A New Chapter
During the first lockdown I'd have another go at illustrating a children’s picture book about unicorns I’d abandoned a while back – for good reason. Back then I’d set out to create my masterpieces armed with newly sharpened pencils and some confidence. I planned to pencil their outlines then paint them in atmospheric settings of fog and fire, or dark green woodlands similar to the famed unicorn tapestries.
These plans proved overblown.
My first attempt looked like a llama. The next one had a weirdly human face attached to its four legged body, and a horn like an upended carrot. Put off by the chasm between the images in my head and those on the page I gave up.
Four years later, tired of staring at screens in isolation, I remembered the unicorns. Yes, now was the time! Never had the medium of paper seemed more inviting, with its empty ivory smoothness, its tactility, its silence.
Out getting groceries I saw the local $2 shop was still open. Weeks had passed since I’d shopped anywhere except Coles and I spent a weirdly long time looking at cap guns and synthetic frangipani. With a paintbrush and watercolour pad I headed to the checkout with a sense of excitement.
“You’re still open,” I said, conversationally.
“Yes.” She looked offended. “Stage 3. Woolworths is open. So I can be open. Okay?”
“Of course!” I nodded my head in friendly agreement because it would be a while till my next face to face chat with a stranger - another daily pleasantry that’s gone the way of cappuccinos and office banter.
At home I watched a youtube video on painting horses and thought I was set. And then? Yep, my unicorns looked like smiling llamas again. The fourth one looked bizarrely like a gun. Let’s not discuss the lizard. And that’s just the heads -- don’t get me started on all those opposing forequarters and hindquarters and impossible spindly legs!
When my daughter came in to the kitchen, I pointed out the gun horse head and she said, after long pause:
“Yeah, that’s no good. It kind of looks like it’s been – bitten,” adding kindly, “Mum, now you’ve written a novel for grown-ups you should maybe, you know, stick to that?”
The rest of the afternoon was lost to doodling with paint like I used to as a kid, making black sweeping marks on the paper’s whiteness. Time passed, I daydreamed, and remembered with new appreciation a magnificent George Stubbs painting I’d once seen of a racehorse called Whistlejacket, a towering, fabulous beast.
Before packing up, I dashed off a sketch of myself painting unicorns. I’d love to say that in this final picture there appeared a perfect forelock, poll and muzzle but sadly I can’t. He looked like a giraffe.
First published in The Courier Mail under "A New Chapter".
Image: "Woman with Unicorn " by Italian Renaissance painter, Barbara Longhi, 1605
Welcome to my blog about writing, books, arts, ideas and events.