June 6, 2011
Reeves gouache, 180gsm Como paper, hand-bound ox-plough book. Penwork using Staedtler Fineliner pen and Lamy Safari fountain pen.
With practice, I’m coming to understand some of the technical aspects of sketching in gouache: how much water to have in the brush, the ratio of water to paint, how to get “gross” effects versus some of the “finer” effects more associated with watercolour. I’m working far too small to achieve exactly what I want perhaps, but I get a chance to work larger soon when I sum up the gorilla experience at the Zoo with some larger painted sketches. I’m not entirely satisfied with either of these (both have drawbacks compositionally), but am learning a lot about the medium.
In terms of subject matter, the “coin” theme of Every Day in May #121 derives from the coin in the mouth of this Vietnamese plastic toy: a child sitting astride a dragon with a coin in its mouth. I assume it symbolises prosperity.
#122 came about because I’ve been intrigued by the way the deciduous tree on my front footpath has been losing its leaves: I’ve been watching them fall from the crown of the tree and with every passing day, more of the tree trunks, from the top down, become exposed. In the mornings, almost the entire tree (except for the lowest branches) is in shadow, as is the front gate and surrounding fences.
June 4, 2011
Every Day Matters, Every Day in May #119 & 120 – Draw some rocks; Draw a flashlight.
Faber-Castel PITT white pencil on black paper; Staedtler fineliner pen and Reeves gouache and W&N watercolour field box. 180gsm Como paper.
I’ve been doing linocuts at the rate of one nearly every day, so something white-on-black seemed appropriate just at the moment. I’ve gone a step further and bought a white gel pen which will be more efficient (no need to use fixative) and the next step is to hand-bind some sheets from the black paper pad into a small sketchbook. I’m copying the linocuts of others for the moment and a ‘day-for-night’ sketchbook will be handy down the track for creating original works.
The bright purple of the plastic battery-powered emergency lamp seemed destined to a gouache treatment. Documenting the colours in the shadows is something of an extension of the plastic salt & pepper shakers earlier on in the series. Not worrying about the wonky perspective; I’ve seen worse by Cezanne and Pontormo.
May 18, 2011
Fold-out page folded in. I knew I wanted to work for two consecutive days with sanguine/black/white, the traditional “three pencils” medium. I would have liked to have worked with an acid yellow/steel grey colour palette. What I wasn’t conscious of when I was working was using the background colour in the face, nor was I directly conscious of replicating the reddish sanguine of the ear on the far left with that of the far right, or the black of the glasses with the black of the skull. I knew there would be links between the face/skull and man/monkey, but in the end, I was surprised how much one page was “mirrored” by the other!
Fold-out page folded out. I wanted to retain a bit more of the painted background so cut out a ‘shadow’. While waiting to be glued in, the paper skull cast a shadow in the strong light I was working in, so I decided to emulate the line of that shadow in the paper cut. It ends up being a silhouette; if I was really careful, I could have cut out a silhouette of an ape skull. As it is, it looks decidedly human, right down to Adam’s Apple.
Faber-Castell PITT sanguine and black oil-based pencils. Today’s #118 Draw some hair is one step removed, similar to yesterday’s Draw something round. But in the visual journalling style of working, this is as much about working on what preoccupies me as fitting in with a more literal interpretation of the daily challenge.
Apart from taking special care with pasting-out and trimming pages with a craft knife, there’s a lot of hit-and-miss here. A much more measured approach would involve working out exactly how much painted background would disappear and sizing my sketches accordingly. If they were Formal Drawings (rather than sketches), I’d probably spend a lot more time fine-tuning the linework. I’m not worried my fold-out muscles in sanguine don’t fit exactly the skull in black underneath: it’s all about experimenting with new techniques and ways of working.
Cutting out and glueing separate sketches isn’t as transgressional or sacriligeous or wayward as I first thought. I was horrified when I first heard that colleagues “finished” location sketches in the studio at home, or added text or watercolour later on, so I am fast throwing out lots of pre-conceptions about sketching and developing my own personal approach. And if due consideration is given to paper grain and paper weight, there are no technical problems with cutting-and-pasting. What is really thought-provoking is that while these are “properly” pasted-out with acid-free bookbinder’s PVA glue, it’s possible to go on location with scissors, glue stick and pre-painted backgrounds.
www.RozWorks.com Roz Stendhal, presenter of the free online Strathmore Artists’ Workshop 3 in Visual Journalling.
May 17, 2011
Every Day Matters, daily drawing challenge #117. Draw something round. Every Day in May 2011.
Wash of yellow and yellow ochre ‘Global” Acrylic Impasto paint on my 180gsm Como paper; sketch drawn separately on 110gsm cartridge paper in Conte crayons, sanguine and Derwent pastel pencils, then cut and glued on with PVA glue.
No idea where the idea of a Portrait came from. Not a self-portrait, but it could have been. Completely left-field, though I wanted to include a Head somewhere among this month’s challenges, basically as a nod to other traditional genres apart from Still Life, which is what Every Day Matters understandably concentrates on in the main. I get to do some figures later on in the month, so that covers The Figure. And I’ve managed to include one item of Architecture already.
The idea of cutting-and-pasting my sketches on to a ground is radically new for me and comes from Roz Stendhal’s current online Strathmore visual journalling workshop. The technique is allowing me to “see” sketching and drawing as more closely related to painting – it “reduces” the gap between the two. I stopped short of filling in the white space at the bottom; if I wanted to move the sketch down, the eyes would have moved to the dead centre of the page so I needed to counteract that by sticking to the Golden Section/pattern of thirds and leaving the eyes closer to a third from the top. As it happens the white space at the bottom recalls the idea of Roman marble sculptures so I’m not unhappy about it. There was a compositional need to run the white from top to bottom of the page, which this satisfies. Yes, I did consider text and I did consider collage (the bloke is doing a PhD on sharks so it seemed natural to include a shark) but the page was “busy” enough as it was. This Portrait is a nod to some future sketching down the track when I revise my anatomy/figure drawing. Time for another round of Life Drawing!
Also moving away from my traditional style by holding my pencils in a different way – not up close. I liked the idea of round shapes and round lines coming to the fore; my favourite pastel drawer always draws portraits and figures in straight lines. “Round” conjures up that one wonderful class of adjectives in Japanese, where objects are described as long or round, etc.; sketching my beloved temari balls seemed a front-runner as well. Most of my painted background got covered up today, but I’m noticing how often cartoonists and illustrators use this same technique, obviously enhanced by digital technology in their fields. I found an example in today’s newspaper and I’ve been trawling through the 235 pages of examples on http://gorillaartfare.com The fantasy figure drawing there is firmly based on very sound principles of observation and draughtmanship – the direction they take it in is very 21st century including not just cartooning but things as “mundane” as book covers.
May 16, 2011
Two-page spread, each page 4×6″. 180gsm Como drawing paper. Pre-painted background: ‘Global’ student acrylic paint (coral red) wash over graphite pencil. Sketching in Derwent pastel pencils.
Every Day in May 2011, #115: Draw a shopping cart or trolley and #116: Draw something green.
The time has come for me to put paintbrush to paper and create a pre-painted background in line with Roz Stendhal’s free online course in visual journalling, promoted by Strathmore at www.strathmoreartist.com. I’ve been resisting the idea of pre-painting backgrounds ahead of sketching because of the potential for a contrast which is too great between background and sketching focus. It’s taken me a while to overcome this resistance: I find I’ve been unsettled by the idea of doing sketches out of chronological order. Goodness knows why, because this is despite the fact that scanning and uploading them to the Internet removes any sense of the chronological: online, they become like single paintings in an art gallery, with no context on what went before or comes after (or very little). My sketchbooks don’t show any strongly imposed sense of chronology either; I’m constantly picking up different ones and adding to them willy-nilly. Ian Simpson in his painting textbook talks about pre-painting backgrounds and adapting them in the field when out doing plein air landscapes; if the colour schemes don’t suit, keep flipping over the pages till you find one that does. The daily challenge during Every Day in May would seem to contribute to the sense of linear ‘reading’ of one image to the next, but there is logically no reason why I can’t do different daily drawings on different pages, so long as I do whatever drawing is due on a particular day.
I was “saved” by the fact that the forthcoming “green” sketch seemed ready-made for a background in a complementary red. I picked up Coral Red instead of Standard Red, so got a red-pink on the page. It scarcely took a few seconds so it’s not difficult technically. Working on such a small page made the additional inclusion of stamps and other marks superfluous. I’ve noticed how an internal frame seems to work with a lot of colleague’s sketches, especially those with an illustrationist bent to them, so I added a charcoal-y graphite pencil line before the paint went on. I’ve yet to experiment with watercolour painting over charcoal.
I couldn’t bring myself to completely cover the page with paint. I was concerned to leave some drawing paper which I knew would take the sketching medium. I wanted to stick to a sketching dry medium because there’s a certain predictability creeping into EDiM and I didn’t want to start turning it into a personal watercolour-a-day challenge. A watercolour-a-day challenge can wait for another time!
I was worried about linking the ‘pink’ to what I anticipated was going to be a mass of white and silver lines associated with a metal, ‘colourless’ shopping trolley. I’m reading Ted Goerschner at the moment and he is big on painting good shapes; he says to paint shapes for ten years before thinking about painting detail. I spotted a trolley two mornings ago near my house but today it was gone: I assume supermarkets are worried about new legislation in the ACT introducing hefty fines for trolley ‘litter’ so someone must be hoovering them up after hours. Anyway I kept walking into Marrickville till I spotted one. It was simply too inconvenient to stand there drawing an “illegal” trolley so I took photos instead. Now I normally only ever use photos as a last resort, but when taking the photo I was keen on getting an angle with dramatic shadows. I hoped that with so much going on on the page, the lack of spontaneity associated with sketching from a photo wouldn’t be so noticeable.
I originally wanted the focus to be on the white bag inside the trolley but it ended looking like some sort of marsupial in the trolley; the angles and shapes associated with the darks eventually took over. I resisted over-working everything, though working darks in pastels is pretty terrifying!
The eucalypt gum leaf was a natural with our sketching colleague in hospital. An important feature of her sketches is the shadow, so I paid homage to her too through those aspects. I guess the heavily-worked green leaf contrasts with the lack of detail in the shopping cart. Were the leaf not green, it might read as a feather instead!
Mercifully, I had no problem with pastel pencil going down on the acrylic paint wash. This strong, garish look appeals to a certain side of my sketching personality. What I know I need to do is be a bit more conscientious when it comes to Goerschner’s advice about the focus of paintings and his use of greys (ready-made in pastel pencils!) and his of additional colours close by that of the main subject, i.e. not just a red-and-green, but green against a red-yellow-orange.
Next up is a two-page spread devoted to Something Round and Some Hair. This will definitely involve some of my temari balls and a Hand holding them (hair on the back of fingers between knuckle and first joint). What I know I ought to be including is a fold-out page, as per Roz Stendhal’s workshop this week!
Roz Stendhal – www.rozworks.com
Goerschner, Ted. Oil Painting: the Workshop Experience. North Light Books, 1996.
May 13, 2011
Every Day in May, #113 – draw or paint a fence. Conte crayons, paper collage.
There are plenty of interesting fences in my life, including the latest one around the new IKEA shopping complex being built in nearby Tempe. Today’s fence and what is beyond the fence comes from the unusual metal staircase and balustrade inside the Tropical Plans Centre, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, discovered last month as part of the Great Garden Sketchabout there. Under the influence of Roz Stendhal’s online course in visual journalling, run by the Strathmore paper company, I’ve taken on board this week’s focus on collage. I came upon collage as a vehicle for the articulation of hidden personal messages in my adolescence; it never caught on as a visualisation of personal journey, but better late than never.
In terms of potential content, Roz mentioned things which I’d never considered before, such as cutting and pasting one’s own sketches and collaging photocopies and scans of objects of sentimental value and which resonate emotionally. The advantage of cutting-and-pasting one’s own sketches is that it immediately overcomes any drawbacks associated with bleed-through or other similar conflicts between medium and paper. I’d recently come across some notes scribbled by my late father, found inside some art magazines. Poignantly, he was obviously considering a comeback to painting because the magazines were dated two years before he died. I can only conclude that he was researching painting theory just before being diagnosed with the illness from which he later died. One of my strongest memories from around this time was showing him the Jackson Pollock at the National Art Gallery in Canberra and coming upon a small work by Trevor Passmore, his teacher at East Sydney Art School; Passmore taught there before going off to England. My father never finished his course of study but the art-making process was tapped into indirectly through his working life in the advertising industry. At the time I came across these notes of his, I thought of enlarging individual words and somehow incorporating them into a work of mine, especially since there were a lot of words to do with art-making.
A very long time ago, I took a weekend crash course in pastel drawing. The first day was all about the medium and drawing objects ‘from life; But on the Sunday we had to construct an A3-size collage and draw it in pastels. The idea of reproducing a collage in drawing or painting was revolutionary for me, because it tapped straight into content from the magination, from disparate images placed in and around each other. Stendhal’s idea of cutting-and-pasting one’s own sketches for inclusion in a collage of disparate images is equally revolutionary.
With the collaged papers in place, the sketch now reads as The Green Man of English myth and legend, or The Body with chakra points and an internal view, interior “fencing”, or literally, a staircase/fence inside a tropical garden/forest. Or an exploration of response(s) to Beauty. A lot of internal debate went on about the power of the eyes/face and concealing the more obvious (and distracting) human features.
#114. Draw something ugly you love and keep for sentimental reasons, Journal about it, too. COPIC markers, marbled paper, photocopied handwriting, paper and card collage.
This is the only Every Day Matters challenge this month which specifically calls for text. I could have ignored it, as is my wont when it comes to text.
My father was fond of succinct phrases and proverbs. Directly quoting others seemed to help him articulate his own feelings. I came upon several lines he’d written under a description of mixing colours from an art textbook.
A question is reality
A hypothetical question is a forced illusion
You add value & happiness to my life
The three lines had no context at all; they sound like snatches of words he may have overheard on the radio, affirmations made by somone being interviewed. I photocopied them life-size and mercifully they fitted the height of my page; I thought them too distracting placed horizontally.
Any connection with the object as sketched is tenuous. The object is a small Sri Lankan painted wooden elephant, a present from an acquaintance who I helped. I keep it because it offsets some brightly coloured temari balls of mine. I have toned down the the garish colours of the wooden carving. I am busy with bookbinding at the moment so a background of Margo Snape marbled paper came to the surface – another strand of my current life which I thought should be added to the mix, especially since it highlighted the flesh tones of my ‘fence’. Its swirls matched the direction of lines on the other page. I wanted at least one sketch this month to be in COPIC markers, but they are used here quite without any of their natural subtlety. The way the elephants tusks wrap around part of the script was fortuitous and something I retained. Literal meaning is pretty sparse, but the juxtaposition seems to hit me at a deeper level I cannot articulate.
In terms of ‘reading’ the pages of the ox-plough book, I have alternated very serious all-over spreads, with collage, with lighter more lyrical sketching on a very white background. I can’t say this will be a recurring format for the rest of the month. I realise now I am a long way from the original plan. These latest “sketches” are not the most seductive or beautiful of the pages done so far this month. But they have certainly been the most challenging at a deeper personal level. They certainly took many, many hours to put together. Such labour-intensive effort rather flies in the face of a daily sketching challenge, I know.
I can readily understand why Roz Stendhal works on a much larger (A4) format than the one I am working with at the moment. I have gone back to see some of her work and I very much like the subdued, elegant work involving sketching and collage. I am aware my collage overpowers the sketching, which is something she warns her students to be wary of.
I thought this month was going to be a personal review of Object Drawing and different media. Objects plainly carry a lot more personal psychological significance than I’d given them credit for. I am no great fan of art-making as therapy, but all art communicates basic, central human truths when it’s not expressing wonder at the universe. I am not sure this exercise in art demonstrates any social or ethical issues.
May 11, 2011
Wednesday 11 May. Every Day in May sketching challenges: Draw a bowl and Draw something fresh.
Draw a bowl. I was a bit intimidated by the size of a Japanese chawan tea bowl I have, so went for something smaller – a tiny 3″-wide ceramic tea caddy (chaire), also from the Japanese tea ceremony. I left it inside its textile bag (shifuku) and silk braid, with just its ivory-substitute resin lid poking through. Graphite pencil foundation followed by watercolour wash overlaid with Fineliner 0.1 pen (with some resistance over the purple gouache). I like this way of working: getting my bearings in pencil, addressing the ‘excitement’ of the colour in the subject matter by adding a watercolour wash and while it’s drying giving me more opportunity to keep studying the subject, then looking more closely with pen catering to my love of contour and tonal areas.
I seem to have lost my way in terms of addressing a wide variety of media in this month’s sketching challenges. I wanted this little ox-plough book to be a ‘status report’ on where I’m at with different media, but there is a growing sense of continuity between and among the sketches (one reads them after all as one following the other) which is at odds with my initial plan.
Draw something fresh. In English “fresh” is linked inextricably with flowers and food, so I thought of buying some sushi for lunch tomorrow and sketching that. Instead today I drew the tail end of my lunch – a mandarin (ringo in Japanese). Graphite pencil, W& N watercolour and Reeves gouache.
Since the daily challenges are now firmly rooted in a two-page spread, it makes sense from now on to show them online as a spread. In reading the book, it’s impossible to see them in isolation.
There is also, at a deeply personal level, something going on here: a bowl which is covered up, fresh food which has been eaten! Transgression? Obtuseness?