Archives For ink

This week has been a very playful one in my sketchbook. Perhaps because I have had a busy week at work, I’m not sure, but the sketchbook has been filled with fun things 🙂 I am not complaining! Anything that brightens my day is a good thing!

20170201 - hilarious

It was a big week for drawing critters … click on the collage to see the the full scans of these guys in my sketchbook album.

At the start of the year I bought myself a bottle of black de Atramentis ink after reading a review on Liz Steele’s blog (this post). I had been jumping between the Noodler’s Black ink in my Lamy Safari fountain pen (the pink one below) and the disposable Uniball Eye for the under drawings with watercolour in my sketchbooks. Both are waterproof once dry, but they both take an awfully long time to dry and more often than not I would smudge a line when I rested my hand in a little puddle of ink, or smear something when I added watercolour before it was completely dry. Also, the Noodler’s black wasn’t as dense as I would like, but the Uniball was nice and dark. The de Atramentis ink has been a wonderful change. It dries very quickly and gives a wonderfully lush, dense black line. It flows well and feels great in the pen. I think I am pretty well sold! I cannot wait to add some of the other colours to my inky stable! I’ll still need to use the Uniball for cold press paper, since the fountain pen nib doesn’t cope as well with the texture, but the de Atramentis inks will be my go-to for daily drawing fun!

February is looking like a continuation of the fun. I plan to keep going with the Sketchbook Skool daily drawing challenge, but I have also signed up for another class to keep developing my skills and perhaps learn some new techniques. So keen!

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?

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.

20150906 - WWI Howitzer

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.


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…  

20150905 - spring always comes

Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest.
– Henry Van Dyke 

Buvelot St


A dear friend of mine is about to lose her family home due to a government mess up.

There is something deeply sad about losing your home. So many memories. So much love. So much time spent with loved ones and friends. And yet while the building will be soon gone, the memories of beautiful experiences and relationships will remain. The connection to loved ones will always live on.

We created this portrait to help her remember her home and to provide a visual reminder of the beautiful things that were shared within its walls.

Hugs my friend, I trust you will find a new place for your heart to rest soon.

I finally made the time to sketch during my lunchbreak again! So rusty! I had forgotten how therapeutic drawing can be when I’m feeling like my grip on sanity is slipping…particularly inking those windows, that was almost hypnotic. I forgot to grab a ruler when I was gathering my kit for the day and so I discovered in a round about way that I cannot eyeball vanishing points for perspective drawing. I’ll need to work on that some more I think.

20141106 - Scarborough House

This building is one of a group of buildings in this town centre that are named after the ships of the First Fleet… the red name plate can be seen from all over the centre. I started out the week by drawing my lunch… not exciting, but it was pen to paper, which is more than I can say for the last month or so!

20141105 - drawing the mundane

This week I cracked out a dip pen and some ink and made a wedding card for a beautiful young couple (one of whom I held as a newborn babe .. But that’s a whole other blog post).

In this world of computers and phones as ubiquitous capture devices it has been a while since I have really handwritten anything more than a scrawled note while I’m on the phone, or the odd caption for a drawing in my sketchbook. I felt somewhat rusty!

It turned out well didn’t it? I was pleased. I hope they were too.


I have always loved beautiful handwriting and I am a stationery addict par excellence. I have collected pens and paper and journals and art supplies since I was a small child. Pencils that smelled like strawberries. Erasers that smelled like grapes. Paper with deckles and imprints. Journals with creamy delicious paper. Aaaahhhhhhhh 🙂

When I was about 11 my mum gave me a fountain pen (an old Parker that looked to have been a piece of company advertising) and it was at this point that I believe I was truly lost… I have been obsessed ever since. The weight of them in my hand… the way the ink flows… the search for the perfect nib…and the best way to remove ink from my fingers. Not a lot has changed…except perhaps the price of the pens I buy….or lust after if I am to be honest…the Montblancs and Watermans are pretty much out of my price range at this point, but I am a huge fan of the Lamy range for both writing and sketching.

I went to school in country Victoria in the seventies in the days when we started each day by lining up in the quadrangle, doing jumping jacks and singing God Save the Queen. Ah the glory days…. *Ahem*

In the sixth grade I had Mrs Thompson… I was voted class president, and having used my power particularly unwisely, I made a lot of enemies and never really recovered any semblance of popularity that I might have had to sure me up for the entry into high school. She taught me a love of the english language and of good grammar, but she lacked art in the delivery of said beautiful language onto paper. She taught us standard Australian cursive script .. (Although it could very well have been Victorian cursive script). Suffice it to say, I was less than impressed. I had been waiting for years for the opportunity to be taught the beautiful cursive scripts that I had seen in books. I was sorely disappointed.

The shining light in that year of prepubescent angst though, was my maths teacher… Mr Cleveland. He was a large hirsute man, more than a little reminiscent of early seventies Elvis, complete with belly and oversized spectacles. What Mrs Thompson lacked in art, Mr Cleveland made up for with the line of hieroglyphs that lined the top of the blackboard in his classroom. The holy grail of handwriting … Copperplate Script. Those curls! Those swirls!!! Such beauty in contrast with the bland printed letters joined together with plain straight lines espoused by the seventies standard Australian cursive. Mr Cleveland was teaching his class how to write “properly” and I was jealous. So I hatched a plan.

For months, in the snippets of time between maths problems, I would try to copy down the letters on the board…attempting to follow the swoops and swirls with an unguided and unpracticed hand. Pages and pages of misshapen capitals and crudely formed lowercase letters in what could loosely be construed as words. As I filled my exercise book up with numbers from the front, I worked steadily backwards from the end pages filling the lines with rows and rows and rows of “a” “e” “i” “o” “u” and full alphabets all joined in contiguous streams of unintelligible loops and flourishes.

Over time I brought the ink into submission and developed a handwriting style that has been called on through the years to complete wedding certificates and place cards and various bits and pieces, and filled journal after beautiful Moleskine journal.

I am a little rusty at the moment, but I am reacquainting myself with the feel of the ink flowing out from my fingertips, adding varying pressure and new nibs and styles. I am loving it. Would you like me to write your envelopes for you? Would you like me to write your place cards for you? I can make them beautiful works of art for you! No computer-generated homogeneity … just beautiful hand crafted words. Watch this space for samples, or drop me a line in the meantime 🙂


deconstructionist eating

September 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

I was dying to get some sketching in this week. I’ve been working on a graphite portrait and have been enjoying the tight detail and concentration it requires…but I got to the point where I really just wanted to scribble down something loose and fun. So I drew my lunch. The cafe staff always look at me a little strangely when they see my pull my lunch apart like this, but when they saw me start to draw it too…that was the last straw 🙂 Giggles all round!

23-2013 // deconstructed steak sandwich

Sweet Ride

April 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

It has been a long while since I’ve had the opportunity to draw a car. Which is a bit sad, because I like cars 🙂  One of my work colleagues has a GORGEOUS show car that I thought I’d have a go at rendering in ink and watercolour as a bit of an experiment. Here are a few “work in progress” shots and then the final. I am quite pleased with the way it turned out. 🙂 Working in watercolour became more and more nerve-wracking the further into the project I got…I was very nervous about messing it up and having to start all over again!!


Sweet Ride WIP 1

Sweet Ride WIP 2

Sweet Ride WIP 3

Sweet Ride WIP 4

Sweet Ride WIP 5

Sweet Ride Final

Sweet Ride Final Framed


December 1, 2012 — Leave a comment



Almost ten years ago an horrendous firestorm decimated several suburbs in my city. At the time I was in a suburb that was getting ember showers and I was home alone trying to stave off an asthma attack and keep our house from catching alight. The boys were very little, so I’d taken them to a friend’s place, but the dog we had at the time kept me company as I watered the house with a garden hose. I have never before seen it pitch black in the middle of the afternoon, nor do I wish to again. I have the greatest admiration for those that lost everything and yet have returned to rebuild and thrive again.

This one was drawn in 5-10 minute blocks between shuttle runs for the downhillers in my family. I used my Noodler’s Bulletproof Polar Brown ink for the first time, and was not happy to discover that it is in fact water soluble…not happy.

Fetes and Firetrucks

November 10, 2012 — Leave a comment

43-2012 // Fetes and firetrucks


I had thought that I might sit and do some sketching at the fete while I waited for my son to do his performance, but I chickened out. 🙂 I took a bunch of photos and filled up a spread while I relaxed this afternoon. I need to work a little bit more on having pictures cross the binding line to give the spread a little more coherence, but on the whole I’m happy with this piece.