hybrid vigour

Brewster & Cappuchicken

Last week in Sketchbook Skool, Brian Butler took us along to rock concerts to watch him sketch on the dance floor, and then we went for a walk around the neighbourhood to generate site-specific ideas for a mural in downtown Los Angeles.

His system for generating ideas by writing a list of adjectives in one column, a list of nouns in the other column—and then randomly combining a word from each column—called to mind my own exercises in imagination by drawing two or three slips of paper from a cup, and then creating a hybrid image from the words.

CHICKEN FEET + POTS was my first attempt to do the homework Brian gave us. PERFUME + FOOD was the second.
Eau de Habañero

Sextant navigation made simple(r)

manual titleJust before we left South Africa I asked Kris to teach me how to navigate using a sextant. We have a distrust of electronics on the boat (salt water and electronics do not love each other) because we have seen too many people rely on these gadgets, and then flounder when the gadgets malfunctioned.

Besides, there is romance in navigating using an old-fashioned sextant that modern-day GPS’s don’t seem to possess. As one sailor we met put it, what is these days referred to as “the science of astronavigation” was, once upon a time, called “the art of atronavigation”. We’ll take the art over the technology, anytime.

Kris has only ever navigated using a sextant and an accurate timepiece, and when we are sailing he uses it every day, so he’s got the operation of this beautiful piece of equipment down to a simple and functional process. When he was trying to teach me how to use it he wrote a short manual, because lots of other people have expressed the desire to learn from him, and he hasn’t got the time to sit with them all. So we’ve fixed this file up, added a few diagrams and some (admittedly poor photographs of) pages of a nautical almanac to assist with the equations, and it’s up for sale as a PDF file in my ETSY shop.

fig 1 sextant schem

A lot of people ask me to teach them sextant navigation. While the actual process is simple and easy, to become a confident navigator requires time and practice. I’ve seen so many people discouraged by the technical jargon used to explain celestial mechanics, that I have decided to write a simple how-to manual, leaving out anything that is not essential. You do not really need to understand the underlying spherical geometry to become a proficient navigator. If it takes your fancy, you can fill in the gaps later, but in the 1970ies when I learned the sextant myself, most skippers just did the trick without bothering about the theory, and it still worked.

The only mathematics involved in this manual are addition and subtraction of angles…6th grade algebra. The first man to circumnavigate the globe using a sextant and reliable clock, Captain James Cook, only had two years of formal education. When he joined the Navy at the age of 12 he could barely read and write…roughly the equivalent of a High School Certificate, these days.

I will assume that you are familiar with the concepts of latitude and longitude; namely that the Equator is designated as zero degrees of latitude, the North Pole lies on latitude 90° north and the South Pole is on 90° south.

Sections included in this manual:

  • Introducing the Sextant
  • The Nautical Almanac
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Position Line
  • Finding Your Position and Some Dirty Tricks

19 pages, with 15 illustrations/figures.

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.

Personalised canvas tote bag

personalised canvas toteWas binding a dozen or so journals today, for a craft market later this month; at some point the books went between boards for pressing, and waiting for the glue to dry I started on this little project. It was so much fun that the books are still in the book press, several hours later! I just decided to keep going with the canvas bag until it was done.
personalised canvas toteThese handy canvas artist’s bags were on special at work, so I bought one. They’re a good size (you can fit an A3 sketchbook into one of these, as well as lots of art supplies) with three roomy pockets, and a whole row of narrow brush or pen pockets on one side of the bag. I want to use it as my art tote when I am traveling (I am going to make more of an effort to paint, or draw, while I am out and about, than I have before now. Yeah, right.) But the bag needed some colour, I thought…all that plain canvas just begged for some paint.
personalised canvas toteI used a black Posca brush-pen to doodle the designs, then painted in with acrylics. I fooled around with glitter fabric paints, too. When the paint was dry, I loaded some flow acrylics into a gutta applicator bottle, and put in fine details like faux stitches and stems and leaf veins. (Note: want to give this a try? Everything you need for this project is available at Jackson’s Drawing Supplies)

personalised canvas toteI used the same applicator bottle to write the text on the reverse side of the bag…after trying to use a Posca marker and not getting the desired results (you can see the pink lines here and there).

personalised canvas toteThis is just going to be something that I drag around with me, getting dirty, battered, and worn, so I was just playing around with the doodles, not planning ahead, and not trying to get anything perfect…I acknowledge that my writing could have been spaced better!

personalised canvas toteI couldn’t resist giving the little painter dude an easel, a canvas, and an unimpressed nude model…and throwing in a bit of naughty humour, too.

personalised canvas toteBefore you try something similar, please note that I broke all the rules about painting on fabric with this one: I didn’t wash the bag first, and I didn’t mix textile medium with my acrylics, or use fabric paints. No idea whether it will all come off when the bag is washed, someday. I will let it dry for 24 hours, and then iron the bag underneath a layer of baking parchment, for what it’s worth, to try and heat set the paints. But it doesn’t have to last, so I don’t mind; it was just a bit of fun, and something to do while my books were in the press. 😉 

personalised canvas tote

Postcards!

postcards received

Seven postcards received, via iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap, so far…from Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. Most of them came in a big rush, and I was the envy of the ladies at work (and the ones at the Post Office, too!) It was fun getting so many cards in the mail. Hanna hosts these swaps four times a year, so if this looks like something you’d love to do, please check her blog page out!

postcards received

postcards received

I wonder if all of mine got to their intended recipients? Ah, well, lost mail is part of mail art…the lovingly-crafted artwork that never arrives…the mysterious scrap of address that arrives minus the card it was attached to…like this one (front and back of the same card) I sent to Germany once, (including a small solar print I’d made of some ferns, and then hand-embroidered in metallic and frosted threads):

Andreas Hofer postcard

Of which all Roland received was this (must’ve torn off the postcard, I was foolish to merely stitch it on…):
this is all that's left of my mail artDetachment, letting go of something once it has been handed over to the Postal system, and non-preciousness, are also part of the Mail Art Movement. Letting the world have its way with your creations. Letting it also make its mark upon the piece…the franking stamp, damage, barcodes, loss. A collaboration.

The purpose of mail art, an activity shared by many artists throughout the world, is to establish an aesthetical communication between artists and common people in every corner of the globe, to divulge their work outside the structures of the art market and outside the traditional venues and institutions: a free communication in which words and signs, texts and colours act like instruments for a direct and immediate interaction.” – Loredana Parmesani

more about DIY Postcards : : customising the address side

Whatever fabulousness you end up creating on the front of your postcards for iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap, you’ll need to keep the back side reasonably clear for writing the address and attaching the necessary stamps. Addresses are being read by computers, these days, and they are programmed to search a certain part of the postcard for relevant sorting information, like zip codes and countries.

You can, of course, just write the address and attach the stamps in the usual places onto a blank back, or stick a clean label over the messy back so that computers don’t struggle with reading things that turn out to be doodles and embroidery stitches. Or you can print the backs of your postcards up with customised fields for the address, for a message, and even little “Place stamp here” squares, like on postcards back in the day (when people needed instructions on how to fill up a postcard!)

On her blog, Hanna has designed a reverse side specifically for the DIY postcards swap, and you can download the PDF template here.

Another option is to design your own postcard backside. A really easy way to do this is using Picmonkey. Here are a couple of postcard backsides that I designed using that most lovable of online photo-editing programs (incidentally, I designed these without checking the postal regulations, and so my designs violate the rules for computerised sorting…please see the template at the bottom of this post for which areas you may and may not  put your stuff…words, designs, doodles, phone numbers, etcetera…when creating a postcard) :

postcard back: valentine's day

postcard back: nautical

These were easier to make than you think. You don’t have to be a Premium Picmonkey user to make something super-special. Just pick a size for your postcard backside under “Design”(a 5 x 7 postcard printed at 150 dpi, means you set a customised canvas to 1500 x 1050 pixels, for example)

Then just have a play with all of Picmonkey’s amazing textures, effects, fonts, patterns, whatever you like. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Overlays section of the editor (the butterfly symbol) and use the lovely vintage graphics under the heading ‘Postal’ to add lovely little postcard-ey details to the design.

design your own on Picmonkey

(N.B. Do NOT use the franking stamp design, the cancellation wavy-lines design, or anything else that may confuse computer—and even human—readers into thinking your postcard has already been posted and/or cancelled. You have some creative freedom, here, but there are still rules to abide by if you want the system to work!)

If you have any questions regarding which parts of a postcard’s backside are to be reserved for official use and relevant information like names and addresses, here’s a template where the greyed-out areas indicate which parts to leave clear, and which parts you can  go wild in…

PostalGuide_5x7

I wrote about iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap here, and you can read much much more about it on her swap’s home page, here.