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.
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.
Stippling in pen and ink isn’t for everyone. It requires a certain level of observation and focus, and especially time that isn’t always available. It can also get a bit boring after awhile. But I love the results, its ability to capture detail and the subtle shifts in form and tone, especially for complex subjects like ferns. Here’s my latest efforts. The shamrock (clover) took a couple of hours. The fern, a few more.
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.
Most of my time at the moment is consumed with a fairly large mixed media piece I’m working on. I haven’t had much time for sketchbooks, so I thought I’d share some progress pics on the piece instead.
The first image is the pen and ink sketch which probably took too many more days than it should have to complete. In the second image I’ve started laying down the first layer of watercolour, mostly washes with a little bit of deeper shading, trying to get the greens of the moss right against the dull grey/green of the bark and the blue/grey of the stones. It’s a pretty ambitious piece, and a bit of a gamble as I’m trying new techniques and strategies to achieve the results I’m after.
The painting isn’t based on a reference photo or a real place; rather it is a medley of scenes from my mind’s eye, collected from years of staring at pictures of megaliths and trees, two of my favourite subjects. I saw the scene as I was drifting off to sleep one night. The next day after I’d prepared the board and paper, I started mapping out in pencil where the stones lay and the larger trees were situated. Ordinarily I sketch out thumbnails digitally and then print them to be transferred to watercolour paper. This scene was already written in my mind and I felt like I knew it well enough to go straight to paper. I still have many more hours of work to do as I attempt give the painting the substance and depth I see in my mind’s eye.
Following is painting I did last weekend on a whim, including the ink rendering and then with watercolour over it. It was a good exercise in not overdoing the ink when I know I’m going to paint. I wanted to create more depth with watercolour rather than have the pen and ink do all the work.
Note: this isn’t based on a location from the real world; it exists in my own imagination. Some of the fun is inventing the rest of what is “off-screen”, like a prompt for story tellers.
Moreton Bay Figs, sometimes Australian Banyan, (Ficus macrophylla) come in all shapes and sizes, as you can see from the photos. The first two photos were taken at Old Petrie Town, not far from my home. These individuals are said to be at least 300 years old. The third photo was taken at the Sydney Botanical Gardens a couple of years ago during a tree-finding excursion to the Sydney Botanical Gardens. I think it was planted about 150 years ago. They are endemic to eastern Australia. Its common name is derived from Moreton Bay in Queensland where they are still found growing naturally. In the rainforest, Moreton Bay Figs usually begin life as an epiphyte, high in the canopy, where they send down roots to help support its massive bulk. Eventually a fig will grow so large it envelops and kills the host tree. This might explain why many individual Moreton Bay Figs resemble several trees and have seemingly chaotic root systems.
Believe it or not, the buttresses of the largest trees at Petrie were at least as tall as my daughter and she’s about 1.4 metres tall (over 4.5 feet). Everything about them is huge, including the leaves, the largest of which can be up to 30 cm (almost 9 inches).
I’ve spent many weeks observing and rendering my own Moreton Bay Fig as a gift for my sister. Here is the result: It’s rather hefty 700 mm x 500 mm (27.5 x 19.6 inches) pen and ink rendering.
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.
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.