Unbuttoned

I’m not sure what happened with this picture – it was supposed to be quite free and fairly large scale, but it turned into a mediocre ink painting. With nothing to lose, I decided to have a play on top with some bigger outlines using a very fine nibbed dip pen, but this was my first try on watercolour paper, and being a leftie it turned out quite scratchy. Never mind. It’s just an experiment, after all.

Daffs or Narcissus?

Who knows? But they are always a cheery sign that Spring is well under way.

I started with a torn paper background from an old bag, then added fineliner and white gel pen for highlights.

A simple, quick, image of hopefulness.

A new take

It’s been a looong while since I visited my WordPress site, but I’m going to try to remedy that. Lockdown life has been busier than one might expect, but thankfully there has been some time for reflection and art amidst the travails of working from home.

I was given this orchid about two years ago. It’s been a superstar, blooming almost continuously. I have danced around painting it for a long time, but didn’t have a clear idea of how to approach it. The abundance and complexity of the blooms deterred me.

Yesterday I finally went for it. I’ve been trying to think less literally about drawing; the intention was to put down a selective light colour ink wash and then draw over loosely, holding the pen at its very end to reduce control. As sometimes happens, things took a slightly different turn, and the inking became a bit more than just a wash (although not quite a painting) to the extent that I was reluctant to draw on top of it. However, I had a stern conversation with myself and stuck to the plan. I’m glad I did, because I think the pen lines really add some interest, and have salvaged the pot which was not at its best.

I’m actually really happy with how this turned out – playing was key. I need to remember that – it feels like an evolution.

14″x10″, Dr PH Martin’s inks, black UniPin, Pitt white marker, Staetler triplus coloured fineliners on Langton 425gsm watercolour paper

Keep it simple, stupid

Still on holiday for this sketch (I’m eking them out). The chair had been calling to me for a couple of days. I liked the shape of it, the simplicity, moulded from a single piece (probably plastic) and upholstered in grey tweedy fabric. I knew I didn’t want to paint it. Somehow a line drawing seemed right, and fortunately it came without too much bother. I had fun with the slightly broken lines, and especially with the fringe on the cushion. I like the sparsity of the chair compared to the complexity of the plant and stool. Fineliners rule! (well, sometimes).

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Hammocking about

One of my favourite places is the Haute-Savoie in France.  A formative year there as a teaching assistant, as part of my French degree, meant I fell in love with the place. A trip back there is always special, and sharing it with family and friends even more so.

We stayed at an Air BnB in Alex, a hamlet in the foothills of the Alps. It was a fabulous home, with a beautiful view of the mountains, and a perfectly-situated hammock for taking it all in. The hammock got plenty good use over the days we were there, as is right and proper. It just had to be drawn.

I had with me a new sketchbook which I’d been given by my lovely colleagues at school – a square spiral-bound book from the Tate (luxury!). The paper inside was really nice for drawing in pen – just toothy enough, just smooth enough, and a good, heavy weight.  So, I spent a happy time looking out over the neighbours, checking out the fabulous view and watching their chickens roam as I sketched. They made it in, if you look carefully; tails up, heads down, hunting insects. Happy days.

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Learning lines

About two years ago I was getting ready to deliver a watercolour collage workshop; the outcome depended on students preparing varied backgrounds in watercolour. Naturally I created examples to show, but stashed the less successful ones away for another time.

It turns out that this was that ‘other time’. I was at a loss on a Sunday afternoon, wanting to do something creative, but being unable to invest much time. Flicking through a sketchbook I rediscovered the backgrounds, and decided a quick continuous line drawing would be fun, set over the top. A quick look on the internet for a free-to-draw face, and bingo, here he is. I didn’t quite manage one continuous line, but wasn’t far off. My favourite part is the hair, least favourite the beard (let’s be clear, I love beards, just not my rendering of this one).

Continuous line drawing is really great for making you look, and think about using simple shapes to describe what’s in front of you. It promotes creativity, and problem-solving (for example, how to show textures and depth of tone) and I really did enjoy this process. I could imagine stitching into this picture to build up further layers of line…hmmm. Interesting.

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Looking up

On a short break to Yorkshire we went with our friends to Lotherton Hall, it being just a short and pleasant walk from their home. We’ve been several times before, but have never actually visited the house. This time we ventured inside, covering our muddy walking boots with strange blue plastic bootees to protect the carpets. The Hall was a wealthy home which had not been updated since WWII, with elements dating from much earlier, and which houses several collections.

One of the inhabitants had been a collector of pottery, and there was a varied display of items from centuries old to the very modern. I rather liked the shapes and contrasting colours of these vases, and the fact that there was a handy chair nearby ensured that I settled to sketch them. I quite enjoyed the strange viewing angle, and for a while considered leaving the objects floating in air before deciding to add in the glass shelf. The shadows were very strange, due to the way the cabinet was lit. It was certainly odd not putting in any shadows at the base to ground the vases, other than the relatively dark areas underneath the pots themselves.

Once again this was done in fineliner and Tombow with a waterbrush. I really like this combination for fast sketching when I’m out and about.

Lotherton Glassware ink

Well, for whatever reason, WordPress has decided not to let me crop this image – I’ve been defeated three times, so have decided just to let it be. Apologies for the unartistic background in view. Hey ho.

Perched

After the heady bling of the Wallace Collection, we headed out to one of our favourites, the Victoria and Albert museum. It’s never failed us yet. Great for sketching, perfect for inspiration, it holds some of the finest examples the world can offer in the arts.

Very quickly on arrival we located a couple of museum stools (essential for sketchers), and found something to draw – a large display of blown glass birds in many colours. Titled ‘Perched’ by Turkish artist, Felekşan Onar, the birds were made with clipped wings, a comment on the plight of Syrian refugees landing in Turkey and unable to fly back home. Powerful and beautiful, poignant and sad, the display rightly attracted a lot of attention.

As a warm-up exercise it was a pretty good choice, but not easy. I’d packed my usual kit of fineliner, brush pen, water brush and Tombow pen, plus a white gel pen, white paper sketchbook and black sketchbook. My ‘luxury items’ this time were Inktense pencils. These came fully into play as I tried to represent the merging colours in the hollow glass birds.

Perched glass birds inktense

Starting with outlines in fineliner, I took a section of the display to draw, aiming to spread the simple shapes across the sketchbook page. It didn’t quite turn out that way as I lost some of my image off the right hand edge. Never mind. I do enjoy the way that the ink comes to life when you add water from a brush pen – the intensity of colour really ramps up. Adding a slight shadow under each bird turned out to be essential to grounding them on the page, which I felt was particularly fitting, as this was the point of the artwork.

Food for Thought

Imagine… It’s the Christmas holidays. I’ve had a rest, and now feel guilty about not making art. I have a conversation on social media with friends about said guilt and not knowing what to do. The conversation concludes with me saying I should just get on and do ‘something’. Sound advice.

So, here it is. That ‘something’. I don’t really know where it came from, other than that there was a bowl of walnuts sitting on the kitchen window ledge. How the collage element muscled in there, I’m not sure, except I am partial to a bit of that sticky fun.

But what I do know for a fact is that I enjoyed making this immensely. Cutting the newspaper was the first step, then brown Amazon packing paper for the mass of walnuts – evidently cutting individual walnuts would have been a complete time hog, so I went for them all together. A Kuretake brush pen and white gel pen sufficed for the darks and lights.

Bowl of walnuts.jpegMy biggest fear in this was that, having already cut the shapes of the walnuts near the back of the bowl and glued the paper, once I got into drawing the mass of nuts not everything would still fit together. However, providence was with me and it all worked. The blue section is glazed decoration on the bowl, but a friend thought maybe it was a draped cloth. I’m ok with that.

The jury is still out on whether to add a shadow to this, or leave it floating. My dad commented ‘it’s not pretty, but it’s interesting’, and I think he’s got a point. He also remarked that it has a print feel to it, and I would agree. I have been looking at a lot of linos recently, and I’m sure it’s rubbed off in the reduction of the walnuts to three basic tones.

It’s so interesting how one discipline cross-pollinates another. I’m pretty sure that when I return to watercolour painting I will find that my approach has been somehow modified by my recent printing experiments, as both work from light to dark in a layering process. Food for thought indeed.

Happy New Year everyone – may 2019 be full of inspiration, creativity and good times!

Sitwell? Don’t mind if I do.

Wayyyy back in February I had the opportunity to go tho the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was scouting around for something to sketch, when this striking bust caught my eye. It’s Dame Edith Sitwell, by Maurice Lambert. Made in 1926, I think it totally captures the spirit of the age – it’s strongly Deco in feel, and cast in silvery aluminium.

This A5 sketch was made with a fineliner outline, and black Tombow with waterbrush for the shadows.

Edith Sitwell bust tombow

I really enjoyed its clean lines and bold shapes, even if the super-elongated neck does rather remind me of the old Cluedo cards…

Rooms in Spanish for Cluedo game