Soup and sketchbooks

It’s a cool and rainy Easter weekend here in south-east Queensland. Perfect days for soup, sketchbooks, reading and getting cosy with canines. Each day I try to add a little more to one of my many sketchbooks. Most of them are themed; they all have purpose, and much of the time my mood dictates which one/s gets attention.

This weekend I’ve been working on more ferns and a visual journal for word association doodles. More on that once I have a few more pages to show.

In the meantime here are three more pages from the fern visual journal.

Sketch to understand: Ferns and more ferns

I’m only on the second two page spread, but already I’m thinking this might be a multi-volume project. There is so much to learn. Sketching ferns is time-consuming, even for the less complex leaves, but very enjoyable and quickly becoming a favourite side project.

From the genus Danaea, Marattiaceae family

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Sketch to understand

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Stippling in pen and ink

Stippling in pen and ink isn’t for everyone. It requires a certain level of observation and focus, and especially time that isn’t always available. It can also get a bit boring after…

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Sketch to understand

I’m a huge fan of ferns and sketchbooks in equal measure, but I am often hesitant to draw or paint ferns as they can be quite delicate and complex, not to mention diverse. I recently started a new pen and ink drawing involving ferns, but was finding my lack of confidence was a barrier to progress. So, to better understand my subject and boost my confidence, I decided to start (yet another) sketchbook, this time just for ferns. It’s a somewhat daunting task as there are more than 10,000 known species of fern worldwide. I’m not going to draw them all in one lifetime, let alone fit them all in a single sketchbook, but that’s not really the point. The point is to sketch to understand. The process of filling a sketchbook or journal with a focused subject requires a great deal of reading and research, staring at specimens and then (hopefully) rendering a reasonable facsimile on paper. They don’t have to be botanically precise or detailed, as it’s more an exercise in developing my visual library. To ease in to fern drawing I decided to start with some of the more primitive forms, excluding horsetails, as seen below.

Above is the first full page of a Paperblanks Flexis notebook (Midnight Rebel Bold flavour). The paper is exquisitely smooth and takes fineliners and coloured pencil very well. There is some tolerable ghosting, but no bleed through (the paper is 100 gsm), at least with fineliners. These plants are part of the same class of plants that include maidenhairs, silver lady’s and black tree ferns. One page in and already the limit of my knowledge has been exposed.

Stippling in pen and ink

Stippling in pen and ink isn’t for everyone. It requires a certain level of observation and focus, and especially time that isn’t always available. It can also get a bit boring after awhile. But I love the results, its ability to capture detail and the subtle shifts in form and tone, especially for complex subjects like ferns. Here’s my latest efforts. The shamrock (clover) took a couple of hours. The fern, a few more.

Good art days and art expectations

I feel like I have’t had too many good art days lately – those days where reality comes close to meeting expectation; when more things go right than go wrong with a piece of art; where you can put down the pencil, pen or brush and be satisfied, even a little bit happy, with the marks on the paper. This is probably because I generally prefer do a lot of detailed art and am always pushing myself to refine and achieve a certain level of work. But art, like most things in life, can become unfulfilling when the frustrations outweigh the positive outcomes. (I hesitate to use “failure” and “success” here as they are both subjective).

Here’s the wonderful thing about the creative mind though: it’s incredibly flexible. There are no parameters save for the ones we set ourselves. With that in mind, I decided to set aside my very limiting expectations, and just have fun. The only rule was that the process was more important than the outcome.

Below are three postcard-sized bits of art that didn’t turn out as expected, but I like them anyway. Mostly my goal was to test some new watercolour paint, use up some scraps of paper and jog my creativity. I had some idea of what I wanted to achieve, but decided it was best to remain flexible about the outcomes. Initially, the top card was meant to be some sort of watercolour blob creature in watercolour, to which I was going to add pen and ink on top. It ended up being a bunch of weirdly misshapen critters that I didn’t know were there. You have to love the brain’s ability to detect patterns in chaos. I especially like the gorilla on the trike on the far right.

The second card was going to be a blob bee, but ended up being a blob-hippo-rabbit-thing. I can also see a rhino-rabbit-thing. Finally, the card on the left was always meant to be a rainbow lorikeet, inspired by the noisy many around my neighbourhood at the moment. I was going for an even more loose looking blobikeet, so I didn’t expect it to look like a bird, much-less a lorikeet. I don’t mind how any of them turned out; they were never meant to be accurate or detailed, rather just a chance for some creativity that didn’t demand much input from the inner over-thinker.

I had a good art day. It was playful, enjoyable and pleasantly surprising. A good art day happens not when my art expectations are met, although those days are important too, but when I accept the unexpected.

When dogs adopted humanity: journal page

“Did you know there are over 300 worlds for love in canine?”

Gabriel Zevin

I heard someone say many years ago that dogs are the best thing about humanity. That expression has stayed with me for a long time and every dog I meet proves it tenfold. No other animal is as forgiving, as loyal or as forbearing as a pooch. And yet the origins of the dog/human relationship is as mysterious as it is ancient.

The domestication of dogs by humans (or humans by dogs?) predates the domestication of any other species of animal. The details of exactly when, where and how are complex and still open to discussion. The oldest unequivocally Canis lupus familiaris fossil is about 14,700 years old, but the beginning of the story must have happened much earlier. Studies of Ancient DNA in 2015 suggested dogs split from their ancestors between 27,000 to 40,000 years ago. In 2016, another study of ancient dog genomes suggested dogs were independently domesticated in Asia and Europe at different times. Yet another study in 2017 suggested a single origin in Europe, from grey wolves, possibly as much as 40,000 years ago. An even more recent study (2020) of ancient dog DNA determined domestic dogs diverged from a now-extinct species of wolf, and not the grey wolf as suggested by other researchers. The debate continues.

Suffice it to say, dogs have accompanied humans for many thousands of years and have been and continue to be instrumental in the development of humanity.

And now please enjoy some pics of my fur babies. Lolly, the sweetest girl is on the left, and Sweetums, the most loveable monster, is on the right.

Sketchbook alternative

A couple of years ago I started a box for small art, which I intended to fill with postcard-sized pieces of art. Unfortunately I shelved it after I became deeply involved with half a dozen codex-style sketchbooks. Recently I was going through my paper supplies and found (too many) small scraps of Bristol and watercolour paper filed in various document envelopes. I remembered the box and decided to re-establish the project in order to make use of the scraps and other art supplies.

This format makes an interesting alternative to traditional sketchbooks, especially if you want to be able to sort the cards later.

Some other advantages:

  • as previously stated, it’s great for making use of all smaller scraps of paper
  • it’s not limited to one type of paper or medium, or lower quality paper
  • more diversity in the size and style of the box, as well as the size and number of cards
  • the option to spend as much or as little as you want on the paper
  • the ability to discard pieces you don’t like, or give away, sell or frame individual pieces without fear of destroying the binding of a sketchbook
  • the ability to spilt the collection and choose to keep some pieces private, and share others
  • there are almost unlimited possibilities
Some cards I’ve done over the last few days

I’ve given myself the task of filling the box with as many small pieces of art as possible, using all the art supplies I have. Even though it looks like I’m obsessed with plants, this is not going to the the theme of the box . . . or maybe it will? I’m not going to decide that. Instead, I’m going to let it be what it will be. That’s my motto for Creativity in 2021.

Catching up with a sketchbook

It seems almost as soon as the ice sheets cleared after the last ice age, there were people in Finland. Perhaps they followed the migrating herds, hunting, fishing and gathering as they moved in to new areas that had once been inaccessible. Those earliest people left behind some exquisite objects.

In my wanderings through the archeological pages of the internet I came across the Elk’s Head of Huittinen and was immediately enchanted, so I drew it in my sketchbook. A few hours and many pages of Finnish history later, I ended up with a snapshot in to the earliest days of the peopling of Finland. I read a lot more than I could fit on one page, so, as always, it in no way does justice to the rich and expressive cultural, linguistic and genetic history of Finland and her people’s.

Forest time

Most of my time at the moment is consumed with a fairly large mixed media piece I’m working on. I haven’t had much time for sketchbooks, so I thought I’d share some progress pics on the piece instead.

The first image is the pen and ink sketch which probably took too many more days than it should have to complete. In the second image I’ve started laying down the first layer of watercolour, mostly washes with a little bit of deeper shading, trying to get the greens of the moss right against the dull grey/green of the bark and the blue/grey of the stones. It’s a pretty ambitious piece, and a bit of a gamble as I’m trying new techniques and strategies to achieve the results I’m after.

The painting isn’t based on a reference photo or a real place; rather it is a medley of scenes from my mind’s eye, collected from years of staring at pictures of megaliths and trees, two of my favourite subjects. I saw the scene as I was drifting off to sleep one night. The next day after I’d prepared the board and paper, I started mapping out in pencil where the stones lay and the larger trees were situated. Ordinarily I sketch out thumbnails digitally and then print them to be transferred to watercolour paper. This scene was already written in my mind and I felt like I knew it well enough to go straight to paper. I still have many more hours of work to do as I attempt give the painting the substance and depth I see in my mind’s eye.