I’ve just finished a rather large pen and ink and watercolour of an antarctic beech; those magnificent Gondwana relics, which I am blessed to live in the same state as. I have a collection of photos of two rather old trees in particular from several different pilgrimages. Unfortunately that still wasn’t enough for a faithful reproduction of either tree, so my tree is a mish-mash of the two.
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It’s school holidays, cool and wet and unfortunately we had to go in to a three day lockdown in the first week of the mid-year break. My daughter already had some friends over, so we decided to do an art session to keep our minds off the big world out there. I covered the dining table with paper, gave them all some fairly robust multi-media paper and said go-for-it. Without hesitation or shyness they got to work straight away and churned out pages and pages of creative and colourful pieces. They brought a different kind of big world in to my home and that energy is still here days later.
Here are some of their pieces:
It is a marvel how easily children connect with their creative selves. Generally, they’re not afraid to experiment or make mistakes and they are usually proud of their accomplishments. Watching these three young creatives support and encourage each other was as rewarding as the art they created. They didn’t judge question each others art choices and were ready to share their own knowledge. I was glad to be a facilitator for them; it can only lead to more innovation. Days like these make me glad to be a creator and helped generate some inspiration for myself.
One of the challenges of any nature journaling for the purposes of learning is finding a balance between enjoyment and enlightenment.
So far I’m achieving both, but not without some conscious decision-making. This has not been a passive sketching project. There are thousands of species of ferns, from many different groups – many I’ve never seen or heard of. Finding good reference photos for some has been a challenge. Knowing how many and which fern species from each genera to include on a page is another time-consuming concern, but all part of the process of enlightenment. It would also be easy to pick the least complex leaves to draw in order to finish pages quicker, but I feel this would misrepresent an ancient and diverse group of plants. Besides, the end result would be a less visually appealing spread.
As with most taxonomy and phylogeny, sometimes a species inclusion in a group doesn’t make sense, at least to a non-botanist like me, especially when the experts don’t agree. There have even been several occasions when there has been some ambiguity, even controversy, about a species’ placement within a particular group. I do my best with the taxonomic nomenclature, but systematics is not the reason for the journal so it doesn’t really matter if some of it is imprecise. I won’t be travelling the world identifying fern species any time soon.
Another minor issue I have is my own handwriting. I write in all caps because it’s more legible, but even then I keep it to a minimum because, frankly, it’s ugly. I’ve updated my Lamy Al-Star nib to a black stainless steel medium nib rather than the fine nib I was using as it is much smoother, so I am more inclined to use it. Clearly, though, I still need practice.
The final issue with a journal like this is time. I’m impatient to see a page done, but since a spread can take an afternoon to complete I won’t be finished any time soon. Fern leaves can be complicated, at least when it comes to drawing them.
Whatever the challenges, I am committed to seeing this sketchbook filled, no matter how much time it takes.
I have an appreciation for the diversity and charm of ferns, but I’m not a botanist, so defining their form isn’t always easy – understanding their taxonomy and phylogeny even less so, but that matters less to me than the act of journaling. My homage to ferns is mostly meditative, and it is lovely to look back and see the work I’ve done in this medium-sized journal. I’m a long way off from finishing it, which is ok, because I’m a long way off from finishing the division of ferns. There are over 10,000 species to play with, after all, and that’s only the extant species; there are many extinct species in the form of fossils that could probably fill a small sketchbook. Now there’s a challenging project.
Living bovines (from the family Bovidae, subfamily Bovinae) come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them could be mistaken for antelopes, which occupy a seperate subfamily (Antilopinae) within Bovidae.
From musk ox to ibex and barbery sheep, members of the subfamily Caprinae, on the other hand, are unmistakable and just a bit more difficult to sketch. This has been fun to do as I wind down of an evening.
I have been busy with painting doors and walls, and making concoctions on with a newly installed cooker so there hasn’t been a lot of time for art. Nevertheless, I managed to find a little time at night for journaling; I decided to draw something simple, but enjoyable – sketches of bovine heads in coloured pencil.
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.
Here’s another two pages from the fern journal. I’m loving this journal and can’t wait to see it filled.
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.
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.
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.