“Borderlands – Riding the slipstream” Anthology: a rich literary resource

Borderlands – Riding the slipstream

edited by Paul Collins

Published by Ford Street Publishing

Reading stories from other places and different perspectives was very familiar to me in my middle years at school. I read a lot of anthologies with short stories, poems and limericks. I enjoyed traveling with different authors to interesting, intriguing worlds and following the journeys their stories could share and create beyond your own life experiences. I enjoyed the random reading of these stories, which offered choice and variety. I could choose which ones to delve into and which ones to return to later.

During this project “Borderlands – Riding the slipstream” edited by Paul Collins and published by Ford Street Publishing, I worked on the visual imagery inspired by over 40 + Australian authors’ short stories and poems. It was a privilege to observe the working titles of these author’s from draft to post production. I researched the many different genre themes including historical, science fiction and contemporary issues and created black and white illustrations for each of the written stories. The making of this publication made me think about the audience of this title, in particular the middle and senior school audiences that might use this valuable resource in their learning of written, oral and visual language.

In the same way that many illustrators would respond differently to one text, I found that my creative responses to each of these stories varied hugely. It became important to me to respond to each story with the visual language of the text driving the illustration, rather than one aesthetic style or medium that would blanket the orchestra of voices within the pages.

Some stories inspired a very obvious method of research. For David Metzenthen’s story “Rabbit Life” I enjoyed every minute of the field trip and drawing afternoon I spent under the shade at the City Gate, and Temple of Winds of the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne. I loved exploring the gardens, plants and stories of the northern gardens and it was easy to immerse myself into the environment of David’s main character, the gardener.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on Sue’s Bursztynski’s s story “The Trail of Gold” also for the opportunity to research ‘in situ’. I had just spent the last 18 months doing field trips in the golden triangle around Ballarat, drawing and painting the natural environment of the bush fields. So Sue’s setting was very familiar to me. I used some old photos from my family to gain some references of fashion, hair and clothing of the time to complete the context of the story’s visual language in time and place. It was lovely to hear her enthusiastic feedback about her finished artwork as she shared her gratitude of my knowledge and appreciation of the location and setting of her story.

Some stories embodied specific mediums. Micheal Pryor,s Ghost Bait’ worked well with an ambiguous ink and gouache wash, creating fluid and transparent layers to imply the blurry lighting and eerie movement of a mysterious  supernatural presence.

The visual language of Sheryl Clark’s poem “How to catch a shadow” tricked me. It took several attempts to create the illustration for Sheryl’s work as I kept changing my mind about the antagonist’s profile. Character can be interpreted differently depending on the reader’s perspective or connections to the text. I like that a story could have different interpretations, as art is very much subjective and open to the viewer’s ideas and viewpoints. Every word is open for the audience to interpret meaning and drive the storytelling. Sheryl’s work would make a great piece to open up to a senior school audience and watch the variety of responses unfold. It is a wonderful example for students to work with and experience the role of an illustrator and their ability to interpret a written text through visual language.

Many choices are at the illustrator’s hand and they influence the outcome of the imagery in different ways.

The obvious question stands out – Which part of the text will I respond to?

Some approaches include:

  • What is important?
  • What is visual?
  • How do I respond to the character or setting?
  • Do I want to clarify or challenge the reader?
  • Do I want to avoid or reveal a plot development? Spoiler alert?
  • What connections can I make with the text?
  • What details to include or leave out?
  • Background and/or foreground information?
  • Which angle, viewpoint or perspective is appropriate?
  • Mid shot, distance or up close perspective?
  • Which medium option is appropriate? : Loose wash, fine line sketchy , delicate pencil, painterly approach
  • What details are appropriate for the period / historical reference of the work?

 

Shaun Tan’s “The Bird King” manuscript came through as a complete surprise. Where do you go with a body of work that not only is ubiquitous, but also has significant embedded visual language in the form of such a unique voice as Shaun Tan.  Inwardly a passionate landscape artist swans quietly; but I am not an interpreter of mythical and lyrical universes in the detail and complexity of Shaun’s storytelling. On closer read of the text I was drawn to the older women and her prize possession, the crown. Shaun has made many illustrations and artworks of the Bird King and I was looking for an angle that would not mimic his visual language, but rather open a window or conversation with it. Of course…the old lady stood out a mile!! I have never seen Shaun paint or draw a very old woman… so I had found something that not only I could relate to, but that I could introduce to the storytelling of this text. The wind swept clothing and the sketchy line work are all very ‘Tanesque’, but I thoroughly enjoyed developing the old woman’s crown from earth, sticks and natural fibers. I deliberately refrained from working up the landscape and focused totally on the portrait and character profile of the old woman.

 

And then there is the challenge of creating an artwork for someone whose voice you know very well. I have been fortunate to have had many conversations with Paul Collins over the years and it is a special gift when you can observe, hear or recognize the artist’s voice even amongst fictitious works. Paul’s science fiction premise in his story “The Immortality Backup” resonated with me because of my intense fascination with a dog’s innate psychology. What a great lens to explore motivation, leadership, personalities and behavioral science. I naturally started with pen and ink and started looking at the various shapes and body language of a dog, a favorite pass time of mine, reminiscent to staring at an open fire. Not wanting to give away any of the plot turns in this story I decided on a long distance shot to imply the volume and space of the momentous event unfolding in the story.

By the time this project was complete, I had learned and developed so much in my illustration process. It was a real labor of love to have been able to create artworks for this amazing book. Thanks to Ford Street Publishing for inviting me to contribute to this anthology of amazing Australian authors. Well done to all at Ford Street Publishing for the hours spent editing, formatting and collating this collaborative project. These are very special books and don’t come along very often.