Overhead… in the playground

By Vita Forest

This is from last week but too good not to share.

While on playground duty I was approached by a very small boy.  He addressed me with these words, ‘Excuse me, have you seen any dried blood?  I need it for my master.’

I had not, so he went on his way, while i wondered who was his master and if we were harbouring any vampires in our midst…

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Big cat in the city

By Vita Forest

A giant cat lounging on the grass beneath the jacaranda trees, the train clattering over the elevated tracks behind it.

I’ve been pacing up and down, forward and back, looking at the tiger from every angle, judging the view and judging the heat of the sun, the amount of shade, the location of seats and weighing up whether I will be able to sit there and draw comfortably.  But I want to focus on the tiger’s head, I want to look right into its eyes, so I choose this place, beneath this tree in front of the MCA on the lawn.  The ground is slightly damp, so I look in my backpack and find a scarf.  I drizzle it into a puddle of fabric and it falls from my hand in layers and layers, a spiral on the damp grass.  I sit cross-legged on my fabric seat in the shade of the tree and look across at the tiger.

I remember Quentin’s sketch of this same cat, his use of watercolour, how he caught the vibrant golden yellow.  But I have not brought my paints today.  I will have to catch it another way.  I rummage through my pencil case and find my graphite pencil, 6B – capable of the darkest blacks at the press of my fingers.  I decide to use that.

I map out the figure on my page, lightly drawing in the bulk of the body, the angle of the head.  The tiger’s toes are often obscured by children bouncing on its limbs (before its keeper in an official high-vis vest tells them off) and adults stepping boldly between the tiger’s paws to smile at a camera, to catch the encounter forever, though they have hardly stopped to look, hardly paused to stare up into the eyes of the tiger.

I stroke its face with my pencil and it seems to like that, it rocks back and forth as if dancing, as if moving in time to the clashing cymbals accompanying the lion dancing somewhere out of sight in The Rocks.  Its eyes emerge on my paper, its stripes, the shadows that I notice when the sun bursts through the clouds in a brilliant dazzle.  Is it watching me from those deep streaked eyes, or is it looking over my head to the ferries, or across the bay to the pink gridded pig snuffling beneath the sails of the Opera House?

Does it welcome the rain that splatters my paper, that sends us all running and huddling for a few brief minutes beneath the deep overhand at the entrance to the MCA, that leaves watercolour fireworks, a happy accident amongst Lara’s bright sketch of fighting cockerels?  Perhaps it is a longed-for respite, those fat drops that pit its tight yellow skin, that staccato drumming across its shoulders.

The rain stops as quickly as it starts and I return to stand beneath the shade beneath the tree, the ground too wet to sit on now.  I cradle my sketchbook in my arm and continue to breathe life into the outline on my page.  It’s strange what your mind notices in these moments – the colours of the tiger’s stripes are also found in the carriages and doors of the trains that streak beneath the Cahill Expressway and onto Circular Quay.

And after I have met up with the other sketchers, after we have admired each other’s work and told our stories and taken our photos and said our farewells, after I have caught the train home and made a cup of tea and lain down to rest on the couch, one of my own cats, my Isaboe, casually walks along the length of my body before settling, purring, like a sphinx on my chest, weight on her forelegs, in a pose that mirrors that of the big cat in the city.

See the train in the background?

 

Things of my table

By Vita Forest

Things on my table

  1. Three scarlet pomegranates in a blue pottery bowl.
  2. A streaky white resin bowl containing shells from various sea-side holidays, mostly pale.
  3. A stack of four water colour palettes that screw together to form a pleasing shallow cylinder.
  4. A tall vase of luscious pink and cream peonies.
  5. A hexagonal glass jar half-filled with water.
  6. Two writing notebooks and sharp HB pencil.
  7. A 6B graphite pencil, solid lead sharpened with a knife, pewter-coloured shards flaking off to form a point.
  8. My sketchbook and a wad of thick, textured water colour paper.
  9. Two cats, alternating between napping and eyeing the bobbing heads of the peonies, aliens from The World Outside.
  10. A finished sketch of those pomegranates in their blue bowl.

The acorn

By Vita Forest

On that first day

In the gardens of the Imperial Palace

(In the part that you can visit

If you are ordinary

And not royal)

Lucy found an acorn on the pathway

Gleaming in the rain

We looked around but could not see

Totoro

Perhaps he was atop one of the lush leafy trees

That dripped rain onto the soft grass

and the beds of thickly-planted iris

Perhaps he still had his wide black umbrella

And did not need our smaller paler shelters

Translucent as raindrops

Fox prints

By Vita Forest

Have you read Margaret Wild’s Fox?  It is a searing tale of friendship, jealousy, temptation, grief and loss.  Did I mention it’s a children’s picture book?

My class has been examining it closely.  Noticing the similes, the use of present tense, the metaphors, the personification, the colours used by the illustrator Ron Brooks, the layout of the pages and the unusual scratchy lettering.

This week,  after a boring old handwriting lesson (“check your pencil grip, stay on the lines, sit up straight, trace slowly and carefully, form your letters in just the right way”) we changed gear to explore how Ron Brooks’ lettering contributed to the story.

He experimented and took some time to get it just right.  Brooks ended up writing the text by hand and using his left hand (he is right handed), hacking out the words, tracing some of the letters over and over, writing them down and then up the sides of pages, on diagonals, in capitals (screaming).  In short, breaking all the handwriting rules.

We looked at the book again and focused on the writing, looking not at what it said but how it said it.  The kids had a play on little whiteboards, swapping their usual writing hands, using capitals where they should have used lowercase, reversing their letters, looking away when they wrote, turning their boards upside down, writing over and over in the same space.  Then they chose a piece of coloured paper, a handful of oil pastels and went away to make their marks as one of the three characters – half-blind, trusting Dog, griefing, wary Magpie or sly, jealous, lonely Fox.  The stipulation – they could only write the name of their character, nothing more, nothing less.

Miss Sadie, rather cheeky and daring, stared me in the face and screwed up her paper into a ball.  I stared back at her and said, “Yes!  If you are Fox, that might be just what you would do.”  (They have witnessed one of their classmates do this same action on a rather regular basis when he is distressed and in the midst of a meltdown).  Suddenly, there was scrunching, there was ripping, there was smudging, there was scraping.  Some of them wrote their character’s name just once, others repeated the lines over and over and over again.

Another happy accident occurred when I handed out some black mounting paper that I had cut in half to what I thought was a good size to frame their work.  It turned out it was too small.  “Stick it on an angle,” I advised.  And the artworks looked better than they would have with a neat black border.

The next day, we sat in a circle and held up the artworks for others to see.  The students went around the circle and explained what they did, how they did it and why.  Amongst the “I did it coz that’s what I felt like” there were some gems.  Kelly left space around Magpie’s name because she was left all alone.   Sharni wrote Dog’s name without looking at the paper because Dog was blind and Lana ripped away a piece of Fox’s signature because his heart was broken in two.

Don’t tell me kids can’t understand difficult stories…

Mobile Tales 11: a sky full of stars

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel awakens to discover changes in the night sky.

There were bumps.  There were rattlings and bangs.  There were loud voices as storm clouds disagreed with each other.  There were preparations for A Party.

Below the sea, it was tempestuous too.  The usual inhabitants of The Tabletop were swept away by the sudden maelstrom, even the whales had left, seeking refuge in Another Room.  Spiralling silver whirlwinds snaked down from the ceiling and strained toward the sea, ready to snatch up the unwary sailor.  The sun was having difficulty peering out behind the storm clouds and so the colour had been fairly removed from the world.   The Good Ship Possession swung about on its anchor in this monochromatic new realm.

Christabel, like the whales, was quite put out by the sudden disturbances in the atmosphere.  Why was there a need for all this whirling and washing, this spinning and stretching?  Why could the world not stay as it was?  For despite being an adventurer, the truth was that Christabel preferred routine and the predictable to savage disruption and hurly burly.  And so, after stowing the sails, and ensuring the anchor was still firmly lodged in the ceiling, Christabel retired to her cabin (and, in truth, to bed).  She would pass the remainder of the storm below deck (for she was fortunate to have a strong constitution and did not require fresh air to keep sea sickness at bay when the waves swelled and broiled).  Thus it was, that through the noise and the tempest, through the shrieks and the celebrations, through the games and singing of ditties, Christabel slumbered and snoozed under her cosy down quilt.

As was often the way in times of discord, Christabel slept when it was tumultuous, but woke when calm returned.  She opened her eyes and listened.  Through the thick paper-mache walls of The Possession, all she could hear was muffled voices, the clink of glassware in The Kitchen and gentle music.  The Party was Over.

She crawled from her bed, wrapped her gold silk kimono about her and climbed the ladder.  When she reached the deck, her eyes widened in wonder.  The Ceiling had been transformed.  Where once she had looked out on wide expanses of clear white skies, she now found The Possession floating beneath a sky full of stars!  Christabel clutched the side of the ship and gazed in delight at the new constellations.  How they sparkled!  How they twinkled merrily about her!  She leaned on her elbows and smiled up at the sky.

Perhaps there were good things that came of storms after all.

A sky full of stars

 

Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.