Duck!

Duck! Cover! Run!

I obviously don’t say that because I have sketched a duck! You can see that I haven’t. What I did sketch is a magpie. My immediate reaction when I see them at certain times of year is to duck and cover my head if I can. They are vicious when protecting their nests in Spring! Don’t believe me? Watch this.

Lucky for me I wasn’t in a great deal of danger from the one I sketched.

For all of their periodic viciousness though, I love them. They sing a rich and melodic song that sounds for all the world like: dorgle dorgle dorgle! Which is why I call them dorgle birds instead of magpies, in much the same way as I call cockatoos jerk birds, because they are noisy, destructive jerks! (also, I can never tell if they are happy or cranky when they are making all that racket, especially when it starts to rain.)

It had been a while since I attended a Canberra Urban Sketchers meetup mostly because of the pandemic and partly because I seem to have become a hermit of late, but I could not resist jumping back in with this location at Garema Place. Lots of fresh air, lots of interesting people to watch and a broad selection of public artworks to check out. Thankfully there was also plenty of shade given the mid-Summer timing.

I chose to draw the big magpie sculpture called The Big Swoop, and framed it as a nature journal page, combining the two disciplines of urban sketching and nature journalling by adding some labels and information to the page.

I parked myself under a tree and leaned back against the smooth trunk while I eyeballed the big bird and thought about how to layout my page. As luck would have it there were some non-swoopy (wrong time of year) real life magpies around singing their hearts out as we sat and sketched. It was really really pleasant and relaxing. I found it easy to get into the flow.

I took a moment to look up who the artist was and some of the particulars of it’s size and weight and discovered that this was the second iteration of the sculpture since the first one had been destroyed by vandals. Why do they do that?? I am pleased the big fellow was given a second chance, and that he got a fresh chip to nibble. I popped these details around my page.

20230108 - the big swoop

I have started using a non-photo blue pencil to scribble in my vague subject volumes, delineate the layout and to locate some details after watching John Muir Laws‘ nature journalling videos. There’s something less obtrusive about the pale blue lines over my usual graphite, and it does some weird magic to disappear when I take a photo of the page, though it still shows up when I scan the page, as you can see. I don’t mind that, it adds a bit of scrappiness and immediacy to the page that I like.

Other sketchers came and went around me as they moved to capture different angles, and we chatted as though it hadn’t been a couple of years since we saw each other last. Sketchers are such a friendly bunch!

I had a bit of time before we were due to come together again for the show and tell part of the sketchwalk, so I sketched two of my fellow artists that sat nearby and the magpie one more time for a little context since I was using my day to day sketchbook rather than my dedicated urban sketching one. I also captured the organisers setting up the end point for the protest march in support of the people imprisoned and in memory of those executed in Iran’s latest human rights atrocities. The main group of protesters moved noisily through the mall toward their destination with a hail of megaphone incitements and call-backs from the group just as we were taking our group photo by the big maggie. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stick around and sketch the crowd, I would like to do some reportage sketching at some point.

20230108 - the big swoop 1
20230108 - the big swoop 2

Fingers crossed next month’s sketchwalk is in a similarly airy spot so that I feel comfortable being out amongst the germs again 🙂

Your top nine and my top ten

Each December Instagram is a-flurry with people posting their top nine posts as defined by the number of “likes”, the image below shows mine. Predictably the top left image with the most likes was a Reel (a short video), which get pushed out by the algorithm. People seem to like them. It always amuses me that the pictures or posts most appreciated by others are never the ones that I like the most. So I figured I share both. If you click the picture it will take you to my Instagram feed and you can see them at full size, or watch the videos. My favourites for 2022 follow.

https://www.instagram.com/michelle.collier.art/

Shoe bill storks are the funniest looking birds I have ever seen. I saw the photo that I drew this one from on Twitter and just had to have him in my sketchbook. I love drawing birds! I can imagine this guys saying “Seriously??” He made me laugh.

20220306 - shoebill stork WTF

Last year was another year of virtual travel for me. I would love to have been out in the world sketching on location, but there are so many fabulous places that even if I was able to travel I’d never get to them all. This little tower caught my eye and made me wonder what it might be like to live in a place like this. Cold most likely. But a warm bed up in the attic would be a wonderful place to hide away and read for a while!

20220506 - bootmakers tower

I try to capture our cats as often as I can, but tend to default to a cartoon style to capture their antics. This is one of the few times I caught them as is. I love this spread simply because it has the cats on it!

20220701 - new cat tree

This year I played some more with collage and messing about with altering whole pages from magazines. It is so relaxing to fiddle around with scissors and glue.

20220823 - precious privilege

I was disappointed that I didn’t really capture the Borg queen very well, but this was I think the first time that I had used a stencil with some acrylic paint alongside the watercolours in a way that I liked.

20220909 - complex

I LOVE drawing machinery! The local shops are having a landscaping overhaul and this guy was parked up for the weekend.

20221016 - DUFFY - track loader

Mixed media is fast becoming my favourite art therapy outlet. This on in particular let me process some really difficult stuff. As much as I love the aesthetic of the spread, it is one of my favourites more for what it achieved for me.

20221103 - open hand

Recording every day life in the pages of my sketchbook is what it’s all about for me. I get to capture moments in time and embed the memories for years to come. I love watching my sons interact in the kitchen. I hope to see it many more times yet, but if I don’t this will keep it alive for me.

20221223 - birthday dinner

What can I say … BIRDS! And my favourite bird at that. We have a male superb wren and his harem of about four females that live out the back. This isn’t him, but I couldn’t go past one of these little guys for my Australian Christmas greeting.

20221224 - christmas wren

To cap it all off, this mixed media piece is my very first artwork on canvas, and I am so pleased with how it came out! It was a steep learning curve with the many layers and media and techniques. I hope to do more of this type of thing in the future.

Once again, thank you for supporting me and my art in 2022. Here’s to an inspired and motivated year ahead!


I am launching a monthly newsletter at the end of January; I’d love it if you would consider signing up! It’s completely free with an option to support my work on a voluntary basis if you so desire, but there’s absolutely no pressure.  

Sketching at Tidbinbilla

Way back in September I took myself out for a sketching date out to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. The drive out there is a lot of fun, with lots of twists and turns that my sporty little mini leaned into like a champion! It was a wonderfully sunny day and still a little warm even in the late afternoon. My goal was to walk the wetlands Sanctuary track, and try to sketch wildlife if I managed to see any. I took my A6 book and tiny art toolkit palette, a pen, pencil and waterbrush. I travelled very light!

Before the entry to the wetlands there is an abandoned cottage from the late 1800s called Rock Valley Homestead. I stopped in for a wander around and had a sit in a lovely sunny spot to enjoy the garden.

20220822 - Rock Valley homestead

This is a little of what remains of the kitchen. The inside rooms are pretty bare, it is really just a shell of the building. Some of it had been burned in the big bushfires that came through in January 2003. But what is left is well preserved and tended.

my walking poles

The path around the Sanctuary is dotted with wonderful places to sit and watch the comings and goings of the birds, or to have a picnic, or just to listen to the froglets go off.

Wetlands

I was there a little late in the day to catch much of the wildlife, and too early for the platypii but I did manage to see a female black swan on her nest!

20220822 - moth4er swan at Tidbinbilla Homestead

She had just taken over nest duty from her partner and was settling in for the evening on her clutch of seven eggs. I was able to stand a couple of metres away and enjoy watching her snuggle and shift to get into the perfect position.

20220822 - Tidbinbilla Homestead

This was a quick watercolour sketch of one of the lagoons along the way … I really need to work on my landscapes! Can you recommend a good online course by any chance?

This creek was so lovely! The bubbling of the water over rocks and around branches was so relaxing. It was getting late by the time I got to this point, otherwise I would have loved to sit and sketch the branches and rocks and grass. I shall have to return!

Snake sculpture

At various points around the loop there were iron sculptures made from scrap metal.

Platypus sculpture

They made me smile!

Kangaroo sculpture

I haven’t made the time to get out of the house much in the last couple of years, and it was so good to get out. I will do it againe!~

A week of delight

A week or so ago I signed up for Wendy MacNaughton’s paid newsletter and was overjoyed to see that she is expanding her kids’ online art show/class/club to include some fun stuff for adults as well.. she calls it the grown-ups table… or GUT for short. Which amuses me no end. This week’s exercise involved sketching something each day that delighted us, flowing out of a book she recommended by poet Ross Gay called The Book of Delights. I have ordered the book, and cannot wait to dive in after the fun that I have had this week. I have found it so easy to drown in the sad and the hard things in life, or even just drift by the delightful things as I focus on making it to the end of another week. This week of noticing and sketching has been just what I needed to kick me out of that loop.

Here are the seven little sketches I produced and the things I wrote about each when I posted them to Instagram each day

Monday

CAT FUR – it is just so very soft that it almost defies belief that this purry being – that has five end points, all of which are sharp and dangerous – could be so soft and comforting and sigh-inducing.

Tuesday

SILVER-EYES – This morning a flock of tiny little birds visited my garden looking for bugs and fluff. I always leave tufts of cat fur pegged to the tree for their nests! Tiny little things they are! About 11cm long and weighing 10gm. I love them.

Wednesday

FRESH COFFEE – The new drip coffee maker we bought has a timer function, so we have set it to start making the coffee 15 minutes before our normal wake up time. It is the height of luxury to wake up to the smell of fresh coffee!

Thursday

SURPRISE SWEETS – My latest order of contact lenses arrived this morning with special surprise – a little bag of Gummy Bears! I never buy these things for myself, so this was a wonderful treat. I savoured them slowly. I had to draw the packet because I was too busy enjoying the lollies to think of sketching one!

Friday

DANCING FAIRIES – After the rain showers this morning a couple of female Fairy Wrens came down to snap up the bugs. They were bouncing up and down and fluttering their wings like little dancers. Tiny little puffballs of joy!

Saturday

HAPPY SMILING FACES – I was greeted by my new bed of smiley pansies as I returned from shopping this afternoon. All shades and combinations of whites of purples nodding at me as they were ruffled by the late winter breeze. I could not help but smile back at them.

Sunday

MUMMA SWAN – Today I had the privilege of sketching this female swan sitting on her clutch of seven eggs. She was in a big straw nest at the edge of the wetland, and had just taken over after dad’s afternoon shift and was settled in for the evening. I could hear the froglets ramping up their chorus as the sun went behind the mountains.

The whole spread

I am really pleased with how the spread pulled together in the end … a little niggle with the colour of the swan’s nest, but over all, the seven spots of encapsulated delight gives me a good reminder of what the week was like.

Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook, Carbon ink, Daniel Smith watercolours

A visit to Cotter Dam

A couple of weekends ago I decided that it was time to stop being a hermit and to get out and take a walk and perhaps sketch. My destination of choice was Cotter Dam, which is a 25 minute drive from my place. I have taken up Nordic walking, so I packed my poles and grabbed my tiny sketch kit and off I went. What I hadn’t thought through too well was the fact that we had had a LOT of rain a couple of days earlier. Like 100mm of it in a day. When I got there i could hear the roar of the water spilling over the dam before I even got out of the car. The river below the dam was full to overflowing, though from the look of the debris, the water had been much higher the day before.

Much of the low lying walking track was underwater, but I was still able to head up the raised walkways to the viewing platforms to take in the view. Off I strode, arms and poles swinging and huffing and puffing like an old steam train. I got some amused looks, but I am happy to say I ran into a couple who were also striding about with poles. A head nod and a smile as we passed was lovely! I tried to explore a little further along the river after the viewing walk, but had to turn back because I couldn’t get to the other side of the river where I had parked my car from that end of the trail. Oops.

When I got back to the car park I sat to catch my breath and decided that it would be a good time to whip out my sketchbook and grab a quick sketch in the mist before the rain set in again. The result is the sketch below, which took about ten minutes. It was tricky because the paints were not drying in the cold and drizzle.

20220807 - Cotter dam in the rain
Sketchbook: Seawhite Brighton 3×5, Daniel Smith watercolours, Uniball pen

I wasn’t hugely happy with the quick sketch so I snapped some photos to do a sketch from at home.

20220813 - Cotter Dam visit
Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook, Daniel Smith watercolours, Carbon Platinum ink

This one took a couple of hours all up and I decided to include a sketch of a young woman standing on top of the FLOW sculpture that sits just at the end of the carpark in front of the dam. If I were younger and somewhat more nimble than I am at present, I would love to hop up there 🙂 I love climbing on things!

Sketchbook flipthrough

I have been putting off filming this sketchbook tour for months now. I wanted to do one with commentary so that I could explain to you what I was thinking when I was creating particular spreads. This week I bit the bullet and did it anyway. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we all have to start somewhere, right?

I hope you enjoy taking a stroll through my sketchbook and listening to me prattle on about it! Let me know what you think on the post here or on YouTube!

Look into my eyes……

20220119 - thinking spiral
Pentel ink brush and watercolour in Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook

Keep staring at the centre of the spiral. Round and round and round. Are you sleepy yet? Or just confused?

20220119 - confusion
Lifted-type collage

It’s an interesting thought … nature knows what it’s doing … it’s us that get things all twisted up when we try to untangle it. Collage is a great way to create and unravel my mind when it becomes over-stimulated.

2021 in a nutshell plus a sketchbook flipthrough!

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite sketch book pages from 2021 as a way to close the book on what has been (for everyone) another stressful one. I am so grateful to have this creative outlet to help me focus on beauty or to process that which I don’t quite know how to deal with!

20210301 - rower view

I catalogued various things around the house, including my view from the rowing machine in the garage

20210302 - calm ease

I played a lot with repetitive patterns as a way to soothe and think.

20210419 - krasnyy

Our new cats started to feature a lot.

20210914 - tuscany

I travelled the world via the internet and my sketchbooks and visited a diverse range of cities around the globe.

20211018 - rest

I drew things that I treated myself with from time to time!

20211204 - errands

And I squeezed in a little urban sketching toward the end of the year when I was able to venture out more.

You can view all of my sketches for 2021 in an album on my Flickr account HERE – you can watch it as a slideshow if you choose the “slideshow” button in the top right.

I also got around to filming a flipthrough of the sketchbook that I finished mid-September, so you can see how the feel as a set of sketches within the physical book. I didn’t record a commentary on this one … perhaps next time!

Here’s to a creative year ahead both for me and for you, in whatever form the muse takes for you!

World travel…sort of

We are not long out of lockdown here in Canberra, Australia, and as yet I think the international borders are still closed. Even if they are open I don’t think I’ll feel safe travelling for a while yet, so I have been tripping around the planet in my sketchbook, finding interesting places and honing my skills for when I can get out.

20210921 - santa maria del rosario

First stop was a Venetian church. I don’t have the opportunity to draw too many ornate buildings, so this was a bit of a challenge straight out of the gate.

20210923 - moulin de fresquet

This is a little auberge that I stayed at about 10 years ago. I would dearly love to stay there again sometime. It was part of a watermill and home. I remember there were lots of ducks and geese in the grounds!

20210925 - opera houses

I didn’t realise how wonderfully bizarre and diverse opera houses around the world are until I started digging around for reference photos for this spread. I love the modern buildings! They present their own kind of challenge just as the ornate ones do.

20210930 - amsterdam houses

These funny houses all stacked side by side amuse me. I’d love to see inside one day. I have never been to that part of the world! By this stage I was getting itchy feet!

20211001 - indian market

This lady in an Indian market in her wonderfully bright sari and surrounded by vivid coloured fruit and vegetables made my heart sing. I could almost hear the sounds and smell the spices in the air as I sketched.

20211013 - Makedonium

This bizaare monument in North Macedonia made me laugh and I really couldn’t go past it for a fun challenge to draw. It made me think of sea mines and the virus that is knobbling me.

20211020 - 1 chartres spread

Chartres is a place I have visited in the past. I had a deeply reflective experience wandering around in the cathedral and placing my hands on the pillars polished smooth by centuries of pilgrims. I think I could have spend days wandering around that little town.

20211021 - 20 min il redentor

Venezia! For this one I sketched as though I was in a rush and needing to capture a scene between sight seeing stops with my love. My speed sketching needs work, but I am happy that I captured the story in this one.

20211024 - villa foscari

Playing with different framing on another Italian classical building.

20211027 - mow cop

Ahh back to the UK. This “summer house” stands on a hill between the north of the country and the midlands. I suspect it was scene by my forebears that lived in the area. Also… the name made me giggle 🙂

20211029 - fishing village norway

I chose this photo to draw from because it looked peaceful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to settle in a place like this and hear the water bubbling past?

20211031 - hong king street

This complex scene was an attempt to capture the feel of the place with minimal pencil set up. For me I drew a couple of perspective lines and then launched into it. It was fun!

20211103 - corfe castle

Another run down old UK castle. This is a fascinating one in that it was used to imprison Eleanor of Brittany so that she could no ascent the English throne. She was the daughter of Alinor of Acquitane who was a wonderfully sassy and brave queen for both the French and the English. Well worth reading about her if you like strong women.

The question is … what to draw next? I am double vaxxed and our local area is up to 95% vaxxed for eligible people, so I think it might be safe to venture out to my local Urban Sketchers meet ups again … though it means getting out of bed early on the weekend which doesn’t thrill me. But it will be good for me to get out I think. I shall keep up with the virtual travel until i can travel further a field though. I have been enjoying seeking out colourful and interesting places to visit in the pages of my sketchbook.

What about you? Are you ready to get out and travel again yet?