18 February 2014

the secret delights of st mary's community garden in haggerston

When I first moved to Hackney five years ago, one of the first things I did was to look up a community gardening project so that I could keep a connection to flowers and plants and the changing seasons. I found St Mary's Secret Garden, joined up and have been volunteering there ever since. 

Sometimes, I ask if I can take some flowers home to paint. These ones almost painted themselves onto the page. I loved the mad  floppiness of the Rudbeckias and the late autumn messiness of everything. Flowers from a florist are just not the same at all.

Besides the flowers, I get so much out of volunteering at St Mary's, where I work with adults with learning difficulties.

Last week I planted onions with G, who suffers from bouts of depression in between stretches of great joviality. It took us two hours and we planted three rows, but it isn't all about hurrying to get things done in horticultural therapy. 

The white fly settling like teeny snowflakes on the cabbages, the   cold, wintry soil in our hands, bursts of exuberant song courtesy of P, a group member who loves dancing with his rake as opposed to gathering up leaves. G laughs at the rake dancing, but keeps working, taking great care with each tiny onion. It's good to be out there, planting and helping others to be outside.

Much as I like to be painting in my studio, and wrangling a wacom pen, a day at St Mary's is a good break from all of that.

14 February 2014

Sharing the love - my friend Yuval's book is out

You read it here first. 

My friend Yuval Zommer's beautiful children's book, The Big Blue Thing on the Hill, is out. The Big Blue Thing may be a camper van to us humans, but it is a greatly mysterious beast to the animals of the forest, and they want it gone.

It's a first for Yuval, and indeed a first for our circle of children's book illustrators.

I met Yuval on a children's book illustration course at City Lit a while ago, and together with one or two others, we have met once a month to do a show and tell ever since.

The kernel of this book began as an idea sent out to various publishers via email, titled I think, 'The Animal Olympics'. 

In that work, he drew a series of animal characters outdoing one another in sporting feats - a project conceived while watching the Olympics here in London in 2012. 

These drawings, so clearly done with a sense of humour and delight,  were a breakthrough for Yuval. As was discovering drawing on the wacom tablet.

Publishers were immediately interested, but the Olympics had come and gone and he was asked to come up with another concept. Yuval cheerfully got to work on a new story about animals. He always has one or two stories up his sleeve anyway, and wastes no time in waiting for inspiration to arrive.

During our meetings, Yuval has shared the process of the book's development with us and we've all gained insights into the process of crafting a children's book. The collaboration with the publishing team and the way it extended his range, was particularly great to learn about.

How about some flying insects, an editor said. 

Flying insects? 

We'd never seen Yuval doing flying insects. But he was happy to give it a go. At our next meeting, he showed us insects. Wasps. Bees. Funny, wonderful swarms of the things, invading every nook and cranny of the story. And then frogs. Then birds. Snakes. A forest menagerie.

Yuval is already onto the next story, although first up are book launches and the rounds of the trade fairs.

The Big Blue Thing on the Hill goes on sale in late March, but you can pre-order it here.