'Strange Creatures Sweet Allsorts' - An Exhibition with Mel Macklin, Woods Street Gallery, Darwin, December 2011

I ♥ Bubble Tea
Felt-tip pen on paper

Like the mention of television licences on an episode of 'The Young Ones', I thought bubble tea was a very good joke. Sounds wonderful, impossible and perhaps slightly stupid. Imagine my delight to find a shop selling this very stuff twelve months ago on a stopover from Singapore, coming back from our two-year stay in London. Alright, so it might be elastic advertising (tapioca, sadly, is much more solid than the word 'bubble' might initially suggest)- bubble tea is fun! Anyone who doesn't enjoy sucking up a couple of these with a mouthful of icy chai is probably very likely to be in the same calibre of sad-sack as those individuals who pooh-pooh fireworks, rainbows, freshly-sprung daisies and other lovely but ultimately useless things.
*Consumption with a party hat is optional but, well, why not? It’s bubble tea, after all!

Study for ‘Nariko, the Working Class Panda’
Graphite pencil on paper

Study for ‘The Wondrous Cycling Piggy’

Graphite pencil on paper

Graphite pencil on paper

I don’t remember very much of my Poppa Bill, my grandmother’s father. His body was very frail in all the time I knew him, but when he spoke with his children and grandchildren you could still see traces of that boyish handsomeness particular to the Bennett family in his dark bright eyes and eloquent hands. He was the most marvellous storyteller and had the gift of making everyone who knew him feel like the most special person on earth.
There is one visit I remember most clearly, because I’d struck upon a clever idea that morning and I wanted to ask Poppa what he thought of it. 
“Poppa, my cats and my dogs are my brothers and sisters, aren’t they?”
“Yes darling, of course they are”.
I was eight when Poppa passed away. In some of his last lucid moments he told my grandma: ‘I’ve had a good innings’. 

Gnome Tea
Acrylic on paper

My garden at home is a bit of a mess, excepting those few times a year where we (and I mean Dave) are suddenly gripped with an enthusiasm for landscaping. This involves Dave carting palm fronds the size of baby elephants from the back to the front yard, weeding, doing dump-runs and re-mulching, whilst I administer crew-cuts to the hedges and lop off anything that overhangs. After half an hour or so of this I am bored and plead sunstroke, the charade of which I am allowed to maintain so long as I supply Dave with lemon cordial when he calls for it!
I imagine somewhere out there there's a gnome couple just like us, but with better clothes and sans sweat glands. At the end of a long day gardening, she brings him a comfy little stool to rest his weary bones, and together in the evening glow, they admire his handiwork.

Crimson Cloaked and Hearted
Acrylic and watercolour pencil on paper

There's a path that we pass, Dave and I, when we go for our evening walk, that runs by a pond surrounded on all sides by tall grass. Sometimes we sit and watch the habits of finches that live there: jumping from stem to stem, as each bows under the weight of their little red bodies and blows in the breeze. What I love best about the finch family is their sense of camaraderie: there's never one, but two or likely ten together. They always seem such happy little birds to me; perhaps it's their particular cheepy call, or the shape of their beaks that seems naturally almost to smile. I very much wanted them in this picture, though the girl is not looking at them. I have asked her what it is, that so captures her interest if not the finches, but she just smiles that Mona Lisa smile and remains quietly watching.

Artist Proof of ‘The Boy with the Heart Balloons’
Giclee print on Hahnemühle William Turner paper

‘ . . . You linger your little hour and are gone,
And still the wood sweep leafily on,
Not even missing the coral-root flower
You took as a trophy of the hour.’

- Robert Frost, ‘On Going Unnoticed’, 1928

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Artist Proof of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’: Elevenses
Giclee print on Hahnemühle museum etching paper

Artist Proof of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’: Just past four
Giclee print on Hahnemühle museum etching paper

Artist Proof of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’: A quarter to thirteen o’ clock
Giclee print on Hahnemühle museum etching paper

Artist Proof of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’: A little to two
Giclee print on Hahnemühle museum etching paper

Artist Proof of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’: Fifteen minutes after eight
Giclee print on Hahnemühle museum etching paper

8 - 12.
Artist Proofs of ‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’

For better or worse, I work best after 4pm. After so many years working jobs that forced me into the habits of an early bird, my brain still refuses to work before midday. Early-morning starts coinciding with a shortage of coffee are so much the worse for everyone in the house!
If I’m working on a very detailed painting, a large body of work or thinking a lot about the pace and flow of a storyboard, I find myself getting very tired after a few hours. Napping in the afternoon is the only way I can switch my brain off.
Of course, it’s not really natural to sleep like this. Humans have something like a 90-minute sleep cycle, which goes through the motions of R.E.M., then a deeper sleep and then that sort of shallower window when you can resurface and feel refreshed; your body’s natural time to wake and use the stored energy in a useful way. Alarms interrupt all of this and can leave you feeling, well, alarmed. When I finally acknowledge the snooze button I’ve already punched in a variety of inelegant ways particular to drunks and the sleep-deprived, it is dark outside. You wonder, for a moment, whether it’s morning or night and it dawns on you that it doesn’t matter anyway since sleeping most of the day has not helped tick things off that growing to-do list.
‘Time for Rabbit-Tea’ is about a mischievous rabbit and the mad things that happen inside your brain when time becomes fluid.
To me, the magic of this work is that I still don’t know what order the images truly go in. Every re-arrangement brings surpises and new narratives.

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Nariko, the Working Class Panda
Acrylic on paper

This is Nariko, my sweet little working-class panda. Here she is, waiting for the 7.15 am train into town, already thinking about the lovely milky chai she'll be sharing with her friends after work. Nariko has taken particular care to kohl her eyes just right today; if you can't tell by her Mona Lisa smile, she's secretly hoping her friends will bring along a certain boy panda who she has a rather largish secret crush on! Wish her luck!



The Hush Before Snow
Acrylic on paper

‘. . . she longed for the fine apple . . . and stretched out her hand and took the poisonous half . . .’

- The Brothers Grimm, ‘Little Snow White’, 1884


The Cloud Princess
Acrylic on paper

Earlier this year I had my first taste of and subsequently became obsessed with macarons. I decided if by some karmic mishap I had to come back in another life as an inanimate object or thing, I would quite happily do so as a macaron: my life would be brief but sweet and dedicated entirely to the happiness of others. Macarons: the Mother Teresa of food!
Perhaps due to the over-ingestion of said sweet-stuffs, I began having very vivid dreams about a certain princess who lived in the clouds, and with the help of her trusty pup, dreamt herself of abdicating from her royal duties to make macarons instead. Here she is, the little Cloud Princess, armed with her favourite whisk and all ready for a spot of baking! 

Alice Liddell’s Pink Flamingo

Acrylic and watercolour pencil on paper

‘In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them—'I wish they'd get the trial done,' she thought, 'and hand round the refreshments!'’
- Lewis Carroll, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, 1865. 

Study for ‘Gwendolyn and the Space Between’
Graphite pencil on paper

Gwendolyn and the Space Between
Acrylic and watercolour pencil on paper

Growing up as an only child is a lesson in resourcefulness. After cats, books were my best companions. While other girls of eight were obsessed with horses and dolphins, I was collecting myths. Weekends were spent sitting cross-legged on the study floor, surrounded by encyclopaedias as I chased up one reference after another to the many wives of Zeus, to the sad fate of Persephone, to the birth of comely ladies on the froth of yonder seas.
Of course, I was lucky enough too to grow up with the wonderful school adventures of a certain young wizard named Harry. Younger generations are relieved of the agony we endured in the wait between instalments, but robbed of the delicious moment when, after another twelve months (twenty years in kid-time), the piggy bank was gleefully smashed and another tome was ours for the relishing. Lewis Carroll, Enid Blyton, Antoine de Saint Exupery and Shaun Tan were just a few of my favourite authors growing up; all masters of pens that wrote words that took you somewhere else while you sat in your comfy chair, all offering up a wonderful parallel reality that you could live in long after the last page was turned.

The Wondrous Cycling Piggy
Acrylic and watercolour pencil on paper

It is a little-known fact that all piggies like to dress up in lacy blouses and whizz round on green bicycles when we're not looking.

The Woodchopper’s Daughter
Acrylic on paper

My Auntie Cheryl and Uncle Steve have a wonderful sprawling house in Tyers, in the Gippsland region of Victoria. I spent almost half my childhood in this house, and it is one of my very favourite places to be in the world.
Most marvellous of all in this house is the red-brick wall by the front door. This has become a kind of family tree photo album over the years and my favourite picture on it is of my Uncle Steve.
Here, he is twenty-two, laughing hugely and balanced confidently atop a man-sized log; his hands gripping an axe that is forever caught in mid-air, mid-chop, hair bouncing thickly to his shoulders. I can't imagine he's changed all that much in the forty years since this photo was taken, though his hair, even in black and white, seemed closer to a crimson than the strawberry, pepper-flecked tones he keeps in his sixties, and much longer. But there is that same twinkle in his eye, of mischief, of a face that smiles often; a face that looks at home with a deep rumbling belly laugh or a few bars of an Elvis song, pitch perfect. In photos I've seen of Uncle a little later, he lopped his curls off into an Elvis-style pompadour. And when I came along, we'd spend afternoons in the sun room, he on the keyboard and backing up my broken little vocals to 'How much is that doggy in the window'.
'The Woodchopper's Daughter' is a little tribute to all of this: a landscape of gum and pine, of crackly summer days, of a house- you can't see it yet, but just over that hill yonder, of childhood adventures. And the hum of an Elvis song.

Promises and Sleep
Acrylic on paper

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-Robert Frost, 1923

The Little Yellow Teacup
Acrylic on paper

I'm a self-professed coffee addict- nothing better that a strong sweetened hit of the stuff to lubricate the thinking juices! But some occasions just call for tea. In England, there's a thing about milky tea; a magical, slightly disgusting sounding drink whose remedial properties are second-to-none. It can, among other things, take the sting out of harsh words; warm one's wind-chapped fingers; ease the transition from early-morning bleariness to mid-morning semi-alertness; can be flavoured with liquor for extra fun; is the perfect hot bevvy to offer a friend, or just as equally, can be enjoyed on one's own with a biscuit for dunking. But what I love best about tea is that feeling of utter contentment that comes with the second mouthful. Maybe, if all the world's leaders and all the world's men and women sat down at the same time with a cuppa, the world could be a happier place. It really is quite amazing stuff.

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The Leftovers: In the end, they found what was left over . . .
Graphite pencil on paper

 The Leftovers: . . . the one called Cluck began joining things together . . .

Graphite pencil on paper

 The Leftovers: . . . the little one Twoo sat down to knit . . .

Graphite pencil on paper

 The Leftovers: . . . the other, Bock, made things he remembered long ago . . .

Graphite pencil on paper

 The Leftovers: . . . and as an old day ends, this is what they made with what was left over.
Graphite pencil on paper

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The Goose Girl
Graphite pencil on paper

I still dream about that first summer we spent in London. There is something truly wonderful about an English summer, when you’re not stuck on the Underground ofrcooped up in a classroom full of feral adolescents slumped across their desks. You can bet we took advantage of the sun’s 10pm bedtime, enjoying our little slice of our adopted city for its’ golden months.
We lived in a shoebox on Palace Court, literally across the street from Hyde Park. For awhile, we got ourselves to the point where we could just about run all the way around the lake on most nights. All of the world’s most beautiful migratory birds make the Serpentine their home in the summer, and my very favourite was the Greylag Goose. Most often you could see these lumbering beasts honking and hissing at overzealous tourists and children mad enough to try and pet them, but when they floated about on the water they were just lovely.
I often wondered what they might have seen with those dark bright eyes of theirs, that seem to hold so many secrets.

Graphite pencil on paper

Living in another country for two years was in many ways like being a snail. All my worldly belongings fitted into a suitcase: I was rootless, and joined to a life I'd led up to that point by those things. I often wondered how people could do this for months on end, moving from place to place and in constant process of just passing through.
To distract myself from being completely overwhelmed by it all, I feathered my nest with the most gorgeous collection of children’s books, and an imaginary duck for good measure.
And then I decided to become a children’s illustrator.

Graphite pencil on paper

‘ . . . down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.
Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up . . .’
- Shakespeare, "Hamlet": Act 4 Scene 7.

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