The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
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!)
First- I'm trying something new... The links in this post for the art supplies I love are affiliate links to Amazon UK. If you follow them and make a purchase- even something other than art supplies- it will help me to buy Jim the occasional cup of coffee (he deserves it after all this boat maintenance)! Rest assured, my site will remain ad-free and my link posting policy hasn't changed- I'll only ever post links to things I love. Now onto the art...
On Sunday morning, I painted a mermaid. The boat was rocking, I woke up early, and I was thinking about mermaids after seeing Colour Made Happy's mermaid challenge over on Instagram. So I decided to get creative, and this is who swam along.
Dolphins were a good reference- I used the video I took last week (watch it here if you missed it) to get an idea of how her tail might look. The foreshortening was the trickiest part as I wanted her to appear as if she was swimming up- it took a few sketches to get it looking plausible, and it's not as dramatic as the idea in my head. Something to add to my list of 'skills to practice'! The tail and water were fun, as I got to let my watercolours do the talking. I'm finding turquoise and indigo are great for showing the levels of light in the water, and a bit of yellow ochre seemed perfect for the sun shining through and the reflection on her face. I managed to take a step away from painting things the colour I 'know' they should be, and used the indigo and turquoise again for the shadows on her arms and body. Huge sigh of relief- it added to the sense of depth instead of making her look like an alien (although I guess mermaids could conceivably be blue)!
The hair was the most fun to draw (I do like sketching wavy, curly shapes!) and I painted it in a wonderful Daniel Smith paint called Moonglow. This paint is a blend of three colours, which looks like rich reddish grey. Building up layers, removing paint with a damp brush or letting the paint granulate all allow parts of the component colours to come through- this can create surprises but also makes it a very interesting paint to work with. It was another slight gamble, but I've played with it quite a bit when painting whales and the purpley auburn that I got tones in nicely with the rest of the paper.
I used Kaiser metallic gel pens for her scales, because of course mermaids need a bit of shimmer! I bought these pens on a whim, but love them- they're great for fine detail, and don't get absorbed by the watercolour paper. They're not waterproof, so washing a damp brush over them results in a sparkly wash!
It was a lovely relaxing morning, except for the fact that the boat was still rocking. Here's a small video snippet of liveaboard art (I do normally have the sense to position my brushes so they don't roll around, but I wanted to illustrate the point!). The background soundtrack is Jim fixing one of our leaky portholes.
Thankfully things have calmed down a bit today. Jim's been fixing a hatch cover and getting our Raymarine autopilot working, and I've been doing laundry ashore and researching the paperwork required for leaving New Zealand and entering French Polynesia. Things are coming together...
We've been back in Tutukaka with Island Prism for a couple of weeks. Jim's been working on fixing our leaky water tanks whilst I've been relief teaching at the school in Ngunguru- a welcome top-up to the cruising kitty! Once we get overseas, working becomes more complicated- generally we travel on tourist visas meaning that paid employment is forbidden. One of my boat tasks at the moment is checking that our visa info is up-to-date. Things can change quickly, especially the world's current political climate, and it's worth keeping on top of things, though immigration websites are not always the easiest to negotiate. Thank heavens for art to help me relax!
I've been going back to the sketches and video I took on our trip out to the Poor Knights a few weeks back. I'd love to go out there again, but Prism is stuck here until the water tank repairs have cured and we can fill both tanks (we're currently surviving with our smaller 20 gallon tank and are very thankful of our proximity to the marina!).
We haven't seen marlins in the water- just being hauled out at the game fish club. They are very tasty, but also incredibly beautiful, so it makes me rather sad. I brought the one above back to life, using some of the trophies inside the club as inspiration.
We've also been lucky enough to see Owha, the leopard seal. Normally they hang around the Antarctic, pestering penguins and being generally fearsome. Owha is enjoying a northern summer, first in Auckland and now on the Tutukaka Coast. She's been visiting the marina, and paid a visit to Island Prism whilst we we anchored in Pacific Bay. Very exciting- she's a beautiful creature- but we won't be swimming for a while!
I've been continuing practicing with my brush pen-I'm enjoying the way the style is working. I tried to use it for the textures on the rocks on the paintings of the pinnacle and the stream of knifefish below. It took a lot of concentration, but ended up feeling quite meditative as I tried to use the very tip. There seems to be a single hair that sticks out a little- it's a bit annoying but seems to be useful for very fine work!
I've been putting together an Etsy shop and think I'll put a few of these in there- more details to come but I hope to get it finalised over the next few days. I've been a bit hesitant over selling my originals- I think my inner critic gets a bit chatty, even though I've had my Redbubble store for a while now! But I've started to feel sorry for them just being filed away on the boat, so hopefully a few of them will find some loving homes!
In the meantime, I think I'll add a few more to this series- I'm playing with some compositions involving rays, so we'll see how those turn out! Plus continuing to get the boat ready- we have a month and a half left here in NZ before the big adventure, and I see that painting the cockpit has been added to my 'to-do' list!
Have you ever wanted to paint a night sky? It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon, especially on a wet weekend. Follow my step-by-step video tutorial below to create your own unique piece of art. Mine has a nautical twist (of course), but you could silhouette buildings, animals, mountain ranges... the only limit is your imagination! I've used masking fluid for my stars, but if you don't have any then a good quality gel pen works well too (see how I use mine in the final stages of my artwork). I'd love to see your results- tag me on Facebook or Instagram @andreaenglandart. Leave me feedback and questions in the comments below!
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?
The Tutukaka Coast is alive with birds- we often see and hear tui and fantails I've been playing with layering watercolours, ink, paint markers and gel pens. I put down the watercolour wash first, then overlaid the black ink with brush pen. Posca paint markers and gel pens created the patterns and swirls- the gel pens give the ethereal metallics and the Posca markers are brighter and bolder. Finally, I used watercolour to add shading and a little softness to some of the pen detail.
I've uploaded the designs to my Redbubble shop- click each photo for the link.
My idea of heaven would probably be a sketchbook that I could use underwater. But then you'd never get me out of the sea. This is one of my post-dive day sketches from out at the Poor Knights. I'd love to get out there again but boat maintenance has been getting in the way (on the plus side, the cockpit lockers are much more watertight).
We have, however, been round to beautiful Whale Bay, wandered up to Tutukaka Reserve and lazed on lovely Matapouri Beach. I've been learning how to use my Wacom tablet with Photoshop via Skillshare and preparing some more designs for Redbubble. We'll eventually drag ourselves away, I'm sure, but this is a wonderful place to be.
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.
Yesterday we took Island Prism out to the Poor Knights with our friend Gines. He kindly brought along some dive gear, and we spent a couple of hours diving and snorkelling Blue Maomao Arch. It's named for the thousands of blue fish that hide under the arch- at busy times it feels like a highway as a seemingly endless stream of fish makes it way in! The turquoise light shimmering through the archway created dramatic silhouettes of rock and fish. The rocks around the arch were also very interesting, but the rocky passage was the star of the show.
The demoiselles and black angels were having a field day as a feast of sea gooseberries and plankton streamed by on the full moon tides. Red moki, pigfish and Sandager's wrasse added pops of colour. Emboldened by the fishing ban in the marine reserve, a school of 30 kingfish cruised through the open water, and three took up temporary location under Island Prism.
I couldn't sketch under water (though am now debating whether a dive slate and pencil would do the job), but I got lots of photos to work from!
Charlie O'Shields has asked me to write a guest post over on Doodlewash.com. You can pop on over to find out about what got me painting and my adventures on Island Prism. It's a great website with monthly challenges and tons of inspiration!
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.