Category: Sketchbooks

Feeding the magpies and an art prompt

In Australia, if we want to avoid being swooped by mobs of magpies in breeding season, we make friends with them. One way to do this is to feed them. While I don’t think they actually see us as friends, they do remember humans who are kind to them. As such no one in my house has been swooped by magpies, not even my dogs. And this seems to extend for quite a large area around my house.

Not everyone agrees that feeding them is a good idea, as there is a concern it could change their natural behaviour, make them dependent on humans, or risk their health with inappropriate food. Personally, I think the ship has sailed for the “natural behaviour” argument. Humans have so changed natural habitats that it would be naive to expect their behaviour won’t change too. As for their diet isse, we don’t feed them anything they wouldn’t normally forage for themselves and they still spend 90% of their time foraging naturally. Magpies know how to be magpies after all.

Magpies are successful in Australia precisely because of their ability to form cooperative relationships and to adapt to new situations. They’ve weathered some hard times and will again. Being such clever birds, I don’t think Maggie’s are in any danger of losing their ability to forage any time soon. Since Magpies live in the same territory for their whole lives, some of the birds that visit my home have been here at least long as I have (14 years) and see me as part as their landscape. They’ve seen the same shrinking of habitats and increase in the number of humans, cats and dogs and road traffic as I have during the past decade especially. But they didn’t complain. They changed their behaviour and they are resilient. I’m happy to be a magpie enabler.

So in honour of maggie’s, today’s prompt is resilience. Here’s my entry:

Art prompt: Remnant

Today’s art prompt is remnant – basically whatever is left once something is used, removed or destroyed. In this case it is the fossilied remains of a trilobite, an ancient extinct marine arthropod.

Cheirurus trilobite in pen and ink and watercolour

Art prompt: herbs

For today’s art prompt I chose basil and garlic. They both lend themselves nicely to stippling in pen and ink, a favourite technique and medium, plus I wanted to try something new (new to me anyway) and felt two illustrations would be better than one. Stippling is time consuming and requires a lot of patience, but it can also be meditative and rewarding to see the image come to life. I like the meticulousness of stippling, but I didn’t want to spend days making thousands of little specks; so with the pieces below I decided to go light on the stippling and add some colour with watercolour to see if it would work. I found that by laying down the stippling first it acted as a restraint to stop me overworking the darker tones in watercolour. I quite like the resulting illustrations and, in fact, these took less time using the two mediums than I would normally spend on just stippling in ink or painting in watercolour.

Sketchbook habits: prompts

When I start a sketchbook I make a contract with myself and I try to stick to these three Cs:

  • creativity – creativity begets creativity. Sketchbook often;
  • commitment – keep doing it often. Even if it’s not as pretty as you’d like, don’t give up;
  • carry on – Fill the sketchbook, stow it away somewhere safe and grab a new book or piece of paper.

But sometimes inspiration is lacking and it becomes an excuse to get lazy. So to keep myself accountable to a sketchbook habit I’m going to post daily prompts and share my journey. I hope some of these prompts inspire you too.

Today’s prompt is spiral

I chose to do a fossil ammonite:

Ammonite in pen and ink
© S M Egan

Nature on the net and in my sketchbook

Horse chestnut

European larch

If it isn’t obvious from the page of trees in pen and ink that I love trees, my tree sketchbook will leave you in no doubt. I have one sketchbook devoted just to sketching trees in pen and ink, mostly using a fountain pen with black or grey permanent ink, and occasionally Copic fineliners, or with a bit of colour added from India ink brush pens. I enjoy the process of finding the shapes and forms of different species, experimenting with ways of reproducing all the different types of bark texture, practicing rendering leaf-clumps to see what works best for and honing my observation skills. Every species is different and feels like a new experience, so I never get bored of rendering trees.

Since I live in the subtropics, there isn’t an abundance of deciduous trees, which are among my favourite, so I have to rely on photographs for practice. If I ever want to draw a eucalyptus or paper bark, I need only look out my living room window, or walk a few minutes to the nearby park and creek. Here there are koalas, though they’re difficult to spot let alone draw from nature, bearded dragons, which rarely stay still long enough to sketch, turtles, flying foxes and all manner of birds. But, being that it it’s now winter, it’s cool and windy and the ground is wet from a recent shower, so today I’ll stay at my desk and find nature on the net.