Random Shapes

Random shapes become artworks. I love it when the byproducts of a process become works themselves. I’m tempted to transform them into paintings.

Back to the drawing board

Scene from a new story taking shape about a gang of abalone smugglers who run into trouble.

It’s been three and a half years, but two days ago I made a drawing again. It bothered me that so much time had passed without producing any new work. As time went by I became increasingly hard on myself for not having the discipline and mental stamina to sit down and make a start. Doubts started surfacing: would I even know what to do when I picked up a pencil again?

So on Sunday I got to work. It was hard going at first. Sitting still can be difficult. But after two hours or so I became calm. I guess it’s what you’d call getting into the ‘flow’. Experiencing the flow is one of the reasons I make illustrations. It doesn’t bother me that some of them take a lot of time to make.

So when I was in this state of flow the past three and a half years replayed itself with a clarity that I don’t have in the day-to-day busyness. This is what I had been through: changed company four times, moved house five times, rebuilt one house, had a child, changed countries, and both my parents passed away.

In that moment of clarity I was thankful for the ability to sustain the love of drawing when life becomes too complicated to find time and stillness. And I’m grateful to myself for the time and dedication that I’ve put into the art of drawing, knowing that when the time comes the flow will always be there.

Winter Wonders 2016 Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

At Winter Wonders on 30 June I read from my books Mister King’s Incredible Journey and Mister Sengi’s Very Big Friend. It was a combination of a book reading and a drawing workshop.

Running workshops with adults can be hard, especially if you give them paper and ask them to draw something. Running workshops with kids can be even harder if the group has a spread of age groups. Four year olds are very different to six year olds. Older children can seem sceptical and disinterested, but at the same time come up with sharp questions and observations.

But when you give them pencils and paper it usually evens out – creativity is a leveller if you are as comfortable with it as kids are. Putting pencils and paper in front of adults is another story.

I ran a design thinking workshop with adults recently where they ignored the pencils and paper. Drawing is a form of thinking that is equally as powerful as writing and talking, for some people even more so. I’d encourage more people to pick up pencils and to start drawing!

The lists of Stefan Sagmeister

Yesterday was one of those days – no real focus. I ended up browsing TED talks and found Stefan Sagmeister talking about moments in his life that made him happy. He spoke about making lists – lists are good thinking tools. I am going to start making purposeful lists. Here is a screenshot of one of his slides.

Reading the list made me happy.

Corals and the Antropocene

I’m reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – a book everyone should read. Here’s why:

The way corals change the world – with huge construction projects spanning multiple generations – might be likened to the way that humans do, with this crucial difference. Instead of displacing other creatures, corals support them.


One of the defining features of the Anthropocene is that the world is changing in ways that compel species to move, and another is that it’s changing in ways that create barriers – roads, clear-cuts – that prevent them from doing so.

and this applies to humans too.

Visualising the ancient Karoo

I’m fascinated by dry places that were once at the bottom of oceans. The Karoo is such a place, at least for a period of its ancient history it was under water. During that time rocks formed when sediments sunk to the bottom of oceans and lakes. The sediments were transported from higher ground by glaciers and rivers into the Karoo basin.

Conceptual map of the rock formations, towns, and fossils of the ancient Karoo.

But the ancient Karoo wasn’t always under water. Towards the end of a 90 million year rock forming period, the Karoo became drier, until it resembled today’s Namib desert. Then, at about 190 million years ago, lava flows covered the entire Karoo putting an end to the rock formation period. The Drakensberg mountains being the striking remnant from that event, but the characteristic Karoo Koppies are also a consequence of the upwelling lava (sills) that infiltrated older sedimentary rocks (shales) on its way to the surface. The Karoo today is the result of a 190 million year erosion process that started after the lava flows.

I like to think of the Karoo as a book, the rocks are its pages, to read the story of the Karoo you need to know what to look at, and understand what it means. But the story becomes complicated quite soon.

How to represent the story of the ancient Karoo in a simple infographic? The result of my first attempt is a conceptual map plotting rocks, fossils, and towns. I visualised the Karoo basin as a saucer consisting of 5 layers. The oldest layers are at the bottom, and crop out on the surface at the edge of the saucer. Moving towards the centre the rocks become progressively younger. This is a distortion of the actual geography, but I find it a useful model to understand the order of events, and physical structure of the Karoo.

Interesting facts cropped up during my research that I’d like to explore further: the end of a glacial period led to the formation of the Dwyka Group, and evidence of a mass extinction at the end of the Permian is visible in the rocks of the Beaufort Group.

More to explore, and more to follow.

It’s Not Rocket Science

I helped the author Di Kamp transform her manuscript It’s Not Rocket Science into an ebook. But then she also wanted a printed copy. The design was never intended for print, but the result is looking good considering I designed for RGB and not CMYK. If you are unfamiliar with CMYK and RGB colour modes check out this very useful explanation from FirstSiteGuide.com.

I received a copy by post, it travelled all the way from Worcester in the UK to Cape Town, it’s a little rough for wear around the edges after the journey.

For the first time, instead of making the illustrations myself, I sourced them from The Noun Project, and I’m very happy with the result. The illustration shown here is by Garrett Knoll.

A beautiful design

Since reading Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside I look at oystercatchers differently. He writes that the Eurasian oystercatcher:

…eats mostly mussels and cockles teased from the shore, using its greatest asset: a bone strengthened bill, part hammer, part chisel, able to prise open the biggest bivalves. Delicately coloured carrot-red to toucan-yellow – it might be made of porcelain – it a surprisingly sensitive probe. At its tip are specialised Herbst corposcules that allow the bird to sense its prey by touch as well as sight; an oystercatcher can forage as well by night as by day. Perpetually prospecting the beach, it stabs and pecks or ‘sows’ and ‘ploughs’, altering it methods to suit its prey.

what stayed with me is this:

It can even change the shape of its bill – the fastest-growing of any bird – morphing from blunt mussel-blade to fine worm-teaser in a matter of days.

Walking on the beach after a storm I picked up the body of an African oystercatcher that didn’t make it. Getting to see an oystercatcher up close is rare – and special – considering its wildness, holding it in my hands feels wrong somehow. They live on the edge always looking towards the sea – quick to fly when they sense people’s attention on them. They are not concerned with our world.

Recalling Philip Hoare’s words I studied the bill closely. It appears deceptively delicate, but considering that it is designed to withstand foraging abrasive mussel beds, the efficiency of its design is complete, allowing nature room to indulge in pure beauty.

More on African oystercatchers

According to the The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species there are an estimated 6000 African oystercatchers on earth.

The scientific name is Haematopus moquini. It means blood-foot (Haema: blood, topus: feet), named by Alfred Moquin-Tandon. Moquini’s blood-foot.

They are monogamous and can live for up to 35 years. Pairs have been observed to remain together for 18 years.

Afrikaans name: Swarttobie.