Echoes of the Mazaruni…

Remember my post Shipwrecks and Sand Shoals? A couple of months after the post went up I got an exciting e-mail from 7-year-old Thom (and his mum, Noemie). Based on the sketches and photos in my post, Thom (who tells me he is “really into wrecks”) made a gorgeous drawing of the wreck.

Thom's drawingAnd then he went into 3D and built a Lego version of the shipwreck.

Thom's Lego wreckThom’s a charming young man, one of maybe three people who immediately recognised that the name of our boat, Kehaar, was taken from the book Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Note: In the book, about rabbits, Kehaar is a blunt old seagull who speaks with an Eastern European accent. He is very knowledgeable about the world, and he often confuses the rabbits by talking about things that they do not understand or cannot comprehend, such as bullets and oceans. Kehaar is the reason our boat is painted black and white (or was, at any rate…right now it’s a patchwork of cheap paints found in South Africa, Brazil and, soon, Venezuela).

This is the most rewarding part of blogging, for me…when something I’ve posted resonates with someone else, spurs them to create a reciprocal work, or to look into the matter further. A lot of the time my posts are just the bare bones…I don’t do as much research as I should, or don’t include everything I’ve gathered about the topic because I worry that it will bore readers.

And then someone like Thom comes along, digests what I’ve published, gets busy (at his beautiful table covered in drawings—Love! We should all draw as freely on our tables…) and hands the idea back to me, imbued with a seven-year-old’s magical enthusiasm…fleshed-out, and given dimension. Thom and Noemie even did an internet search of the shipwreck, looking for more information…but found nothing (neither did Kris, who hunted obsessively for any stories about the Mazaruni and what happened to her). And it thrills me so much that I, schmaltzy sponge cake that I am, get teary-eyed.

Thanks for the photos, Thom! I’ll keep my eye out for more wrecks as we go, and be sure to send you whatever I find!

Monument of Hope

Hope Monument ParkI came to sit in the park and playground of the Monument to Hope in Bartica, a couple of times. There was never anyone there, it was a good place to be alone and sketch. The monument itself was not very sketchable…a grey granit obelisk, erected in memory of the men and women who died when a boat full of escaped convicts arrived in the town at dark and robbed several of the gold-buying businesses.

The swing set was more interesting, though probably not very exotic. I’ve been having some trouble with this whole “travel sketching” idea, to be honest. Because we have been to some exotic places, I guess I felt that I owe it to my sketchbook to document the unusual, the novel, the never-seen-before. Naturally. When else will I get a chance to see these things? But, sorting through the files on my external drives, I came across this little PDF booklet, Start To Draw Your Life, again, by Michael Nobbs, and felt a twinge of longing for the days when I would draw my running shoes, a coffee cup, a tea strainer…nothing fancy, just getting lost in the drawing…

Because something in me loves the overlooked, ordinary, everyday things about life, and let’s face it, even up a river in a jungle, most days are just ordinary days…when you do the laundry, or sit on deck with a paperback novel, or cook oatmeal for breakfast. And if you did a tally of time spent “having adventures” and time spent doing everyday chores, you’d find that we spend probably 70% of our time just plodding along, doing the countless little things that make up a life. And why not paint that? It is as authentic and legitimate a subject as jungle vines and vernacular architecture.

It’s easier, too, to find a subject and paint it, if it’s around the home. Thing is, I love to do the drawing, I love adding colour. I don’t care what the subject is, in the end, I just love the doing. If I have to wait until I am somewhere unusual, or doing something exciting, before I can pull out my sketchbook, I won’t get to draw and paint as often. And that’s frustrating.

So, I know I’m in Guyana, living in a boat on the river, surrounded by howler monkeys and a dawn chorus of hornbills and parrots, but folks, sometimes my sketchbook posts will feature things from my kitchen, or stuff on my desk. And that’s fine, too.

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