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.

Sinister drawings

sinister |ˈsɪnɪstə|
2) of, on, or toward the left-hand side. The opposite of dexter. From Old French sinistre or Latin sinister ‘left.’

Drawing with your non-dominant, usually left, hand. Have you tried it? You’ve probably heard about it…there’s even a book, Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain, that explains how the left hand is controlled by the right brain and so on.

I’ve been aware of left-handed drawing for ages, but didn’t seriously consider it a tool for producing the drawings I wanted to do. It was like a funny psychology exercise, right? Like writing while looking at your mirrored hand instead of your actual hand…it was something you did to prove some abstruse theory about the way the mind works, to make yourself feel uncomfortable, and to shake up your rigid ideas about how to do things…but after a few amazed comments and some laughter, you’re meant to go back to your good ol’ right hand drawings, because that’s the hand you really get important work done with, right?
barn swallow (RH)

Except that I tried to draw a simple swallow (using an old Reader’s Digest animal book for reference) two weeks ago, with my right hand, and the drawing was crap. This is not unusual, this is actually pretty much the norm with me. Most of my drawings are crap. They’re messy, overworked, spider-webbed things that don’t look quite right. Sometimes, after a laborious and geeky process of using grids and picture plane glass and all the gadgets and tools to help with drawing, I’ll have something I can use. Usually, though, I’ll end up taking a photograph (I try to use my own, so at least that bit is original), doing a line-drawing (often via drawing grids and things, sometimes by tracing the photo) then enlarging the line drawing using a pantograph. By this time, I feel disgusted with myself, for having to use these tools and ‘cheats’ to lay the foundation of my painting. By this time, I hate the painting I am making, because all it signifies to me is that drawing doesn’t come naturally and I have had to get around my inability to draw by using tracing paper and a photocopier.

Some artists talk about the immediacy, a connection, a current of living energy that flows from what the eye sees to what the hand draws, the joy of drawing. For me, arriving at the finished thing has always been a pain in the arse, and the finished work is always disappointing. Whatever I make this way feels false. Like a lie I am ashamed of and try to hide from others. For years I have agonised over the fact that I never seem to have a connection with the subject I am drawing—it’s like I’ve used math and measuring sticks to transfer the image, seen by my eyes, to the paper. It’s mechanical and lifeless. Most of my paintings are based on this kind of drawing…no wonder I seem to hate everything I paint! If the foundation is a lie, how can the painting that goes over it be anything but a continuation of that lie?

I drew my crappy barn swallow, then thought I’d try using my left hand…what could I lose? If the results were even more hopeless, I would just have to do the old ‘trace, enlarge and transfer’ rigmarole again for my upcoming Menagerie-themed group show. No grids, no rulers, no measuring, I just put the pencil down on the canvas, and started.

barn swallow (LH)A second of stunned silence when I had finished. Certainly, the left-handed swallow looked much better than the right-handed one. There were none of those hesitant, spidery lines that I usually use to ‘stroke’ a drawing into existence. There were no huge malformed parts to erase and correct. My lines were more assertive, they started and ended strongly, and I didn’t have to go back a squillion times or rub out huge parts as I usually do. Also, the bird positioned itself perfectly on the square canvas…there was nothing to change. It just sat there, with great negative spaces around it, using up the square shape in an interesting way.

I had, maybe for the first time in my life, been PRESENT at the event, instead of trying to draw while the mind tried to measure the distance between this wing and that tail feather, or rattled off the qualities of birdness and what it was ‘supposed’ to look like, or tore the drawing apart with criticism and loathing as I went. What you can’t see in this photo is how wonderful it had felt to do the drawing…how simple, how easy it suddenly seemed, and how perfectly content I was to just draw; how quiet and meek my (usually merciless) critical mind was, and how satisfying it was to reach the end of the bird drawing and find that I liked it, basic line drawing that it was. It was pure Joy. The joy of drawing. At long last. And I realised with a start that there are two parts to drawing…the action, and the thing you get at the end, and that the action was, by far, the more rewarding and precious of the two. I understand, now, how some people can draw countless exercises and sketches, and never show them to anybody or even keep them…because the point wasn’t the piece of paper at the end, the addicting, ecstatic feeling comes from the doing. It was a revelation to me.

So, back to the swallow…I was very surprised. Is it just a fluke, because I’ve already had some practice drawing this bird with my right hand? I tried again…an atlantic salmon, then a marmoset, then a wombat (which I later crossed with a Galapagos giant tortoise) and *amazement growing* the magic held…each drawing was extremely simple, but nevertheless was confident, proportioned, perfectly positioned on the canvas (without me doing any measuring at all!) and looked great.

menagerie paintings in progressI’m still in awe. Now I stare at my left hand, sometimes, like it’s a separate entity from myself. All this time I was fighting to control the process with my right-hand-left-brain autocrat, and you’ve been sitting there quietly all along?

Well, better late than never…what if I had never given my left hand a try? I might never have discovered my left-hand’s aptitude for drawing. And now my left hand and I must make up for lost time…what else can we do together? So far I’ve done 14 drawings of animals with my my non-dominant hand, but did all the painting with my right hand. What would happen if I painted with my left? I can’t wait to try and find out!

dowsing for inspiration

Wandering the internet in a dreamy half-trance state is a little bit like dowsing for water. One little link will catch my eye, such as “Gotye-Giving Me A Chance-official video” and, although I don’t much care for music videos, I click on the link thinking “I haven’t heard that song,” and find myself watching an animated world of painted and drawn art creatures—really quirky, bizarre, wonderful characters and scenes.

And I’m hooked…I follow the video to the online portfolio of the artist responsible: Gina Thorstensen

And my evening blossoms like a scrunched-up paper flower set into a dish of cool, clear water…my spirit unfolds like infinite origami.

She is amazing. I can’t get enough of her illustrations,

wall paintings,


…and you’ve already seen the wonderful animations she does, like this one in collaboration with Nacho Rodriguez for Gotye. How about this one for the Mexican band Jumbo:

I don’t know much about her other than that she’s a Norwegian based in Denmark. But I am about to find out all I can about her. I think you should get to know her, too. Here’s her portfolio, and here’s her blog.

I’ll race you there.

My first life drawing session!

life drawing session 1

My first time at a life drawing class. The model was a petite German lady called Bianka, an experienced artist’s model and a sunny, well-travelled, intelligent pixie. Of course it doesn’t matter how petite and trim a model is, when I draw a woman, she puts on 15 kilos just because, well, that’s how I feel about the pose. I am drawing on what I know, and the drawing is not Bianka, nor is it me, but a hybrid third of all those involved. Heh.

Worked with soft and hard chalks. Some pencil for the last drawings, because I was getting tired and knew that my “zone” moment had passed (but I was thrilled that, at some point, I found myself ‘in the zone’, if only for a brief 20 minutes or so) There are some tiny areas in these drawings that I’m happy with…I’m talking about a few inches here or there. On the whole, though, these are learning drawings, and of no value in themselves.

life drawing session 1

I threw most of the drawings away when I got home (and one of the better ones was picked up by the wind and whisked into the water…can’t even remember what it looked like, really, I never got a good look at it.) Only kept a few for these photographs, but will probably end up throwing all (but one) away, after I post this. It’s a tactic to keep me attending the drawing sessions: don’t get precious, don’t ‘collect’, don’t get smug, don’t keep anything…it’s the doing that has value, the finished drawings are nothing.

life drawing session 1

I am so happy I worked up the nerve to go. It was absolutely worth it. The thing I loved the most? The connection, immediate and visceral, that I felt because mind and cleverness were not involved. None of that “start by drawing an egg shape for the head” bullshit. Bianka=eye=heart=hand=drawing. Simple and powerful. There is sooo much work to be done. I hope I can keep the sessions up…to get good at anything, you have to be ready to commit to years of practice.

The Darwin Life Drawing sessions are presented by Shilo McNamee, with the support of the Darwin Visual Arts Association (DVAA). They are held Sunday mornings (check the website or their facebook page to be sure, though, and to tell Shilo you’re coming) at the Winnellie Art Space, 96-a Winnellie Road (next to the large Darwin Bakery/factory)

life drawing session 1

life drawing session 1
life drawing session 1

life drawing session 1

Object Enclosed: one (1) pc. “Ear”

fat ear

Paintings are not going too well. Reached a point yesterday when I thought I would explode…some unnameable despair filling me up, making everything I do hateful and wholly despicable.

Finally I squeezed noodles of paint over the problem canvas, and spread the quinacridone magenta around wildly with my hands, obliterating everything I’d done so far…I cried a little, but the rage subsided, and I felt heaps better for having done it. A feeling of calm filled me, but I also felt tired.

To take a break from all this pathetic, anguished (only happens in movies, surely?) painting, I set about making some mail art  for a friend who is also a painter (probably a less angry painter than I am, but who knows, really, what lurks in the hearts of women who paint?) and I started the epistle with this hilarious first page. I should have attached a small magnet to the stapled ear, so that it could be used as a fridge magnet…what a fun idea! Oh well, maybe next time (there’s always the other ear). ;)

I quite like how I’ve managed to bring the two options together harmoniously by “cutting the painting’s ear off”.

The Magic In Book by Reeo Zerko

An animation made with pages from sketchbooks by Reeo Zerko. Wish my sketchbook drawings were this cute!

First encounter with anamorphosis

It was one of those tired evenings after work; I came home to a cranky cat and dinner alone (Kris is still out there, somewhere, sailing) and I wanted to do some small creative thing to cheer myself up.

Thought, “I might paint something.”

I took a small canvas, and attempted to splash and drip a base layer of bright happy colors all over it. It didn’t look like anything much when I’d done, and somehow the colors had gone all pastel and sickly looking. This always happens when I haven’t worked with color for a long time…it’s like I have to re-learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to make the paint do what I want it to. Getting rusty. :(

Mood had sunk even lower by this time. I sank deeper into my chair, chewing on my fag end, eyeing the bottle of acrylic ink that was sitting on top of the canvas on the desk before, and a thought about those street artists who draw amazing, 3D images on the sidewalks, popped up.

I’ve looked these anamorphic drawings up before, and have seen some tutorials on Youtube, mostly using grids on Photoshop to distort an image, or a webcam to flatten the image to a single-point perspective.

I wondered if I could do a small anamorphic painting without those aids or gimmicks? Like, what if I just shut one eye (so that what I saw was from a single-point perspective), kept my eyes at the same level as I drew, stretched my pencil hand out in front of me, and tried to get the pencil lines to evoke the ink bottle from that one perspective.

anamorphic first attempt

The pencil drawing itself didn’t look like anything, but as I started to paint in the shape (still sitting low down and back from the canvas, with my arm stretched out) a little bit of that 3D-ness started to creep in.

anamorphic first attempt

By the time I got to the point you see in these pictures, it was 2 a.m…EEP! The picture above, even with such a sketchily done painting of the bottle, looks much more convincing, because this is the lighting I painted it by, and the shadows/highlights of everything else on the desk around are bathed in the same light.

The pictures below were taken the next day, in sunlight…the illusion is less convincing because the slant of light, the shadows (or lack of shadows) and subtle messages the eye sends the brain are telling you that something is not right.

anamorphic 4

anamorphic first attempt

Here’s what the painting looks like, when viewed straight on. I haven’t finished the painting, yet, but even when viewed from the correct perspective I can see that I haven’t made the black rubber dropper bit at the top long enough. But I’m definitely going to be playing a bit more with this tricksy sort of painting, it’s heaps of fun!

anamorphic first attempt

The Cheap & Nasty Sketchbook Makeover, on

The Cheap & Nasty Sketchbook Makeover

Last weekend I put together a guest DIY post over on Sarita’s blog,  i love gifting that you might want to go over and look at; it comes out some time today.

In it, I’ve taken one of those generic cheap & nasty sketchbooks (must be hardbound, though; I got mine from Jackson’s Drawing Supplies for AU$12.00) and added a little bit of reinforcing to the binding (so that it is a little bit stronger than the factory-made version, which used something for the mull that really resembled thick loo paper). I replaced the plain white endpapers with caramel-colored Canson Mi-Teintes, and then performed a series of quick techniques with acrylic paints to make the cover colorful, quirky, and very unique.
finished spread

It’s not a bad project for young people, and those of you who don’t want to get into the fiddly process of actually learning to bind books from scratch. Make a dozen for the holidays and give them to people who like to doodle, or compose poetry, or collect quotes, or to your friend who has a very bad case of list-making syndrome. It’s not an heirloom-grade book, the paper will probably disintegrate in 20 years, but not everything we need blank pages for will end up in the Victoria & Albert Museum. This book is for those other things.

This song came on when I was about to start painting the covers of the book, and I just let it take over. A little bit of 80s nostalgia, anyone?