Cloudstreet - a modern Australian classic | Skillshare Projects

Nicole Vandersteegen

Artist and designer in Darwin, Australia



Cloudstreet - a modern Australian classic

Tim Winton is a contemporary writer from Western Australia. He writes of coastal life, and while I haven't been to southern WA where he bases much of his work, I feel like I know the landscape through his vivid descriptions and lyrical writing.

Cloundstreet has been reprinted many times, including in Penguin's Modern Australian Classic's Series.

it is a quintessential novel capturing characters and events from WWII onwards describing a time of resilience, resourcefulness and the different stereotypes of the Australian character. Although Winton is a contemporary writer, he evokes the style of well known authors from that period such as Ruth Park. 

It's a highly recommended book. I have been wanting to read it for years and this project was a good excuse to blow the dust from its pages!


It's the story of two families, both struggling, both marked by tragedy and disaster who are brought together, and ultimately share a house, on Cloudstreet, for a period of 20 years.

As I read through the book, I realised I needed to find what binds these stories together, what underlying current.

The House is the most obvious concept, the poverty binds them also as do their separate tragedies. The house itself is like a typical Federation mansion, wrought into decay by the time one of the families inherits it. So it was once a symbol of wealth and decadence, style and design of its era, now boarded up with bits of tin and makeshift repairs and the inclusion of  'corner shop' in the lounge room window! The concepts are described as typical of Australian life of the era and so resonate within its historical setting. 

The element of water is strong in Winton's oeuvre, and Cloudstreet seems to float endlessly on top of, beneath, submerged and bubbling: water is one of the binding elements of this work.

The jetty, a natural extension of the water element in Winton's landscapes, evokes a certain kind of structure - the heavy piers, the slats, the long walk of the platform and the perspective. Also an iconic image from this part of coastal Australia.

The book's prologue alludes to a crucial event on a jetty, then the book is propelled back in time, always with the expectation that the earlier prologue will emerge with meaning and understanding. 

The structure of the jetty was a perfect fit for a W, a perfect fit for the author, and the jetty symbolizes strength, sturdiness, stubborness. It also represents decay, rot, long summer days. I thought the structure of the jetty also had a duality with the structure - be it repairs or decay - of the house on Cloudstreet.  


So I did further research to capture the essence of Australian design from this era, and I also did a Google image search of Cloudstreet and found one its most recent incarnations (blue cover on right), which I am sure you will all agree, is a most exquisite cover by Sam Pash! I tried not to feel intimated by it, it seemed such a perfect rendering of the novel, then I remembered that what I need to do is a drop cap, so of course my approach would be different!


The sketches are very rough but the jetty concept is really strong so I have explored that a bit more. My issue is trying to illustrate too many things I think! But I've also needed to go through this process to see how it's working, then hopefully, will be able to simplify design in vector


I am thinking of the cover as a single spot colour and want to make the best use of negative space, I proposed to make the vector art as though it were a screen print or linocut, get such nice edge or nib brush strokes and really play with the contrast of a dark cloth bound cover and a white spot colour. Although, having said that due to issues printing white on dark might be better for a dark spot and light background ... issues to work through a bit later.


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