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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!

Collages were a thing in February!

I gave myself permission at the beginning of the month to create bad art, to explore processes and to play, regardless of the results. I managed to create a page or two most days this month, for which I am grateful, and I can feel the creative spark starting to rekindle after it had pretty much gone out last year (read more about that here).

Some days my energy ran low and ennui ran high, I didn’t want to write and I didn’t know what to create. So I pilfered other people’s words and bent them to my purposes. I played with scissors and glue and tape and images until something formed that grabbed my imagination. It made a delightful mess of my art desk!

Marie Kondo is the natural enemy of creatives!

This piece is taking a leaf out of Austin Kleon’s book and choosing words in situ. I used a black marker to kill off the words that don’t fit the story, and in this case I embellished with some collage. A couple of hours of being lost in the process was just what I needed.

20210218 - drama
As always, click to see a larger version of any the images in this post.

This slice-and-dice poem was created from Mark Knopfler’s beautiful song Wherever I Go. You can listen here on YouTube. And you can see more of my process here on my writing blog.

20210221 - slice and dice poetry - wander with you

I stopped buying magazines awhile ago because it was a lot of money to be spending on something that would ultimately end up in the recycling bin, but I picked up a couple on a whim a little while ago so that I could practice image transfers with gel plates and paint, however I ended up chopping up a couple of pages and fiddling with sticky tape to see what I could come up with. I have not yet succeeded with gel plate image transfers but will keep trying!

20210224 - it's all in the detail

Even the junk mail that somehow ended up in my mailbox (even though I have a “No Junk Mail” sticker) was not safe…the results are less than inspiring, I will admit, but it’s a fun, low pressure way to play with words when I cannot think of anything else to fill my page.

20210226 - introverted service

This final poem was made with the left over words from the Knopfler song slice-and-dice exercise above, and pasted over a mono print experiment.

20210227 - going blind - slice and dice poetry

I am not sure what March will hold, but I intend to keep up the practice and explore new ways of capturing my life and imagination on the pages of my sketchbook.

If you would like to flip through all of my visual diary pages for this year so far, you can see them on my Flickr.

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?

Hong Kong trip sketching

Mr Collier and I just returned from an 8-night trip to Hong Kong, and whilst it wasn’t a trip for sight-seeing and sketching per se, I did manage to fit in a few sketches to capture some of the interesting things from our trip. As always, click the image for a larger view.

20200213 - HK titleI always start with a cover page of sorts…this time I drew a map of Hong Kong and showed the location of our hotel on the northern coast of Hong Kong Island facing onto Victoria Harbour.

20200213 - HK trip map
I like to capture flight details as well … though looking at the scan now I can see that I didn’t complete the final leg … I was a bit stressed out by that point since I booked for the wrong day and had to rebook a new flight when I got to Sydney, so I’m not surprised I forgot to write it up! Also, the actual flight path was direct and passed over the Australian landmass rather than taking a loop out to the east first. Just as well this is not a text book!

20200216 - HK apartments

We saw this short building on our way to the supermarket. It amused me how it was dwarfed by the skyscrapers surrounding it.

20200219 - HK boats
Our hotel room had a balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour and many hours were spent chatting and watching the boats and ships as they came and went. The slow progress of the vessels bobbing along was hypnotic and we had a lot of fun trying to figure out what they might be doing. This page captures a very small selection of the hundreds of boats that came and went below us.

20200219 - HK room plan
Our visit coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in China, and at the time there were a couple of dozen cases in Hong Kong, but 99% of people were wearing masks and we had heard reports of people panic-buying toilet paper and rice. Our first supermarket visit (one of our favourite things to do in a foreign city) coincided with a recent delivery of loo roll and we saw many people with shopping trolley-loads of of it! The clipping above was in the local paper the next day. It’s probably not funny, but it amused us, and in chatting to the driver that took us to the airport at the end of our trip, he thought it was pretty funny too, so I didn’t feel so bad. He was cracking jokes about a friend who bought a Porsche to stay in to avoid being infected rather than masks because it was cheaper! hehe

20200219 - HK skyline at breakfast
The main restaurant still open in our hotel (some were closed due to COVID-19 risk mitigation activities) was located on the 41st floor and had a stunning view of the city on several sides. I sketched this section of the skyline after breakfast one morning, and is the one and only on-location urban sketch of the trip. While I sketched, Mr Collier lamented the demise of the Kai Tak Airport, apparently we could have been watching hairy jumbo landings in the harbour below as we enjoyed our meal. Check out this video to see what I mean! Yikes!

20200226 - HK garage
And the final sketch for the trip, I actually finished when I got back to capture a little garage that we passed each time we ventured out of the hotel. The city was grey and busy, but the lighting in the garage was very warm and yellow and it made for a nice contrast.

We had a great time in this vibrant and energetic city. We’ll be going back!

Looking back on 2019

2019 has been an odd but wonderful year. Much happened, but not a lot of it was art related! In fact my energy for art and blogging seemed to dwindle as the year progressed, but my yen to knit and read ramped up exponentially. It seems my brain needed a different kind of stimulation. That is not to say that I didn’t draw or paint, I did, but it was not my obsession as it was in previous years.

I was able to complete a couple of very detailed watercolour paintings, and a raft of comic portrait commissions throughout the year, and again added sketches to my sketchbook and played with zentangle-style doodles to soothe when required.

I am not sure what the new year will hold, but I do know paint and pens will be involved!

Here are some of my favourites from this year. Do you have a favourite? Tell me in the comments below.

sunflower raw scan

Sunflower
Oh I love sunflowers! They are so bright and cheerful. I had such fun painting this one.

us wedding

Wedding comic
I drew this one to use on our marriage announcement in the middle of the year. We did not have photos taken, so I immortalised our outfits in one of my comic portraits.

Booty Fruity

Booty Fruity reporting for duty
I have come to really enjoy painting pinups. I did this Royal Marine tribute for Remembrance Day – though I stuffed it the first time and had to repaint her, which was more than a little annoying. She is kitted out with a Heckler and Koch VP9 and Faibairn Sykes ready for duty, but I’m not sure she’d get far in those boots.

PCOS pinup edited transparent background

PCOS pinup
This one was a commission for a dear friend.

20190219 - Green CApe lighthouse

Lighthouse
This sketch brings back such memories! I took a trip to the NSW south coast in February … it was a very blustery day and the clouds made me think of the weather in years gone by that would have caused shipwrecks up and down the coast. That’s the best thing about location sketching isn’t it? It locks in the memories.

20190429 - be softer

Be soft with yourself
Soothing bubbles that ended up looking like bubble wrap, and a reminder to treat myself well.

20190116 - messages from minime

Never forget how to play
I have enjoyed using prints of old baby photos to add a fun collage element to these mixed media pages in my sketchbook.

All of my sketchbook sketches from this year can be found here (I can no longer embed a slideshow as in previous years due to Adobe Flash landing on the scrap heap.)

And if you want to see more frequent updates than I manage here on the blog, you can follow me on Instagram.

I also write here, though updates have been sparse there this year too!

Looking for beauty among the ashes

This morning I woke to the news that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning. I cried for the loss of something so beautiful and iconic and then more when I saw Parisians crying and singing quietly in the streets, mourning as they watched their grand old lady burn. Footage of fire fighters, the spire falling and the gutted remains of the cathedral were everywhere.

As the day wore on I began to see photos of destruction interspersed with sketches and paintings and holiday snaps. Artists were sharing hundreds of memories and flooding my feeds. People were reminiscing and grieving, and searching for the remembered beauty. It meant so much to so many and for a million different reasons.

Sketching or painting something captures memories of more than just the building. A sketch is imbued with your emotions, impressions and interpretation of your experience of the place at a moment in time. I think this is part of what artists everywhere were looking for.

I visited Paris in 2011 but I wasn’t a confident sketcher then and the details of the Notre Dame architecture scared the life out of me, so I didn’t even try. I thought I had, but was sad to discover I had not sketched it at the time. What I do remember was the feeling of awe as I took in her size and tried to wrap my head around the centuries’ worth of pilgrims that had made their way there seeking shelter or solace.

Today I flipped through my photos and searched for beauty as I tried to process the devastation on a page in my sketchbook. I found one where the sun was flaring across the front facade and did my best to capture her on that glorious Autumn day.

I saw a comment on Twitter where someone commented: “posting all your holiday snaps of Notre Dame is not helping”, and I imagine there are similar sentiments circulating about the artwork that is being posted. Perhaps they think it is an attention seeking thing? I know everyone processes these tragedies in their own way, but I would beg to differ and believe that sharing beauty can help. It is the same reason we have pictures of our loved ones at the funeral when they die. We are remembering the beauty of their lives. Even now, artists all over the world are digging out photos and drawing and painting to find the jewel among the ashes that we have been presented with today.

I felt silly being so upset about it, but was reminded by the Viking that I am attached to beautiful things, and that is not a bad thing. I am not the only one a long way from Paris shedding tears…I am reading of people all over the world reacting the same way. Never be afraid to attach yourself to beauty and to mourn it’s loss when it goes. We don’t buy a bunch of roses without knowing that it will be withered and in the bin a week or two later. Nothing around us is guaranteed to be there tomorrow — be it flowers, a pet, a loved one or an 860 year old cathedral. We cannot deprive ourselves of these things because we know it will hurt at some point.

The heartbreak of seeing Notre Dame burn is still present, but the beauty and the memories remain, albeit in different form. It will not be experienced in the same way again, even when she is rebuilt. We will mourn her loss and then celebrate again when she is reborn.

Beauty is one of the things we all cling to in a world that is at times so very ugly. It can unite us when so much is at odds around us. We need to keep looking for the beauty around us and not be afraid to get attached. Keep drawing, keep seeing the beauty even when it seems dark.

If you draw the world becomes more beautiful, far more beautiful.

EO Plauten


Urban sketching at the AIS plus a new setup trial

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.

20190310 - AIS
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? 🙂