paints and pens, sketchbooks, stuff i've made

Redefine

24 October 2014On October 23 I had to stop and reiterate my ideas about keeping a constant sketchbook while traveling.

The day found me pencilling the highlights and shadows of yet another faceted, sparkly glass object…my most ambitious, meticulous and realistic drawing to date. Strangely, the more detailed and exact I made it, the less pleased with it I felt. In fact, flipping back through just the last few days of drawings makes me think of botanical illustrations, of plates done by cataloguers…very conservative depictions, trying as much as possible to convey information, to be faithful to the object’s reality (objective reality?)

There’s a tendency to admire realistic art, but it’s a narcissistic, myopic admiration. What we’re really saying when we ooh and ahh over a drawing that “looks like a photograph” is “This is familiar! I know what it is because that’s exactly the way it looks in life! This work doesn’t push me outside of my comfort zones to leave me standing in the nebulous hinterlands of my lazy mind, or confront me with strange new ideas that I have no socially prescribed reactions for, and so it has my approval!”

For an artist like me, realism is risk-free. It’s safe, it’s popular, it needs no explanations, it doesn’t arouse anger or alienation in the average viewer. It doesn’t reveal very serious things about myself to strangers. It’s the gambit of a cowardly artist.

I don’t like realism in art, but I find realistic drawings relatively easy to do. I’m usually too lazy to work so conscientiously, but I can. The scene is in front of me, after all; I just have to slavishly copy what I see, like the receptor of a digital camera. There are decisions to be made, certainly, like “What color is that really?”, and “What’s the best way to recreate that effect?” But on the whole, it’s all about measuring, identifying, transcribing. The proportions of the object, the perspectives. The greyscale values, from 0% to 100%. The tiniest hint of green in that stainless steel grey. It’s less like art, more like industrial science. There is so little of me in these fastidious renderings.

This is probably why I admire abstract art and expressionism most of all…those works that “present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas”.

These sketchbook studies were intended to develop the habit of doing playful, spontaneous drawings of the world around me. To filter what my eyes see through the way I feel—humorous, joyful, peaceful, loving, fearful, angry, confused, bored, compassionate—and the things I think. They were to please no one but myself, and to document my going, my experiencing…never to produce a catalog of mundane objects, accurately recorded, painstakingly detailed, and that any camera could record better than I.

Hence this page, and the reminder to get back (off the beaten) track.

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paints and pens, sketchbooks, stuff i've made

T2 + ◌

22 October 2014
The tea ball was a challenge…the not-quite-solid surface, and that moiré effect when you look through the mesh…still think I could have done it better, maybe I’ll try again in a few days.

Those ‘shadows’…could’ve left those out. *swift mental kick in the butt*.
Have to learn when to quit…to know when it is enough, and let it be.

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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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