Sunday, 3 November 2013
As you know, I'm a sucker for a good online, go-at-your-own-pace workshop. And recently, I jumped into another one, called "Draw your Awesome Life" taught by Joanne Sharpe. I've taken classes from Joanne before, and I like her enthusiasm and her free-wheeling style. She emphasizes being yourself and drawing or lettering in your very own style, versus trying to be perfect and realistic and all.
Even though I've been sketching and painting pretty regularly, this class beckoned to me for a bunch of reasons. In art, I'm drawn to the idea of finding beauty in the ordinary. So the idea of using the bits of every day life and seeing the "awesome" in them is right up my alley. Also, there's a sense of gratitude in all of this -- recognizing the wonderfulness of the simplest bits of every day living, and appreciating it and even celebrating it in art. This feels like an important reminder for me, especially in this phase where I'm feeling so, well, transitional.
Plus, the other goal was to just get myself to loosen up. I feel like my sketches have gotten tighter and fussier (and more boring) and I need something to get away from that. I think this fast and loose and fun approach is just the thing to shake me out of that.
So yesterday, I spent a bit of time -- and a very little bit, actually -- doing the "draw one leaf five ways" assignment. Very freeing.
I have been reminded how much I like contour drawing -- how it really is loose and freeing. Wonky. Remember how I said I'm trying to "embrace the wonky" in my sketches? I keep forgetting that. Contour drawing makes me remember.
Monday, 28 October 2013
Good morning, Helen!
You will recognize this page in my sketchbook from your recent visit and our trip to SHED in Healdsburg. What a lovely visit that was -- thank you again for coming all of this way. You are an easy friend to entertain. We like so many of the same things that we do not have difficulty coming up with options to fill our time, do we?
In any event, I finished my page after you left and thought you'd like to see it. Will you add your sketch to this post?
It has taken me a while but finally here is my page. You seem to have yours at a better size and you now, its so long since I blogged I have almost forgotten how to do it, so excuse the modest picture! I too really enjoyed our time together and we certainly need to do it again. Not least so you can explain again how I can stop my watercolours looking so inspid!
Monday, 5 August 2013
I will start this letter by asking two questions: First, do you think creativity is seasonal? By which I mean do you think it has its own rythms and cycles but also do you find yourself affected by the Seasons, summer,winter etc? I ask because my sewing studio over recent days has been very hot. Its a loft extension and it retains heat brilliantly in the winter but also in the summer, although there are plenty of windows to open to cool it down. Still, if those have not been open during the day,and if, by the time I get home from work I am already wilted with the unaccustomed heat, going up there to do battle with a large quilt is not especially appealing. So the weather is affecting my creativity.
As a result, last weekend I headed for my wet studio which is downstairs and does not get direct sun in the afternoon. I decided it was time to push myself forward with my Brick Lane series. So I sat on my stool and looked at pots of paint and blank paper and fabric. The irony is that it was so hot that day that we got a thunderstorm and I was sitting avoiding dry arid heat whilst watching rain bounce and feeling the temperature drop. But it was lovely and cozy and I decided to stay.
Which leads me to my second question: why is starting so hard? Away from the studio, going about daily life I have lots of ideas. But conceptual ones: 'my quilt will be about' kind of ideas. Not 'my quilt will look like this' ideas. I still really struggle with the visual portrayal of the message I want to send. (Life would be a lot easier if I just wanted to make pretty images of flowers,but I do not). So there I sat looking at paper. I decided not to design but to focus on learning what the media does better and to play with the transparency of the screen inks seeing what happened if I overlayed them.
What happened was that for several pages I, very predictably, had squares of colour. Blah. Yet, it was relaxing. The patter of rain, a good audible book on the ipod, a hot cup of tea. And the permission in my head: you are not designing. You are seeing how overlapping inks work. How hard can that be? It was fun.
And then after a while I told myself. Ok, so this is not producing much but what else are you going to do? Go and watch TV or do the ironing. Keep going. Just one more page.
And then I got excited. I know the pages dont look much but they have beginning elements of lots of things in my head and I can see all kinds of influences in them. By this stage I really did have to stop so I placed this sketch book open at these pages on the chest of drawers in my dressing room and I have been looking at them all week, eager to work more on the ideas they throw up. I remember deciding at the time that It worked well for me to have Sketchbook Sunday and to dedicate time to design play in this way.
So its Sunday. I have some time before I go out - usually we do breakfast on a Sunday but today its afternoon tea to celebrate my birthday. And am I sketching or painting or collaging anything in a sketchbook? No. I am blogging. Which is on my To Do list but which is also a convenient Distraction Technique. Even though I do have ideas about what to do. So, why is starting so hard? And in particular, starting to design, to find a language to say what I want to say? Do you have this issue or is it a function of my goal drive personality again?
I think maybe the two questions are related, that there is a natural cycle of creativity and that there is a hard period between the scattering of the ideas in my mind and their realisation. Just as there is a cold winter with frosted ground between the scattering of seed and the sprouting of crops. Of course, that cold time is (literally and figuratively) a good time to get upstairs and work on the more mechanical tasks of making an already designed quilt. What I need to work on though is getting that into a smoothly working cycle where both stages happen when they should and I do not resist either. Any suggestions?
While you think about that I am going to go to Chester and try and break through the urban sketching barrier. ( Same barrier, different context). As you know I just came back from Dubrovnik . I went with all intentions of sketching all sorts and filling pages and pages. I did just two sketches of the city itself despite all the times I looked at things and thought: that would be good to draw. Hopeless. I don't even like them! Although I really enjoyed doing them,which is more the point,don't you think?
What I am extraordinarily good at is excuses:
Too hot. Book the wrong size for the topic. I need to make the most of rest time. I can sketch at homebut I can't swim in this amazing pool there. Husband is distracting me.I should come back alone so I am not spoiling his holiday making him wait here. I need to learn more about watercolor theory first....blah,blah,blah.
Could you please just come over and physically make me do the work please? I will share my afternoon tea with you as thanks.
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
As you know, I just returned home from a two-week road trip around the Pacific Northwest. One of my stops was in Victoria, British Columbia, and while there I enjoyed not just one, but two lovely afternoon tea experiences. As this blog is titled Tea and Talk for Two, I thought it fitting to tell you about the first of them. And you can see I did a page spread in my Road Trip Journal about it.
To set the scene: earlier that day, I had come from Port Townsend, Washington where I'd been visiting friends for several days. I enjoyed the ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, BC) but I was too early to check into my hotel. So I parked my luggage and car there, and headed out to find food. I was hungry. I walked for a bit when it dawned on me that I was in Victoria and there were places to get afternoon tea! Asking in a few shops, I was directed to the Venus Sophia Tearoom which was a few blocks away.
There it was. It was quiet and not crowded at all, a pleasant and homey atmosphere, not intimidating or formal in the least.
At that point, I decided to do the whole three-tiered plate of tea goodies. And it was a struggle, I tell you -- I wanted to eat but I knew I needed to see them in order to draw them. So I had to get a good start on the sketch before I could taste anything!
Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Let me start with the El Anatsui. I am typing this on a train departing London after a very brief stay overnight. But I refuse to be in London without taking time to appreciate that I am passing through one of the best cities in the world. So after my arrival at seven-thirty pm ( on a first class train carriage shared only with the Bishop of Liverpool!) I set off on an urban sketching experiment and I thought that would have to suffice as my art experience for this trip. More on that in a second. But then, indulging in my favoured hotel pastime of watching TV from the bath, I stumbled on a TV programme at ten pm about the Royal Academy summer show that mentioned that the great, the wonderful, the fantabuloso El Anatsui had a piece, not inside the show but outside covering the whole wall of the entrance.
WaaaH! Thats really close. I would have got out of the bath there and then but the Royal Academy closes its courtyard with gates so no point. And they don't open them until after my training course, which was near Westminster Abbey, started. And I'd booked a train straight home. What to do? Come down for another weekend? Tempting but expensive. No. I took the cheap option. I ran.
I ran with a heavy handbag( of which again more later) and a suitcase on wheels in work shoes, right through St.James Park, past Clarence House and St. James Palace up past the elegant shops of Pall Mall and Burlington Arcade and arrived, hot, sweaty,wheezing and with blistered feet at the courtyard before forking out for a cab to the station. Worth it? Oh yeah. Look!
All the others works of his I have seen have been indoors but this one was moving with the wind. Have you ever seen his work in person? I know one of the San Fransisco museums/ galleries have one in their collection.
His stuff is A-mazing. And such an inspiration to keep on creating because of you look back at his life time work, you will see that he started out carving on trays. OK stuff but far from amazing. Then he started sculpting and his pots and wood worked with a chain saw were interesting but not amazing. And then he started to work with disgarded items such as graters and Peak milk can lids and he started for me to get really interesting and exciting. And then one day he found bottletops and - wham! Instant amazingness. Well, actually no. He worked with those for years before he showed them and then... Yes, instant amazingness in his seventies after a lifetime of art making :) So there is time for me yet don't you think?!
Anyway, as part of my preparing to wake up amazing on my sevetieth birthday, I worked last week in putting together some kind of sketch kit and decided to test it out on this trip, even if briefly. I have not yet bought a specific bag like you because at first I was happy to carry everything in my handbag, but then the stuff sort of increased and I decided it needed to be coralled but in some kind of pouch that would still fit in my handbag as I didn't want to be carrying two bags. So I looked on line and found this fold out cognac calf leather bag
Grgeous, n'est ce pas? But also £175. So I dont't own that and never will. Instead I dug out this bag which was actually one of the two dirt cheap bags I bought for holding the money from the Twelve by Twelve book sales at Festival of Quilts. Which makes it appropriate because of course you have used it too! My reading glasses are there for scale. Sorry about the quality of all these photos taken with Iphone on the train.
Inside it has:
Front pocket: small natual sponge, replacement leads for my mecahnical pencil, pencil sharpner I dodnt need because the pencil is mechanical but you never know what I might use in the future, eraser, small pair of scissors and 14ml tube of white gouache.
Front zip pocket. A selection of pens and mechanical pencils. I mostly am using the Pitt Artist Pen at the moment but I want to try out some others. In particular I have a Lamy fountain pen I bought for sketching but I cant get the Noodlers waterproof ink for it until I come and visit you.
First main pocket: two of these Lakeland food containers with water ( one for dirty brushes one to keep clean) two wristbands which I wear to wipe the brushes on ( Thanks to Ed from www.mostlydrawing.com for that tip), some kitchen roll and two waterbrushes just in case.
Second main pocket, wallet of sepia artists pens, wallet if sanguine artist pens and a wallet of Pro Arte Travel brushes ( round,filbert and flat all No10).
So thats the bag. Successful in that it holds everything and this whole bag goes in my capacious handbag. It also held my phone, hotel key card and cash and credit card when I went out sketching last night so I could just take the one bag and the strap allows it to hang across my body. Not successful in that you may note it is missing two key things:
The watercolour pallette! In fact there is a little hidden pouch between the two main compartments so I was able to carry it like this. Not ideal! However, inside the pallete there is room for a synthetic brush but also my two new sable travel Escoda brushes which are fabulous. A 4 and a 6 round. It looks like the big one will prevent the pallette shutting but it shuts just fine. Also, you will see that after you SKYPED me I did manage to bend down the little metal prongs to keep the pans in place. Sort of. They still sliping and I have the odd escaping colour but its much better, thanks. So usually the bag and the pallette go in a handbag seperately. There is room in the bag for a smaller travel pallette though.
Which leaves the other missing sketch item, the skethcbook: after much debate I ordered this one from www.greatart.co.uk where it is just described as watercolour sketchbook with no brand, although I think it is in fact Canson. I love it. Its A4. The paper is great, ( it has some tooth but takes pen easily) the cover is elegant, the whole thing feels sturdy and capacious and it has actually encouraged me to paint journal pages like this one.
And this one.
However, it is not good for travel, it is just too thick. ( it has 60 sheets of 230gsm watercolour paper) so it travelled not in my sketchbag and not in my handbag but in my suitcase for goodness sake. And in my two try out sketch locations ( cafe table and sitting on a street kerbstone) it was very hard to use the left hand page because the weight was so unevenly distributed. And the landscape orientation plus its weight means supporting it across my forearm is unwieldy. And as for whipping it out to sketch people on the Tube? Forget it. But I really like having an A4 landscape sheet to work on. And I did manage this sketch ( and another couple as yet to have colour added before I show them).
So now I have a dilemma. Do I
(A) get the smaller version of this book (lovely book but less space and might still have the uneven weight distribution issues)
(B) go for an A5 portrait to get the A4 spread even though I dislike that format. Somehow its too accademic a format and makes my creative brain switch off
(C) go for an A4 spiral so I get the space to draw but can bend it back to avoid the weight distribution issues - but then it still won't fit in my bag!
(D) unwed myself from the A4 space and try a different size. I might be aided in this by the fact that the guys at Stilman and Birn tell me that Jacksons Art are to stock their books in the UK from the middle of the month... But such ugly covers!! I need you to try out that square Hand•book watercolour book you bought and tell me what you think.
(E) all of the above/ none of the above.
(G) stop trying the impossible and simply pack all my kit in a suitcase everyday and only use the right hand page of the book.
Help! Tell me exactly what you and every sketcher you know are using please :)
PS I just got home to find a packet of Stilman and Birn paper samples.
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
I loved to see your sketching kit. I imagine you out there in the Californian sun, with your plein air hat on, all serene, painting with your kit sorted in perfect ergonomic alignment. Like a surgeon,
" Number six brush!"
Your hand goes out and there it is. I imagine it to be peaceful and restful. Even the 'urban' in your sketching looks semi- bucolic with the greenery all around.
Me? Ha. Less urban sketching and urban warfare. Battling against my lack of perfect kit and the psychological warfare that goes on in my head.
First, my watercolours. (And yes, there is a U in colour. Don't even try to tell me otherwise or I shall shoot you with my spray bottle. Or I would had I not left it at home, not having a perfectly organised sketching bag yet. ) I listened to your advice. Student paints will be trouble. Invest in artist quality ones. So I ordered this set of Windsor and Newton Artist quality half pans.
I got over that annoyance soon enought and made a paint chart. Watercolours in a pan don't always look like they come out on paper so a reference guide as to what was where in my box seemed like a plan.
Ahem. Sorry about that. Any recommendation for an empty pallette that will hold half pans in nice and snug?
So anyway. The rest of the kit is a motley assortment of pens and water brushes in a pencil case and a Filofax. Currently an A5 Amazona. This is filled with proper Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper as recommendedby Ed from Mostly Drawing and I have so say that I like it. It takes watercolours without difficulty but still feels like paper not card. And the genius of the Filofax as sketchbook is (a) no wated time self binding books. Punch and go. Yeah! (b) No need to always carry a dedicated sketchbook. Slip a few pages of this paper into the A5s I use most often including my work ones so I always have paper. Then the kit can roll about the bottom of my handbag.
So, that is adequate, although I can see how it could be improved upon.
I am still struggling to use my kit though, mostly because I am inexpert and therefore hate the results. This weekend I went on two sketching opportunities. The first was to Cheetham Hill in Manchester where there is no semi-buccolic greenery. I actually went because wanted to take some more covert photos of people in the community for use in quilt work. Covert is not easy with a camera, especially when your skin and dress already make you stick out a mile. I was also mindful that the Asian communities are suffering increased attacks following the Woolwich murders and that they may be a bit twitchy about people photographing at the moment. So I first treated myself to a shop in the wonderful supermarkets which are remarkably cheap and stocked with exotic foods. I love to be in these shops. I thought a bag of guava jelly, arabic flat breads, paneer and spices might give me some legitimacy. Then, I sat in the sun on a low wall and looked across this road and attempted to sketch the shop. Then, whenever a saw a woman who caught my eye I would take some snaps, thinking that I could justify them as references for the sketching if anyone asked.
"Are you drawing it?"
"Trying to. I've only just started learning to sketch."
He looked across at the shop. " Oh, you picked it for the colours and stuff? Show me when I come back."
By the time he came back I had produced an excorable mess. I am not showing you. He looked at it,
"It's a good start. In a couple of months you'll be really good."
But isn't it funny how you seem to instinctively draw buildings and I much prefer people. Todays outting was to BocBoc where the staff tolerate me messing up their tables.
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
I do not have to explain to you how important it is to have the right supplies for being able to do what you want to do. And now that I'm trying to sketch and paint out in the world, I needed to find the right travel kit. And I think I have it! I know you want the details.
First, the bag. I've used various containers over the last few months, often one of my African baskets, But while those worked adequately for some situations (say, hanging out at Starbuck's), it wasn't a good option for sketchcrawl sort of walks. (Well, the one I did.) So, I did extensive internet research, and came upon this bag by Tom Bihn, a travel bag company in Seattle. This is the large Cafe Bag, a style of messenger bag that suited my needs perfectly. (I agonized between the medium and the large for some time, then figured that there was only a few inches' difference and I'd rather have a bit too much space than too little.) It comes in all sorts of colors. Mine is actually somewhat darker than the way it shows up in this picture.
Stunning green interior, isn't it? So, you see the big zip pocket on this side, and the main compartment opens on top.