This month’s Canberra Urban Sketcher’s meet up was at the local airport, starting at the new Vibe hotel. The airport precinct has a lot of brilliant things to sketch  – anything from sculptures to people to buildings and funky new hotels. My challenge to day was to attempt to capture the movement in the water features up on the departures drop off area. They are hypnotising to watch…I have no idea how they work. It looks as through a tornado of water is swirling up through the middle of the glass tube and letting water shimmer down the outside. I had fun attempting to capture the reflected colours from the sky and plants and surrounding buildings, though i couldn’t quite get the shimmy of the water down the outside.

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Looking at this photo now I can see that i was so fixated on the feature itself that I completely missed the reflection in the surrounding support. :S

It has been a particularly wet, rainy week, so to fill some of the time I watched some art lessons on Craftsy in a bid to improve my urban sketching and watercolour work in general. I have wanted to improve my streetscapes for a long time because they tend to be the heart and soul of travel sketching. I want to travel more and capture the places I visit, and I want to capture my adventures in a way that is at least a little bit recognisable to me!

So on Sunday, I was looking for suitable reference photos in my stash, and I came across my holiday snaps from a trip to France a few years ago. At the time I took a heap of photos to use as references to draw from for my travel journal each evening (we moved far too quickly at the time to sit and draw or paint in situ, so I constructed my journal pages in the evenings and finished a large portion of them at home at the end of the trip), but also in the hope that I would get to draw them in a more detailed way at some stage. So…fast forward five years, and I want to draw … and I discover that I had captured some good references and some woefully unhelpful ones. Apparently this is a skill you learn over time too. What will work as a composition and what will not. What will translate to a sketch, and what will not. What lighting will produce dramatic effects.

After much fussing about I chose a photo of a street scene from inside the Mont Saint Michel village and set about doing a “quick and loose” watercolour streetscape using the techniques I had learned during the week. I sketched up a rough pencil outline with the big shapes and then went in and added detail with pen before hitting it with watercolour. This is the result. I consider it displeasing given that it looks like it is being viewed in a carnival magic mirror. :S

French street scene

What I don’t like about this piece….

  • The perspective on the left handside of the drawing is off. I lost my vertical lines at some point along the progression of buildings and it is looking a little like a fish eye lense attacked it.
  • The colours are muddy. I think I need to figure out how to exaggerate lights and darks in a bland photo to get more contrast (perhaps explore tube paint rather than pans to get juicy colours for depth too?) and experiment with using colours other than what i perceive as a direct match with the scene – ie trying to capture the essence of the scene and playing with reflected colour.

But for all the things I feel are wrong with it, I know that it’s an improvement on previous attempts.

Here’s a street scene from my “France” travel sketchbook back in 2011. It’s from a different place (a village south-west of Paris called Chartres), but it’s easy to see that I have learned some things since then about perspective and learning to be looser and lighter with my pen strokes and quicker with on the spot type sketching in order to capture a scene. I didn’t even bother finishing this one… I gave up in despair.

French street scene 2
Incremental progress is a funny thing.

We don’t see it unless we keep our “failures” to look back on. I learned that lesson when I started powerlifting as a way to get healthy. A friend who had been at it a long time encouraged me to take a “before” photo so that I would be able to look back and see progress, which as it turned out was a fabulous thing, because I didn’t feel like my body had changed but comparing photos, I could see a clear progression and improvement. I could not see improvement by looking in the mirror because the changes were so small each day, but cumulatively over months they were substantial. I am discovering the same with my art. Comparing these two pictures I can see that I have made some improvements over time, but see that there’s more improvement to be made too when I compare it to the work of artists I admire.

Here are some of the things that I am telling myself as I work to slowly improve my art this year. Michelle… listen carefully……

  • Learn and practise the rules and master the basics before you try to eyeball something  or bend the rules. Watching lessons by artists that have been at it for a lot longer than you have and attempting to emulate their shorthand is not helpful.
  • Give yourself permission to fail, but make sure you learn the lessons to be learned and move on mindfully. Realistically, failure is not something we can avoid in creating art, or in life for that matter. Take the time to examine things critically and work to improve. Always.
  • Try not to start a new venture on a project that is too complex… you are setting yourself up for unnecessary failure. Start small and simple and work your way up to the more complex tasks. I think I chose a scene that was perhaps a little too tricky for my skill level at this point.
  • Keep reminders of past flops so you can see how far you’ve come, and don’t be afraid to share them. Other people are learning too, they may be able to take a leap forward by analysing how you messed up. Or there may be someone with more skill or more acute perception that can help you improve by pointing out where to tune your technique. You will likely end up with sketchbooks and loose sheets piled up with scenes that make me cringe…but you will at least have something to compare to, and see how far I’ve come over the years.
  • Be consistent in your practice if you truly want to improve. The only way to get better at representing what you see in the world on the pages of your sketchbook is to do it regularly. Every day would be ideal, but not practical at this point, but a couple of times a week will still yield results, albeit a little slower. Sure life gets in the way at times, but if you want something, you need to make time. End of story.

I tend to talk to myself quite a lot, especially when I’m trying to learn something. I don’t always get intelligent responses, but there you go :)

What are you telling yourself this year?

a rainy day adventure

January 30, 2016 — Leave a comment

Canberra has been hit with some pretty wild weather this week… thunder and lightening (very very frightening …. yeah I know, sorry :S) accompanied by lots of rain. It’s generally unpleasant and not the right weather for adventuring with my geriatric fur baby nor being a gadabout on the scooter. So a dear friend, who understands just how stir crazy I can get at times, suggested that I go and wander around a museum or something and do some arty stuff. So I did. I trotted off to the National Museum of Australia to see what I could see. I hadn’t been there since my boys were little…and given that they are both in their late teens now…… it has been awhile.

Weapons of choice today were my sketchbook and a handful of graphite pencils. Most museums don’t allow wet media, and I couldn’t be bothered asking. To be frank, it has been a good long while since I did any purely pencil only sketching without the benefit of watercolour or ink, so I figured it would be good practice.

I had a blast…so many interesting things to see! I picked a few random small items to sketch along the way and plonked them all (none too poetically) on a spread in my sketchbook. I had a couple of challenges. The lack of seating anywhere near the exhibits that allowed me a decent view for any length of time was not especially helpful, and my feet got sore before too long. I didn’t feel I could plant my butt on the floor, there were too many people about (there were a couple of old cars that I would have loved to tackle). It was also very dimly lit, which I found distracting, but on the whole there was lots to see and sketch. I will likely go back and take another swipe…preferably on a day where I can have a go at the very interesting architecture that the institution has to offer.

Here’s my spread complete with spelling mistakes (you’d think I’d know better! gah!) :
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One of the exhibits that made me smile, and feel very old, featured items from the old corner stores that I remember from my childhood in country Victoria. There was always a little (usually) continental man behind the refrigerated waist-high counter would lift the stainless steel lid to ladle out the milk for your milkshake from vats below the counter. The metal scoops, anodised aluminium cups and stripy paper straws. Ahhhh! Such nostalgia! This year I think I may take my scooter for a tour of small country towns in search of old-style cafe’s that still might have this kind of whimsy. I will likely find them in the same places that have the obligatory small-town Chinese restaurant that is decorated in exactly the same manner as the one in the next town along the highway.

 

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Also, I am somewhat addicted to lovely smelling soaps, and I found this one at the gift shop on the way out. it smells DIVINE! Its ingredients look more like something that belong in a Thai dish…so if you know me, and I smell tangy and delicious and edible….don’t. 😛  It’s just my soap. I will bite back :)

All in all, an afternoon out that tickled many senses and chased away the feeling of having been inside for far too long….even if I was still inside………..

long weekend scribbles

January 26, 2016 — Leave a comment

Well.. you couldn’t get two more different styles for my extra long weekend sketchbook offerings! The first is in my Stillman & Birn (Delta) and the second in a Windsor and Newton sketchbook.

I roughed in the bones of this one in pencil while my youngest son took me for a drive in his new  car and then inked it later. Cross-hatching is very therapeutic! Not a lot of thinking involved so the brain can just wander and relax :)

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Sitting partway around the Cotter Dam Discovery Walk I was discovered buy a little boy from the sub-continent who was  visiting with his family. “Papa Papa! She’s Painting!” he called out as he ran up for a look, and called his dad over……who promptly set us up side by side and took our photo together … I am going to be famous somewhere :) 

As for the drawing itself the boy and his father were impressed, but I am not, so much…I am still plugging away trying to improve my landscapes. Minor improvement from he last lot, so I will keep working at it bit by bit.

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Better late than never I suppose, but here are a couple of sketchbook bits and pieces from this month. I am hoping to draw more regularly this year, and thus be more active on the blog… that’s the plan anyway………..

The King George V monument outside Old Parliament House:
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Glorious smelling roses in the Senate Rose Garden:

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The old Commercial Bank building in Braidwood:

20160123 - braidwood - old commercial bank building

grief

December 11, 2015 — Leave a comment

hundred-foot-journey-poster-sliceWas watching an old favourite movie tonight… beautifully shot… beautifully scripted….. beautiful countryside … beautiful all over in so many ways and on so many levels…

When heart, soul, mind and spirit are tortured beyond all human tolerance, the only thing that remains, and that transcends all pain is beauty. Beauty will always prevail… Even if though a veil of tears. You just need to look for it and wait for the the wave to roll over you.

 

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This month’s meeting of the Canberra Urban Sketchers was supposed to be held at the Botanic Gardens, but with a weather forecast that featured 90% chance of lots of wet stuff, the venue changed to the National Library. At least there we would find shelter if the heavens did decide to open.

As I venture out to do more urban sketching I find myself changing and refining the kit that I take out with me, depending on what I think I’ll be sketching, and what blogs and tutorial videos I’ve been watching for ideas of techniques and tips to try. This time I crammed two sketchbooks (one landscape and one portrait) and a piece of corrugated plastic board in the bag with my usual bits and pieces. I also chose to go with paintbrushes and water container over my usual water brushes this time for the sake of control and not winding up with too many huge puddles of water, as I am wont to do lately with the water brushes.

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My experiment this time round was with the corrugated plastic board acting as a hand-held easel of sorts to clip my paint, water and sketchbook to, so that I could hold all of that with my left hand and be free to draw or paint with my right. The size of the board was constrained by what would fit in my little Rickshaw bag since I wanted to keep my kit self-contained and somewhat compact. It worked for the most part, though I think I would have preferred something a little larger…I’ll play with that next time. Here’s what it looked like; my left hand held the board under the cover of the sketchbook and the paper towels for wiping off my brushes was held in the fingers of the left hand under the board.

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My goals for today were to have a go at improving my perspective for sketching buildings and to attempt a landscape that didn’t end up looking like a mud puddle as they have been of late. The rain hadn’t arrived when we started out, so I grabbed a prime position on the forecourt of the Library and set about putting into practice what I had been learning in this Craftsy course that I watched last week. I measured and checked angles as best I could while the stormy clouds rolled and boiled above me. I felt the first drops of rain as I put the last details in. Overall I’m happy with the result.

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I made it up to the verandah of the Library just as the spots of rain started to come a little faster. Unfortunately I couldn’t see a scene I wanted to paint from back there, so I ventured out a little way to get a view of what lay over the lake from me, and as it turns out I could see Mount Ainslie under the stormy clouds. I snapped out a couple of quick value sketches in pencil before I settled on a portrait composition that had lots of the purply clouds at the top and a little of the same reflected in the almost still lake below. I stood in the rain and captured the basics of the sketch before retreating to what i thought was a safe dry spot to add the watercolour…as you can see in the sky below I failed to take into account the wind factor and wound up with some unexpected “special effects” in my sky :) I’m pleased I managed some decent contrast in this one…was a quickie that took about 20 minutes or so.

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The board worked equally well standing up and sitting down.

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Not really what I was going for with the clouds, but the little raindrop blooms are kind of pretty anyway. :) And as a side note…when I went to scan the pics I discovered that I had stared my new Windsor and Newton landscape book bak to front and upside down…Numpty!

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I discovered, quite by accident, a few weeks ago that there is a group of sketchers that get together regularly in Canberra (one of them saw my Goulburn post and contacted me) and today I decided to stop being such a hermit and join them. Time for me to meet some new people!

Quite aside from my normal social anxiety, I hadn’t picked up a pencil or paint brush since the end of June and so I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. I figured I had best practice a little and started preparing yesterday by sketching of some blossoms in my back yard just to get the feel of it again. I had forgotten how relaxing it can be (smacks self in the head).

Here’s what I ended up with today…Nothing quite like going from flowers to artillery! I have drawn the War Memorial building itself a couple of times in the past and wanted to try my hand at something a little more detailed, and since the weather wasn’t too unpleasant outside, I settled myself down next to a 9.2-inch howitzer from World War I. I started out by mapping the proportions of the gun in pencil before going in with my rollerball ink pen and then the Pentel brush pen for the darkest shadows, and then finally with the watercolours.  All up it took probably an hour and a half or so from setup to dry paint.

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The group met back at the cafe after a couple of hours of dispersed sketching (we all went and found our own “things” that we wanted to capture) to compare sketches and enjoy a coffee. I found it fabulous how we were each in the same geographical location, but came back with such a wonderful and diverse set of sketches.

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I’ll definitely be meeting up again next month at Floriade! If nothing else it will push me to be a little more regular with my sketching and perhaps prime the pump for some more ‘proper’ art pieces for the shop. Here’s the warm up piece I did yesterday…  

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I had such a lovely day today!

I recently connected with a cousin on Facebook that I haven’t seen in many years, and had the opportunity to meet up with her and her family partway through a trip she was taking that passed within an hour of where I live. We were to meet in Goulburn today for lunch at the iconic Paragon Cafe, so I got myself down there a bit early so that I could do some drawing before we met. The cafe is just around the corner from the local Court House, so I found a park and threw on a  couple f extra jackets to protect me from the cold. Unfortunately I forgot to pack my stool and there were no park benches in the grounds of the Court.. so I perched myself on the buttress root of what I think was a liquid amber tree … could have been a plane tree….not sure… one of those two!

The pencil sketch and ink portion of the drawing didn’t take too long.. it was too cold to linger long.. and I am a woos! Shivery fingers make for shaky lines :)

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I worked pretty quick with the paint too in anticipation of getting back to the car and warming up… I really need to prepare better for these things! A damp butt is never a good thing when it’s cold and foggy.

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I’m happy with the result…I think I’ll go back again and take a bit more time over a “proper” drawing.

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By the time we had finished lunch and I had bid farewell to the travellers, the sun had emerged from behind the mist and warmed the day up tot he point where it was an utter delight to sit on a bench in the main street and capture the Paragon’s sign.

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If you are ever in Goulburn, go and visit the Paragon for a wonderful old style country milkbar-style cafe experience. The meals are reasonably priced, generously proportioned and absolutely delicious!

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There’s something wonderful about milkbars in small country towns … shame they don’t do paper straws any more.. but the steak sandwich was to die for!