Three species of Adonsonia. In most parts of the world the common name for these bottle-like trees is Baobab – the first two sketches are the African Baobab (A. digitata) and the Giant Baobab or Grandidier’s Baobab (A. grandidieri) respectively. In Australia they are mostly known as Boab’s (A. gregorri), but it is also known by a number of different names in different Australian Aboriginal languages. The Boab is native to the Kimberly region in the far northwest of Australia and is a wonderfully mysterious tree. No one really knows how or why it came to be in Australia, as they were not considered to be part of the Gondwana supercontinent. The three possible scenarios put forward by scientists for their occurrence is either they were brought here by the first people in Australia; the seeds floated across the Indian Ocean from Madagascar, or, while unlikely, it is still possible, the genus Adonsonia started in Australia and migrated to the rest of the world.
I will defer to First Australian wisdom in this one: Boab’s have always been here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been awhile since I created a large piece because when I do it takes up most of my creative headspace and time. This means I don’t spend much time in my sketchbook. I’ve decided to share my process instead.
The piece I’m working on is a large leaf lime or linden tree (Tilia platyphyllos). I don’t like to copy reference photos when I ink trees, but I still use reference photos to inform the drawing and create a representative tree, a sort of ambassador for its species. Every tree is unique, even within a species, but every tree species has features which are characteristic of its kind. These are the things I look for when studying the tree. This means I end up studying at least hundred different photos, watch videos and read descriptions to get a feel for a tree. Visiting trees in person would be best, but given that I live in the subtropics, there aren’t too many linden’s around. This inspiration stage of the artistic process can take a couple of days before I even pick up a pencil.
The next phase is to sketch some trees in Procreate on an iPad or using a computer and drawing tablet. I like to do this digitally because it saves paper and I make many many adjustments to the drawing. I start by sketching actual specimens to get a feel for the species form, the way the trunk splits and the boughs twist, how it branches, how leaves clump and so on. These sketches don’t look like much and I never spend too much time on any of them. I create at least five sketches of individual trees.
Next I create a draft in procreate and tweak it to the shape that pleases me. This is where I allow myself to erase, redraw and generally fuss with the drawing. It still doesn’t end up looking like much, but once I’m happy with the draft I’m ready to transfer it on to watercolour paper.
Creating the pencil underdrawing can be achieved either by printing the above image on to an A3 sheet of paper, or in this case, drawing directly on to the watercolour paper using a very basic grid as a guide. I prefer this method as it allows me to adjust the picture as I go. The pencil drawing is very light and only serves as a guide.
Inking: putting the pen to the paper is by far the most nerve-wracking phase of any piece for me. There’s so much potential, but anything can go wrong. Once the first mark goes down I’m committed to the painting until it’s done. Inking is a slow process and it can take many hours. To me it feels like the first few hours is the worst, because I’m unsure of how to read the map, I’m constantly referring to reference photos, constantly worrying about the placement of every line. This is the ugly phase that all my ink drawings go through, but I’ve done enough now to know to persevere. And if it doesn’t work, it’s only ink and paper (and time).
With any luck there will be a lot more to show tomorrow . . .
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: