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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interview #7--meet Alissa Duke!!

Alissa Duke is keeping busy these days--she's one of the artist-journalers in the upcoming book that originally gave birth to this blog, of course, and she was in Watercolor Artist Magazine this month (in the April issue, you know how magazines are).  She's one of the correspondents on the Sketching in Nature blog, and is also involved in the Sketchabout at the Royal Botanic Gardens, as we mentioned in THIS post!  We figured this was the perfect time to do the interview with her...

11Feb11 Sketchabout sketchbook cover

Soooo...in her own words, here's Alissa!


I was born in New Zealand but lived all of my life in Australia. I grew up in large regional city called Toowoomba and then spent most of my adult life in Brisbane, the capital city of the state of Queensland, Australia. 

Looking back, our household was a creative one with lots of craftwork and I also entered the local paper drawing competitions, often winning a $2 or $5 money order!  I started drawing when I was at high school and I did art as a subject at school, but was not particularly good at it. My best friend and I would draw after school and on weekends- mainly drawing 1980’s pop stars, copied from magazines. I drew irregularly after I completed school and it was always copying from pictures. Only in the last eight years I have been drawing from real objects and scenes.  

I moved to Sydney six years ago for work (I am a Librarian/Researcher) and am still enjoying exploring my ‘new’ city.

19Feb11 Art Gallery lunch

How did you get started journaling?

I have been drawing on and off since I was a teenager. In late 2008 I started to draw when travelling and when participating in Sketchcrawls and I write along side of my drawings. I would make note of the place or object (often food) I was drawing. I also started sketching in Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks.   

Currently on my sketch page I sometimes write a small commentary about the place and event I am drawing. Often it is just capturing my own reaction at the time.

There are often people about, but Alissa manages to concentrate on her drawing...

Do you feel comfortable working in public? 

Yes, I do now, although it has taken some time and I still stand or sit out of the way. I am not yet comfortable with looking at people and drawing them, so I usually draw them from the back or the side.

How often do you meet up with other artists to sketch?  How did that come about?

I draw with others Sydney sketchers regularly, and sometimes it seems to be every weekend ! I met my fellow sketchers Liz, Wendy and Annie in 2008 at International Sketchcrawls . Liz and I were the only ones there at a Sketchcrawl in June 2008 and spent most of the day chatting as well as drawing.

I have more recently become one of the two Assistant Organisers with the Sydney Sketch Club, which is a Meet Up group. We sketch around Sydney at various places, with anywhere from 2 to 18 people turning up. 

from the Royal Botanic Gardens
*NOTE: Alissa's recently gotten involved in a wonderful new project at the Royal Botanic Gardens
as we mentioned up top--read her account at the link!

You’ve done a lot of birds and animals…do you enjoy them most. Or what’s your favorite subject?

When I look through my drawings from the past two years (in thirteen Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks, which sit in my bookshelf) there does not seem to be a particular subject that features. Perhaps I do more objects, rather than larger scenes, although as a member of Urban Sketchers, I hope to become more practiced at drawing places as well. However, I do enjoy drawing birds and animals. They have such character!  I seem to go through stages and themes with my subjects:   animals, places, family history, objects around the apartment:  too many things to draw and not enough time !!!

This magpie looks like he could hop right off the page!

I can become enthusiastic about any subject if it is part of a project or theme. That’s why I love the EDM group, Illustration Friday.. Sketchbook Project, EveryDay In May etc.  Only recently I realised that I used to previously waste so much time trying to find the “right” object or view or scene, sometimes, often I ended up not drawing anything at all. I have only recently got past that and I think that is why I can now sit down and attempt any subject without much fuss.

Do you do all your sketching on the spot, or finish some back in your studio?

If I am going out sketching, I will do most of my drawing on the spot (writing notes in pencil) At home I will add a little more colour, write my journal commentary in ink and format the page a bit. I don ‘t often take a photo to complete later, although this will depend on the situation. At a dinner with non –sketching friends I might take a photo of dessert so that I can draw a page to record the occasion when I get home. And I do have a shoebox full of ‘source photographs” to use if needed. 

Sometimes I will take a found object home to draw, such as a feather or leaf. Otherwise, I draw at my desk, with the object propped up in front of me.

I had to laugh when you asked if I draw “back in my studio”. I live in a studio apartment, so my beautiful (ergonomically incorrect) silky oak dining room table is my art desk, which constantly has my watercolour pencils, sketchbook spread over it. It is also my computer desk, dining table and “everything else” table. 

This is one of the family history images that will appear in the book.

Tell us a bit about the family history project...

My great aunt died in 2008 and I became aware of some fascinating objects that had belonged to her and my great grandfather's family , including WW1 medals and badges, photographs, letters and other objects. I been previously researching the family tree and began with the idea of trying to visually document possessions in my family. I decided to draw each object and then find out about the history of it and add some commentary to the page. The next stage will then be to add some notes about the person and that time of their life. In this way I hope to show them as a real person and to create a record of a part of my family history that would otherwise be lost

What's your favorite, most satisfying medium, and why? 

Watercolour pencil. I really don't have experience with many other mediums. I have been using watercolour pencil for about two years. They are excellent for sketching while travelling as I can take and use them anywhere. I can either use them as the main medium or just to add a wash to a pen drawing. Previously I have only used graphite pencil and some ink pen.

Watercolor pencil and graphite

I notice you're branching out a bit into ink and watercolor...tell us a bit about that?

I like the looseness that an ink pen can potentially provide me and I would like to be able to use it like a pencil.  It could be that I am influenced by drawing with Liz Steel , who uses ink so confidently on the page.
Ink doesn’t suit all suit object or pages. Ink does give a consistency of style over a number of pages of drawings. So the pages where I am journaling more, I will tend to use the ink pen. And you know that I have just discovered the Lamy Safari Joy ink pen with a nib. The nib provides a lot more flexibility of line on the page, which I  couldn’t get using Art Line, Micron., Pitt Pens etc 

This is one of Alissa's recent images with her new pen!

Other thoughts? Whatever else you feel is more important, personally, to YOU...

Drawing and journaling allows me to focus and use the creative and artistic force inside me. I can try to capture a place or time as only I experienced it, through a creative process that I love. It also
makes me look and think more and appreciate things more.

This is one of my favorites from the Sketching in Nature blog, where Alissa's a correspondent.


Thanks, Alissa!  And I hope you all have enjoyed this interview--there are many more to come, so stay with us...


  1. Wonderful interview!!! I am so thankful to have such a great sketching buddy!!!

  2. You're BOTH lucky, Liz...and sounds like you've got a wonderful group! I feel very blessed by my regulars, as well.

  3. Great interview! I think it's great that you get together as a group. I don't think we have anything like that here in Brissie. :(

  4. Great interview,Alyssa and Kate. It is always so interesting to know the story of a journalkeeper, and their preferences and references for sketching tools and methods. I would really love some sketching buddies like you all in my rural area. And one thing I so appreciate about the sketchbook journal is how portable and doable it is in all circumstances--dining table, gardens, under bridges, at meetings, etc. I love the aspect of your multi-purpose table!

  5. Thanks, you two. Alissa was a very good subject, I'm SO looking forward to the rest of the interviews! All different, all interesting...

  6. Alissa, your birds and animals are enchanting. Wonderful!
    Cathy, this is fast becoming my favourite blog. Congratulations.

  7. Love the family history project, Alissa! What a great way to make the person more alive. Love your work as well!

    Another great interview, Kate!

  8. I just NOW got to a computer to read this...and I believe I'll read it again. LOVE it! Thank you Alissa and Cathy!!!


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