a whopping 60 pages! It includes a round table discussion with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Kate Forsyth & Belinda Calderone; short stories; performance scripts; an interview and sneak preview of Kate Forsyth’s upcoming book Beauty in Thorns; artwork by Kathleen Jennings, Spike Dean and Erin-Claire Barrow; and so much more.

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To get your copy become a member of the AFTS here. It will cost you a mere $25 a year. A true bargain, considering the incredible online magazine, opportunities for meet-ups and gatherings, the yearly conference, and the experience of being welcomed into a group of wonderful new friends. Go on, head over and sign up. In fact if you become a member after reading this, let me know and I’ll mail you one of my artwork postcards with a little enthusiastic note about your incredibly wise and clever decision!

Cover Reveal!

I think the second last time I was on the verge of tears in the supermarket probably involved two young children, a full shopping trolley, a long checkout line, and a packet of fruit tingles. 

The last time was two days ago. 

Trying to decide between lentils and kidney beans, I looked down at my phone, probably to skip to the next podcast, and noticed an email from the wonderful Monique at Serenity Press. And opening it up, I found something that made my knees go weak and my eyes blur. I needed a moment, and I just hope not too many people thought I was welling up at the very moving array of canned legumes. 

There’s something about a cover that makes it all the more real. I know this book is going to exist. I’ve finished the illustrations and Kate and Monique are working on the last edits for the text. The book train is moving as it should. But seeing our cover and thinking of it lying on bedside tables, tucked snugly into bookshelves, held and creased by (hopefully) many hands…. gives me a thrill every time I think of it. And every time I think of it, I open my phone and sneak another look. 

And now I can show it to you! Isn’t it lovely?

Mermaids and long absences

Hello! I’m still here, squirrelling away. I finished the illustrations for Vasilisa at the end of March (and excitingly, you can spot it on the Serenity Press ‘Coming Soon‘ page!), and have been busy with other things: mostly lots of work for clients, but also working on a long interview for a lit journal and writing a conference paper. Which has been great, but it means I hadn’t made an image just for myself in nearly two months. So when I spotted the #mermay hashtag on Twitter, I knew it was time to crank up Photoshop again.

So, as a bit of an apology for being away for so long, here are some sisterly mermaids.

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Vasilisa the Wise

I’m so thrilled to announce that a book I’ve been working on with the marvellous author Kate Forsyth has been picked up by Serenity Press and will be published in 2018!

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Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Girls will be a collection of seven fairy tale re-tellings written by Kate and accompanied by my illustrations. They are stories of independent girls and women; tales of adventure, bravery, kindness and strength.

It’s a fantastic process we’re following, much different to the usual writer/illustrator relationship, and a way of working that is, to an illustrator at least, both rare and wonderful. We’ve both chosen stories we love. Some Kate has written first, and sent me to work with. I have created several artworks for others, and sent them to Kate before she starts writing. We’re inspiring each other, and it really is magical. And such a privilege.

Kate has written a blog post about how we found each other which, speaking of magical, was incredibly fortuitous and an example of the importance of having a social media presence as an author and/or illustrator. Allison Tait, brilliant author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, co-host of the essential So You Want To Be a Writer podcast, and strident advocate for having a good author platform (in fact she even teaches a course on it!) introduced us on Twitter thinking that Kate might like my work. Thankfully she was right! Kate bought one of my prints to celebrate finishing her PhD, and we kept corresponding, hoping that we might be able to work together one day. We came up with a plan, did some work… and two years later, we can finally tell you all about it!

It really has been a project of lucky, magical and fortuitous connections. Around a month ago, Kate posted the following on her Facebook page:

One day I’d like to write #fairytale retellings of little-known tales with brave, clever heroines for teenage girls to read. Would anyone like to publish stories like that?

And Monique from Serenity Press said yes! Now we are three women, from three corners of the country (Sydney, Perth & regional Victoria) working on this book together. With all that each of us have to contribute, it really is going to be a wondrous thing.

Cheers to that!

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Arts Open

Opening up your house to strangers is often a fraught and invasive enterprise. It usually means you’re trying to sell it or, if you’re renting, someone else is selling it out from underneath you. Or the estate agent is inspecting it and, if you’ve kept it nice enough, they’ll let you stay.

In our case, it’s a celebration of Art and the work we’ve made over the course of a year. We transform our living space into a gallery and open it up to the public every March. It’s a fine line between clearing as much out as we can, and keeping it liveable for the times between. This year, we were open last long weekend, and this one, for Arts Open Castlemaine. We scrub the windows, throw art up on the walls, and optimistically buy lots of red dot sale stickers because we always lose the pack we bought last year in the intervening 11 and a half months.

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Despite the occasional bought of nerves, and all the extra cleaning, it’s wonderful. People are lovely and chatty, and ask great questions, and often lead me to new ideas, just by talking about the work. They see a different angle to something that I hadn’t considered, or are affected by different ideas in an image or story. Some respond to something from their childhood, or to the single mother in a story, and some just want to know the technical details. Whatever it is, there’s something about talking about the same thing over and over again to different people over several days that brings out new ideas to me as well: new work I want to make, or a different way of seeing an image I created and know right down to each leaf and twig.

Even if we don’t make as many sales as hoped (there are always some, but I never seem to end the week rolling around in a mountain of cash, tossing banknotes around like autumn leaves; gold coins tinkling around me like rain, and that seems most unfair) it’s an invaluable way to make new contacts, generate ideas, and absorb some of the enthusiasm that people bring with them. Always, the positives outweigh the odd negative. Of course we do get the odd close-talker, looooong-talker, left-of-field theorist or self-promoter. And there always, always seems to be one who is a combination of all of the above. Last week one man claimed something so wacky, and frankly racist, that I was very happy to show him the door. And there was the woman who walked in, cast a cool glance around, said “No, this isn’t what I want to see,” and swept out again. But I treasure these moments too, for they give me good drinking stories.

This year I am exhibiting work with my mum (Hooray!) Jenny Carrington, an incredible artist, book crafter and weaver, amongst many things. Style-wise, she comes from a ‘hard-edge’ background, but her connection to the landscape that is often her subject makes her work anything but hard. It’s imbued with symbolism, spirit and her deep love for the Australian bush.

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Her woodblock prints are uncomplicated, but they’re far from simple.

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And her pen drawing are full of so much detail, even her perfect shading is accomplished with thousands of perfectly placed pen-marks.

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Arts Open is a great chance to visit artist’s studios and see how they work. Castlemaine is an incredible hub of artists: Photographers, painters, sculptors, printmakers, jewellers… You name it, someone here makes it.

So if you’re in Castlemaine this weekend (March 19th & 20th) please do come visit. Our door is open!

 

Port Fairy Exhibition

A few weeks ago we packed up our family (and stinky dog) and made the 4 hour trip down to lovely Port Fairy on Australia’s South Coast. And then the next weekend we did it all again (minus dog). We go down to Port Fairy every year for their Spring Music Festival, and stay with our good friends Anna and Ross, who own a holiday house in town. I’m not saying we choose our friends by their holiday houses… but it’s a bonus. This year the wonderful Jo from Blarney Books had invited me to exhibit in their gallery, and the opening happily coincided with this year’s festival.

I was already very happy to be asked to exhibit in such a beautiful gallery, which FYI is attached to my new very favourite bookshop, but the best part has been getting to know Jo and her family. Our kids get on like a house on fire, and to my delight, Jo and I connected just as quickly. (Hi Jo!)

Check out the stage and trapeze swing IN THE BOOKSHOP. (I told you it was fabulous.)

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Jo and her husband Dean very kindly hung the show for me in the week between visits, and we returned to find this!

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And the angels sang.

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I had made several new works for this show (my sixth, and final – thank goodness! – for the year), some of which I’ve posted about here, and it was wonderful to see them hanging with the others.

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The opening was fabulous, with champagne provided by the generous Jo & Dean, and more people attending that you can see in the photo below. I blathered about fairy tales and art making for a while, and fielded some fantastic questions. Sadly I have no idea what any of them were, as the adrenaline that finally washed out of my system, also washed away all but a faint recollection of events.*

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The exhibition is still up for another couple of weeks, so if you live near by, or know anyone who does, I urge to to go along for a look, and to browse the fabulous bookshop. You won’t leave empty handed!

* I was going to attach my notes from the artist talk but they are a mix of dot points and carefully crafted sentences that I never used. They make no sense at all. 

Fairy Tales and the Adolescent Transformation

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After creating the above image, Metamorphosis, recently, I’ve been thinking about the fairy tale as an allegory for puberty and adolescence. The image itself is about the sense of change as one enters that new stage in life. As a child (on the left) we have a solid idea of who we are in the world, but entering adolescence (the figure on the right), our sense of self can be all but annihilated. For a long time it’s a dance between the two. As we pull away from childhood, we have to rebuild ourselves, trying on all sorts of skins; cobbling together influences and ideas until we remake ourselves as adults. We are bone and feather, leaf and twig; a fragile tangle of scavenged treasures.

Fairy tales perfectly explore this mystifying time: Fingers are pricked and blood is drawn; a drawn-out sleep transforms child into adult (and in some cases mother) before she knows what has happened; a path is travelled and foes battled before the previously young and hapless hero or heroine emerges victorious (and usually married).

Adam and Eve

I’d never really thought about the Adam and Eve story in the context of fairy tales before, and when it came to me in that half sleep state last night, I thought myself a momentary genius. Of course this morning I really wasn’t surprised to find that it has been explored widely as myth and allegory. I still think it would make a great fairy tale: Once upon a time, there was a King who planted a beautiful walled garden. He found two orphans, a boy and a girl, and invited them to live in this lush paradise, under one strict condition… See, it’s perfect. There’s the fantastical garden, a command to be disobeyed, temptation, consequence… And of course, the broken barrier between a childhood innocence and adulthood. Adam and Eve are effectively cosseted children, until the forbidden apple awakens their sexual natures and they head out to find their own way in the world.

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Peter Paul Rubens 004” by Peter Paul Rubens

Snow White

Speaking of dangerous apples! Snow White is the perfect allegory for puberty and the breaking away from the influence of one’s parent. The mother is jealous of her daughter’s youth and beauty, and Snow White must find her way to autonomy. I’m not sure shacking up with seven men is the path I’d recommend, but we all need to find our own way I guess…
Snow White suffers several deaths and rebirths, growing a little wiser each time one would hope, finally emerging as a free adult. Well, sort of. She still marries Prince Charming. And speaking of Prince Charming…

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Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 7” by Franz Jüttner

Cinderella

As above: escape from the overbearing (step)mother, guided path to self discovery and freedom from parental rule, handsome prince, blah blah blah. (Cinderella is not one of my favourite stories).

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Gustave dore cendrillon4“.

The Sleeping Beauty

Bruno Bettelheim says it best in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales: “The central theme of all versions of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is that, despite all attempts on the part of parents to prevent their child’s sexual awakening, it will take place nonetheless.” (P. 230, 1976 edition)

Yep. Sigh. Sleeping Beauty is cursed to prick her finger (blood=menstruation) and fall into the a deep slumber, and despite all her parents best efforts to keep her from this fate, it is inevitable. Bettelheim also talks about the long sleep in relationship to the fog and flurry of adolescence: “During the months before the first menstruation, and often also for some time immediately following it, girls are passive, seem sleepy, and withdraw into themselves… ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ emphasizes the long, quiet concentration on oneself that is needed.” (P. 225)

Sleeping Beauty enters her adolescent sleep as a child, and emerges as a marriageable women. In Giambattista Basile’s version, Sun, Moon and Talia, poor Beauty, or Talia, wakes up a mother of twins(!) after the prince charmingly impregnates her:

“…she seemed so incredibly lovely to him that he could not help desiring her, and he began to grow hot with lust. He gathered her in his arms and carried her to a bed, where he made love to her. Leaving her on the bed, he left the palace and returned to his own city, where pressing business for a long time made him think no more about the incident.”

Well. There’s a lot I have to say about the infuriating passivity of women in fairy tales (and the accepted male entitlement), and Sleeping Beauty, I think, is a fine bloody example. But that’s for another blog post.

Sleeping Beauty painting by Edward Burne-Jones
Sleeping beauty by Edward Burne-Jones

Little Red Riding Hood

In this tale Little Red literally follows a path through her adolescence. She begins in her mother’s home, and leaves to travel through the wild forest, where she encounters the threat of the wolf (ahem, slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, no-gooder) who attempts to lead her from the accepted path. Depending on which version you read, she is eaten by the wolf after getting into her Grandmother’s bed with him (well, really) or escapes the gastronomic fate of her grandmother. Either way, she is rescued by the hunter (swarthy, check-shirt wearing hipster good guy), and I guess learns a lesson and emerges wiser from her wayward teenage ways.

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Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood+” by Arthur Rackham

I could recount similar examples all day, and get into more complicated stories and readings of them, but looking at these well known tales has edged me towards a little more respect for them. It still bugs me that our most famous fairy tales are those with passive girls who become passive women married to handsome princes (it really does make me grumpy), but at least there’s something more to find in them than ‘be kind and good and wait your turn, and you’ll find eternal happiness and fulfilment in marriage to someone rich and handsome’. Reading them as an metaphor for change rather than instructions for living gives me much less of a stomach ache.


Fairy tales are rich in allegory, for that is really what they are, and there are millions of words written on their deeper meanings. Here are a few you might enjoy. What are your favourite books about fairy tales?

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim.

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, Marina Warner

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale: Marina Warner 

Off with their heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood, Maria Tatar