What tinnitus tastes like

I produce a lot of monochromatic (sometimes two-hued) artwork, such as in the top three recent entries in various sketchbooks. Mostly, I think this is just aesthetic preference, with a side order of apprehension over colour-coordination.

I have always had an unusual relationship with colour, mostly because what makes sense to others doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. For me, certain colours can have a sound and vice versa. Mostly colours and sounds are associated with sensations in certain parts of my body or often tastes. These perceptions aren’t present all the time and they aren’t usually intrusive. Most of the time I just go with living in a noisy rainbow world. Except when my tinnitus is switched on to high: it turns out even the sounds my brain produces, can have taste too. In my case, tinnitus tastes like a dirty silver coin under my tongue.

I have early-onset hearing loss which causes tinnitus in my left ear and means I need to wear hearing aides in both ears. The hearing aides mostly alleviate the silver coin under my tongue, but they haven’t cured my awkwardness with colour. Hence, most of what I produce in my sketchbooks remains monochromatic. Monotones are quieter, easier to navigate. Ultimately, though, I really do love the way it looks, the delicacy of tonal changes, the way they can communicate form, as well as the level of detail I can achieve without too much effort.

Even when I attempt to reproduce the colour of the fruit of yew tree (below), next to the blue-green leaves, I feel I’ve done a woefully inadequate job, so I retreat very quickly back to the safe zone of monotones, which is fine. It’s allowed. It’s only a visual journal, after all.

Visual journals aren’t meant to be laborious endeavours, requiring us to perspire over the slightest detail or hue – unless it’s what makes your heart sing, of course.

Fern journal continued

Here’s another two pages from the fern journal. I’m loving this journal and can’t wait to see it filled.

Ferns from Eupodium and Marattia genera

Right now the ferns are fairly easy to draw, but harder ones with more more complex leaves are coming, especially ferns with tripinnate and bipinnate-pinnatifid leaves. Each new fern brings with it more knowledge and confidence, so I think it will be worth it.

Doodling matters

I have a small confession: I am self-conscious about doodling, but I really want to do it.

I can approach many illustrations or paintings with a degree of confidence, but the thought of making a page of doodles makes me balk. Not because I am prejudice against doodling, but because I was convinced I couldn’t do it; that I didn’t possess the skill or imagination to do even a passible job. It is a shyness I’ve found difficult to overcome.

What do I mean by doodling?

Sunni Brown, a creative superstar and author of The Doodle Revolution, which I am currently enjoying, rejects the dictionary definition of doodling as absent-minded scribbling and defines it as “making spontaneous marks (with your mind and body) to help you think”. This definition suits me better too and does go some way to demystify the act.

As much as I love getting lost in tight drawings, becoming engrossed in the fine details of a complex illustration, they can be rather stressful and time consuming. They require a particular state of mind and while they are challenging, they don’t necessarily challenge me to expand my drawing skills, nor do they utilise my expertise in daydreaming. They can be predicable, which is convenient, but lazy.

I picked up Sunni’s book in order to help me overcome my shyness, but it is also helping me redefine my attitude and expectations about doodling. It’s also helping me discover where some of that shyness came from. Unfortunately I grew up in an era when doodling in your exercise book was considered vandalism. These same adults pushed the notion that drawing was only for those with “natural talent” to be executed at appropriate moments in appropriate formats. Basically, doodles were ugly, unsophisticated and a waste of time. Even if I never adopted that belief about other people doodling, I felt I would be judged for my clumsy scribbles and no one would take me seriously. Fortunately maturity has a way of, not only changing the way you see of yourself, but also the way you feel about how you’re seen by others.

In other words, other people’s judgements aren’t my problem.

So I’m going to doodle and daydream.

I started out doodling just with a black fineliner and a black coloured pencil for shading, but felt I was boxing myself in using only one colour. The idea is to be loose and spontaneous. So I tentatively started adding colour without really caring about the consequences. I hope it will be filled with rainbow flavoured connections by the time I’m done with this notebook.

Kermit would be proud.

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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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.