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.

Unexpected violence

I normally think of myself as pretty calm, and suspect this comes through in my art. So what was going on the day I produced this doodle?

It began with the last page in a sketchbook whose paper I’d never really taken to. Finishing it would be a relief. I laid down a set of lines in Indian ink, drawn with a feather dip pen made on the spot. I applied blue ink, then drops of red, which I blew into spindly shapes. It began to have hints of landscape about it, reminding me of the walk up Mam Tor in Yorkshire. I encouraged this tendency with mark-making, a bit of silver acrylic, some white gel pen, a smidge of blue fineliner – even a bit of finger painting got involved. It was a real no-holds-barred experience. Sometimes these things just happen.

And suddenly, a title suggested itself: And Man Walked; and Farmed; and Fought.

Cascade 2

Taking the previous waterfall experiment as a starting point, I then thought it would be entertaining to take it further into a small series. In truth, I thought a drawing of the scene would complement the more abstracted version of the waterfall, and help it to ‘make sense’.

I do really enjoy drawing in fineliner, and it was quite a meditative process to convert the image to monochrome, although I’ll admit I’d forgotten how long just drawing something can take when you’re really concentrating on the detail.

It was satisfying to use the humble brown paper to draw on, and the white gel highlighter added at the end really helped the image spring to life.

I’m pleased with the graphic feel of this one – not so much my usual style, but I think it works for the drama and starkness of the subject.

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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Day of Rest

While we were in the Haute-Savoie we did a lot of mountain-walking – that was a big part of why we’d chosen to visit the Alps. However, I have my limits, and was really feeling in need of a day of downtime, while my husband was itching to do a very ambitious scramble. Happily, we negotiated to go our separate ways one day, so we both had some of what we were hankering after.

Having waved him off to defeat death on the Dents de Lanfan, (credit due here to a fellow WordPresser for lots of photos – thanks!) my day was spent reading and sketching. Not very high risk activities really. As luck would have it, this little tractor was parked at rest just within view of the rental house; I’d been eying it up for a couple of days, and so I sat in the midday sun and sketched. In fact, I got a little bit burnt, despite the sunscreen, as I just wasn’t quick enough.

For once, I took care over the composition of the picture – something I’m rarely disciplined enough to do. And this circumspection did in fact pay off. I was really pleased with the outcome, and I like the way this little tractor in its shed looks like a book illustration. It’s a salutary lesson to me that I should just take some time before starting a picture to imagine where the boundaries are and how it’s going to sit on the page.

Interestingly, I also took a different approach with the watercolour, starting with an ink drawing and adding colour, whereas all to often I start with a watercolour and then try to correct or enhance it with fineliner. The whole suddenly seemed much more intentional and effective. Food for thought there. I’ve also learned that my travel palette consists of very cool English colours, certainly not always the best for showing southern European heat. Maybe I should invest in  a hotter selection of half-pans for taking away to warmer climes. Christmas is coming…

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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.

Knossos in sun

Knossos in Crete is apparently a must-see on the tourist trail, so we went. It turns out that the Minoan ruins at Knossos have been extensively repaired and reconstructed over the years (mainly using concrete), which does add an interesting layer of debate about how far restoration should go in efforts to maintain sites for future generations, so it was definitely worth seeing. By coincidence, the day we visited was on the national free museums day, which meant that the site was extremely busy, but I fortunately able to find a corner to sit and sketch this little view.

It was a bit of a wrangle to create, but in the end the fineliner saved me, as so often. Thank goodness.

Crete Herculaneum watercolour