Monthly Archives: June 2016


BUSHFIRE GROUP PICBy far one of my most enduring creative relationships has been as in-house illustrator & occasional creative consultant for independent music education publishers Bushfire Press.   Bushfire Press are a passionate team of ex-music teachers / musicians, who began writing & publishing Performing Arts resources for primary & secondary schools in the late 80s.  My work for them has included a wide range of music teaching resources, most notably the award-winning series Music Room – initially published as 7 books and accompanying CD-ROMs, and later adapted to interactive digital whiteboard format.

One of the team, Rob Fairbairn, had helped promote my cartoon workshops into Melbourne schools during the 90s through his Complete Arts Company, and we’d established a creative friendship over the years.  In 2000 Rob introduced me to the rest of the Bushfire team to see if I’d like to illustrate a new music book project they were hatching for schools, called the Great Southern Songbook.  It was an exciting project, containing original songs from the Asia-Pacific region accompanied by cross-arts extension activities, and supporting CDs recorded by the Bushfire team.


PrintThe Southern Songbook songs covered a range of themes, from Book Week to cultural diversity & reconciliation, Australia’s federation and International Year of the Volunteer. Activities ranged from visual arts & crafts, creative writing, dance & more. Rob Fairbairn composed many of the songs in the books as well as sourcing material from other songwriters & cultures. A great collaborator, Rob also workshopped a couple of pieces with schoolkids & co-wrote a piece with indigenous performer Wayne Thorpe.

Illustrating these books was a fantastic process that included designing icons and diagrams as well as cartoon art.  I had to work closely with the Bushfire team at every stage, to ensure that my drawings were clear in their communication, particularly where they needed to teach something very specific, eg a bushdance pattern.

I’ve illustrated for Bushfire Press for over a decade now, and have created thousands of cartoons, icons, diagrams & charts for their educational material.  As a teacher myself, and a communicator who likes things to be precise, I’ve tried to refine my art to make the information as clear as possible for the teachers at the other end.

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PrintAfter the Great Southern Songbooks (and my move from Melbourne to Tasmania), the Bushfire team needed a less intensive project, which emerged in the form of a couple of fun resources for lower primary teachers, Start Singing Action Songs and Start Singing and Dancing.  The songs & dances were mostly familiar childhood standards like Comin’ Round The Mountain and Farmer In The Dell, and the cartoon illustrations were both diagramatical  and entertaining, expressive enough to breathe fresh life into the standards while keeping the information clear. The books were accompanied by CDs with lively renditions of the songs by the Paradiddle Band aka the Bushfire Press boys, who you will see pictured at the end of this slide show (from the books’ back cover).

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MUSIC ROOM series (2005 – 2011)

UNIT3.7.L2APrintThe MUSIC ROOM series was the biggest illustration project I’ve been involved in yet.  A total of seven books, each containing a full school year’s worth of lesson plans for each primary grade level.  Bushfire’s aim was to create a resource that any classroom teacher, musical or not, can easily implement.  Book 7 in the series won Best Primary Teaching Resource
at the Australian Educational Publishing Awards in 2012, and rightly so, as the amount of research, consultation, planning, structuring, creating, editing, cross-referencing, triple-checking and plate-spinning invested by the Bushfire team is phenomenal.

The deliberately “commercial” style of the cartoons – simple bold lines, cute characters, bright colours – belies a lot of deeper thinking and problem-solving around how to clearly communicate very specific information in concise but expressive symbols, while remaining engaging and fun.  The multitude of icons, charts & diagrams in the books required design solutions that constantly had teachers in mind.

MUSIC ROOM pages 1Any work I do is inseparable from my own life processes, and I really value work that involves collaboration and building relationships.  This project deepened my personal friendships with the Bushfire team, and was an anchoring element in my own shaky life trajectory for over a decade – my move to Tasmania in 2001 with no money or sense of identity, my subsequent reinventing of myself on Bruny Island, the birth of two babies & renovating a house, a difficult family breakdown, deep clinical depression while recovering from a nervous breakdown / and the usual ongoing struggles to create a basic income as a self-employed artist. There were times when drawing happy sunny children was utterly at odds with what I was feeling in myself, but the consistency of the characters, the working formulas, provided some degree of stability amidst chaos.

Often working on the illustrations provided a focus where I had none, or acted as a meditative tonic.  The Bushfire team allowed me plenty of creative freedom, and encouraged a touch of friendly irreverence, in developing the illustrations.  They trusted my skills and my process completely, knowing full well that in doing so they would get the best from me.  Throughout the drawings are private references to friends and family, various in-jokes and a shared passion for encouraging creative thinking in children.

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DANCE ROOM (2008 – 2009)

While the MUSIC ROOM books were finding success in schools, Bushfire collaborated with Dance teacher Barbara Snook to create a similar style of teacher resource called DANCE ROOM.  As with MUSIC ROOM, the DANCE ROOM books were a developmental program of sequential lesson plans that Lower Primary teachers could use to teach the elements of dance.

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Building on illustrative cues I’d developed throughout the MUSIC ROOM and DANCE ROOM series, this book of traditional folk dances from around the world uses diagrammatical cartoons to clearly communicate dance steps.  The group illustrations, showing the children demonstrating the steps in a circle, were particularly challenging because of the character style (big head / little body / short limbs / sausage fingers) eg heads obscuring other kids in the circle etc.

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WE’RE ORFF! series

PrintIn recent years, Bushfire Press have been collaborating with music educators Tamara O’Brien and Mark Carthew to produce a fantastic series of resources that ‘demystify’ the Orff approach to music education for the classroom.  I mainly provided the cover illustrations and a handful of illustrations inside.  I particularly like that the Orff approach deconstructs music learning into its most core elements, in much the same way I do with my thINK approach to teaching drawing.



Visual Scribe @ Relationships Australia (TAS) Conference, Hobart


OCT 26 / 27 2015 Visual Scribe @ Relationships Australia (TAS) Conference, Hobart

In Oct 2015, Relationships Australia Tas employed me as a “visual mapper”, illustrating in realtime the core themes and ideas that emerged from their annual 2-Day conference of 150 employees from around the state.  I stood at the back of the room, listening, observing, interpreting & translating into symbolic images & key words.  At the end of each day, participants used the visual map to reflect on their conference experience and reinforce their understanding of the conference themes.

RELTAS 11It was great to be part of such a strong gathering of people sharing the common aim of helping other people – social well-being, communication, social education. I had done some live “visual mapping” at a 2-hr Death Café event earlier in the year, but having two whole days onsite allowed me time to really immerse myself in the process & develop the ideas in my drawings a bit more thoroughly.

The conference theme was “One Team”, looking at ways of unifying the diverse skills of everyone within the organization, from admin to management.

RELTAS 8Guest speakers were Saroo Brierley, with his remarkable story about reuniting with his lost family in India, and Alisa Camplin with her motivational experience of winning gold at the Winter Olympics against all odds.  Both described two very different ways of setting oneself a seemingly impossible goal, and seeing it to completion.

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This job was a rich & challenging experience, both personally & creatively – not only did I need to sharpen my creative thinking skills on the fly to make my drawings concise & communicative, I felt I was able to draw deeply on many other personal skills and insights. My own lived experiences around mental illness, relationships and family breakdown, emotional communication and psychological transformation, all gave me a better understanding of the context & enabled a more authentic creative process.



Visual Scribe @ Calvary Palliative Care schools pilot program 2016



Following my experience as visual scribe at Calvary Hospital’s Death Café in 2015, one of the organisers Belinda Clarke approached me about being involved in an innovative pilot program she had devised in partnership with Calvary Hospital & two Hobart high schools.

A group of Yr 12 girls who were considering a career in nursing, were to attend six weekly sessions at Calvary’s palliative care unit, in which they would learn about various aspects of palliative care and begin to have more open conversations about death, dying, and ultimately, life.

image002Each week there were presentations by various health care professionals in the field, discussing topics such as medical & holistic supports for the dying, ethics, grief, care in the wider community. The students also spent time with a patient at the unit who was undergoing treatment, and who shared her views on life and facing death. The students kept creative journals throughout the course and used these to produce a creative response to their experience, in the form of visual art or writing. Each session was filmed & edited by HypeTV into a DVD overview of the pilot program to present to other schools.

Once again, my role was to attend some of these sessions as a live “visual scribe”, listening to the presenters and distilling their information into simple expressive drawings for student reflection.  As the course had never been tried before, Belinda had no expectation of outcome, and we were all very much in the unknown with the process – a place I always feel is creatively exciting!

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It was fantastic to be part of this innovative learning process, to support this important work and to again consider my own mortality more deeply. It was particularly powerful for the students, some of whom were directly dealing with death in their own families, and they embraced the challenge with great maturity and insight.

You can read and view the students’ creative responses, as well as see video diaries of the sessions, at Belinda’s blog here:

Here is the completed 13-minute documentary of the project, produced by Hype TV:

Death Cafe: Visual Scribing @ Calvary Hospital 2015



In 2015 I was invited to provide live cartoon “scribing” at a Calvary Hospital event in Hobart. It was a 2-hour “Death Café”, in which the general public were invited to meet and have open conversations about death and dying – not a grief group, but a safe space in which to normalise the usually-taboo subject.

death cafe 4More than 1000 pop-up Death Cafes have been organised by communities & health organisations around the world since 2004. Swiss sociologist / anthropologist Bernard Crettaz held the first Death Café after recognising the need to break the culture of secrecy around death & dying.

At the Calvary event, participants sat around the room in small groups, and my role was to move around the room, listening in on the various conversations and extrapolating the main themes, which I then tried to distill into images & words on two whiteboards.

This was both a creative and personal challenge. Leading up to the event, it made me think about my own mortality more, and practical aspects of death such as preparing a will, and it prompted some challenging conversations with my two adolescent children and my partner. Naturally we avoid speaking about our death with people we love because it touches on deep feelings of sadness & loss, but open conversations can help us feel more prepared for that loss when it happens, and potentially help us appreciate the time we do have with each other more fully.

death cafe 3Creatively, while I have decades of experience drawing spontaneously with groups in new situations, I had never tried live “visual scribing” before, and I was nervous about whether I could deliver something meaningful in a brief 2 hours.

In the end, it was a gently powerful experience for everyone, and the conversations ranged from attitudes about suicide, to feeling more alive in the face of death, to the commercialization of death, to the dangers of shielding children from death, and beyond. It was both fascinating and a privilege to be allowed to listen in on people’s stories, and many people found that my drawings helped them reflect more deeply, and even created connections across the room between separate conversations.

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team pic

The Death Cafe team: Aneeta Oakley, Sarah De Jonge, Cath Schlyder, Belinda Clarke & Santa Claus