It's looking like we'll have a good weather window on Friday or Saturday. Departure is getting near, the boat is well-provisioned and leak-free (for the moment anyway), and all that stands between us and French Polynesia is a load of laundry, a last shop for vegetables and rather a lot of sea.
I started drawing places I'm saying goodbye to. It's the people who are important, but the places are all tied up with the memories of the special souls I go there with and so it seemed a good way to approach leave-taking. So I've been sketching Pacific Bay and Schnappa Rock, a great little restaurant here in Tutukaka, and remembering fun sailing trips, swimming, post-dive beverages with Jill and delicious birthday dinners.
Then along came Brian Butler. He's teaching a class on Sketchbook Skool this week, and shared lively sketchbooks filled with busy drawings of concerts and road trips. He collages images together and paints enormous murals on the side of buildings to celebrate the communities he's painting in. His style is different and original, and you can find him at www.theupperhandart.com/. He challenged us to draw our own collected images of our favourite places. It seemed a perfect way to remember them and say goodbye.
His quirky style got me thinking, and gave me permission to be silly. (Why do I feel I need permission to be silly in my artwork? I don't have much problem being silly any other time. Does it all stem from the art teacher who just never got my drawing of the whale weigh station?). The result was an exploding Rangitoto spewing out Auckland landmarks, my running shoes, wine from Mudbrick vineyard and coffee from the shop across from the school where I taught. It's totally daft, it didn't matter that I can't draw a straight line and I had a whale of a time playing with bendy perspective. If I ever redraw it, I'll try so I'm looking into the volcano. I enjoyed it so much that as soon as I was finished, I started drawing a fish-eye view of the Poor Knights. I challenge you to see how many fishy puns you can find.
I used coloured pencils, which take a lot of layering but are very relaxing to build up and blend. I wasn't happy with the first shark I drew on the Poor Knights, so obliterated it with a cooler version in Posca pen. One of those mistakes that turns out for the best- I like the solid colour on the textured coloured pencil.
There may be more towns and regions to come- it's certainly a great way to reminisce! I'm not so sure about trying to create a mural a la Brian- I'm not much good with ladders- though I could always decorate the side of the boat!
I've posted my more sensible watercolours down below too (pretty happy with how the shadows are working out- a big thank you to Natalie Renotte on the Sketchbook Skool Facebook page for her advice on the dark foreground Schnappa Rock sketch)- now I'm off to distort some of the beaches on the Tutukaka Coast,,,
I've been neglecting my sketchbook lately. I haven't stopped drawing altogether, but had let the daily drawing- which makes me so happy- slip. I think it's been a combination of things- the work in my current sketchbook just didn't seem to be up to standard, I wasn't happy with a number of the drawings and flipping through it made me feel lacklustre. I've still been drawing, but using A4 sheets instead of my book, aiming for a more polished finish- nothing wrong with that, but it brings in a bit of perfectionist pressure. I've also been sharing a lot of my drawings on social media, especially Instagram- another source of pressure. And then of course my shops round out the list of reasons to Have To Get It Right. I'm excited but nervous about the big trip coming up, and I think the swirl of emotions attached to saying goodbye to New Zealand and spending three to four weeks at sea has been adding a touch of creative block to the mix.
So I'm reclaiming my sketchbook. Remembering that it is my place to play, to make mistakes, to explore. And also remembering that, whilst I would like to be an Artist whilst we cruise, it is more important to be an artist- using my sketchbook as a way to record things I see, to look more closely, to engage with my surroundings. It doesn't matter if not every page is Instagram-worthy or good enough to post to my Facebook art page. It does matter that I practice, explore and play every day- the sketches I do are often the things that fuel the finished pieces, sometimes years down the line, and sometimes something I hate at the time takes on new meaning with a bit of time and a little perspective.
I do have a little help. Sketchbook Skool have released a new course (or kourse, as they would spell it). It's called Exploring- which seems very appropriate in my case. It's been just what I needed. The first week has been run by Danny Gregory. Before the making art began, we engaged in dialogues about what it is to be creative, how we are creative, what our creative goals are and what hampers them. I think most of the questions have been posed before, but considering them again helped. After all, our circumstances and positions are constantly changing, and so are our challenges and goals. By the time I got to the drawing demos, I'd done a bit of introspection and felt fired up. Sure, I'm not happy with a lot of the drawings in my current sketchbook- but every page is a new start. And the more I draw, the more likely I am to do things I'm happy with.
So this week I am working hard on my homework, practicing hatching and stippling and coming up with some stuff that I actually kind of like. Even if drawing on the boat does make some of it a little wobbly. How better to record the pod of dolphins that came and played around Prism on our way to Whangarei yesterday?
I won't be finishing the course before I go- and am not sure where I'll have the internet to be able to watch the final weeks of videos- but the teachers are a brilliant bunch and having a few weeks in reserve may give me a creative shakeup if I suffer another creative restriction farther down the track.
If you want to join in too, you can find Exploring here. In the meantime, I'm off to do some more hatching, in between boat jobs of course.
(Associate link- Danny has also written an excellent little book called 'Shut Your Monkey'. It's about silencing your inner critic, and I probably should reread it!)
Sometimes life comes round in a circle. Right now we're anchored at Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island, which is where we spent the end of January last year. I know it's mid February now, but the time and place feel right for a bit of reflection.
I started my first class in Sketchbook Skool a year ago. It was called 'Beginning' (a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews/ Maria would agree). The first week was taught by Danny Gregory, and the homework was simply to draw, every day. It would be the perfect way to start forming a habit. So I drew Great Barrier- anchorages, birds, waterfalls, the store here at Port Fitzroy. Cups of coffee, the dinghy engine, kids playing and my husband mending the sail cover. My sketchbook changed from an occasional companion to a constant friend. I photographed my sketches, posted them and gathered inspiration from the other students as well as from the sketchbooks of our tutors.
A year on, I'm still drawing. The habit I started with Beginning remains, consolidated by half a dozen other classes taken through Sketchbook Skool. I've learned new techniques and, I hope, improved. So I pulled out my sketchbook from a year ago.
Have I got better? In some ways, yes. My inner critic wonders if I've lost a sense of delicacy, but I can still draw this way when I choose to, and my line work these days feels more confident. It's good to look back and see lots of things I like in my older work- the page with the birds and Jim stitching the sail is one of my favourites. But my more recent sketches feel more distinctive, more confident, more 'mine'.
The most obvious change in my work is the scale. My sketchbook of a year ago had numerous tiny drawings littering a double page spread, with copious notes about the weather and the day. Now I mostly have single images across a double page spread. Words have taken a back seat, though I do like the diary style of my older work.
My ultra-fine liner has been exchanged for a brush pen, at least for the moment. I love the expressive lines of the brush pen, and have been determined to actually stick with one medium for a while. Looking back, I like the delicate lines of my fineliners too, but the brush pen is working for me right now. I still can't draw a straight line, but my lines are less sketchy; they flow more and I think they give the drawings more presence.
My greatest improvement, I think, is in my use of colour. I've got better at shading with watercolours, introducing a sense of depth into my sketches and bringing in the dark darks that I've struggled with for so long. I mostly use watercolours alongside pen, but I'm making the watercolour do part of the work, giving value (light and darkness) as well as colour.
So what next? I'm sticking with the brush pen a while longer, and I'm going to keep improving my watercolour techniques. I'll try and bring back some of the written elements, and drawing the little details in life as well as the big exciting things. My older sketchbooks remind me of techniques that I enjoyed and haven't used for a while- such as sketching in coloured pencils or with ballpoint pens- and I'm keen to pull these out again a little further down the line, perhaps see how I can make them work alongside my brush pen and watercolour. I'm sure there will be more Sketchbook Skool, but it's good to have consolidation time.
My collection of filled sketchbooks is supposed to get exiled off the boat soon- it takes up valuable space and may suffer from the humidity of the tropics. But I might keep a couple of books with me- or at least scan them in, as a reminder of what I've learnt and a source of inspiration for the future. And I'll certainly try to keep up daily drawing, whatever form it takes.
Do you ever look back at your old sketches? What have you learned from them? Do you ever find yourself returning to old styles and concepts?
Boats like to break. Fixing them could be an almost full time job. Water tanks, drainage pumps, the dinghy engine, the traveller for the main sheet... sometimes the list of things awaiting fixing feels endless. And Jim holds the title of Chief Mechanic aboard Island Prism.
One of the pulley blocks on the traveller had exploded in a shower of ball bearings as we rounded Cape Brett, affecting the smooth working of the mainsail. When we returned to Mimiwhangata, Jim set to fixing it, and I decided to do my homework for Veronica Lawlor's class at Sketchbook Skool- drawing a moving figure. I trailed Jim as he sawed, filed and drilled. Swear words not included.
I am pretty sure that sawing through metal rods whilst balancing them on your thighs is NOT recommended procedure. Do not try this at home.
I mainly used my Platinum maki-e brush pen. Slowly but surely I've been gaining control with it and am really falling in love with its expressive lines. I pulled out some neopastels too, to add some colour- they gave a nicely expressive line and I used the for the sketch of Jim drilling holes.
There was one occasion when I thought Jim was going to tumble headfirst into the cockpit locker. Boat maintenance is never easy, and Jim rarely does things the easy way anyway.
In the end, we gained a nicely working traveller, Jim didn't tumble into the bowels of the boat and his legs escaped unsawn. It won't belong until he gets something else to work on- after all, cruising is travelling to beautiful places to work on the boat.
There's a wonderful sense of achievement when you finish a picture that you've been working on all week! I began drawing a word with illustrated letters last weekend. In my infinite wisdom I decided I'd work on it in ballpoint pen and would cross hatch the whole thing. This probably meets Andrea Joseph's success criteria for 'drawing like a barmpot'. I have worked in biro before, but this A4 drawing was the largest yet.
Some things I learned:
I'd love to hear what you think!
It's been a busy month. At school, I've been working with Year 7/8 students to write then rehearse the script for our full school production- which, with a cast of over 800 is getting bigger than Ben Hur! At home I've been taking Andrea Joseph's Creative Lettering course at Sketchbook Skool. I was a little hesitant- I love Andrea's work and teaching style but wasn't sure about a whole four weeks of lettering. I quite like calligraphy, but could I do almost a month of it? Every day? I was worried I'd get bored. I was wrong.
Every day Andrea posted a new video for us to watch, and most days we had a new piece of homework. I like playing with ideas and didn't always complete tasks in a day, with the result that the course finished yesterday and I am approximately a week behind. This isn't a bad thing- I've learned a LOT, and feel very inspired. Many of the ideas are things I will be able to adapt and utilise when the course is over, which is why the initial 'playing around' stage is so important to me. I've got over my feeling that 'lettering must be perfect' but can now make it close to perfect if I want to. I can create words that are pictures and pictures that are words and I hope that the lettering in my sketchbooks will never again be a hastily scribbled and embarrassing afterthought.
Andrea's instruction is excellent and the course is inspiring. Definitely recommended if it's run again. And I still have access to all the course materials, so I can take my time and enjoy finishing off- between helping direct our cast of hundreds! On with the art- and on with the show! Which style of lettering do you like best? Write a comment- or click my instagram link to see more!
Penny Dullaghan has been a wealth of ideas in Sketchbook Skool this week. Another one of her printing techniques was oil transfer printing. It's the grown up version of the 'trace and transfer' technique you learn when you're a kid (trace something on tracing paper, shade on the backside of the paper with soft pencil then draw over your original lines to replicate the image. Another way to look at it is as grownup carbon paper.
I started off by blobbing some black oil paint onto thin white cartridge paper (even regular printer paper would be fine, I just didn't have any). Then I used a thick brush to wash thinners over the paint, creating a black piece of paper. This was the stinky bit. I left it to dry- Penny recommends using a hairdryer to achieve this but I don't own one of those either, so I left it to fate and set off to draw my image. I'd made a wash of purples and blues on watercolour paper and so decided to use that as my first attempt. Our theme was flight- I got thinking about all the flightless birds that have evolved here in New Zealand, and wondered if they get any wistful pangs when they see other creatures flitting by on the breeze. And what about things that aren't even meant to fly? I drafted my image on another piece of paper, taped the transfer paper over the dry watercolour wash and taped my sketch over the top. Then I took a very sharp, hard pencil and traced.
It was straightforward, and by only taping one side I was able to take peeks at what was going on. The oils transferred easily, with an expressive line. Even the pressure of my hand resting on the paper was enough to get smudges. When I was happy with the detail that had transferred over, I removed the tape and used some acrylic inks and acrylic paint to add some more colour and lift the design a bit.
You can see how the dryer areas of the transfer paper gave a thinner, finer line whilst the wet areas gave some thick, expressive detail which worked well on the watercolour paper. Some of the oils also showed the grain of the watercolour paper, which I quite like here(I assume this is where my hand rested on it).
Next up I tried (yes, you guessed it) a dinosaur.
A little bit of drying time and a wash of watercolour perked him up nicely. I like the line quality and the speckles on the image, though I wouldn't mind cleaning up the grubby background (I may have to brave Photoshop!)
The transfer paper was good to go for a third attempt. I didn't preplan this one- and soon discovered that the lightest pencil touch would get printed! The lack of planning shows, and I think the oil transfer overwhelms all the tiny details. Note to self- plan a bit more next time!
It would be interesting to try oil transfer printing over a bright, bold image or stencil. It's also got me thinking about going back in time by a couple of decades and attempting monoprints again.
I've been playing with eco printing on and off for a year now, but have steered clear of the regular inky kind. I did enjoy monoprinting way back when I was at sixth form, and have been tempted to give it a try, but didn't get much farther than reading a book on my kindle and feeling that it was going to be messier and more complicated than I remembered.
Then along came Penny Dullaghan.
This week at Sketchbook Skool, for her week in the Expressing course, Penny showed us four different printing techniques, from using ink on tracing paper (effective but painstaking), to lino cuts and oil transfer (which creates a similar effect to that favoured by Paul Klee). Initially, I only owned the materials to try the ink transfer. I drew some pterodactyls using inktense pencils (yup, still in the dinosaur zone), traced them and set about printing them with black ink. This involves drawing a tiny bit at a time on the back of the tracing paper and quickly pressing it down onto the coloured image. This results in a gloriously grainy line, and the occasional smudge- and takes ages. I do rather love the results though.
I'd always thought that lino printing would be hard, and carry an unreasonable risk of losing a limb (or at least cutting my finger). Plus my attempts at using a craft knife usually lead to such dubious results that I assumed lino carving would be a straight road to failure. But Penny made it look so easy that I gave into the art supply shopping impulse and sprinted over to Gordon Harris, returning as the proud owner of a lino cutter, some lino and a set of oil paints.
I decided to try a hummingbird for my first lino cut. This was probably an unnecessarily complicated embarkation point, but also felt more sensible that the dragon I first sketched out. I had some very soft EssDee lino- which lived up to its promise of being easy to carve. SO easy that even I could do it. No people or furniture were injured in the creation process and you could even tell what it was. Next step was to use it- printing with oil paint was a messy process, but I liked the effect.
I then carved an orchid stamp, and tried printing in gold acrylic on an acrylic background. This was less successful and I ended up touching the stamps up with my brush (the black flowers are hand drawn). I think the roughness of the background layer was to blame, as later I got some lovely prints on white cartridge paper.
My final attempts were made using Pitt brush pens to colour the stamps. The prints lost quite a bit of the fine detail, so were less effective than the oils, but much easier to handle! A few dots of gold acrylic and dash of fineliner pepped it up nicely.
One final little bird and an orchid garden and I was done for the night. Definitely something I'll be trying more of!
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.