Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Morning Sketch & Walk: Local Houses and Paper Testing

I mentioned on my weekly wrap up of daily sketches that I am starting a regular 'sketch and walk' in an attempt to get out sketching more in my local area. In the past 18 months of my 'freelancing lifestyle' I have never managed to get a schedule that was really working for me. It is early days but I am excited about what I have started in the last week.

There is something very beneficial about setting aside a regular time to do something - the act of creating a schedule helps you do the thing. As most of you have realised, I start everyday reading my bible (I don't always write it down in my sketchbook) but it happens every day (in some form).

Two years ago, I started a sketch & walk before arriving at the office and I couldn't believe how much it helped me 1. focus on my work during the day 2. get the blood circulating (I feel the cold) 3. and my creative juices pumping! The urgency of trying to squeeze a sketch in each day beforesitting down at my desk meant I started planning days in ahead, and started seeing more things to sketch. It also was the most amazing way to learn how to use a new medium - this period I used Copic markers. You can see the whole set on flickr here.
(An aside: whenever I look through this set and read my notes I am reminded once again of the value of recording your creative process!)

I have also been inspired by the lunchtime sketches of two Sydney Urban Sketchers in recent months - Alissa and Dtai. It is impressive what a collection they have built up by going out regularly week by week.

To get back to this week….

Despite my crazy beach/rock sketching last week at Port Macquarie, I haven't been doing a lot of sketching on location lately and I feel that it will take me a week or so to get into the groove. The first two days last week, I used my alpha book and found that I didn't quite have the right water ratio, I also felt that the size of the book was a little small for the way I felt like working.

Something that I find about sketching out on location (and I know many others do too) is that everyday is different. I can not necessarily predict what it will be like. The position I am sitting, the weather, and my mood all seem to have an impact - some days it just feels uncomfortable. Some days I feel like doing something completely different from my plan. I find that my results are a LOT more consistent when I work at home  in the controlled environment of my studio. This unpredictable-ness is what you must accept and embrace!

Anyway yesterday I took out a Stillman & Birn beta book A4 spiral bound. I am not used to this paper and found it a slight challenge (I love a challenge so it was fun!) . I spent the whole day thinking about it (off and on of course) and there was a lengthy discussion on facebook about it to help prompt my thoughts further.
I will be doing a more formal review down the track...but first I want to road-test it more. I do love the paper but its sizing does present a challenge for the way I work - very wet and fast. I am looking forward to seeing if a slight adjustment will make it easier for me. As I just sad, I love the Beta books and want to make it work!

Please Note 1: most sketchers I know absolutely love beta paper - it makes the most beautiful consistent washes! I rarely want that and am looking for some non standard effects at the same time as not waiting for wet washes to dry - so yes I am a little difficult!
Please Note 2: For me sketching is all about playing with pigment- watching happy accidents occur and moving the paint on the page so more happen! Different paper feels different to work with - the result is often a lot better than you think it is…but it does feel differently with the brush in hand.  It is a process to get to know whether this is a problem or just a difference. (if you haven't already realised I love this process!)

So today I decided to take my moleskine (new paper) and the beta out with me to compare. It was a grey morning just like the other day and I drew the same house. So now I have three versions of the same subject matter.
It was my intention to try to make today's two sketches as close as possible -  to start with the beta, let the first washes dry, do the moleskine and then come back to the beta. However, the nicest possible distraction occurred - I met and had a lovely chat with the owner. This is the thing that I love most about sketching on location and wouldn't want perfect test sketches over engaging with the people on the streets.

Please don't compare one finished image over against the other. I was not trying to achieve a finished as such - this exercise was all about  testing how the paper was working with various techniques. And the sketches were not done in exactly the same way (the closet comparison would be the sky which was done on both at the same time) I think that I need to work with less water on the beta - with the moleskine I like working with more.  I am starting to work out the differences...but of course testing more tomorrow!

Finally anyone in Sydney… my great friend and colour guru Jane Blundell is giving a Daniel Smith watercolour demo at The Artscene store West Ryde this Thursday at 12-2pm. Come along if you can - I am planning to be there.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

My current sketchbooks

Just to let you know that I finally updated info about the sketchbooks I use and created a special page for it - here
There is heaps more that I can say on the subject... but at least it is up to date with what I am currently using. Please ask me any questions you have ....

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

This week: Starting Local Houses series. Big planning Session and an hour in the garden

Here is the last 5 days in my sketchbook - recording the various stuff from my life. And I almost survived 5 days without a teacup sketch...ha! not possible!

As usual, when I put these combo images together I am amazed at the variety of colours I used. Not too long ago, I would have thought most of my sketches followed a bit of a formula … but there is no doubt that mixing up the subject matter is a good way to mix up the colours too (though sometimes we do get stuck in the same colour combination despite what we are painting!)

Here are the cropped versions

Have started a new plan for my day. Very strict use of email and FB and a break in the morning to go for a walk (and sketch) I had planned going for an early morning walk but it is dark at 6.30am. So I start work early and then break at 9.30 for my walk.
Have found this week that my water / pigment was a little out. This is my everyday alpha book but I am thinking of taking out the A4 moleskine or beta.

A sketch recording a big planning session for my own upcoming online classes - so much to do for that but I am seriously going for it now. If you want to get the latest updates please join my mailing list. Form at the base of this post.

Another sketchnwalk - decided to start a local house series. I have found a good street that doesn't have too many trees and lots of interesting houses. I am inspired!

Was unhappy with crazy loose sketches I did the other day at Tea and Treasures (talking, drinking tea and sketching - what do you expect?) - so re-did the sketches from photos (I do not like sketching cups from photos- no tea to enjoy!)

And … I suddenly remember that I bought Loani Prior's new tea cosy book last week. Sadly my knitting skills aren't quite up to some of these amazing creations…nor do I have the time at the moment.

Today- I went out in the garden between showers and soaked up some sun as a break from a big of paperwork(so far behind!). Being in the garden is not unusual… but what was different is that I sketched. Normally I am out trying to work (thinking sessions, writing emails on my laptop etc etc) With Kate's nature sketching on SBS this week… I was in a green mood.

Strange composition? This is the tree that I could see above the top of the roof of our house.
I think I am up to date with my posts now!

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Driving the Pacific Highway

My final post from last weekend's break to Port Macquarie is all about the drive north…and then back home again.

There is a part of me that loves driving trips - I love being on the open road, having the time to think and enjoying the countryside but there is a part of me that doesn't like it much at all - sitting in the one seat for hours on end gets very  uncomfortable (even with my 2 hot water bottles!) and it is so tiring. When I am driving through new places (such as my driving trips in the UK) the excitement factor far outwieghs the discomfort.

However, my local trips,  driving a route that I have done for years, the desire to get it over with quickly is the big goal. On the other hand… a little sketch changes the chore of the trip into an adventure! And a scenic spot to stop makes the trip far more enjoyable than a convenient service centre break.

So, these days.  I always try to take the detour and stop at the Lions Park in Karuah. It is only 5km off the 'Karuah Bypass'. The river is just beautiful and a lot more peaceful these days …and although I don't want an extended stop, a cuppa from my thermos and a quick sketch certainly hits the spot.

On the way home, I was in a much more practical mood - wanting to get home ASAP. So I stopped at a place that is directly on the highway. The most convenient is The Rock. Somewhat tacky 'ayers rock' roadhouse (1/40 scale replica of Uluru) - I haven't stopped there since it first opened as the Leyland Brothers World.
And of course I have wanted to sketch it for ages. It turned out to be crazy quick sketch - I wanted to keep driving and get home.

I have grown up driving the route along the Pacific Highway to the Port Macquarie region for family trips on a regular basis. This was our once-a-year-holiday (vacation) to the beach for 2 weeks and so a very important part of my childhood. I have many memories from these trips, coupled with many more from the last 20 years when I have driven the road by myself heading to Port visiting friends and my dear grandmother and great aunt (both who are no longer with us).

This recent trip was the first time I have driven the Pacific Hwy without any roadworks sections - all the bypasses are completed. So it is an easy drive… but you know … it is so boring now, there are only snippets of the wonderful countryside and the road no longer goes through all those places with the memories.

I couldn't help thinking about all these things as I drove home. For those of you in Australia that know this stretch, you might find these of interest - and I would love to hear about your favourite bits or stories. The experience of sitting in the traffic heading north on Boxing Day is something that a lot of Sydney-siders have in common!

For the rest of you... this is just me rambling to myself  so just ignore the following text till the bottom image (I appreciate it is like having a private conversation in publicly but I hope it means something to some of the locals reading my blog!)

- Karuah was the most frequent stopping spot for the Steel family but we stopped many other places.  I remember having breakfast with my dad one time when it was just the two of us (must have left early that day!) Another memorable visit was in recent years when the two 'characters' having a smoko at the table next to me turned out to be the highway amenities cleaners and they told me all kind of interesting things about the rest areas all the way up to Brisbane. Karuah was one of their favourites!

- The dual highway carves out so much space that even when we go through bush area - you don't get a sense of the trees. (ok a distant hill view like this is ok). The favourite bit is just north of Nabiac (the sign to the Bullocky Way) when the two carriageways are separated, we are closer to the trees and the road weaves up and down.
- Nothing beats the view of the Hawksbury River on the way south - no matter how much you drive the F3 (remember when we called it The Tollway?) the view still impresses. And makes you feel like you are almost home… though of course we all have many queuing traffic memories too that frustrate that feeling.
- While I don't miss being stuck behind a caravan (not as many of those on the road these days) I do miss the rhythm of the overtaking lanes - the moving to the left and then indicating and moving back to the right. Driving on dual carriageway is easy but also monotonous.

- We never stopped at Bulahdelah much - the river there can't compare with Karuah. Though when the Karuah bypass first opened I did test out Bulahdelah as a stopping spot. Lots of slow traffic memories going through this town - so I didn't mind missing it! Hey- I love the view of Bulahdelah mountain from the new bypass

- While I do not miss the windy road over the mountain at O'Sullivans Gap - it was spectacular - and that rest area was special wasn't it? Those beautiful tall tress with the white trunks - is it a blue gum forest? Am I the only one whose sibling collected a leach during morning tea which added to the excitement as we continued our journey? Seems so many years ago since we drove the hill!(guess who found an old photo of it!!!)
- The new rest areas are so awful! There is nothing of interest there and the 'modern' skillion roof picnic tables are so impractical if it rains. BTW I still like travelling with my thermos and having a picnic still morning tea (I no longer include a pack of tim tams or venetian creams - what were your favourite travel biscuits?)
- So completely thrown by all the new bypasses north of Taree - totally missed the turn off to the Bago Road (into Wauchope) - very important for me as that is where my family is/was. A sense of loss that we no longer drive through St Johns River and Moorland and Coopernook (not that I have an attachment to them but still it is strange that they don't exist on the journey anymore)
- Coolongolook is the only town left standing… not much of a town (especially now that the hwy goes straight thought it) but seriously its one of the best names in the state. Am I the only person that loves saying the name to myself every time I see a sign with it on? "Coolongolook Coolongolook Coolongolook"
- At least my favourite house on the hwy is still on the road… it is a house just north of Moorland heading north, the road curves to the right and the white house with verandah, sits on a sloping hill and south brother in the background! Ah! makes me smile.
- I can't help thinking about all the accidents and bad traffic (Easter or boxing day or Saturday afternoons in the last weeks of the Jan) as well. The time there was an accident in Karuah and the whole highway was redirected through the petrol station on the top of the hill as you come into town.

Ok that is enough… I had many more thoughts as well during the 4 hour drive… but I just wanted to write these down.

Final sketch from the trip was Friday night from the sofa. People often ask me how I find time to sketch but I never watch TV (the cricket might be on in the background but that is it)  and rarely watch any movies… this was a rare occasion watching all old classic movie. I got a little restless, started cleaning my palette and then decided to sketch (I didn't want to use that clean palette so left it just linework)

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sketch The Cake Workshop with Rockdale Council

While on the subject of tea … (when I am ever not on that subject?) … I am finally getting around to sharing with you all about a workshop I taught in April for Rockdale Council as part of their Arts Festival 2014.

It was called 'Sketch the Cake' and was held in the lovely Vanilla Cupcakery in Kingsgrove which has a reputation for amazing cupcakes - and rightly so!

Because it was a one-off workshop we decided that watercolour pencils (WCPs) would be the best option. This is my test page  working out which minimum colours I would need based on the anticipated cake selection of the high tea.
All these colours are part of my set of WCPs that form my daily sketching kit (click here for details of the full set)

Sketching during a high tea is a fairly 'full-on' experience. There is so much food to eat and sketch - some of it is hot and you don't want to eat it cold…so it does involve a little bit of strategy. My standard approach is not to sketch the teapot and cups till later!

One of the great advantages of being a teacher during a high tea is that I could stage the arrival of food to suit the sketching - this meant that I was ready to sketch the hot things first.

The format of the afternoon was that I did a very quick demo of every item of food as it arrived first.

Here are my demo pages from the afternoon which I notated in 'journal' style at the end of the day…something that I always try to do.

They are not necessarily finished works but more examples to explain my approach. Some of the sketches are just WCP, and some involve watercolour paint (as much as I love WCPs I can't live without paint and water!)

The surprising thing, when I look back at the sketches from the day, is that I didn't draw my cup at all! I think the focus was on the food for my demos.

A special thanks to Rockdale Council for the invitation to teach this workshop and to Amanda Hurst for her organisation and these lovely photos. Don't you just love photos like this one? - tea, cake and art tools and sketchbooks all on the one table top - fun!

Just for the record I didn't get to each much as I was constantly checking on everyone and giving direction.

But I did have some 'takeaways' which I painted in the evening.

Now… not all my workshops are based around drinking tea and eating scones! But this year there has been a lot of that. And my week in Sketchbook Skool is coming up soon… and yes, more teacup and teaparties in the near future.

I know that many of you, my loyal readers, would love to join me for a class one day(and I would love that too!)  I have been spending a lot of time in the last 12 months trying to work out a way that I could run my own online classes. Anyway - in the last few months I have finally developed a format that I am REALLY excited about - it is a concept for an online class that suits the way I teach and the way I like to work and sketch out on location. I am in the final stages of planning it for the end of the year!

I will be announcing more details in the next few weeks but the best way to stay up to date with the latest news is to subscribe to my mailing list. I am hanging out to share more with you about it all!

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