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?

Process not Product

You know those times when you have too much going on and you really want to do some sketching because you know it will make you feel better, but at the same time you cannot be bothered…and cannot think of anything to draw anyway?

In the past I have turned to collage and multimedia, but I also knew that I was unable to set up and lose myself that process at the moment, because my art desk has been taken over by cats.

So I decided to just play with layers of paint. Something mindless to occupy my hands to allow my brain to tick over and process.

20210713 -process
Click for a larger view

Here are some of the things I noticed and enjoyed as I zoned out:

  • How the paint felt as it slipped from brush to paper.
  • How a watery wash and well-loaded brush felt smoother than a juicier mix.
  • Watching the paint dry and observing the patterns of wet and dry on the page.
  • Watching the paper buckle and paint pool and then start to flow back into the dry parts and create shapes.
  • Seeing how the colour changed as it dried.
  • The sensuousness of feeling something come from your hands and the feedback of the touch.

The whole exercise took place over the course of a couple of days sandwiched between other tasks. It was like meditative punctuation. An interstitial refocussing of my attention.

The end results were butt-ugly, and in years gone by I would have fretted and frothed about wasting paint and pages in my sketchbook. Art supplies are expensive! But as one friend reminded me, it’s like saving the good china for a special dinner. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, let alone a special dinner, nor a masterpiece on the next page of our sketchbooks. Use the good stuff! NOW!

So I reminded myself that not everything I create has to end up as something I’d hang on my wall. There is value in the process whether it be exploring how your materials work with your sketchbook or the space it allows you for thought and reflection. These pages were definitely a case of process over product for me.

My muses! I am now a cat guardian!

I have been owned by cats now for a grand total of two months. They are teaching me to be a good cat guardian, and a lot about myself. You can read about that process over on my other blog.

They have also been showing up in my sketchbook. They don’t sit still for long for the most part – one of them is a hyper kitten – so I work from photos or I turn them into comics. It’s fun having two new muses to provide creative inspiration! They are always doing something silly or lovely that is worth recording. I thought I’d share a couple of pages with you.

20210328 - baby kiska 2

I drew this one from a photo I took when I visited my little fur-ball at the breeder’s home. She was checking me out from high up on her climbing tree.

20210419 - krasnyy

This big boy was a surprise addition to our family, but he is just adorable and has adapted well to his new home.

20210507 - kiska comes home

The first night with a new kitten is always….interesting.

20210521 - krasnyy adjusts

Krasnyy was a little suspicious of the fur-ball at first, but welcomed her quickly.

20210510 - afternoon nap

Occassionally Krasnyy sits still long enough for me to do a sketch from life. I grabbed my sketchbook and coloured pencils and captured him snoozing on his tree beside my desk while I dialled into a work meeting.

I have no doubt they’ll provide continue to provide many opportunities and creative inspiration in the years ahead. Perhaps Kiska will even sit still long enough for me to sketch her while she rests!

Micro versus Macro

I was feeling a little stressed last week and really didn’t know what to do for my creative practice. I umm-ed and ahh-ed and could not find anything around the house that grabbed my fancy that day, so I defaulted to one of my rituals and decided to draw repeating patterns. I started with a grid of one inch squares and then started the pattern, which is a spiral comprised of straight lines that move incrementally inwards.

It feels like you’re never going to get to the end when you start, but you get into a rhythm and do bits and pieces as you want to… be it for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours. Whatever you feel like.

As I was drawing I was super focused in on the micro, on individual lines and squares and saw wobbles and got cranky with myself for not being more careful and precise. You can see the wobbles below. There are lines like that all through the page.

The thing is though, that then when I stepped back I saw the squares accumulating I didn’t see the wobbles, but the hypnotic feel of the whole. There was no way I was able to see individual lines when I was hovering up at the macro level. I reminded myself of the purpose of the exercise — I was not there to be a draftsperson, I was there for a relaxing process, and truth be told, I was watching Star Trek episodes at the same time!

Life’s like that isn’t it? It is so easy to get stuck in the weeds and looking at individual failures, without looking at the big picture of how our repeated habits are stacking up to let us make a fabulous overall picture or to make progress at something we are chipping away at. Somehow things become greater than the sum of their parts when they all work together in concert.

After I had finished the line work – it took h o u r s – I decided to layer on ultramarine blue, working in a square at a time from the outside in. That’s the picture at the top of this post… but then I decided it needed more and ended up adding a layer to part of the pattern. I am not sure if I like the result, but sketchbooks are for experimenting in are they not? Click the pic below to see a larger version on Flickr.

20210314 - blue

When all is said and done, whether it be art or life, remember to take a step back and look at the big picture!

Rebooting creativity in 2021

It’s time for a change. I haven’t been nurturing my creative practice nearly as much as I should have been over the past 12 months, and I have a theory as to why.

I had the words sensory deprivation come to me when I was on the rowing machine one day when I was thinking about what 2020 was like. I have struggled to be creative at all in an arty sense. I don’t leave the house if I can help it, so I am not seeing new things, I am not hearing snippets of peoples’ conversations, I am not seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling new things. The inputs that usually spark a thought or inspire creation are missing. I have seen many people in the same situation that have been super creative and sketching and documenting what is happening within their homes etc. I haven’t done that. I have been working from home, so haven’t really had a lot of time for sitting and sketching. I wasn’t furloughed, for which I am grateful, but that also meant that I didn’t have the extra free time that these super creative people did that I was comparing myself to. I was drawn to knitting when the weather was cool…but that is more a meditation than an art at times I think. Note to self: Stop comparing yourself to others!

As you can see from the top two images, I have started forcing the issue, taking a leaf out of Austin Kleon’s book and fiddling with collage when I have nothing to say/draw/paint. It takes the pressure off needing to create something in a particular way. Create for the sake of the process of creating rather than wanting to make something beautiful or polished.

I have also started to take Koosje Koone’s lead and draw the little bits and pieces around the house as a project.

I need to get my mojo back. I need to be proactive in my creative practice so that when I am free to leave the house for any length of time again, I don’t have to start from scratch! Being creative brings me joy, which is something we can all do with a little more of, and something we can share with each other even if we cannot do it in person yet.

Here’s to a more colourful, creative and joy-filled year ahead!

If you’d like to check out last year’s sketches, you can see them HERE.

Art therapy in the time of COVID-19

Get to know all about it
life etc
don’t disconnect,
reconnect
Explore what lies beneath
curiouser and curiouser
Find love

The world is an odd place at this moment in history.

I don’t like going to the shops for groceries at the best of times, but yesterday I found myself feeling incredibly anxious about leaving the house and possibly exposing myself to the virus. By the time I got home I was feeling exhausted and wanting to hide. I was annoyed because the feelings were not logical, I know the science and how to protect myself as much as possible, but they were there. And feelings are for feeling. All of them.

So I scrawled it all out onto a page in my sketchbook to get them out of my head. To see them, identify them and to acknowledge them. Reams of messy, scrawly writing tumbled out. Fears, insecurities, anger, frustration.

Now that all that was out of my head (for the moment) I could focus on adapting, responding and overcoming. One step at a time.

I like to do collage style pages when I feel unsettled, as a way to reframe the stories I tell myself. To remind me to be gentle with myself. I cover the chaotic feelings with smears of paint and scribbles and new words and images and focus on that instead. It is a technique that lends itself to layers upon layers as I swim towards the surface. I tell myself a new story about the things that are happening around me. This time the words that formed themselves into verse as I sifted through my stash of magazine clippings steered me towards connection and love. A good reminder at a time like this.

Art can be a great way to process life at times like this. It is one of the many things in my coping toolbox. How are you dealing with our new normal?

Old Mr Bear and an ode to woodwork

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!

Layers

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.

20180820 - overwhelmed

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.

20180828 - subtraction

 

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.

December 17 to April 18 Sketchbook flip through and a speed-draw video

I finally got around to filming a flip through of my most recently finished sketchbook! I really enjoy seeing the things I’ve played with over the course of a couple of months. I hope you do to!

I also filmed a timelapse video of the latest church drawing for my upcoming Churches of Canberra calendar (available early November). This is the first process video I’ve made, and I am really pleased with how it came out. I love watching other peoples’ work in progress videos because they inspire me and give me tips and tricks for my own work. I plan to show more of this type of video in my Instagram stories.

 

Here’s how my calendar paintings are looking so far. I am so excited to see the project coming together! If you want to keep up with release dates for the calendar and special deals on originals and prints please sign up HERE.

Urban Sketching at Auto Italia 2018 and a new sketchbook

The Auto Italia car (and motorbike) show was on in town this weekend and despite the crazy cold and drizzly weather, an intrepid few Canberra Urban Sketchers braved the weather and the crowds to see both the quirky and the flash cars on show. I love drawing cars! Had the weather been more pleasant I would probably have stayed on for a lot longer.

I fell in love with this little Fiat 600 Multipla from the moment I saw it. It almost looked like it was built backwards … funny shape it was! Definitely would not want to have a crash in one, there is absolutely nothing between driver and whatever one might hit. I had one gentleman tell me the story of his mother having one and driving from Belgium to Italy in it. It was apparently the perfect car for her and her twin babies since it was the only one that could fit a twin pram in the back at the time. There were lots of people interested in what I was doing and had several photos taken in action. I was also highly amused at the number of people that suggested that I should just take a photo, it would be far quicker. Ah yes, it would, but then I would not get to enjoy the details of the bug-eye headlights or the bumper that looks like warthog tusks as I drew them! One lady liked the sketch enough to want to buy it from me, so it won’t be staying in my sketchbook for long – it will be heading off to it’s new owner this week!

20180415 - fiat 600 mulitpla - autoitalia

I had 20 minutes left after I finished the Fiat and started on a modern Alpha Romeo Gtv, but didn’t quite get it finished before the rain sent me running for cover. I’ll splash some colour on it during the week when I get a moment.

I finished off another sketchbook yesterday – it’s the little back one in this picture. Flip through video coming soon! I have been getting a little frustrated with the size of it of late, and annoyed with painting spreads and fighting with the gutter, so I am going to try the next size up and see how I get on. Despite being larger it is lighter than the black one because it has a soft cover. (They are both made by Stillman and Birn.) I am interested to see if the extra size is a help or a hindrance for everyday sketching.

I have followed Austin Kleon’s lead and added a picture of one of my heroines in the front to watch over me and keep me on track.

Next step is to draw my palette on the page that faces and get over the “new sketchbook” boogie man.