Category: Sketchbooks

All shapes and sizes

 “To really feel a forest canopy one must use different senses, and often the most useful one is the sense of imagination.”

– John Maloof

Playing with my favourite pen and subject

Claudia Nice is the first artist that inspired me try working with pen and ink with several books, including Drawing in Pen and Ink. I like to engage fully with what I’m doing and ink requires a level of commitment that appeals to my nature. I like detail and I enjoy how tight and clear I can get with ink. Which is probably why it is a common medium for scientific illustrators, especially botanical. But pen and ink can also be very flexible. True, you can’t rub it out once its on the page, but that doesn’t matter if you’re sketching loose drawings for practice or wanting to capture the shape of a species of tree. Ink also plays nice with a lot of other mediums, especially watercolour. Claudia Nice has also written many books on creating texture with pen and ink, and watercolour.

European silver fir – Abies Alba

The Lamy Joy, pictured above, is my favourite tool for sketching in pen and ink. The nib glides smoothly across the paper, depositing ink evenly and the tapered style feels good in the hand. I use fountain pens for 80% of the inked artwork I create. I use an ink converter, with De Atramentis Archival black ink. I have had no problems with it drying it our clogging the pen.

Do what you love; love what you do

I’m loving working in this sketchbook. Of course, the subjects are engaging, personally significant and keep me interested and motivated, but I also like the no fuss approach of limiting colours and not worrying about “ruining” an expensive sketchbook (this is an economical brand from my local office supply store). Most pages have sepia ink with only the shading of a sepia coloured pencil. They take anywhere from less than an hour to several hours or more if I’m really engaged and reading up in between drawing. Occasionally I’ll throw in another coloured pencil for emphasis. The rules are simple with this one: do what you love and love what you do. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else.

Art prompt: Back to beginnings

Coloured pencil and ink go well together, especially in sepia. I decided to test them out in a sketchbook by sketching some artefacts – things that got me started in archaeology and human prehistory that still inspire me. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Catalhoyuk was a game changer for me when I first read about it in the 1990s. The site was discovered in 1958 and was excavated between 1961 and 1965. Those summer seasons of digging revealed a lot about ancient Anatolia that wasn’t previously known. Unfortunately excavations were halted until 1993 due to controversy. In 1993 archaeological excavations reopened and continued to 2018. While it is not the oldest Neolithic site, its excellent state of preservation and long occupation period has facilitated a better understanding of the transition to settled life and how people occupied the spaces within.

The site of Catalhoyuk is a settlement in Anatolia, Turkey. It’s almost continuous occupation spanned a period of almost two thousand years, making it one of the most important and abundant early settlements in human history.

Stepping much further back in time I decided to sketch some of the earliest evidence of stone tool-use. It’s a good way to refresh the memory and practice ink and pencil sketching techniques. I quite like the old school look the sepia colours imbue.

Armchair journaling

Due to a minor injury I haven’t been in my studio/office much this week, but as long as I have a trolley of art goodies, some blank pages, a steady supply of coffee, and a comfy armchair, I’m still able to create. It’s hard not to.

These are uncomplicated pages, nothing that can’t be accomplished with fineliners or fountain pens and coloured pencils. The paper is only 80 gsm and the notebook was reasonably priced, but there are advantages to this. I find I have less hesitation because the notebook itself didn’t cost a king’s ransom. I don’t have a particular plan for this notebook except that to give it to my daughter because she loves these sorts of things and it’s a great way to communicate with her on the things that are important to me.

I don’t keep traditional diaries for a few reasons – my handwriting is unlovely, I don’t enjoy chronicling key moments of my life and I lack the discipline to maintain them since I already have enough projects. But I do love to art and I do think it’s important to do this as a shared experience with my daughter as a sort of conversation with her. This style of journal is a kind of compromise. I think the thing I love the most about this style of journal is there are no rules, and the urge to be a perfectionist is greatly reduced. As much as I try not to strive for perfectionism in my practice sketchbooks, I’m regularly frustrated that pages don’t come out looking like I’d envisaged. In this one I’m not troubled by the idea of perfect design and aesthetic. Of course I want the pages to be at least a little bit pleasing, but it’s the content and the act of creation that counts the most, those are the things I want to be important.

I’ve included a three photos of pages below.

Untold stories

Sometimes I need to paint something that doesn’t require much investment of time or effort. I do this to avoid the habit of fussing with a painting, if I want to practice techniques or I’m working out a scene for a specific project. A good way I’ve found is to do postcard sized paintings of imaginary places. These are places with untold stories, which I used as an art prompt to create the three paintings below. It turns out it’s a lot of fun and they’re great for exercising creativity, especially if I’m feeling stuck or lazy. If it doesn’t work it’s not really a big deal because I’ve used minimal paper and paint. The only rule is to avoid spending too much time on each piece. I succeeded with the first two paintings, but ended up spending too much time fussing with the third, which is also larger than a postcard. Still, it was fun and I can see I still need to practice loosening up.

Art prompt: Untold stories

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.