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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Best Pencils...

I've been meaning to share this article with you for some time, and I'm finally taking care of some "to-do" list items!  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/choosing-the-best-pencil

As always, "the best pencil" is a very personal thing, of course, and depends as much on what you're doing at the time as it does the person using it.  I recently rediscovered one of my mentor Ann Zwinger's favorite pencils, a Berol Turquoise HB--I treasure the two I had hoarded, and was afraid to use them much, but picked one up at the cabin recently and loved it, all over again.

(Unfortunately, we discovered when we went to buy more that Turquoise is now made by Prismacolor, and though they're okay--they're not the same.) 

These days, when I'm sketching in my journal, it's most often a Pentel Forte HB or B mechanical pencil, with that nice soft white vinyl eraser.  Convenient, versatile, no need to sharpen, and with enough range of value to satisfy me.

And sometimes, I love the pick up a dark-colored Prismacolor and add watercolor wash...an old favorite technique.

What's your favorite pencil?  What do you pick up most often?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

sketching at concerts

This week I went to two classical music concerts in libraries and sketched at each . Both concerts were beautiful and I am in awe of the skill of the musicians and performers . They were:

Saverio string quartet at Melbourne Athenaeum Library

I am most pleased with the above sketch of Saverio , at the second concert I attended. Perhaps I had warmed up my sketching the night before. I think I may have been a bit self conscious at the first (Bottled Snail) concert, as it was held in my workplace and a few people know that I was sketching,

Habeas Chorus of Bottled Snail at Supreme Court Library. They were warming up just before the concert began

I have sketched irregularly at classic (and other) music concerts over  the past few years. It is something that I enjoy, but don’t feel in my comfort zone. I often draw people in groups, audiences or events, but for some reason I am not entirely happy with the results of musicians.

Sketching while listening to music enhances my appreciation and relaxation.  However, it all depends on the music. Sometimes  I will put my pencil down, close my eyes and soak it all in.

I have been reflecting about why I don’t have the same level of comfort as in other situations. I don’t have the answers but I think I know why I don’t have the answers,

One thing I have learnt – each situation is different – indoors, outdoors, size of audience, amount of lighting, number of musicians and how many musical pieces and the length of the pieces.  Sometimes I can choose where I get a seat but not always. There are often unknowns.

Choosing pen and ink to sketch the highlight of the black and white of the choir , the outline of the audience members. Adding colour to the Chief Justice's portrait and the gasolier lamp.

I know that I need to make an early decision on what to draw with. I need to decide whether to choose my Lamy Safari ink pen or one or a few choice watercolour pencils. I then put everything else away. I don’t want to be disturbing and distracting other audience members by fiddling around, looking for colours.
Although listening to a concert is an audible experience, there is often so much visual.
One of the decisions I think that I need to make is about what to focus on and put down on paper. Are they sketchy or detailed ? Often this depends on my mood.
Do I want to capture
  • The feeling of the music
  • Musicians – faces, feet, hands, their movement
  • Instruments
  • Audience
  • Surroundings – the building, stage
I will try to think of them as a suite of options open to me.
At the moment I think that I try to capture it all. Some concerts are only 45 minutes, some much longer and will have a few different sets of musicians playing .


Add caption
I knew that I had seven minutes to sketch Kylie, the accompanist. 
another quick sketch

Does anyone have any hints and tips for sketching at concerts? What is your approach?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sketchbook Review: Field Artist 4" Square Watercolor Journal

Click to enlarge
Every once in a while, I spot a new art toy that I just know is going to recharge my flagging art energies and it happened when I saw the Field Artist 4" Square Watercolor Art Journal!

I just knew I was going to love it because:

  • It's small. At only four inches, it fits in the palm of my hand when closed. 
  • It's square. I've been having a love affair with squares for many long years and I am almost always captivated by something squared, especially if it is not usually found in that shape!
  • It's a watercolor journal and that always makes me happy. 
Upon receiving the art journal from Amazon (no affiliate links), I immediately pulled out my stamps and embossing powder and decorated the front cover. The journal does have an elastic band to keep it closed that cannot be seen in the image. 

While I adore the effect, I don't recommend doing this as the embossing is not holding up well. My journals are well traveled. They go everywhere I do and that means they typically tumble around in whatever bag I am carrying. The cover itself is a "PU leather-like fabric" and is holding up just fine. It's the embossing I added that is not. 

My first piece of art is on the inside of the cover. The paper used as the endpaper is not the same as the journal pages. It's much lighter in weight so I opted to use markers to create my design. The paper didn't hold up well even under marker so I caution you about using any kind of wet media on it.  

The endpaper on the inside right sports the sketchbook branding and is oriented so that the logo only reads correctly when the book is opened top to bottom with the fold of the journal above the logo. You can also see the yellow ribbon page marker in the image below. 

I'm thinking I'm going to be gluing an additional piece of watercolor paper over the branding page and using the space as a place to put my "if lost, please return" info:

Eventually, I worked my way to my first page. Since the book is small and I knew I wanted it to record "everyday adventures" that seemed to fit as the title page as well as the theme. I think we often have far many more adventures than we realize. It takes paying attention to notice them though. 

Those adventures can be as simple as having to take a detour due to construction and seeing something new or it may be notice a pretty bloom on your way to the mail box (even if it's a weed!). 

By elevating the ordinary by paying attention, we can make it extraordinary!

The page has ink from a Faber-Castell Artist PITT Pen as well as watercolors on it. There was no bleed through from the pen or paint. The pen performed very well on the paper with no skipping or bulking. 

There is a slight textural difference between the two sides of the pages and they don't always match up. Sometimes you have two different textures across a spread. There doesn't seem to be a pattern to where the difference will show and where it will not. It's slight enough that it can be ignored even if it is visible. 

I found the time to capture a family of wrens that have been visiting our backyard in the evenings. The babies had just fledged and were a little clumsy the first time we spotted them. Four days later and the only way to tell the parents from the babies was the fact that the babies were still following mom and dad around with their mouths open waiting to be fed!

There is a stamp in the upper corner that did not bleed through to the other side even when I painted over the stamped area. Again, pen and watercolor were used in the piece.

One last little surprise was the long accordion-fold, panorama page that is attached in the very back of the book in place of a pocket. It is four panels wide, but the fourth panel is partially glued to the back cover giving you only three panels to be painted on the back. I have to admit a pocket at less than four inches in width probably wouldn't have been very useful! 

The paper is marketed under the Chinese brand, Image. I was not able to find further information on the maker or the paper. 

So here are my pros on this adorable little journal:
  • It's small and very portable. 
  • The size is perfect for capturing a quick sketch. 
  • The paper is acid-free and dries flat without having to be weighted or dried with a blow dryer. 
  • The paper has hard sizing which makes it very forgiving when you want to pick up paint to get back to the white of the paper. 
  • It lies flat making it easy to work across the spread. 

My cons:
  • The sketchbook is very small and it takes some adjusting to getting used to working in it. It's hard to rest the heel of your hand on the page and draw at the same time! It is not difficult to adjust to the size challenges, but I'm thinking folks with big hands would really be challenged. 
  • The paper is not archival. Chances are good it is made from wood pulp instead of cotton or linen and they have removed the acids. However, this is not a deal breaker for me as I'm using this to play in rather than creating works I expect to wind up in a museum!
  • The paper has a hard sizing which makes it way too easy to lift color unexpectedly and it seems to take a bit longer to dry than other papers. While I put this down as a con because speed is important to working on location, it's not a huge problem. It just means I need to alter my approach a bit to fit with the paper of the journal.  
  • The fact that the paper textures do not match up across the pages. It's a minor thing to fix and because it wasn't, it speaks to rather shoddy workmanship or a lack of pride in their journals, especially given the last point... 
  • For the size, I find it a bit pricey at $12.95 (I guess we're paying for that extra dose of cuteness!).
So far, I've been very pleased with the journal and I've thoroughly enjoyed using it! I look forward to finding more little everyday adventures to record on its pages!

What new art toys have you found lately?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Training To Overcome The Fear of Sketching Out in The Wilds

A-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n Spread, completed
Stillman & Birn Zeta, 7 x 7 inches
Ink & Wash 
The idea of stepping out into the world where anyone might want to take a peek at the pages in our sketchbook can be daunting. Especially if we're new to the idea or at the beginning of developing our skills. Of course, this make an adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England seem huge, but it's not!

It boils down to performance anxiety. We're afraid of disappointing ourselves and others. What would we do if we went and then couldn't get anything worthwhile down on the page? Eeeek!

Let me ask this: if you were doing a speech in front of 150 people, would you wing it or would you write and practice your speech for days, if not weeks, in advance? If you decided to run a 5K race, would you wait until the day of the race to start building your endurance? Of course not!

My friends, sketching is no different! It takes practice, a willingness to leave our comfort zones and a sense of adventure. 

To begin conditioning yourself means starting to sketch NOW. Today. 

And that's where things like a-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n pages come into play. For me, anticipation pages began as a way to practice and psyche myself up for the "big event." Eventually, I realized that I kept creating them because they gave me a great deal of enjoyment. I like the build up of excitement before the actual trip.

By doing anticipation pages, I "knock the rust off" of my skills if I've been lazy about sketching on a regular basis. When I create pages in my home environment, I try to work from life, but sometimes that's not possible. Since I don't have any chickens, I went to the computer for inspiration. I worked from the screen rather than printing out a photo. Same goes for the soccer ball.

I had a champagne cork so I used that as my model, but I didn't have any cheese rolls lying around, so it was back to the computer. This time, I found out what cheese rolls looked like and then drew them in the composition I wanted for my page. The umbrella and tea cup were my own and I drew from life to strengthen my eye and hand coordination.

Taking It To The Next Step
While you're definitely in training when you're sitting in your kitchen sketching away, working outside of our normal work area, is an entirely different experience and one that should be practiced as well.

When I first decided to sketch on location, I waltzed out the door and went to a town about twenty minutes from me. The downtown area was full of interesting old buildings and mostly deserted on a Sunday morning. I was making sure there was no one about, but it didn't matter, I still failed spectacularly! I had not yet discovered a new mindset.

Since working on location totally blew my mind, I decided to begin again with baby steps—I started in my kitchen. I would pull a chair away from the table and draw something with my sketchbook in my lap. I sketched and painted whatever was outside the window or I'd set a leaf or pot of flowers on the window sill and draw.

After a while, I became bored with this set up and went outside and drew in my backyard. My backyard's not all that exciting so it didn't take too terribly long before I decided to go to the park and sketch. Sure, I chose an area where I wasn't likely to run into anybody, but I was still getting out there. I eventually went into town to sketch and then a restaurant and so on until I conditioned myself to sketch anywhere. Not all sketches were successful, but the training was!

I would occasionally gather up my courage and go sketching around a bunch of people in a busy location. Sometimes it worked out and other times it looked like a rabid squirrel had scribbled all over the page. My nerves would get the best of me and I'd panic.

But you know, I survived. And with each attempt I became a little stronger, a little gutsier. I also realized that most people have no clue what I'm doing. They don't notice. They're too busy with their own dramas to be worried about me and my little sketchbook.

There's also something about interacting with people, by choice, that lends another layer of patina over the whole experience. Most folks that stop and talk to you, who want to see what your doing, want to be like you. They want to be brave enough to sketch "out in the wilds." They want to be creative. Just listen to them. You'll hear it in their voices when they speak.

Changing Your Mindset
When sketching in the wilds, it requires a different mindset than sketching in familiar [safe] surroundings. First and most obvious, is the amount of time we'll have. When we work in our homes, we can work as long as we want [in comfort] on something, usually while working from a photo.

When we're on location, we have a much more limited amount of time and we must adjust our expectations to match the amount of time we have as well as the current skill level we possess.

Rather than viewing the time limit as a bad thing, use it to challenge yourself to see just how much you can get done on location. If you're not getting much down on the page, start looking for ways to work quicker. This usually means leaving out details or suggesting them rather than meticulously recreating them.

Another big change to consider is this: if you don't get finished on location, you can always take a quick snap with your phone and use it for reference later. Knowing you can take a photo helps to reduce the amount of pressure we place on ourselves to get the page finished in one sitting. Sure, that's the long term goal, but we're in training and that goal will be met eventually.

Last, it's a sketch. It's not a mini-masterpiece! When we're on location, dealing with the elements, the light changing, people walking around and other distractions, sketching becomes a mini-adventure within the bigger trip! It takes on a life of its own that becomes an indelible memory that queues up every time you look back at your sketch. And I will share a secret with you...even lousy sketches still serve as a great portal back to the moment in time where it was created!

So instead of postponing a marvelous adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England until "you're ready," go ahead and sign up today! Then start training for an adventure unlike any other. Challenge yourself to sketch something each and every day. Even if it's for just 15 minutes a day, you'll have logged over 30 hours of practice before we leave for England!!

And remember, once we're in England, you'll be with likeminded people and I'll be there by your side to help you create a sketchbook full of great memories!

How do you prepare for a big art trip? Any "training tips" you'd like to share that help you move past fear?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

family reunion sketching

I have not posted on this blog for a while. As I wrote my own blog yesterday about my recent family reunion I remembered my family history project from some time ago, which was mentioned in the Artist's Journal Workshop book. It was a different side of the family (paternal) , and I realised that I have very little from this side of the family (maternal) in the way of objects, letters and photos .
I was fortunate to capture what I could at the family reunion.

Last weekend I spent five days interstate for a Family Reunion in Goondiwindi  (pronounced Gunda - windy) in Queensland, Australia. pop 5600. I completed over 10 pages of sketches.
my maternal line . drawn from family photographs. I drew this in advance to set the scene and begin the narrative of the following pages.  Faber Castell Dark Sepia watercolour pencil is perfect. I was tempted to use colours with the current generation, but liked the old world look.
It was a gathering of over 130 descendants of two migrants in 1850's. Our family line stayed in the area until 1953, so there is close connection.
This is my art blog so it is all about the sketches from the weekend. It also includes sketches done in advance and completed afterwards. 
I took my customised  watercolour pencil wrap and Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (13 x 19 cm) with me, as I do everywhere I go. There is always an opportunity to sketch !

But first I had to get there - My journey began with a bus ride a,  two hour flight then a two and a half hour drive west to outback Queensland. 
The Cunningham Highway is a long flat road. Not as brown and barren as I thought it would be.

Some time was spent visiting places which brought back  memories for some of the family.

Meet and Greet at the Goondiwindi Bowls Club on Friday night. So many new faces.

I sketched this in the open hot, dry heat of 33 degrees. I did not stay out there long, heading back under the trees for conversation and food.
Group photos at Goondiwindi Boars Rugby League Playing Fields - one of everyone and then the separate families. The photographer was really quick and did not stand still for long.

Lots of social gatherings .  But I did not sketch at them all, as I wanted to socialise, ask lots of questions and try and soak it all in. The long weekend was very well organised, with names on coloured tags for which line of the family you are descended from. Great introduction and talking points. I met some lovely and interesting people.

It was a very special moment to stand in front of the graves of the ancestors who began life here in a strange foreign land over 150 years ago. It is difficult to try to understand the difficulties and challenges that they encountered.

and then the return journey home.....
... to start writing down some of the family stories that we were told and fill in the gaps on our family tree with the new relations we discovered. 
 Below is part of that history - Nana's tennis trophy from 1941. The town of Toobeah now has a population of 42. I think it was about 250 when she visited, There are quite a few tennis courts around the district, and it must have played a big role in the social life of the district.

I sketched this in 2014
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