The Rabbit Who Lived Up An Elephant’s Trunk

This is a sequel to a blog post I wrote in 2008 on Illustrating Children’s Picture Books.

Back then I described how I had attended a four-week adult education class of that description at the WEA Centre, at which I chose to illustrate a poem that I’d previously written for a child of approximately five years.

Here is the poem again, punctuated in the way that seems best when the entire poem is displayed on one page. (I use simpler punctuation for book versions.)

A rabbit who lived up an elephant’s trunk
Was feeling extremely displeased
With the effort it took just to clean out the gunk
Whenever the elephant sneezed.
So she looked all around for the optimal place
For which she had started to hope,
And was offered just one — which was not in good taste,
Being deep down a crocodile’s throat.
“Well, I couldn’t live there”, thought the rabbit, “because
There are too many teeth at the door!
I might as well stay in the trunk where I was
And put up with cleaning the floor.”
But later the elephant stopped by the moat
And the crocodile bit off a chunk.
So the rabbit is now in the crocodile’s throat
As well as the elephant’s trunk.

I never completed my illustrations (check the above link to see how far I got), but my mother has always wanted the book to be finished, and late in 2015 she said she was willing to pay for it to be done through the graphic design studio I work for.

Now, because we’re graphic design, not art, the project was somewhat outside our usual domain — but we do have a couple of employees who can draw. One (Travis) is not long out of school, has started formal art classes at TAFE, and aspires to become a cartoonist. It turned out he was keen to do the drawings for my book, especially as it was to be his first time ever drawing for a client. However, he didn’t feel confident about colouring, so that (and inking) fell to another employee and art hobbyist (Rosie).

Incidentally, I also enquired online as to whether any other artists were interested (through a friend who is involved with the free painting software Krita). But nothing came of that, so Travis and Rosie got the job.

You are now reading the official announcement that the book is finished, and that if you’d like a copy, you can get in touch. Copies are limited, so I can’t give them out to every random person who stumbles upon this page, but I’d be happy to send them to any online friends who are interested.

Meanwhile, here is a web quality PDF for everyone to enjoy, and below is a video of the printed product. The back page shows a selection of my own illustrations, as also seen in my earlier blog post. The pages are 150 gsm white satin, and the cover is 300 gsm.

(I regret that my voice sounds bored in places, but that’s simply because holding a camera and reciting a story at the same time takes concentration, and I don’t have enough brain cells left to be expressive.)

OK, that’s the announcement over. I’d now like to share a few thoughts about lessons learned in the making of this book, especially about working with amateur artists. Then I’ll end with an invitation for any art or other derivative works of your own.

I’m glad I was able to offer experience to a young artist learning his craft, but the road was a bumpy one at times, and made me appreciate what a good professional artist could do. With a bit of luck, you could give a story to an experienced artist and more or less leave them to it, trusting them to make sensible decisions about what to draw and to draw it well. Travis is nowhere near that level, and I had to critique his drafts in a lot more detail than I was comfortable with. To his credit, he was happy to draw as many drafts as it took. If persistence and openness to criticism are among the marks of a successful artist in the making, then those are certainly among his strengths.

The skills that someone needs to be a good storybook artist include not only drawing, but also an ability to read someone else’s story and gauge what would and would not be appropriate for an illustration. This ability might not be evident simply from an artist’s portfolio, and I think it comes in two parts: knowing what to put in, and knowing what to leave out. For example, the book doesn’t mention anything about a castle until page 7, where we learn that the crocodile lives in the moat. Yet Travis drew a castle on page 4, and in early drafts it was a lot more prominent. Was this a good decision? In my comments I ruled that the castle should not feature prominently before the moat was mentioned in the text, but that showing a small part of it on page 4 was OK. In this decision I reasoned that someone reading the book for the first time might suppose that the castle is playing on the theme of places to live, so there is some thematic justification for it.

One very obvious lesson we learned is that we should have finalised the character drawings before starting on the scenes. Any real artist would have done it that way, but it’s one of those things that, as a design studio, we didn’t think about until it was too late. On a related topic, if you look closely you’ll notice several inconsistencies in the character drawings, but one thing worth mentioning is the length of the elephant’s tusks. On page 2 (where the elephant sneezes) they are a modest length, but on page 1 and the cover (which was based on a tracing from page 1) they are nearly as long as the trunk. In fact this isn’t an oversight, but an attempt to make it absolutely clear that it is a trunk and not, shall we say, some other part of the elephant (I felt that was important). An experienced artist would have found a better solution, but knowing our limits, the inconsistent tusk length was a sacrifice we chose to make for the greater good.

The only page for which I rejected Travis’s original concept entirely was the last, for which he drew the rabbit alive inside the crocodile, sitting on the detached elephant’s trunk and holding a fishing line. The poem leaves it up to the child’s imagination whether the rabbit survives or not, so I felt the pictures should do the same.

I could go on discussing Travis’s drawings and the stages they went through, because I know he’s OK with that, but a few examples suffice to make some general points. I am less inclined to publically critique Rosie’s efforts, because she’s a hobbyist rather than an aspiring professional, so I don’t feel it’s appropriate to put her work in the spotlight so much. That said, there is a story to be told about every page, as each picture is a collaboration, containing elements contributed by Travis, Rosie and myself. So please feel free to ask about any details that catch your eye. The illustrations are clearly better than I could have done, as you can see by comparing them to my own pictures on the back cover.

To finish this blog post, here is my invitation for artists. (I’m thinking particularly of those who try to draw something new every day, at all levels of proficiency.) If the muse takes you and you’re inclined to share, I’d love to see how you would have illustrated the poem, either the whole poem at once or a selected page from the book. For example, perhaps you have an idea for getting the rabbit and the elephant into the frame, or perhaps you think you can do a better job on drawing a scene from inside the crocodile’s mouth on page 5. Let me know whether you’d like me to nitpick your efforts.

And if you’re not an artist but would like to join in the fun, other derivative works are equally welcome, from an essay of literary analysis emphasising the political theme of housing shortages, to a recipe for a rabbit sausage roll with gooey green lining inside the pastry.

(Here’s the PDF again.)

Links: 2015 — 12

Assorted links from the last two months, and almost certainly the final for 2015.

  • This article on autism in women is mostly interesting and good, but has an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate a point by failing to compare like with like.
  • I learned a thing or two from this Upgoer-style explanation of relativity.
  • This essay on weather in literature is worth a read, but the section on present-day works is weak and disappointing.
  • Interview with Thony Christie, covering various topics in the history of science. The meat is from 00:07:00 to 01:07:50.
  • Timeline of the Universe. Be aware there are allegations of significant errors, some of which are mentioned in the comments.
  • Convincing proof laid out in an SMBC cartoon.
  • Transcript of a talk on online advertising and related issues of crucial importance in today’s world. Definitely worth reading. I don’t endorse every opinion (especially near the end), but it’s all part of an important conversation.

I have several things to say on the topic of books.

  • Books I bought recently include Perv by Jesse Bering (2013) and Setting Aside All Authority by Christopher Graney (2015), the latter on the strength of this review.
  • Mark Rosenfelder’s book on China is out. I helped with the cover illustration, which uses a photograph taken by my mother. We’re each getting a free copy.
  • I’m (sort of) writing a book of my own. It’s the children’s poem I wrote years ago and started illustrating, but this time with someone else doing the illustrations. It’s not a commercial publication. There’s a lot more I could say — and feel free to ask — but otherwise I’ll reveal all early next year.

A November ritual is choosing a wall calendar for the following year. Readers may recall that I have a collection to which I add one calendar a year, and that each year I choose a theme I’ve never had before. For 2016 I’ve chosen “Australian Waterfalls” and I am very happy with that decision.

I wrote a couple of random thoughts on Google Plus (here and here), in case you want to add anything.

More silly pulp covers

Back in February I linked to the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator, which lets you design magazine covers in the style of 1950s pulp science fiction. One entertaining way to use it is to design spoof covers for works that are manifestly not pulp science fiction.

At the time, I’d designed this cover for Mike Brown’s “How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming“.

Pulp Pluto

Recently I decided to see what else I could do, and decided I might as well design a cover for the Bible. (It’s been a while since I was last burned at the stake.)

Pulp Bible

If you haven’t explored the Pulp-O-Mizer for yourself yet, there are a certain number of magazine titles, background images, and foreground images available, from which you can choose any combination, and then add your own text. Obviously none of the options are remotely Biblical, which is what makes it an interesting challenge to find the best match possible. I chose:

  • Magazine title:Amazing Wonder Stories” — the only other remotely appropriate choice is “Enormous Stories“, which doesn’t go as nicely with the background.
  • Background: Futuristic city through round window — the nearest pulp science fiction gets to Heaven, and at least as good as the version in Revelation.
  • Foreground: Little guy jealously guarding his pot of gold — it’s not hard to find a Biblical character who fits this archetype, although not with a gun.

I hope that Christians and atheists alike can appreciate the humour in what I’ve done here.

I also wondered what cover would be most appropriate for my own autobiography, which I assure you will never be written. I’ve left out the custom text, which would only say Insert Title Here in any case. It’s the nearest I can get to a representation of what goes on inside my head (robots playing games under the stars).

Pulp Autobiography

Looking on my bookshelf for inspiration, I decided to have a go at “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language“. (Geoff Pullum’s comment in email was: “We are going to switch to this cover at the next reprint. If we can persuade Cambridge University Press, which unfortunately was founded in 1534, and has proved just a teensy bit conservative in the past…“)

Pulp Grammar

I’ve done a few others, but these are representative. Feel free to say if you have requests, or if you’ve taken inspiration from any of my designs above.

Bookshelf tour

On a whim — and because I’d just cleaned my bedroom for probably the last time in 2012 — I decided to make a video of my bookshelf. Questions for the reader include: “How many do you recognise?“, “Which would you like to borrow?” and “Can you spot a good bookmash?“. Also, feel free to ask questions of your own.

As I say in the video description, not every title is legible but it was the best take of several.

Results of punctuation experiment

Thanks to everyone who took part in my punctuation experiment. I got more responses than I thought possible, thanks largely to Stan Carey spreading the word on Twitter.

To begin this discussion of the results, here is a photograph of all the books I took quotations from. The full-size image is large enough to read most of the small print.

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Punctuation experiment rehearsal

Over on Stan Carey’s blog there’s talk of conducting a punctuation experiment sometime. It’s an idea that I tried out on something he wrote, after which we agreed that we should try it on a more organised scale, with more people involved.

Now, there’s only one reason for me not to have a turn at conducting such an experiment — namely that I just don’t have the readership to make it worthwhile. I would be lucky to get one response.

But it occurs to me now that this doesn’t feel like a problem if we call my version a rehearsal. Let Stan conduct the experiment proper, but in the meantime a rehearsal may be a good way to better determine the number, nature and length of quotations that should be used. (In other words, I would like a turn . . . and a little post-hoc justification never hurt anyone.)

[UPDATE: The experiment has now ended, and the results published here, although that needn’t stop you from submitting your answers anyway if you want to.]

So if you would like to take part in this rehearsal, here are your instructions:

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Pam’s haiku announcement

When I mention the name Pam Marlow, regular readers of this blog will know who I’m talking about. She was an excellent friend to me and my family until she tragically died from ovarian cancer in 2010. Here is the blog post I wrote after the funeral.

A book of her haiku (or “small poems” as she referred to them) has now been published post-humously, under the supervision of her husband Phil. The design was done by the company I work for, though I personally had no part in it.

If you would like a copy, leave a comment, or email me, and we’ll talk about getting you one (as a gift, if you’re known to me). If you’d rather make your own arrangements, here’s the online record with the National Library of Australia, where you can find the ISBN and so forth.

Click on this thumbnail to see a sampling of pages.


There’s a fun little game you might not have heard of yet, but it would not be a bad thing to see it become the next Internet craze.

It began way back in 1993 with Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project, which contains a gallery of photographs like this one. And in another reality it might have remained there, except that Stan Carey recently posted about it on his blog (and on Twitter before that, but it took the blog post before I understood it), including photographs of his own creations.

Essentially, the idea is to arrange two or more books so that the titles, when read in the order they appear, make sense (or at least coherent nonsense) as a collective. As a form of amusement it can accommodate a variety of approaches: some might think of it as a form of poetry, others primarily as a form of humour. If you have some books, a digital camera, a blog, and the inclination to put them all together, you really should have a go. My own contributions follow.

First, here’s a premise for a science fiction tale:

The monsters from here to infinity making money out of the silent planet.

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Teaching physics to a dragon

Following on from this and this, I’ve finished the two Simon Singh books I was reading and am now about half way through my advance copy of Chad Orzel’s “How To Teach Physics To Your Dog“.

The following comments focus more on negatives than on positives, which is purely in the nature of comments and nothing to do with the nature of the book. Things that are explained perfectly well tend to be invisible, and there’s only so much I can say about them. It’s the things that leave me puzzled that lead me to thinking, and to having something to say. So this isn’t intended as anything remotely approaching a balanced review, quite aside from the fact that I’ve only read half the book.

Memories of Childcraft

In a shop recently, Mum found second-hand copies of the Childcraft series from World Book Encyclopedia, which were among my favourite books as a child. I’ve often remarked they’d make great gifts for relatives who are about the same age now, so with this in mind, she bought them.

The Childcraft series is still being published, but in a form so different from the books I had that they can scarcely be recognised (over the years they’ve gone through many different editions, with some changes to the titles at each revision). Reading the series was a very significant part of my childhood. I received them about one volume a month when I was about seven years old — as an extended birthday present — and their contribution to my quest for knowledge is incalculable.

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