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Spooky times


Park Life

I'm not a fan of the commercialisation of Halloween, but if there's one thing I absolutely love, it's the weirdness of the season - the chance to delve into eerie art and inspiration. If you've not seen them already, do check out my Books page for Halloween Forest and Magic for Sale, two Halloween themed picture books I illustrated for Holiday House publishers - copies widely available!!


However it's with monochrome that I really feel the chills. I'm an illustrator who's worked with black & white my whole life so this really is the perfect season - the shadows and mystery of the uncanny are for me absolutely enthralling. So for this post, here are some of my recent Halloween-themed daily one inch square tiny drawings. As they mostly reflect whatever comes into my head on the day, some are more about mood, others visual jokes. They're all fun to draw though!


Ghost Tree

This year, truth be told, has to be the scariest we've had in a long time, thanks to Covid 19. Under these circumstances Halloween seems very trivial, but it's been a welcome escapism from the daily horror story of reality. The unsettled nature of the present has nourished escapism into illusion and fantasy.

Black dog.

I've been shamefully quiet on the blog during lockdown, perhaps surprising considering I, like many illustrators, have been spending a lot more time shut up indoors. Social Media has helped to counter this, but even there I've largely been just sharing stuff, getting hot under the collar about the condition of the country, or posting daily one-inch images on Instagram, Twitter & Linked-in, or researching genealogy, history and art through Facebook groups (one of the few things I like about Facebook). This is all very well, but I've not been talking very much, chatting, engaging in discussion etc., it's been more like hiding away, waiting for the nastiness to pass.

Awakening

Some of my writer friends have been wonderful on social media though - the author of my last book Joyce Dunbar has been posting marvellous essays reflecting on Lockdown life on Facebook, also the SCBWI discussion forums have been very lively. Maybe its just my nature to button down, stay quiet, and just turn to drawing when other forms of communication are denied us.


We're so used to talking to each other face to face, when this is taken from us it's not just an exchange of words that we miss - there's the physical reassurance, the succor that comes with direct communication, even with strangers. Zoom meetings don't carry the same resonance - there's something intangible about physical proximity with people that's so important, beyond body language, beyond support, it's the shared consolidation that we all exist. So when we don't have that (I'm not at all clamouring for an end to restrictions by the way!) we turn within to ourselves, we become insular and absorbed.

Encounter

I used to be a very introverted child, though came out of my shell as I grew up, I fear Lockdown has pushed me back to those ways somewhat, a reversion to the safety of solitude, but it's odd that the more we think we want to be alone, the more we realise we need people around us. When I lived in Tokyo, there was an immense reassurance of being a cog in the vast metropolis, the roads were the veins of the city, the crowds the corpuscles of the urban monster - and I, a part of it, following the flow, seeking the details, the backwaters, and mentally escaping. It was inspiring, crowds were reassuring. All that is a distant memory now - I knew the quieter pace of life in Norfolk would be a big change from Tokyo and London, actually bustling Norwich is fine as we're close into the city, it's just that no-one was expecting the self-inflicted solitude of the pandemic.


Thankfully though, there is one person I see all the time - my daughter, who has been an incredible support - we talk a lot - contrary to expectations that teenagers fight with their parents, Lockdown has if anything brought us together more than ever.

Shadowplay

The understandably slow pace this year has had it's benefits, though creatively I have to admit the numbness and uncertainty hasn't helped at all when it comes to writing children's stories - something many creators are experiencing I suspect. It just goes to show how much we need to nurture the energy, fan the flames of inspiration! My ideas at the moment tend to materialise through my daily one-inch drawings. The trick (or treat?) is to develop them further into stories, beyond single images, into viable narratives! Well, it's bonfire season, O-bon fire time, and nothing kindles a good blaze like a bit of a breeze, so getting outside for walks etc. is crucial. We need to feel the oxygen in order to fire up our creative minds!


October Tiger

Finally, I just wanted to say - thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who was involved in nominating me once more for the 2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, I am truly astounded and surprised. As a complete outsider my chances of winning are very slim, but being nominated once again is a deep, and profound honour I will hold dear forever.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Spooky booky

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All illustration images © John Shelley, not to be used without permission scribblatosis(at)gmail(dot)com