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‘You can observe a lot by just watching.’ Yogi Berra.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

I have been really slack with my sketching over the last couple of weeks.  I know.  I seem to be saying that a lot lately, don’t I?  But it’s a constant struggle and I am still not really sure why.

gloomyI did great for a while, sketching (almost) every day.  Even if it wasn’t much of a sketch, at least I was picking up the pen and doodling a bit.  But lately days and days go by without even an attempt.  Sometimes I pick up my sketchbook and flick through it, thinking it will inspire me . . . and sometimes it does, but often it doesn’t.  Oh, I have all sorts of excuses (I’m too tired after work . . . I don’t have enough time today . . . I really need to finish sorting that other thing out first . . .  and that old chestnut—I can’t find anything interesting to draw) but I know they are only excuses.  I have heard (made) them all before.  I am in the drawing doldrums.  Again . . .

But I am trying to see it for what it is and trying not to get down on myself about it.  I reckon I just have to get into a bit of a rhythm again and I will be fine.  And, you know, it’s not all bad. One thing I have come to realise is that since I took up sketching again earlier this year (even if somewhat sporadically) I have definitely become more observant.

blindfoldIt’s not like I wandered about looking down at my feet all the time, because I didn’t.  I still noticed my surroundings—the houses, the water, the river, the birds—but now I find myself really seeing things in a different light—the way the branches of a certain tree hang over right down into the water along by the riverwalk . . . the ‘sticky things’ growing up through the mangroves . . . the ricketty old verandah on the house on the corner.  (Has that always been there?  How have I never noticed that before?)  It’s surprising to me—and, to be honest, a little bit freaky.  It makes me feel like I have been walking around in a bit of a fog for years . . .

So really, all I have to do now is work out a way to transfer those new-found observations onto the pages of my sketchbook . . . on a regular basis . . .  and I’ll be set!  Right?

How hard can that be?

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This is a sketch of one of Maudie’s favourite toys.
I had never really looked at it properly before but when I did I found it was a really interesting mix of materials and textures
—along with, shall we say, some rather ‘exotic’ smells . . .

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Everyone has two eyes but no one has the same view.’ Wael Harakeh.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

mr magooLast week’s homework from my ‘Seeing’ art class was to highlight the differences in how we see, what we see—and also what we don’t see—when we look at something really quickly as opposed to looking deeply and intently at the same object.  It was a ‘quick, quick slow’ exercise.  

The idea was to pick a ‘fairly complex’ object and to do a quick one-minute rough sketch of it in whatever medium we chose (I chose watercolour, just because it seemed easiest.  HA!  Shows you how much I know.)  Once the initial sketch was completed we were then to slow right down and to spend the next half an hour, longer if preferred, to really look at the object and to add in the detail on top of the original sketch—correcting it as we went. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it?  Mmmmm.  

Well, first of all I don’t really do ‘one minute sketches’, in pencil, watercolour or any other medium. Nothing I have ever drawn in one minute has ever looked even vaguely akin to what I was attempting to copy.  And this was no different.  In hindsight I didn’t really think through attempting to sketch a green plant in a green pot and I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised that I ended up with a fuddled green blur and not much else.  

But that was okay.  I had the detail to add yet and detail is what I like, so this should be easy—right?  Not so much.  Turns out that I actually found it quite difficult to look past my original sketch and not just ‘follow the lines’ that I had originally set down.  (Anyone else out there always taught to colour within the lines?  It’s a hard habit to break.)  

It took a couple of false starts but I eventually started to get the hang of it, although, as usual, the hardest part was knowing when to stop.  (Even now I want to go back and work on it some more.  I don’t like the pot . . . I’m not happy with the pot . . . Step away from the pen Sally—step away . . . )

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Posted by on August 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.’ Paul Klee.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

sunshineWe’ve just had the most stunning winter weekend.  The sun shone, the skies were a cloudless blue and the temperature went up to about 23 degrees (73F) both days.  I had all the doors and windows open hoping to lure some of the warmer air into the house.  (It’s freezing in the house—long sleeves and woolly socks inside, short sleeves and no socks outside.  Crazy.) The girls and I went for a long walks in the sunshine both morning and evening and it really felt like Spring was on the way.

(It isn’t of course—not quite yet.  The weather bureau tells us that we are expecting rain later today and the temperature is also set to drop 10 degrees, so this was just a short burst of winter warmth trying to lull us into a false sense of security. )

CafeThe weather was so nice I decided to take myself out of doors to do some sketching. This is not something I am entirely (or even at all) comfortable with.  I think I have said before that although I don’t mind walking in it (the outdoors I mean)—in fact I quite like it—my ideal outdoor experience is preferably an alfresco coffee shop, under an umbrella, in the shade, with a ‘Plan B’ to go inside if it gets too hot . . . or too cold . . . or there are too many flies . . .

watching-youI am also not at all comfortable with people watching me draw—even if they are not really watching me at all (which in truth they rarely are—it just feels like they are).  When I see fabulous drawings from artists who have sketched inside coffee shops or concert halls or at public events I always think how great it would be to do the same, but I just haven’t been able to work myself up to it.  (Yet.)  I need to get over myself.

So I decided I would start small, and packed up my sketchbook and a couple of pens and pencils and went in search of something to sketch.  I found myself a quiet corner of the local park where no one could see me (which was a feat in itself as there were people everywhere) and did a couple of quick sketches of some of the plant life I found lying around. I know I could just as easily have taken these bits and pieces home with me to draw, but I didn’t (one small step for man, or at least Sally . . . ) so it was definitely a ‘step’ in the right direction and I eventually came home quite puffed up and pleased with myself at my little outing.

And then I walked in the front door to be confronted my three cranky little dogs who did not care one whit that I had just had a bit of a sketching breakthrough but were very keen to let me know that going to the park without them was really not something they were willing to tolerate on a regular basis.  Sigh.

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Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.’ James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

pencils-in-a-cup-clipartLast Christmas my ‘Secret Santa’ gift from our staff Christmas party was one of the new adult-colouring books and a pack of coloured pencils.  I was chuffed and looking forward to ‘playing’ with it over the holidays.  As it turned out I started sketching again instead and never got around to even opening up my new book, so when my friend Pam told me that some of her other friends had taken up ‘colouring’ and she wanted to give it a go, I regifted that book to her.  She has been making good use of it ever since.

Pam is in good company.  You can’t look sideways in a bookshop now without seeing row upon row of these new adult-colouring books (Amazing Animals, Beautiful Botanicals, Fabulous Flowers, Tribal Karma, Positively Zen) but is it really such a ‘new’ craze?  Or has it just become socially acceptable now to actually admit, out loud, that you really liked to colour when you were a little kid and (shock, horror) you still do!   (I bet there are more than a few mums out there who, when the kids are at school or sleeping, have quietly sat down and secretly finished colouring in the folds of the princess’s dress or the flowers in that secret garden . . . )

man drawingMy dad loved our kiddie colouring books—and this was 40-something years ago, long before it became a cool pastime.  I have very vivid memories of Dad sitting at our kitchen table, a cigarette in one hand and a pencil in the other, carefully choosing which picture he wanted to work on and then concentrating hard (the tip of his tongue always used to stick out of his mouth when he was concentrating hard) to make sure he didn’t colour outside the lines.  (Dad didn’t care to cross those lines.)

colourThe colouring books we (and Dad) played with then were not a bit like those available now. They weren’t—and I quote—‘complex-yet-calming, theme-inspired, adult-colouring-books (for artists and colourists of all levels), printed on heavyweight, acid-free paper (to prevent bleed-through), with perforated pages (for easy removal and display of your artwork)‘.  WoW.  Way to make a colouring-book sound like one of Da Vinci’s lesson plans.  Who wouldn’t want one of those books—even if you never actually got around to colouring it in?  (And, by the way, don’t you wish you had discovered that gaping hole in the book market?)

But not having access to one of these new fancy-schmansy colouring-book fantasies would not have bothered Dad at all.  In fact, they might even have been too fancy for him.  The new books are indeed very beautiful (even before they are coloured—some of the original drawings are fabulous) but the drawings are also very complex and take time, effort and patience to complete.  outside_the_lines1I think it was the utter simplicity and un-complicatedness (is that even a word?) of our kiddie books that Dad enjoyed.  The drawings were simple, with lots of white space.  You could just colour the shapes in if that is all you wanted to door you could get creative. We used to draw our own clouds in the sky, and put our own birds in the trees, and add necklaces and earrings to the forest animals (as you do). There was plenty of room in those old books to colour ‘outside the lines’.

The new adult colouring books don’t give you much room (if any) to colour outside their lines.  That is what is missing in them for me, because, unlike my father, I think being able to consistently and unreservedly step outside any rigid line laid before you is a marvellous thing.  I wish I had done it more myself as a child and later as a young woman (ah, the benefits of hindsight) and then perhaps I would not find it so difficult to do so now (and I am not just talking colouring-books now people).  umbrella_purpleI have always had a great admiration for people for whom lines are not seen as somewhere to stop, but merely things to cross over, bend, or go around.  The purple people.  The people who dare to be different.  The movers and shakers. The innovators and inventors. (The artists who splash colour around with absolutely no (seeming) desire to make the final result look like anything in particular.)  People who colour WAY outside the lines.

In spite of that admiration, I don’t believe I have it in me to ever be truly purple, because it turns out that lines (both inside colouring books and out) are important to me.  (There is obviously more of my father in me than I know.)  Some lines I have been easily able to bend and stretch, but there aren’t many I have been able to just completely break through.   And, although I have made several short forays (of bright purple squiggles) outside the lines of my life so far (and hope to make at least one or two more) that purple squiggle always tends to recede into a soft and comfortable mauve.lilac dog  

But you know what?  There are worse things to be than mauve.   Even if I am ‘pink trying to be purple’—at least I am trying.  You never know—those lines might still get colour splashed across them yet . . .

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.’ Calvin.

drawing on wallI have recently taken up sketching again, and I find I’m really enjoying it.   Do I sound surprised?  Well, I am a bit, considering my history with it . . .

Sketching and drawing is something I have done on and off for years—but mostly off.  Oh, I have been full of good intentions. My ‘second bedroom/office/spare-room’ is jam-packed with drawers full of sketch pads, coloured pencils, water-colour pencils, pastel-pencils, pens, charcoals, paints, inks, and paintbrushes of every size and shape imaginable.  You name it—I have it.  Most of it in ‘mint’ condition.

I also have stacks of beautiful ‘arty’ books.  Books on ‘How To‘.  How to paint water colour flowers, how to draw dogs, how to make stained glass windows, how to make your own jewellery, how to use pastels / paints / charcoal . . .   Some of these books have barely been opened.

procrastinationEvery now and again I go into that room and start to wade through all the arty paraphernalia and I come over all excited about getting ‘creative’ again.  ‘I must have a go a that . . . oh wow, I’d forgotten that, that’s cool. . . ‘  And I’ll decide to start, and get everything out that I need and organise it all (because it really needs to be organised)—and then I’ll sit and look at it for a while . . . and a while longer . . .  and then I’ll think ‘Maybe I should just go and do that bit of hoovering before I forget’  . . . or ‘perhaps I’ll just clear away the weeds in that back corner of the garden’ . . . or ‘I might just go and make a cup of tea before I start’  . . .  and before I know it everything is back in its box again and several months will have gone by and I won’t even have looked in that room again. Sigh.

Of course, getting started is always the hardest part.  I mean really getting started—not just getting the stuff out and arranging it all neatly on the desk.  In that respect it’s the same as writing—it’s all about getting that first line down (pen hovering tremulously over that lovely clean white page . . . )

ArtistBut this time I have given myself a bit of a head start.  I have company.  I enrolled in an on-line class through a fabulous site (Sketchbook Skool) I came across, quite by accident when I was looking for something completely different (don’t you just love when that happens?)  The ‘Skool’ is run by Danny Gregory and it looked like a really fun place to play so, on a whim, I enrolled in the six-week ‘Beginning’ class.

The first week of the course was all introductory.  Introducing us to the artists and teachers and the other students on the course. The artists shared their own work with us and told us what ‘sketchbooking’ was all about, what materials we needed, what to buy and what not to buy etc. (‘what-not-to-buy’—who am I kidding?—just another reason to go out shopping as far as I am concerned, even though I already had everything I needed to start.)

Weeks 2 and 3 were all about ‘outdoor sketching’.  It was lovely to watch the videos of the artists/teachers ‘doing their thing’.  Sketching in a park in Holland.  Or along the banks of the river in Goa, India.  And they made it look so easy.  (That should have been my first warning.)

womanhikingMy ‘homework’ was to take myself and my sketchbook outdoors and spend some time drawing whatever took my fancy.  Really?  I suppose I should have guessed this was coming but I am not a very ‘outdoorsy’ person.  (My idea of spending time out of doors is sitting in an alfresco coffee shop, hopefully under an umbrella.)  But I signed up for this with the full intention of giving it a proper go, so okay then.  I packed up my little bag, with my sketchbook and pen and travel pack of watercolours, put my sunnies and hat on (not forgetting to slather myself in sunscreen and bug spray), and wandered over to the park (which is only at the bottom of my street, so it isn’t as if I had a long way to go).

Long story short—total crap out.  First I couldn’t find anything I wanted (or thought I could) draw. Then, when I finally found a spot, I realised it would have been handy to actually have brought my specs with me.  Up until now I have only ever used my glasses for computer work or reading, but although I could see what I was wanting to draw perfectly well—the page I was drawing on, not so much.  Mmmm.

too hotAnd it was so hot.  My sunnies kept sliding off my nose, which gave me the irrits. And the sun was supernova-bright so I found myself squinting so hard I gave myself a headache in no time at all.  And people kept stopping to chat to me. Normally I would be quite happy about that, but I was already proper-grumpy, and I wasn’t getting any drawing done, as it also appears I can’t draw and chat at the same time (not yet anyway).  Mutter.  Mutter.  %^*$#.  Eventually I just gave up and went home—all hot and bothered and in a huff.

(That same week several American students also had ‘outdoor’ issues, but for entirely different reasons—they couldn’t leave their homes at all because of blizzard conditions . . . and there was me, bitching about the sun shining . . .)

But I persevered with the course.  The next week we had classes on using mixed media in our sketchbooks which was a lot of fun (and, in my case, very messy).

Week 5 was about drawing animals.  ‘Beauty’, I thought.  I’d always fancied being able to draw my dogs. posing petsThe artist leading this class Roz Stendahl, is a graphic designer and illustrator, as well as a teacher.  Because most animals are constantly on the move and not inclined to sit and ‘pose’ for long periods of time, Roz suggested we go to our local ‘natural history museum’ to practice drawing stuffed and displayed animals before we started trying to draw live animals.  This would have been great except that I think the nearest natural history museum is probably about 500kms from where I live . . .

Failing that, she said, practise drawing your sleeping pets.  Sleeping pets—yes—I can do that.  My girls can always to be found sleeping somewhere about the house.  It’s a well-loved pastime. So I waited until we were all calm and tired after our walk, and the girls were all snoring happily in their favourite spots around the living room, and I very carefully (no sudden movements) sat in my comfy chair with my pen and pad at the ready, looked up and—there they all were—all three of them, wide awake and lined up in front of me—’ Watcha doing, mum?’  Seriously?

And all too soon it was the last week of the course, but, for me, it was the best week yet.  The artist/teacher was Tommy Kane and the whole week was about ‘slowing down’. Spending 3 hours on a sketch instead of 15 minutes. Really noticing what you were drawing.  It was all about the detail.  And I loved it.  This was much more my style, slow and steady.  And homework this week was to spend at least 3-4 hours sketching my kitchen.  (Yay—coffee at my elbow, fridge close by, air conditioner on . . . )  I could have spent all day drawing my kitchen.  In fact, I think I did.

drawingSo the last six weeks have gone by in a flash and this course is finishedbut it’s not all over.  I’ve enrolled in the next one (‘Stretching’) which starts tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to what I will learn next. Because In the last six weeks I’ve learned a lot.  Not just about drawing and sketching, but about myself too.

That in itself was worth the price of the course . . .

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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