Category: Sketchbooks and visual journals

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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Stippling in pen and ink

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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.

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.

Sketchbook entry: Natufian culture

After a brief hiatus I’m back to working in my sketchbooks and art journals. It has been a strangely mild summer for south-east Queensland. Until the last few days. There isn’t much to do but find a cool place to read, research and render. My goal for this year is to finish a couple of sketchbooks I have going, especially the archaeology journal. The latest entry is dedicated to the Natufian culture.

Some facts about the Natufian culture from my sketchbook

The Natufian culture is a prehistoric culture which lived in the Levant from around 15,000 and 11,500 years ago and whose appearance heralds significant cultural, economic and technological changes. They are among the earliest (if not, the earliest) semi-sedentary and sedentary hunter-gatherers. The Natufian’s lived in semi-permanent villages across the region; they hunted wild game, and more importantly, gathered and processed wild grain. It is unknown if they invented farming practices or inspired later groups to development them.

Aotearoa: sketchbook page

Once again, one page doesn’t do justice to the history and past of the Māori people

This is going to sound more like a plug for New Zealand than an introduction to New Zealand archaeology, but here goes anyway . . .

Between the ages of four to almost sixteen years old I lived in Christchurch, New Zealand. One of my favourite places to go was the Canterbury museum, a beautiful building that seemed enormous to me at the time, which stands right beside Christchurch’s wondrous botanical gardens. Though not as substantial as some of the more famous museums round the world, it was good-sized museum for such a small city, with a diverse and well-displayed collection (at least to my young mind). I was most fascinated with the extinct flora and fauna of New Zealand, and especially quite enamoured with the cultural remains of her earliest settlers.

During the 1980s, as part of Māori recovery programmes, Māori language (known as te reo “the language”), music and art were beginning to be taught in school, at least it was at the primary school I went to. All children were given the opportunity to participate in the Māori choir (which I did and loved), take art lessons and learn te reo, albeit an elementary study of the language. Whenever we went on a school excursion or camp we were treated to traditional Māori folktales, which added a great deal to the history of the place. I can still remember a friend of mine telling me a story about the local dragon or tanewha (pronounced tanifa) during one school camp, whose ground we stood on. Such things have always left deep impressions on me. There’s a reason specific places and spaces are imbued with deeper meaning, why we talk of the essence or spirit of a place and why some spaces are described as sacred. All of New Zealand felt that way to me and the art and folklore of her first people only adds to the sense it is other-worldly.

Te reo has declined over the years, but efforts have been renewed to revive it. Māori is one of New Zealand’s three official languages – the other two being English and New Zealand Sign Language. In contrast, Australia has no official language. English is the language of the majority, with over 300 distinct languages spoken in Australian homes (information from the The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census data).

New Zealand is a geographically beautiful country with deeply rooted Maori heritage and cultural influences from around the world.

New Guinea: sketchbook entry

The island of New Guinea is a biologically and culturally diverse landscape. With over 1000 languages spoken across the island and 60,000 years worth of occupation, it is difficult to do justice to its superb history with just one page in a sketchbook. New Guinea remains largely inaccessible and unexplored by scientists. In this ever-changing world I would love for it to remain largely a secret place, for the sake of its wildlife and its people, sadly there are many people who wish to cash in on the resources of the island.


In posting this I offer my deepest respect and wishes for peace and prosperity to all the peoples across New Guinea.