paints and pens, sketchbooks, stuff i've made

Dragon’s Breath

21 October 2014About an hour to do…it’s getting easier, and addictive. Hard to stop at just one, I could spend the whole day doing this.

I will have to move on from painting glass bottles, eventually…and from still objects, in general. Need to work on moving subjects: people, animals; need to work on buildings, landscapes, if I want to sketch busy travel scenes. Soon, soon.

But for now I’ve turned to my kitchen for subject matter. Dragon’s Breath, a chilli-infused butterscotch liqueur. Can hardly taste the chilli, and liqueurs are much too sweet for my liking. Mainly, I use it in place of cognac when making coq au vin.

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art journal tricks, paints and pens, sketchbooks, stuff i've made

sketchbook pages

20 OCtober 2014As departure draws nigh, I am making more of an effort to do something in my various sketchbooks, every free day of the week. These ink bottles, done this morning, taught me two important things:
1) That it’s a good idea to do some warm-up drawingsI The bottle of Burmese Amber ink was the first attempt. Meh. I used the actual ink to colour it in, and it bled into the cheap graph paper, went all dull, mixed with the black drawing ink and turned dirty. It’s a lovely ink to write with, though…the writing above it is an example of this J. Herbin ink.
20 OCtober 2014 detailThen I did the bottle of J. Herbin’s 1670 Rouge Hematite ink. Better. I used masking fluid to block out the highlights, and used watercolours instead of the ink, itself. Glad I did, because although Rouge Hematite is a beautiful ink, it has one very serious flaw…it never really ‘fixes’ into the paper. I made the mistake of using the ink to write its name under the drawing. Long after it had dried, as I was pencilling-in the bottle of W&N ink, I realised that my hand was smudging and spreading the red ink over the drawing. Eek! 1670 Rouge Hematite, I love you, but I can’t live with you.20 OCtober 2014 detailFinally, I painted the bottle of Winsor & Newton waterproof black ink. Used the masking fluid more boldly, here…and I’ve learned that, when painting glossy surfaces like glass, there has to be a really bold contrast between the highlights and the darkest areas, and that they are adjacent to each other.

2) It pays to draw from life, and without gimmicks. Before I start drawing/painting anything, I’m overcome with laziness. The task always seems too hard, the subject too complicated for my skill level, and I am tempted to pass on drawing, altogether. Or I am tempted to resort to dirty tricks, like taking a photograph of the subject, printing it out, and then tracing/transferring the basic lines to the paper as a light pencil sketch.

This means putting off the drawing for some other day, because I don’t have a printer at home. It means losing the motivation and the feeling of the moment. It also means that I would never have learned to draw things.

It’s a real blessing that I can’t print things out on the boat! Every drawing I push myself to do is a small step forward, I feel. Even three little bottle drawings, spaced an hour apart, show massive improvement. I’m no Dürer or Da Vinci (probably because I don’t draw enough…those guys drew several dozens of little sketches, every single day, for decades!) but I have come a long way from the stick figures I used to draw in my twenties (and before then, no drawing at all)!

When improvement is so apparent in each small attempt, doesn’t it stand to reason that a small drawing or two each day will, at the end of a year—at the end of five years of traveling and sketching—take my skills to a whole new level? If it’s that easy, what on earth have I been waiting for all this time? A fairy godmother? Deus ex machina? Good grief, Nat.


19 October 2014
Last night’s drawing, in poor light, using graphite pencils, a bit of charcoal pencil, and something called Progresso by Koh-i-Noor, an aquarelle graphite pencil which is really lovely, makes a silvery-grey wash that is still quite erasable when dry.


7 October 2014I suck at monochromatic drawings because I almost never do them…but I would like to get better at using graphite and charcoal, because when done well, these drawings are so beautiful, achieve so much with so little! So even though I don’t like the grey drawings I’ve done recently, I will keep going with pencils and charcoal. A better understanding of greyscale values will help with my coloured work, too.

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art + design, Inspirations, journaling + mail art, stuff i've made

An acquired hand

copperplate envelope
I know a lot of you won’t believe me, and will think I’m being humble, but I have the worst natural handwriting in the world. In primary school, I and a mischievous boy called Francisco (incidentally, my childhood nemesis…when I was 7, I chased him with a knife and got into a lot of trouble) were held up to the class as examples of incorrigible, unreadable scribes. Never stated, but plenty implied, was that our penmanship indicated psychotic tendencies.

I could not have cared less about penmanship when I was 7, but as I reached the end of high school my terrible handwriting distressed me. I had fallen in love with literature, and was nursing small dreams of becoming a writer, but the cheap notebooks filled with my first essays, poems, and stories—written in my demented, unlovely hand—fell woefully short of my belletrist ambitions to pen flourishing and graceful pages, worthy of the British Museum’s archives…

I taught myself how to write. I bought a dip pen and a set of roundhand nibs, and used them every day…even at university. I probably presented a ridiculous image, sitting in the library, writing notes in italic with a dip pen and a bottle of burgundy ink…there must have been sniggers, and lots of eye-rolling. *sigh* Whatever. We are so affected when we’re young. But my college notes are fabulous; I have them still.
mail art MK

Using a dip pen has become second nature to me, so it’s not such an affectation, anymore. This doesn’t mean that my real handwriting has changed, though. Give me a ballpoint or a felt tip pen, and my handwriting is as illegible, psychotic, demonic as ever. It hasn’t been transformed, only concealed.

It was always the kind of pen that made the difference. Fussy pens, like dip pens with calligraphic nibs, or those very fine, delicate points on expensive technical drawing pens, have to be held a certain way, manipulated slowly to avoid damaging them, have to be used correctly or they won’t work at all. Their finicky temperaments impose order upon my handwriting.

A copperplate doodle sheet posted by salman on The Fountain Pen NetworkNow I am teaching myself Copperplate script. I bought the strange-looking Mitchell’s Copperplate Elbow oblique nib at work, and have been using it at every opportunity…copperplate To Do lists, copperplate journal entries, copperplate appointments in my datebook, copperplate letters to friends (and their addresses on envelopes)…

I have barely started, and already I can see that I will need an oblique nib holder, because the Mitchell’s Copperplate Elbow, while set at the right angle for Copperplate, is not as flexible as I’d like it to be. I have a Gillott’s 303 and 404 nib, they’re so springy-sproingy that it’s like writing with cat’s whiskers (and it’s the difference between the superfine point of the nib, and how far apart the tines will spread when you apply pressure, that make for some of my favorite Copperplate examples on the internet) but the nib has to held at an oblique angle to the lines on the page to get the thick-and-thin areas in the right places.

I probably wouldn’t pick Copperplate to begin using dip pens and nibs…go for Roundhand, or Italic, first, and when you’re comfortable with using a nib, you can venture into the fancier scripts. It will be many years of writing in ‘plain vanilla Copperplate’ before I will feel game enough to tackle the sort of scrolling and ornamental work you see in this video:

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bookbinding, journaling + mail art, stuff i've made

Brown bag sketchbooks

brown paper bagsI have wanted to do something about this stack of large, heavy-duty brown paper bags—the kind that you get your bok choy and bananas in, at a farmer’s market—that I carried home from some yard sale ages ago.

Today I cut the bottoms off, leaving a kind of paper ‘tube'; I then slit the tube with a large kitchen knife at the side folds into two pieces, cut the resulting two sheets in half once more, and then folded the sheets, ten at a time, to form signatures or sections. A few quick stitches using heavy linen upholstery thread, some cloth tapes cut from a scrap of printed cotton, some glue and half an hour under the press. Just like that, I have two brown paper books, a hundred leaves (200 pages) in each. I may, or may not, worry about covers (I’m a bookbinder. That means most of my own books spend their lives half-finished and coverless…)

brown paper journalsI have a lot of good art papers, and at least a dozen hand-bound drawing and watercolor sketchbooks, to take on my travels…but I needed some scribbling-and-doodling books that didn’t feel precious; made of the cheapest possible paper and roughly sewn together, so that I wouldn’t be afraid to waste the pages, to draw and write utter garbage, to jot down phone numbers and shopping lists. I like that the pages in these two books are creased. There are some stains and spots where the bags got rained on last year. I even left the double-thick strip—where one side of the bag was glued to the other—to form a margin on some pages.

Often, it is in such cheap and accessible books that the best work gets done. The mind is so strange.

stranger things have happened

I began to test various dip pen nibs on the rough, hairy paper, trying to figure out which nib would work best. This random line from an audio book—Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives—I was listening to as I began to write appeared on the first page. I guess I have unwittingly named one of the books…

testing pen nibs on the paper

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aboard the M/V sonofagun

Dude looks like a lady…

DSCF3978

I finally stopped by Cathy’s boat and asked her how she and Dude were getting along. She said she was delighted, they’re good mates now. Dude sat on deck, watching me but not making a fuss, and looked pretty contented. Then Cathy dropped a bomb:

“You know Dude is a female, don’t you?”

Oh. My. God. We never thought to look! We were told Dude was male, and accepted that without question! Suddenly, everything made more sense…the gentleness, the quietness, the cat’s docile and homey nature. I roared with laughter, looking at the poor kitty on deck, all these years she’d been misunderstood. I laughed all the way to the shore. I thought of how Kris only ever wants to have male cats, but he also says that Dude was the best-natured cat he’s ever had.
Laughed till I cried. Best joke the universe has played on us, ever. That was a good one.

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journaling + mail art, paints and pens, stuff i've made

W&G sketchbook pages

Inspired to the point of nail biting by Jennifer Orkin Lewis’s painting a day, and hoping to get into the habit of doing a small painting regularly (once a week is all I’ve managed)…before I set off on my big adventure ‘out there’, I picked up where I left off in this palm-sized honey of a handbound watercolor book, and tried to do a little something on free days. Even if it was just a color chart, or a copy of some bizarre character by Bosch.

Watercolours and gouache.

15 Sept 2014

Oct 6 2014

Oct 6 2014

Oct 5 2014

16 Sept 2014

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, paints and pens, stuff i've made

Dude

spectrum birds in colourwheel treesI made a rather happy painting for a journal today…did this in the morning, and in the hours after lunch, before I went to visit a neighbour on her boat. I’m glad I got it all finished before I went, I don’t think I could paint something so happy now.

I went to have tea this afternoon on Cathy’s boat, just next to ours. Was just trying to be a bit more sociable, and spend a little time with all the folks who have been so nice to me, before I go. While there, I brought up the subject of Dude coming to stay with her, and she told me she had rather hoped I was going to bring him over when I came for tea, and had been very excited. I felt rather abashed…she has been waiting a long time now for Dude…I have been putting it off, first telling her to wait till August, then till September. Now September’s at an end, and it suddenly seemed very selfish of me to keep her hanging on for another month or two. I guess I kept hoping for ‘the right moment’ to announce itself…for when I finally felt ‘ready’ to give Dude up. I realised, sitting with her, that I will never be ready. Now is as good a time as any. So I left her boat an hour or two later, promising to come right back with the cat.

I took my time preparing a crate for him to travel in…weaving two ropes in and out of the holes so they wouldn’t slip, and preparing the loops on the ends so that I could quickly tie the lid onto the crate once the cat was inside.

I picked him up, and started to sob, feeling his silky, soft fur and plump warm body for the last time. The silly sausage was purring…he is such a docile and gentle cat. He didn’t fight when I put him in the crate, and didn’t go wild once he was sealed in. I tied the crate up, and he sat quietly inside, wondering what the game was. He didn’t start to complain until he was in the dinghy. Every plaintive meow brought another flood of tears. I rowed him over to Cathy’s boat, because I didn’t want to traumatise him with the sound of the outboard.

We got the crate aboard, and I handed a bag over with his plate, his water bowl, his biscuits, and his brush, snuffling the whole time. She waited until I had rowed away before she opened the crate up.

I had to go back a second time, with his cat litter. Dude got very agitated, and Cathy and I swapped things—she handed me back the crate and ropes, I handed her the litter—via her dinghy, so that I wouldn’t come too close to the sailboat. As I rowed away a second time, he seemed to be looking for a way to jump over the guard rails and into the water. Cathy distracted him, and then he just sat on the back deck, watching me row away. Since I got back on board, i have tried not to look out the window at her boat…I don’t want to see him looking across the water. I think I’ll sob all night, tonight.

A part of me feels breathless…I surprised myself by just up and doing what had to be done, and it’s only starting to sink in now that Dude is not with me. I’ll miss his purring by my shoulder in bed, the adorable way he likes to sleep with his head high up on a pillow like a person, the considerate way he has learned to ‘massage’ and claw at the bedclothes just next to me, and not into my arm or head, and the sight of him stretched lazily out on the carpet at my feet.

I’ve been reduced to a leaky, snuffling mess. Cats, of course, are not like humans, they are practical and resilient creatures that live every moment fully in the present. He is not suffering the way I am suffering. He’ll be a bit put out, and he’ll look for me and the boat he used to live on, for some time. But on the whole he will settle into his new life with his new human, I think, much faster than I will get used to living without him.

I have got another two months of living here to get through, and my biggest fear is that Dude will one day try to swim across if he sees me on board. I hope, hope, hope he stays at his new home, and that the sight of me coming or going doesn’t make things difficult for Cathy.

This is just one of several tearful separations coming up…October is going to be a weepy, emotional, difficult month. Lots of advice about following your dreams will mention the pulling up of metaphorical anchors…it sounds romantic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. At least, not when the other end of every anchor chain is fastened firmly to the center of your heart.

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aboard the M/V sonofagun, travel

many moons

Maun

photo taken in Maun, Northwest Botswana, by Philip Milne

Kris wrote last night from Maun, Botswana…it took him a while to get there from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe because he had to make a detour around Chobe National Park for two reasons:
1) The park is mostly soft sand, very difficult for a bicycle, and 2) “Meals On Wheels (i.e. cyclists) are not allowed into the park, as big cats are part of the park’s animal population.

Despite not going on any paid safari tours, he’s seen a huge number of African animals just by cycling from country to country…many, such as elephants, range far beyond the borders of proprietary parks, and wander the salt pans in between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Looking for a place to do his laundry and have a wash after the day’s cycle, he noses out the nearest culvert, creek, or river, and has encountered hippos, giraffes, and more elephants who have come to the water for much the same reason that he has…a drink and a splash. I just hope he never meets with crocodiles like the ones in Philip’s photo!

Meanwhile, I sit and count the passing moons…still no word from Immigraton about my citizenship ceremony, and until I have a date for that, I can’t really say when I’ll be leaving. Please let it be soon! I miss my wandering love so much.

The last full moon was a big one. Here it is at dawn, setting behind Darwin’s remarkably ugly skyline…

moon at dawnTaking the moonrise was harder…even with a tripod, the boat itself is always moving, however imperceptibly, and the long exposure blurred the moon and its reflection…

moonrise

A bit like two moons in a sky the colour of sea glass, these spotted rays floated slowly past the boat in the morning…

two rays 3

Antidote to all these murky or misty blue moons is my happy truss tomato vine…popping with hot orange suns. Summer is coming…the dry rasp of cold mornings is gone, and the sky that was, only a month ago, as cerulean and flawless as a Wedgewood porcelain bowl, is filling with small puffs of cloud.

boat tomatoes

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