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  • Writer's pictureKaaren Poole

The Norbit Gallery

It wasn't long ago that I discovered Norbit, a fine narbalek living at the Perth zoo in Australia. Norbaleks are diminutive (12" tall) macropods (like kangaroos and wallabys) living in northern Australia. He captured my heart and inspired me to create an art journal spread in his honor. In this post, I'll take you through its creation.

For a while now, I've been thinking about doing a spread exploring different ways of framing images, and it occurred to me this might be an opportunity to combine the two intentions. So the starting point was to create a few "portraits" of Norbit to include in my gallery. I used pencil, as I often do.

Next was deciding on a color palette for the piece. To do that, I researched the landscapes in which narbaleks live - tawny rocky, sandy places with little vegetation, but beautiful blues in the sky and waterways. Along the way I discovered an amazing plant that grows in the same areas. It's called the wreath flower. Although couldn't find out much about the plant itself, I surmise several branches grow outwards from its base, hugging the ground. And when the branches form flower clusters at their tips, the plant takes on the look of a wreath. I hoped to somehow work wreath flowers into my piece.

But back the the journal spread. I placed the portraits then added blue and neutral collage bits to begin the background. I also added smudges of golden tan paint, suggesting the color of the ground in the narbaleks' habitat.

All I was trying to do with the background was establish some color as well as a background surrounding the portraits and somewhat darker than them.

But I felt I could see too much detail in the collage pieces, so smeared white gesso here and there with a palette knife. This would obscure some of the detail. I also brought in a bit more color with drops of alcohol ink.

This whole time I'd been thinking about how to include the wreath flower. My first thought was to paint the plant in the lower right space, but in the end I decided it would detract from the portraits. My solution was just to add a few of the flowers among the leaves and stems I cut from magazine pages of the appropriate colors. After adding these, I pushed them back a bit with smears and washes of white gesso.

By the way, I really enjoy the technique of cutting shapes from color swatches from magazine pages. I find the "snip, snip, snip" quite relaxing!

At this point, the portraits were a bit lost. So I decided to frame them with subtle color (and a thin pencil line.) I also strengthened the darks in the portraits. The final step was to stamp "Norbit Gallery" at the top right. I'm happy with the portraits, and reasonably satisfied with the piece overall. I would have liked to add text describing this little animal and his habitat, but didn't find the space. I think I'll form a sort of pocket inside the front cover of the journal to store notes on the spreads which I feel would benefit from them.

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Nov 16, 2022

I have been to this area, it’s colours and wildflowers are stunning and unique. So appreciative of your passion for often forgotten species. Have a look at the cheeky little quokka who lives on Rottnest Island in WA.Your art is wonderful and l look forward to your lessons in Life Book next year . My little mouse and Guardian Hare were such a joy to have a go at. 🦘❤️

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