Wednesday. Small still life/small object drawing: I blue-glazed stoneware teapot I’ve kept from my time as a studio potter. Vaguely mindful of Van Gogh’s still life with plate, two knives and a teapot which I will copy. Working small, not as in class where we spent 2.5 hours on an A2-sized still life. Not sure why I’m translating poorly processes exactly as in class, prefering to work much smaller and less adventurously at home.

Thursday. A bit more attention today to framing  and to several objects. Still getting stuck at the strengthening/detailing stage, after establishing the tonal basics. Not sure where the timidity is coming from. Again small. Today was the scheduled plein air meeting of the St George Art Society drawing the Chinese market gardens at Kyeemagh, but it was raining heavily. I managed yesterday to work out a vantage point from Muddy Creek, looking into the 8 hectare gardens from the west, prompted by the delicate Van Gogh’s reed pen renditions of cultivated fields. I found a closer view of the farm buildings from the north, from the boardwalk inside the Riverine Park wetlands area. More on that later.


I might as well get started on this still life composition thing – ‘reluctant schoolboy’. A quick sketch (too quick really, given the obvious need to record more carefully the play of shadows and make the trapped shapes more interesting geometrically) in preparation for next week’s class devoted to still life composition issues. Distinctly dodgy in parts, but pleased I could see what were interesting components. It’s vital to have fun and end up feeling relaxed, from having “looked” and investigated rather than just having “seen”.

Another in the series of daily warm-ups using a small object of some complexity.

Next week’s class is Still Life and I inwardly baulk at the prospect of a jug and two lemons, or the equivalent. I came across a sentence in Cathy Johnson’s First Steps Series: Sketching and Drawing where she advocated non-traditional objects in still life setups.

A foreshortened guitar, in a somewhat precarious position (this guitar will be have to be moved immediately before it gets damaged – and the setup will disappear) , reminded me of the violin in Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of a woman tuning a lute. I am privately reeling from the links between the nightingale metaphor in the French 16th centuary chanson Je suis desheritee and the subject matter of Richard Mills’ early 21st century opera The Love of the Nightingale, currently running at the Sydney Opera House; in a similar way, the 20th century literature on the subject of Artemisia links us with the work of the 17th century painter.

I also caught some snatches of the film The Pearl Ear-ring last week, a fiction spun around the Vermeer painting.  Towards the end I highlighted the upholstery roses to echo the idea of a guitar ‘rose’. If this sketch has a soundtrack, it must be Il somno profondo from Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans, Vedro con il mio diletto from Vivaldi’s Giustino (as sung by Sonia Prina, contrasted with Philippe Jaroussky) or J.C.Bach’s, Ach das ich Wassers gnug hatte and Buxtehude’s Laudate pueri – all of which I have to watch on YouTube at least once daily at the moment otherwise I go crazy.

I think the only difference between Sketching (Weaving/Braiding) and Meditation (sitting and walking), is that there is a physical artefact at the end of the process. Music is half-and-half; we have a physical artefact before and after, but the music-making itself goes into the ether (unless it’s recorded). Usually I’m more interested in process than in outcome. From time to time though, I’m forced to think about the ‘other world’ of physical artefacts: the individuals and industries surrounding the commerce of those artefacts – gallery owners, publicists, agents, gallery exhibitions and opening nights, e-tailing, exhibition sales, commissions, taxation.

At Drawing Class, the teacher indicated we might like to keep the drawings we do or not. I’ve kept mine, scribbling notes on each of the pages so when I return to them in future, I can remember what I was attempting and why. Part of that process spills over into this blog. There are plenty of artists who would never ‘publish’ everything; plenty who would hold back their best work for an exhibition.

In order not to think about all these issues (please, just not just now – later…), I’ve gone back to school to brush up on my technique. Classes usually means lots of exercises, one leading to the next, linearly, but in the past I’ve been demotivated because the exercises don’t ‘go’ anywhere. Contradicting what I’ve said above about process vs outcome. So this time around, I keep my own proper portfolio – all the best of my stuff together, a narrative construct which seems to valorise what I’ve done. This seems better than the jumble of accumulated classwork I normally assemble. I’ll come back to narrative construct because last week I went and saw the ArtBound exhibition of artist books.

Last class saw lots of drawing with the non-dominant hand, blind contour, even an 8-minute portrait done in continuous contour with the non-dominant hand. Just as a fun thing, with ‘proper’ portraiture instruction coming down the line in future weeks. A lot of that is front-of-mind in my urban sketching and object drawing and pen-and-ink work.

In my work at home between classes, I wanted to differentiate between Small Object Drawing (with the only problem being parallax error caused by being so close up to the object) and Large Object Drawing (requiring sighting and measuring with a pencil). For the Small Object Drawing, I’ve set up an old scaffolding double coupler on a squared green cutting board. I’ve been a bit cruel to myself by putting in the squares from the board after doing the drawing, just to see how ‘out’ I’ve been. This exercise at home seems to contain just about every challenge possible in matters to do with blind contour, sighted contour, some tonal range.

In the coming days, I have to look ahead to still life composition and a tonal bar. I notice Cathy Johnson advocating unusual objects in still life drawing – not the usual apples and napkins. I’ll keep that in mind this week. As predicted, we dropped willow charcoal in favour of pencil in class, like an unpopular relative.

Too wet to draw outdoors in Marrickville today – noone outdoors at the Post Office cafe, though the umbrellas were unfurled (permanently during summer?). Inventing all sorts of ruses to avoid doing revision for forthcoming university exams in Italian verismo and Moroccan ecriture feminine.

This is the fourth sketch I’ve done following on from last week’s exercise in drawing class – still life/furniture using the willow charcoal stick/pencil as a measuring device for establishing proportion and alignment. It’s a larger version of the same pot stand done a few day previously.

I’ve not touched willow charcoal since last week’s class, choosing instead to re-boost my confidence by working inside my comfort zone of pencil – here entirely in 2B. It will be interesting to see how quickly we move away from willow charcoal in the forthcoming classes, if we move away. I was very impressed at some of the other students’ work last week – entirely different approachs to mine. Given we weren’t shown any examples of the teacher of her own work in the medium, I found the work of my colleagues’ quite instructive. For some strange reason, in all the drawing classes I’ve ever attended, no teacher has ever put up an example of his or her own work in the medium: it’s seems always to be an introductory medium, on the way to something else.

Willow charcoal defies contour and invariably my willow charcoal work is a patchwork of tones and marks approximating lines to define edges: a pretty poor show. There is the slightest whiff of disingenuousness associated with charcoal: you look closely at works done in charcoal and the fine work turns out to be as the result of charcoal pencils with sharp points. Even the charcoal-looking work in Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawings by Kathe Kollwitz (great examples of her work this week on television in the series Art of Germany!) turns out to be a lithograph. To copy or emulate the work in charcoal, only compressed charcoal could produce the effects – again, one step removed from willow charcoal. Here endeth my whinge about willow charcoal.

Re-viewed a day later, I can see that my perspective is out, but that’s okay because I feel I’m making progress. I wasn’t confident about my perpsective at the time of drawing. I know if I was, I would have started using lots of darker pencils and done more work on developing tonal range. That might come later. While I might want to do seven drawings between classes, one a day, Life intervenes and so I can only manage one every two days.

Bert Dodson (pages 58, 60 and especially 62) draws students’ attention to contrasting marks in drawings: between “control handwriting” (focussed detail, accuracy based on fine motor skills) and “free handwriting” (relaxed line, perhaps with corrections or ‘restatements’). The contrast is present in mine: the control of the wooden stand, versus the freedom of the background boxes and electrical cords which also provide a context for the pot stand.

An A4 detail of an A2-sized sketch in willow charcoal. An exercise in proportion, measuring and sighting. And because of my proximity to the chair up on the classroom table, a bit of foreshortening. The last of six drawings over 2.5 hours.