I love getting out to draw on location at this time of year. The weather is warm but not too hot, and whilst it can be blowy, it wasn’t overly so this past weekend. I joined the Canberra Urban Sketchers for the monthly sketchwalk at the Australian Institute of Sport where there were a multitude of sculptures and odd shaped buildings to focus on for sketching. I chose the facade of the visitor centre because it presented a challenge due to the slope of the entry apron compared to the ground line and the way the building fit in with it all. I knew I would give my observation skills a good workout.

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Click to see a larger version of the sketch

I started by holding up a ruler at arm’s length to gauge where the natural ground line was, and transferred that to my page. I then compared each of the angles of the building to that horizontal line. You can see that line in the middle of my sketch where the seven white pillars are under the visitor’s sign. The rest of the sketch flowed from there. The colours of the scene were a little underwhelming, so I punched them up a little and made sure I got the shadows in to show the sunny day, and included a couple of my fellow sketchers to show scale. Looking at it on the screen, I can see that I could have gone darker on the shadow where the entry doors are! Next time!

It was a Sunday morning, so there were lots of families coming and going to swimming lessons at the pool that was to the left of the visitor centre. I was sitting close to a walkway, so I had lots of little people coming to take a look at what I was doing, asking questions and telling me how much they like to draw and paint. The oooohs and aaaaaaahs made me smile.

I tried out a new set up this week, using a photographic tripod and a piece of corflute attached to the head. Because I came up with the idea in the late hours of the previous evening, I had to bodgy up the arrangement and found some picture hanging velcro-type strips in my toolbox to attach the corflute to the tripod head. Two strips on the board and two strips on the tripod, then press together. Easy!

It worked…sort of…but there were a couple of moments where I leaned too heavily on the board, detached the lot, and sent my sketchbook sliding down to my feet. The hangers are brilliant for attaching things to walls, but not fabulous for something that has non-shearing forces applied. The concept is sound, but I need to find a more secure way of attaching the board to the tripod. The whole setup was light and fit in, or on, my backpack for easy transportation, so I’d like to explore a more durable solution. I could of course just buy an easel attachment, but where’s the fun in that? 🙂

2018 wrap up

December 28, 2018 — Leave a comment
20181222 - now

What a busy year it has been! Most of my creative time and energy was poured into the development of my calendar (there are a few left!). My evenings for the first three quarters of the year were consumed with painting the originals, and so my sketchbooks have been slow to fill. In the last couple of years I have been measuring my “productivity” as an artist by how many sketchbook pages I fill, aiming for a daily practice. The drop in sketchbook pages filled this year bothers me a little, I will admit. I have issues these days with measuring productivity as a creative person, the two concepts seem at odds given that I am not trying to make living out of it, but that’s a subject for a whole separate post!

I explored more drawing styles this year, mostly as a result of participating in various online art classes, but have been particularly pleased with the comic portraits that developed and the whimsical girls that have appeared of late.

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Here’s a flip through of my last completed sketchbook. (Click here if viewing in email or RSS reader)

I have also started to use the process of creating messy journal pages that have layers and layers of paint, and words and collaged elements, to work through whatever it is that I am feeling at the time. Invariably these pages are melancholy or anxious. It is a way for me to lean into and explore the shadows that we all inhabit from time to time, and to make sure I don’t let the negativity drive on this immense road trip that is life. Using art as therapy like this is something I want to explore more of. I have signed up for an e-course that starts early in the new year to learn more about this style of creating.

20181028 - not healthy

In much the same way, my mood and feelings seep into my regular drawings. This is happening more and more as I discover who I am, and allow complete honesty with how I am feeling. I grew up in a subculture that devalued and suppressed feelings and emotions, so being honest with myself and embracing that is a new and freeing thing. It is interesting to me that this is flowing out into my creative expressions without conscious intent. Those closest to me can read my emotional state by looking at my art even if I have not consciously sought to communicate it, and sometimes when I do not recognise it myself. I drew the elf below thinking that she would be a sweet little christmassy addition to my sketchbook. I like the way she turned out, but when I photographed her to add to IG I saw sad eyes staring back at me, she looks truly melancholy. I was so surprised! I hadn’t felt particularly sad when I was drawing her, but I was a bit down and had various anxieties simmering in the background. I guess they needed to come out.

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This is an obvious happy piece that I enjoyed creating:

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I am beginning to think that I will never have a set, recognisable style for my drawings, I like exploring too much; trying new things. I really am still so fresh on this creative adventure, and so I take real joy in trying new media and approaches to how I fill my pages. As I mentioned before, I have signed up for a messy journalling course, I have also signed up for a more whimsical one too. They will run side by side for a little while, so I may end up with some curious results 🙂

Here’s a slide show of all of my sketchbook pages for the year. The progression in styles and content is fascinating to look back on. (Click here if viewing in email or RSS reader, if you want to see it full size on Flickr)




What do I want for my creative practice in the year to come? I don’t think I will take on a large project like the calendar again in the coming year, it took more brain power and connected effort than I am likely to have available. I would like to try to develop rapid figure sketching skills and work more on urban sketching — likely in combination — so that I can bring an active human element to my on-location work. I would like to capture more of my life in my sketchbooks alongside the whimsical and nonsensical stuff too — what do I care about and what do I feel about the things I see and the places I go?

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Thank you all for visiting my blog and tagging along this year as I continued to play and splash paint around. I hope you will join me next year!

If you have not found it yet, I have started writing again and have launched a blog for non-art related scribblings, including my word of the year posts. Pop over and visit.

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20181113 - pine bear

Click to see larger image

I have no idea how old I was when dad and I made this funny looking wooden bear — I must have been in primary school I think. Eleven… twelve? I have no idea if I helped cut it out, but I do remember using a file to help dad round the edges and encourage the creature to emerge from the block in my childish, clumsy way. I am sure he corrected my over-zealous attempts after I went to bed. When it looked basically bear-like we switched to sandpaper of varying grades to bring the timber to a satiny smooth finish, and burnished with some kind of oil. The timber isn’t anything fancy, just a couple of pine boards glued together and shaped, but it provided such a fabulous tactile experience that I still take it off the top of my roll-top art desk to touch the timber. It soothes me.

Dad had always made elaborate wooden trucks and cars with my brother, but his odd little bear was a straight-up father and daughter project. Mr Bear is certainly not very pretty or flashy and he’s not from a foreign country. He’s worn and the timber has darkened, and the grain muted with age. He’s dinged from rough handling — I think I probably belted my brother with it more than once — but as simple and naive as Mr Bear is, he is a special remnant from my childhood and has been a constant feature in my creative space over the years regardless of what stage of life I’ve been in. The feel of the timber soothes me and reminds me of time spent with dad and a far less complicated time of life. Simple pleasures. Thanks dad for sharing your creative spark with me, I love you!

It’s dad’s birthday this week. Wish him happy birthday with me!

The calendars have arrived from the printer and I am SO pleased with the way they turned out! It feels wonderful to finally be able to hold them in my hands. I hope you like them too.

I had a run of 50 printed and they are now available on my Etsy store – click HERE to get yours.  (if they sell well I’ll get some more printed, drop me a line if you miss out so I know you want one). I ship all over the world, and local pick up can be arranged for Canberra people.

The calendar features 12 of Canberra’s beautiful churches painted in watercolour.

All Australian holidays are marked and the calendar squares are nice and roomy so that you can write in your own batch of birthdays and special events.

The original artworks are also for sale here.

Get your calendar now! They will make fabulous Christmas presents!

My Canberra Churches Calendar project is in the home stretch! The file has been sent off to the printers and I am as nervous as an expectant mother fiddling about with things as I wait for my ‘baby’ to arrive. I am super pleased with how the paintings came out and cannot wait to see them all printed up and official!

While I wait I thought I’d share seven things I learned throughout the project:

1. The drawing/painting part is the easy bit — The creative part of the process really is the most fun part, so that makes it relatively easy. The administration and faffing around with computers to compile everything and the self promotion parts are not so much fun. It is the same for any small business, so it comes as no surprise really.

2. The project consumed lots of energy and impacted general sketchbook play and creative development — I only have limited time and energy available to me out side of my day job, so some things had to drop off while I painted churches. I missed working in my sketchbook and trying new things, but at the same time I refined my ability to draw buildings and managed to keep them within a particular, coherent style.

3. I recognised a phase of ugliness in each painting — There was always a part of each piece where I really wasn’t sure that it was going to work. I feared having to start again because I hadn’t quite got the colours right or something just felt off. But I saw the pattern and stuck to my process, and each time something lovely emerged at the other end. They are not all perfect of course, I am neither a camera nor a photocopier after all, so I embraced the wonkiness and celebrated each one.

4. A set palette of paint colours simplified decisions and sped things up — Limiting myself to a particular group of pigments gave a unified feel across all works even though the buildings are so different in their styles and facades. It also meant that I didn’t need to stop and make decisions about which colours to use at the beginning of each piece. I wrote about my palette in this post.

5. Having a project gave me purpose and focus — A public deadline made me keep going and not give up part way through, even though I desperately wanted to at times. I have a habit of starting things and not finishing them. I kept wondering what the next project was and I already have drawers full of UFOs (un-finished objects), so to have made it to the end with a completed product to offer is an achievement I am proud of.

6. There was a part of the project where it really felt like a burden — Creating art is not some romantic notion where things just fall out of one’s head, it takes effort and sometimes that feels like hard work. I got thoroughly sick of drawing church buildings and wanted to switch to drawing flowers or people or anything but bricks and mortar. But I kept going. On the flip side it has made me think about the purpose that art plays in my life too. Am I killing my creativity by wanting to make something to sell? Something to explore at a later date.

7. Things will always go wrong — From the very conception of the project back in February I had planned to use RedBubble to produce the calendars as a print on demand offering so that I wouldn’t have any substantial financial outlay. I sized the original artwork and planned everything around their requirements. Last week I logged in to double check the specifications before I started on the layout and preparation of files to upload, only to discover that RedBubble had decided to stop producing calendars as of August 2018. Ugh. Several hours of frantic searching later and I hadn’t found another print-on-demand option that fit my requirements, so I located a printer that could deliver what I needed as a regular print run. Suffice it to say that I had to bite the bullet and put my money where my mouth is, and the box of calendars will land on my doorstep sometime in the next week and a half! Squee! There were some other technical glitches too and I suspect there will be more challenges before I put this thing to bed, but as always adaptability and flexibility will get me though!

Stay tuned for an announcement of when the calendars are available in my Etsy store. The original paintings will also be for sale. If you would like to be ahead of the game and get an early bird discount to boot, please subscribe to my newsletter by clicking HERE. I promise not to spam you or give your details to any one else ever.

Layers

September 1, 2018 — Leave a comment

The past couple of months have been way too busy; I have lost my way with my normal routines and have ended up feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like creating much at all, and my sketchbook entries have felt forced and not at all organic or joyous. My creative practice even took a detour into knitting for a change of scenery, which did not please me. It felt like I was copping out. Who ever said that doing an alternate creative activity was a failure of any kind? I was putting artificial constraints on my artistic expression. Not clever.

Everything was just too much. I felt as though I was getting more information flowing into my head than I could deal with. I realised that quite aside from the overload from work with a complex project in full swing, I had been numbing the stress so that I didn’t have to think about it. I decided to try to art it out, and let it take me where it willed.

The page below developed over a long weekend where I shut things down completely, isolated myself, and started throwing random blobs of paint down on a blank page with a vague idea that I would draw something over the top. As it evolved I felt I needed to keep adding layers. The first one was quite a cheerful watercolour wash that I really wasn’t feeling, so I added a patchy layer of white acrylic, still intending to draw over it with flowers or something similarly happy. That also felt too bright. I was feeling dark and moody, so the next layer was a covering of purples and blues followed by a crankier application of black acrylic. Then came a layer of song lyrics that were speaking to me, followed by a layer of brain dump with all manner of pain, anxiety and frustration verbalised. All of it illegible. It felt almost resolved at that point but not quite. I decided to sift through my collection of random words and phrases cut from magazine pages to see what resonated. I ended up with a positive reminder to breathe and reset rather than continue to be cranky with myself. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but the soul speaks when I take the time to listen. Reboot and breathe.

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The experience was very much like an archeological dig in reverse. Working up through the layers of the overwhelm I was feeling. As I kept asking myself why I felt things, and getting the feelings out onto the page, I started to feel lighter. I was exploring and processing the layers as I came to them.

Then I had another prompt to dig through more layers as I listened to Austin Kleon’s latest keynote talk a couple of weeks after the first expedition into my psyche. One word jumped out at me as I listened. Subtraction. He spoke about the need to cut some things out in order to focus — to place limitations on oneself in order to stoke creativity.

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I started this page while I was sitting in the car waiting to go into an off-site meeting for work. I poured out my thoughts on the things I was allowing to distract and numb me and eat away my time — news outlets, social media, other people’s art, other people’s carefully curated public lives, the echo chambers reinforcing heinous attitudes. Writing always clarifies and crystallises the maelstrom of disjointed thoughts and ideas wizzing around in my head, and shows me the way forward.

I added the circles as the morning’s meeting progressed, pulling focus so that I could no longer see the distractions, just the word subtraction. I used the layers of circles to bring myself back on point. Ironically, I always listen better in meetings if I can doodle or sketchnote. Focus. I tune out all else, and my mind doesn’t wonder to what I should cook for dinner, or the people running past the window behind the speaker, or the person in my peripheral vision who is tapping pen on book like a madman. Subtraction.

I’ve got some work to do to reestablish my routines and creative practice, and to decide what is important and what is not. To set boundaries, so that someone else’s urgent and important does not become my own. To shed that which is superfluous. What I choose to take in, and on, must add to my experience of this life.

People matter. Meaning matters. A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it’s a lens through which you see and create your world – Jonathan Fields

It is remarkable how easily the unimportant creeps in and takes over if I am not paying attention. It is an ongoing task to be kind to oneself and to ensure that I am looking through the correct lens to properly appreciate my good life. Negative will swallow positive in a heartbeat if I am not vigilant. It is part of my melancholy nature I suppose.

Up until these two pages I had not used my sketchbook for this type of personal exploration at all. To have two in rapid succession tells me that I will likely use it again to correct or clean the lens I am looking through to see my life.

Alternate title : an update on the Canberra Churches Calendar.

Why is it that when I get close to a milestone in a project that I choke and do everything in my power to sabotage myself? I don’t think I am alone in this dilemma. There are any number of memes around the interwebs that show writers and artists cleaning out fridges and answering ancient correspondence and the like in an effort to avoid the fact that there is a deadline looming.

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I’d like to present the following two photos as evidence of my extremely well developed ability to put off starting what will likely be the last painting for my Canberra Churches Calendar project. In the past three weeks I have finished a scarf I started two winters ago (bottom grey, chevron pattern), finished off the last of that grey yarn with a bias knit cowl in a honeycomb sort of pattern (right side middle), used up an odd ball of pink 8 ply from my stash for a super warm cowl (middle left), tried my hand at lace knitting with a shawlette in a cream 2 ply merino yarn, and then started a brightly coloured patterned scarf in 2 ply yarn (that is not working as well as I had hoped). I have knitted approximately a billion stitches in order to avoid putting paint to paper. Sigh. At least it is crafty… and I have justified this obsession as a change of scenery that will help me paint when I get back to it.

*ahem* *cough*

Right.

They’re pretty though… and we are forecast to get snow again next week… so totally useful…………. ok…stop talking now Michelle…….

This is a particularly good piece of procrastination if I do say so myself. Blocking knitwear is stupidly satisfying.

So.

Here’s where the Canberra Churches Calendar is up to. I have painted eleven of the twelve buildings, and whilst I appear to be procrastinating by writing a blog post about procrastination, I have actually finally started the last painting. I am still enjoying the project … but speed bumps are normal and inevitable. It has been a busy couple of months at work, and concentrating on painting just wasn’t happening, so I wasn’t going to push it and make a mess of it. But I am back in the saddle again now – no I have not run out of wool – and may even do a thirteenth painting so that there is something different on the cover of the calendar. I love the way they all look together and am excited about doing the scanning and pre-press work to get it all ready to upload.

I will be doing a series of blog posts with a little history for each of the churches over the next few weeks in the lead up to release day. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter so that you have access to the pre-release special pricing that will be available only to newsletter subscribers. There’s a link over on the right-hand side of the page there.

It was a lovely crispy winter morning at the Ainslie shops with the Canberra Urban Sketchers mob today. Had the wind stayed away it would have been very pleasant, as it was the cold bit hard and I was grateful that I had had the forethought to include some handwarmers in my kit. It was particularly rough on our new members from Malaysia and those of our number who have recently returned from Europe’s heatwave conditions. Nonetheless we persisted and enjoyed warm company and had fun sketching.

The Ainslie shopping precinct is one of the few around the place that hasn’t had a large-scale facelift. It has retained it’s original facade and has been perked up with a whole zoo of public art. The snails in the photo below made me smile! Whilst we normally visit the larger “tourist” and institution type buildings to sketch, we decided that it would be nice to capture some of the older parts of town before they get swallowed up in the Lego-like modernisation program that seems to be sweeping the city.

I focussed in on the bright yellow signage of the laundrette, all the while being entertained by a couple of older fellows who started out chatting about the lottery, but then moved on to talk about animated movies featuring ants… in the end I heard snippets of Ant Bully, Antz and a Bugs Life. At one stage there where character voices and a scene being acted out. It was all highly amusing! The highlight of my morning however was a young kiddo walking though where a bunch of us were spread out sketching and he was quite amazed… “Mum! There are sketchers eeeeeeverywheeerrreee! Can I go look?” Love the wonder of little people.

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As always, click on the sketch to see a larger version.

What a difference two and a half years makes! The top sketch was done this morning in about 45 minutes flat. Mostly because I misread my watch and thought that I had been sitting there for an hour longer than I had been. This was not a big leap for my poor brain to make since it was 9 degrees C with an apparent temperature of about 2 degrees with the wind taken into account. The next sketch was done in the opposite conditions – a midsummer scorcher. I remember sitting there for almost the full two hours labouring over the proportions and perspective. It was, I think, my second ever Urban Sketchers meet up.

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20160113 - king george monument

The two sketches are wildly different. I tried something different with today’s one, in that I focussed on a single part of the facade rather than trying to capture all of the rather long, low building. It is far looser and was completed quicker but the lines feel steadier even if the sketch is pretty wonky. I also left a lot of the page untouched with pigment.

The older sketch has far more tentative line work and I appear to have worked hard to cover the entire page with paint. It feels scratchy and wonky even though I was trying to be careful. The shadows are clumsy and I think I may have turned King George V into a little person. It is fascinating to be able to compare my growth as an urban sketcher using samples of my own work rather than looking at the giants in the field and winding up feeling defeated. I can see improvement in what I am producing, and that is encouraging.

At the end of the day I like both sketches, not just for the fact that I exited my hermitage to interact with other urban sketchers for a couple of hours, but for the life memories attached to them. Oddly I can remember what was happening in my life when I was trying to figure out how to render a bronze statue on a flat piece of paper. There’s something about drawing that sucks everything in and locks it into the image. I love it!

We’re in the midst of the coldest start to winter in 10 years here in Canberra, so I figured sketching inside at this week’s Canberra Urban Sketchers meet up was the thing to do. We met at the National Museum of Australia, and whilst there are LOTS fabulous things to draw, I have always wanted to draw a dinosaur skeleton, so I settled in the atrium and drew the muttaburrasaurus cast that was towering over everyone. The background ended up a bit of a smudgy mess because whilst I was aware that the ink was not waterproof, I failed to take into account that any moisture from my hands would also make it slide all over the place…or perhaps I was too impatient and didn’t let it dry long enough before resting my hand on the page. I will admit to rushing the background… it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the big pile of bones in front of me.

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