Learning to float

December 10, 2017 — Leave a comment

20171206 - december

I was musing to a friend this week that December always feels overwhelming to me. Much to do and much pressure to be sociable. I always feel tired, I almost always catch whatever summer cold is going around, and my patience is stretched about as tight as Madonna’s face. Which is odd right now, because I know that I am not nearly as busy as I used to be. I look back at old me and wonder how on earth I got everything done. But yet, right now in this moment, it still feels as though I have the weight of the year upon me. Perhaps my load is less visible than in previous years; I don’t know. And I know I am not the only one.

20171206 - float

When I remember, I tell myself to stop fighting against it all. Relax and float. I get rid of any debris that doesn’t have to be around me. Most stuff can wait until the new year. Some things you cannot avoid completely, but like the ball in this painting, I can push it away from me for a while at least.

If I am at work and feeling particularly overwhelmed, I treat myself to lunch at the local Japanese restaurant. They have a tea called “blooming tea” that I order and stare at and breathe in the floral scents.  This one was rose, camellia and lemon flavoured. Click HERE to watch this beautiful, hypnotic little dance…the bundle unfurls in the hot water and pops out to release the flowers. They serve it to you in these lovely delicate glass teapots so that you can see the flowers and bubbles as they come to life. So good. There is something special about tea and its rituals that creates space and quiets the mind.

 

It was Hemingway that said of writing:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

I think it is the same with art. Some of the work I do in my sketchbook feels forced, I am drawing to occupy time, or to learn something or to keep up with a challenge or class. The pieces lack depth. But then there are times when I hit a vein and my heart and soul bleeds out onto the page. The page below is a painting of my stretch marks the flowed out earlier this week. Some consider them ugly, unsightly, a taboo of some sort. They are of course entitled to their opinions. I know that these stripes were earned growing my children and thus intrinsically valuable. My belly provided a safe place for them to grow. My stripes are beautiful and I will no longer apologise to those who seek the belly of a prepubescent child on their woman. I am proud of my stripes, which is why I have painted them in glorious rainbow colours.

20171207 - tiger stripes

 

I hope that over time I bleed more frequently onto my pages, both with art and with words, for it is in these moments that I feel the weight lifted – even in December.

Do you feel overwhelmed in December too? How do you cope?

It really is no secret that I love art supplies and stationery. I suspect anyone with more than a vague interest in art is much the same! I could spend endless hours and dollars if left alone in an art supply store…and I can guarantee you that it takes real self control to resist the urge to buy every coloured tube of water colour I see when I am browsing online. But since I have to restrain myself and behave like an adult, I content myself with playing with my existing supplies, and there are few things I enjoy more than setting up a new watercolour palette. This past weekend was rainy and wet and not at all conducive to spending time anywhere other than at home, so I decided it was time for a change.

I set up the old one just before I went to London in May, and it served me well through that trip and various urban sketching adventures and general sketchbook play since. But it was looking grubby and worn, and I wasn’t really enjoying the colours so much any more.

This is the setup I used for most of 2017

I have been itching to use some of my new tube watercolours in my sketching kit, and had seen another artist’s setup in the same box that allowed for more pans and was super excited to put together something a little different. Now was the time to get watercolour smeared all over my fingers and fret about how many cents worth of pigment I just wasted!

The new palette filled and sat out to dry

The colours are a mix of Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton tube paints. The new palette looks so juicy! I wanted more “neutrals” in the mix, and so I have a selection of “coloured neutrals” like Prussian Blue and Vandyke Brown and Perylene Maroon alongside the properly named Neutral Tint. There are a few convenience greens to test out since I always struggle with foliage in my urban sketches. And then some lovely yellows and reds. It looks like a jewel box doesn’t it?

This is the setup I used for most of 2017

My current sketchbook was also at an end, so I figured a fitting way to round it up was to swatch the two palette’s side by side. The names of the paints are all there if you can decipher my hurried scrawl. I am psyching myself up to do a mixing chart with a 24×24 grid ….yikes! Perhaps if next weekend is rainy! Meantime looking at the swatches makes me so happy!

Sketchbook pile on a temporarily clean desk

Speaking of piles of supplies… I didn’t think I had *that* many sketchbooks on the go at the moment…but then I cleaned up my desk and sketching bag. I have six books on the go. What you can see peeking out of the left-hand side of the photo there is a pile of fresh notebooks and sketchbooks ready to be sent into battle. I am well and truly addicted!

How many sketchbooks do you have on the go right now?

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sketching with martians

November 25, 2017 — Leave a comment

Wooo! First properly hot day of the season and the Canberra Urban sketchers were out sketching! I found a lovely shady spot to set up in and got completely lost in my sketchbook. The location this time was the Shine Dome which is part of the Academy of Science. Affectionately known around town as the Martian Embassy. I had fun with this drawing, but I’m not entirely happy with the sketch as a whole. I think it lacks interest due to insufficient contrast – it’s all very same same. The dome should have been much lighter and with enough variation to show the curve of the dome with more than the outline against the sky. I did have fun, however, imagining that the agapanthus plant in the bed right in front of me was some manner of alien life form out on an exploratory mission. 🙂

20171125 - shine dome

This painting is one that I did as an experiment in exploring composition creation using a number of photos as well as having a go at portraiture in watercolour. Needs more practice, but I am happy for a first attempt 🙂 I used Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton tube colours on Arches 330gsm hot press paper.


xx

Yeesh! Where does the time go? It’s half way through November and the last time I wrote was mid-September. It seems I have done more apologising for not writing than writing anything substantial this year.

The fact of the matter is that I have needed to manage my overall energy levels far more closely this year than I had anticipated when I made my plans to post an article every week. Work has been busy and intense and earning a living takes far too much of my energy to allow for much else. So…writing content for my blog has drifted to the bottom of the to do list for a little while. Though I hasten to add that I know this is a first world problem, being able to pursue one’s passions in any small way is a privilege. I have a fortunate life.

The good news is that even though I have not been writing for publication, I have still been drawing and painting, but that too has seen ebbs and flows in the type of art I have wanted to create. I have found that I have less patience for sketchbook tomfoolery, but more of an appetite for having a more involved “proper” painting on my worktable. I can do small concentrated bursts of work a polished piece over the course of a couple of weeks and not feel overwhelmed or upset that I am not producing a finished piece every time I sit down. Which seems strange to me now that I think about it, but I will not question the muse lest she run away and leave me with no inspiration whatsoever! Here’s what I have been working on; I finally completed the Love Bug painting that had been sitting on the drawing board, untouched, for months (the original is for sale HERE and prints/cards etc available HERE).

Love Bug

I was also fortunate enough to be asked to do a super fun commission of a pinup cycle girl birthday card for a local customer. I was buzzing through the entire process of developing the concept and sketching up my ideas before committing to the final piece. I am pleased to say that my customer was very happy with her, as was his lovely wife who received the gift (printed products available in my Redbubble store).

Pinup cycle girl

Somewhat unexpectedly, I have been having a little fun with some comic relief lately too … she pops out onto the page from time to time to comment on my sometimes amusing life. Here are a couple of my favourites … my hair tends to feature quite a lot 🙂  (you can see all of the webcomics so far HERE)

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20171003 - helmet hair dont care

20171002 - end of the weekend

 

I could promise to write more regularly, but I am pretty sure that the last month and a half of the year will be much the same as the last couple have been. Perhaps the new year will be kinder to my aspirations.

Be sure to subscribe via the link on the right there so you don’t miss out on my (irregular) posts! And please bear with me while I figure out how to make the emails look interesting and worth reading! 🙂

Today’s urban sketcher’s outing was just the antidote to the busy week I’ve had. Sunny, warm-ish in a relative kind of way, and not a breath of wind. What more could i wish for when an opportunity to sketch was in my calendar? For this month’s outing we revisited the National Library of Australia down on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. We had been there for a sketching session close to two years ago, and I was excited to be visiting again. A lot of sketches have flowed out of my pen since then, and I decided that I wanted to sit in exactly the same spot and draw exactly the same aspect of the building as I did last time, so that I could see whether or not my drawing/painting skills had improved since then.

Before I got there, I was sure I had improved. As I packed up my kit and gathered my brushes and pens, I took a moment to look at the old sketch. I remembered how proud I was of that sketch. I hadn’t been urban sketching long – just a few months – and I was absolutely chuffed that I drew something that actually resembled the edifice. Memories of the day itself flooded back…it was grim and cold and rainy, and I recall retreating to cover halfway through the session to get out of the rain. I managed two pictures that day and had time to spare to chat to my fellow sketchers. But…..by the time I arrived on site this morning, chatted to my fellow sketchers and made my way to my position..I was utterly terrified that what I would produce today would be worse than my original attempt. That I would have learned nothing in the intervening 22 months. ACK!!! The pressure! Stupid brain. I really should have packed my headphones so that I could drown out that nasty little inner critic.

Let’s see how I fared.

Here’s the drawing from November 2015. It was done in a little 8 x 5.5″ Winsor and Newton watercolour sketchbook. Looking at it now I can see that there is one too many columns and inconsistent contrast and shadow. It’s a bit tall and the details have been simplified a lot. Not to mention the wonky upward tilt to the right. I recall using a tiny little brush to try to control the paint – I failed, it bled everywhere. I also remember being utterly terrified, and concentrating hard enough that my tongue was probably poking out between my teeth as I squinted to see the details and try to get it “just right”. But for all that, I was proud of what I had produced. It looked like a building!

20151101 - national library

This is today’s sketch. I worked in a Stillman and Birn Delta Series A4 spiral bound book….so probably about four times the size of the first sketch. I took almost the full two hour session to complete it, and used a big number 12 travel brush, with a terrific point, to paint. My colours are less wishy washy and there is more energy and vibrancy in the sketch.  I suspect I used exactly the same pen..my trusty Lamy Safari.

20170910 - national library
Looking at the two sketches side by side, I am pleasantly surprised at the difference. I have improved. I was so much more relaxed today, there was no angst (apart from thinking I’d do worse than last time), and I was methodical and careful about setting up the bones of the sketch before committing to ink and paint. I unconsciously applied the lessons and steps taught by Liz Steel in her Buildings class and various Sketchbook Skool teachers in the classes I’ve taken with them. It felt good. It felt relaxed, and I came away smiling and happy, having spent a morning sitting in the sun chatting to fellow sketchers and strangers passing by, alike. It recharged my batteries after I had well and truly spent them at work last week.

Today’s sketch walk was just what I needed.

It is so easy to get dispirited with an apparent lack of progress when it comes to sketching, but looking back over old sketchbooks grants a wider perspective, that allows me to take a breath and realise that I really am making some progress. I can see things in today’s sketch that I would change, and that’s part of the process for growing as an artist, but I am pleased with today’s sketch, and perhaps I will revisit in a couple of years and have a fresh set of critiques to apply to my work.

Do you take time to look back over old sketchbooks to see how far you’ve come?

Today has been one of those exceedingly rare perfect Winter’s days in Canberra. Bright blue skies, not *too* cold, and zero wind! The past couple of days have been unpleasantly windy, so I was very pleased to have a change in the weather for today’s Canberra Urban Sketchers sketch walk. We met at the National Arboretum and chattered for a bit, as we do, before scattering do our own thing for a couple of hours. I came prepared with a page in my large sketchbook already painted to give me a background for some more detailed line drawings. I like the way my little collage turned out, but should perhaps have chosen a more muted palette with some earthy colours.

20170813 - Arboretum collage

I finished the first drawing more quickly than I thought, so I pulled out my small sketchbook and turned my little stool 180 degrees to draw the main building.

20170813 - village centre

There were lots of kids blowing bubbles and flying kites and rolling down the steep embankments. The happy laughs and astonished exclamations as kit’s took flight was a lovely backdrop to my sketching in the sun.

Yesterday I filmed a flip through of my last sketchbook. I’m experimenting with my son’s GoPro camera and learning how to use iMovie. Nothing flash 🙂 I find it really fun looking through sketchbooks as a body of work. I can easily tell if I was enjoying a picture or if I was rushing, or was struggling with it for whatever reason. The ebb and flow between the covers is really interesting. I hope you enjoy watching too!

Half Nourished!

July 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

Long post incoming! Grab a cuppa and settle in. I haven’t written a thing since I returned from my trip to London and now I have a whole lot of words ready to fall out of my head as I look back over the first half of the year. I have interspersed some of my favourite sketches and paintings from the past couple of months throughout the post.

fairy wren

At the beginning of the year I selected the word NOURISH to be the theme that flavours my year. If you missed it you can read my first post about it HERE. I said I wanted to be intentional about how my year progresses, but I hasn’t felt that way. I guess it is good that some of it has been sort of autopilot-ish, I hope that means that certain things have become habits. Overall I have found it difficult to make sure I have the notion of nourishing myself in the forefront of my mind all the time, but on the other hand I have been more confident in myself and more inclined to just be myself without worrying what everyone else wants me to be. That has, in many ways, flowed through into being more aware of my energy flows and managing it on the go rather than waiting until I fall in a heap and get sick before I redress the imbalance.

It has felt a good year thus far. The first couple of points below probably won’t look like it, but taken in perspective, they are minor.

20170704 - Free

Here, in the same order as I presented them in my first post of the year, are some little updates on what I have been doing and feeling so far this year.

Movement – I have managed to be consistent in my weights routine and I am getting stronger week by week, but I still need to be moving more. My general movement has been hindered by some posture-related back issues. Walking is painful and whilst I am rehabbing it slowly, it does restrict my ability to get out and walk any great distance.

Nutrition – I have had no choice but to focus on my nutrition in the last couple of months. I appear to have developed an intollerance to some or other food chemical, so careful planning and examination is required to figure it all out. Food is boring as hell, but hey…I get to eat, there are many that do not have that luxury.

Brain food – Improving the quality of “stuff” that goes into my head has been easier than I imagined it might be, and I have seen an improvement in my overall anxiety levels as a result. I have weeded out my social media feeds, removed a bunch of pages and people that were no good for me, and muted a bunch of others that I would prefer to see less of. I am still working on checking the feeds less often, it seems a slow and steady approach to reining it all in is better for me than a sudden cold turkey approach – I don’t want to cut contact with other people off completely. My feeds now have significantly more beautiful things to show me, and that’s a happy thing. I also have more time to do the things that I love to do now that I am not grazing mindlessly on junk. I have read 17 books so far this year, so I am making my way through my reading stack reasonably steadily. I find myself torn between wanting to sketch and read when I have spare moments, but oddly I seem to be operating on a swings-and-roundabouts system where I’ll sketch solidly for a couple of weeks and then read for a couple of weeks. Seems to be working and I am feeding my intellect and curiosity regularly.

Philly-House

Sleep – I am sleeping better on the whole…mostly due to the changes in my approach to nutrition.

Self-care – On track! With a little help from a book club started by my friend Nat …looking at THIS book. It looks a little woo woo and  very American from the title and cover, but for the most part it is practical and easy to digest. It’s reinforcing much of what I already do, and it is great to have others to discuss the concepts with.

Play time – My inner child has been a little neglected … though she really did enjoy the trip to London! Being able to explore and experience new things and wonder at the scads of historical buildings and places and variety of humans all around was brilliant. I need to make more opportunities to play and not get bogged down in the day to day grind of life.

Balancing downtime and social – I still have a tendency to be a hermit, especially since work has become increasingly busy and energy-sapping, but I have made a point of getting out of the house and interacting with humans in person.

Relationships – Grabbing all opportunities with both hands! Oh that sounds bad…what I mean is…I spend as much time as I possibly can with those who mean the most to me!

House Portrait

Art and Writing – I have lacked the mental energy to write much of late. I started off blogging well and posting regularly, but kind of fell in a hole after my trip. Partly because I was a jetlagged zombie for a couple of weeks and didn’t get back into my routine. Or it could be that work has been taking all of my energy and all I can manage is some sketching at the end of the day. Not sure really, but I plan to be more consistent int he second half of the year. On the upside I have had a couple of very fun house commissions to paint since I got back, and I am finally getting stuck into working on the ladybird painting that has been gathering dust on my desk since the end of last year!

Soul food – My trip to London lit something inside of me. I felt so vibrant and buzzy. Everything around me was in high definition technicolour. The new experiences filled me with excitement and I felt very much alive. Travelling definitely feeds my soul! I cannot have that kind of stimulation and soul food everyday obviously, but remembering to seek that out regularly is a must. On the flip side of the coin, I have added yoga and meditation to the mix to help me slow down and unwind and allow me to take notice of the things that are happening in life without me paying attention, as tends to happen when things get busy and I am intent on getting from week to week in one piece. I am hoping this allows me to see some wonder in my current city which has become dull and mundane to me after living here for nearly 35 years.

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Overall I am content in my life at present, if a little busy at times, and I am coming to realise that all of these aspects of life flow out of what is happening in my head. Even though sometimes I feel like I do too much navel gazing, I know that I must do some if I am to remain on an even keel when life throws it’s curveballs at me

A dear friend who loves Sherlock Holmes and who is a kindred spirit in terms of introspection and self-examination sent me this quote when we were chatting about brain overload (it’s from Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet):

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

Now, that I have cleared out my brain-attic a little, I will do some painting to round out my relaxing Sunday! Thank you so much for reading if you have made it this far!

How is your year progressing? Have you learned what you wanted to learn? Done what you wanted to do? Are you looking after yourself? I hope you are enjoying your life…it is too short not to.

This time three weeks ago I was sitting in the Barrowboy and Banker Pub at London Bridge …. today it is the location of a terror attack. It is a sobering thought. The thing I love about the Londoners is their ability to deal with this stuff without turning it into a major drama. They are not pushovers, but they respond rather than react. They have been dealing with terrorist attacks since WWII… from the Nazis through to the IRA and now wahhabists. It shows. They will carry on, and they will continue to live and thrive in their gorgeous city that I was lucky enough to explore for a short while. London, I love you.

Here is my sketchbook…

In case the slideshow doesn’t load you can see the Flickr set here.

When I was a kid “turning on the waterworks” meant ‘crying for effect’. Today it meant a visit to the Goulburn Historical Waterworks with the Canberra Urban Sketchers. The big old beam-type engine is only fired up a handful of times each year, and today was one of those times where they fired up the more than 200 year old behemoth. There was a team of men stoking the fires outside, and another team inside the pump house ensuring that everything was well oiled and running smoothly.

For my first sketch I propped myself in a corner to draw the part of the engine that is above ground. The smell of hot oil and gentle hum of the giant machine was just divine, and drawing her was a meditative experience. This is my first urban sketch done whilst standing, and I took the opportunity to test out the kit I intend to take with me when I visit London in a few weeks. It was a little awkward without a board of some sort to clip my palette to etc (my current one is too big to fit in the bag I intend to use), so I may have to play with creating a board that will fit in my bag so that I don’t need to juggle so much.

I was pleased with the looser style sketch… I wasn’t too fussed about having perfectly straight lines or capturing every minute detail, rather, capturing the feel of the machine so that I can remember how it felt to be there when I look back at the sketch in the future. I believe this is the only running engine of its type in the world. The engineers are understandably very proud of their Appleby.

This sketch took me about an hour all up and I had some time to spare before meeting up with he rest of the group to share sketches, so I headed outside to grab a quick sketch of the outside of the building.
20170423 - Goulburn Historic Waterworks

I was a little rushed and ended up with some pretty messy bleeds where colours flowed together. I spent half an hour drawing and about 15 minutes splashing paint around..it would be fun to go back with a little more time on my hands to sit and do the lovely old building justice. I need to figure out how to paint quickly without ending up with colours running everywhere. Less water is one solution (I used water brushes today … notify favourite, but they are convenient for travelling), another would be to get comfortable with leaving white space, or slim margins of untouched paper, between the blocks of colour….or I could embrace the blotches as part of capturing something quickly.

We have a hugely talented bunch of people in our sketching group. At the end of each gathering we get together to share our sketches and experiences. I am so grateful to have such a supportive and fun group to be able to meet up with!

 

20170406 - hand
I finished my first sketchbook of the year last weekend. Three months it took! Outside of travel journals, that’s the fastest I have ever filled a sketchbook. I’m pretty pleased with that effort, even if I do say so myself! (I’ll record a flip through at some stage. It is fun looking at the whole thing as a complete entity and not just disjointed snaps!)

Three months….the first quarter of the year has disappeared already and I find myself getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of work and life and not taking the time to draw as much as I feel I need to (ironic, I know, given I was just rabbiting on about how quickly I filled the book). It has been bothering me. I knew my energies were being expended elsewhere, but I didn’t make the connection, and then I found this quote in Austin Kleon’s fabulous book, Steal like an Artist:

Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time. Inertia is the death of creativity. You have to stay in the groove. When you get out of the groove, you start to dread the work, because you know it’s going to suck for a while – it’s going to suck until you get back into the flow….The trick is to find a day job that pays decently, doesn’t make you want to vomit, and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time.

I let myself get out of the groove a bit in the last couple of weeks as my day job has become busier, and I can feel it in my diminished general satisfaction-with-life levels. So tired when I get home from work at the end of the day, thinking about what to draw takes too much effort! Funny how not creating things can lead to me feeling a bit rubbish. Suffice it to say I am working at putting pen to paper each day again…even if the output is not stellar.

The purple hand above is my favourite out of this week’s pages. Hands are such hard workers – from intricate little nuanced movements to grand gestures and manual labour. They are fun to draw … lots of wrinkles and folds – an ever changing landscape of hills and valleys as you wiggle them about.

If you want to take a look at what else I’ve drawn this week you can take a look HERE or HERE.

How do you manage your energy across your day/week? I know it’s swings and roundabouts, but I wonder if I can get more control over it all? If I figure it out I will let you know.