From IDEA to ART graphic documenter, brenna Quinlan, at Australasian Permaculture Convergence 14, Canberra

HOW DO YOU translate an idea in someone’s head into a graphic illustration? That was the challenge Brenna Quinlan faced when she set about illustrating David Holmgren’s book, Retrosuburbia.

It was also her challenge at Australasian Permaculture Convergence 14 — APC14 — in Canberra.

The book

The book, a new take on the potential role of households in a resource-constrained future by the co-originator of the permaculture design system, is the outcome of several years of thinking and writing about the topic. Brenna’s illustrations give the book its visual ambience, its feel, its look. Choosing the right look is important to a book’s appeal to its target readership.

The graphics clarify David’s thinking on retrosuburbia, and in this they are an act of translation, of making physical what is mental.

Brenna Quinlan's illustrations from David Holmgren's 2018 book, Retrosuburbia.

Graphics rather than what the text says are what people notice first when they first flick through a book. That was evident at the Permaculture Festival at Canberra City Farm, the event that preceded APC14. There, at the retrosuburbia stall, Victorian permaculture practitioners Beck Powell, Ian Lillington, Oliver Holmgren and Richard Telford were busy talking to people flicking through David’s book. Brenna’s graphics set a visual tone that helped the book sell out before the event ended. That was good news for David but it was a disappointment to more than a few potential buyers.

The convergence

While some participants at APC14 were still in their bunks thinking about breakfast, Brenna was already at work. When I wandered downstairs around 7.30 on the mornings of the four day convergence, there she was at work in the common room, pen in hand, turning people’s ideas into graphic reality.

Brenna talks about illustrating David Holmgren's Retrosuburbia book and the Convergence.

Brenna started her day early in the morning by translating her notes into a graphic documentation of the day.

As APC14’s graphic documenter, Brenna produced large, A1 size, coloured illustrations that summarised the sessions of the day. Attached to the wall, her work served as both summary and aide memoir for the ideas that flowed out of the sessions.

Those large-scale works were the end pieces of a process that started with Brenna sitting on the floor at sessions, writing and sketching in a notebook as she extracted meaning from what speakers said. Somehow, her brain distilled the essence of people'e words into notes and what might be called concept sketches. I think those notebooks would be worthy of publication in their own right.

Brenna creates her notes on the floor at the conference centre.
Brenna's notes made during the sessions were works of art as much as were the finished A1 graphic documentation panels.

Next morning, and this is what she was doing when I encountered her before 7.30, she would transfer those notes and preliminary sketches onto the A1 sheets.

First, Brenna sketched her illustration as a concept drawn lightly in pencil. That done, she inked in the pencil drawing. Finally came the watercolour that lifted the line drawings into visual life. Pinned to the wall, her work summarised the day’s sessions in works of illustrative art.

Brenna's graphic documentation of day one at APC14, Canberra, April 2018.
Brenna's graphic documentation of day two at APC14, Canberra, April 2018.
Brenna's graphic documentation of day three at APC14, Canberra, April 2018.

What’s next?

I don’t think we have seen the last of Brenna’s work. I suspect it will appear in other books and perhaps at other events when the scattered permaculture tribe comes together.

Wherever it appears we can look forward to a fresh, colourful interpretation of permaculture ideas that, thanks to Brenna’s talent with pen and paint, present those ideas in a form that make them attractive to a broader range of people than does text alone.

Brenna Quinlan: https://www.facebook.com/brenna.quinlan.3

Retrosuburbia — the downshifter's guide to a resilient future (Permaculture Principles website): https://au.permacultureprinciples.com/product/retrosuburbia/

APC14: https://apc14.permacultureaustralia.org.au

APC14 facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/1625742390991220/

Photos: Russ Grayson pacific-edge.info other than those of the three A1 panels supplied by APC14 organisers.

Graphic documenter, Brenna Quinlan
Created By
Russ Grayson


Photos and story by Russ Grayson — https://pacific-edge.info

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