The Kimberley in July

For almost 20 years we have travelled through Australia, top to bottom, all around and through the middle. To the wild and remote places that most people never go. On every journey I take a sketchbook, waterproof pens and a travel watercolour set and I document our journey, in words and in drawings. The drawings are mostly of the objects I find, feathers, shells, leaves, bones, occasionally a bit of landscape. I take photos too, but it is the sketchbooks that really keep the memories fresh.

The drawings are also a resource for works that I create later. I redraw loosely from my original drawings, sometimes altering them a little to suit my new purposes, but the essence remains. My present project is using drawings from a 2009 trip that went up through the centre of Australia, through the Kimberley, down the Western Australia coast and home to New South Wales via the Nullarbor Plain between July and September.

I cut sheets of watercolour paper to postcard-sized rectangles 150 x 105 mm and started, choosing images that worked with the shape, and adding the handwritten notes that I put in my sketchbook. The intention is to make these into a book, possibly a concertina that will show the progression of images, but that will evolve later. I’m not sure how many drawing I will do either … so far I have completed 6 and one is in its pen and ink stage, before I add the colour. I have included it to show how they begin.



Deconstructing strelitzia


The Bird of Paradise plant, or Strelitzia Regina, is a strong, powerful plant, with long, paddle shaped leaves and exotic flowers that resemble a bird’s head. When the flowers finish, they dry out and swell, twist and split to reveal glossy black seeds sitting in a bed of bright orange fluff. The seed heads are a bit like an alien being, complex and elaborate. Irresistible to draw.


There is so much going on in the seed head it isn’t necessary to draw it all, I refine the messiest parts to glean the essence of the plant, and sometimes exaggerate the twists just a little … I decided to work only in monochrome because I can get a better feel for the detail, and also remove myself a little from reality.


This was drawn with just an HB and a 2B graphite pencil, on Arches watercolour paper. The image is 36 x 23 cm.

A small PS – the drawing in my post in November, ‘In the Air’, has been accepted into the Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize, here in Sydney. It is one of the most prestigious drawing prizes in Australia, and it has been an ambition of mine for a number of years to get a work in. This is my third attempt. These prizes are very much a lottery – this time 43 works have been selected out of almost 500 submitted, so clearly there will be many good works that didn’t get in, but somehow my drawing chimed with the judge. I am ECSTATIC!!



Miniature sketchbook


The sketches I made on my recent trip to Tasmania have proved a valuable resource for further artwork – I made a large drawing using some of the elements (see here) and now have made a miniature version of my sketchbook.

In creating this miniature book, I scanned and reduced the pages from the sketchbook, then re-arranged the drawings to suit a small format, going from an A4 sketchbook down to pages that are 10.5 x 9 cm. All the drawings were redone from scratch, I felt if I traced the forms I would lose the original loose quality of them, and the painting was often reinterpreted too.

Once the drawings were done and the labels added, I glued the panels onto a long strip of mulberry paper, a thin but strong Japanese paper which has small pieces of organic material embedded in it, which felt like a nice accompaniment to drawings of natural objects. The front and back covers were made of card with mulberry paper pasted on, and the decorative corners and the panel beneath the title plate were made from offcuts from my recent prints.

This little book, along with the portraits in my previous post, and a small oil painting will be submitted to the Annual Awards exhibition of the Australian Society of Miniature Art. The exhibition is not until June, but I wanted to have the work complete well in advance.

Freycinet – from the sketchbook


During my recent visit to Tasmania, we were given the opportunity to stay in a beachside ‘shack’ for a few days. Nestled in the Freycinet National Park, a short distance from the beginning of the Wineglass Bay walk, close to Fisheries Beach, it was a delight to settle in there to enjoy the peace and scenery. It was an opportunity to read, walk, relax and for me, to draw. (See my previous post for more of the sketches.)

As a small thank you to the owner of the shack (actually a very comfortable house!) I have made up a drawing using my sketches from the local area, adding little annotations of names and places. Hopefully it will remind her of the peace and quiet of Freycinet when she is far away.

It is drawn using pen and ink and watercolour, on Arches Aquarelle 300 gsm paper, hot-pressed, 26 x 36 cm.

Sketching in Tasmania


In the middle of December I flew down to Hobart to join my partner who had taken the car over on the ferry a couple of weeks before, as he had work to do at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. After a few days there, of course visiting the wonderful MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), we spent a week in a friend’s beach ‘shack’ in Freycinet National Park, one of the most beautiful places in Tasmania. We walked – one walk that we HAD to do was a climb up to look down at Wineglass Bay, then down the other side, a long loop across a marsh, another beach and through the bush back. About 11 km it took us 5 hours and was a good workout, but worth it!

On other days we drove to walk on the Friendly Beaches – the sea intense turquoise blue and sand white, with rock pools at the water’s edge, The Gardens with the same coloured ocean and sand, but massive boulders covered with orange lichen … and numerous others. In between we relaxed, read and I drew. From Freycinet we moved up the coast to St Helens, a small fishing town in the Bay of Fires, then camped at Policeman’s Point a bit further up the coast, still in the Bay of Fires. A beautiful spot for bush camping and walking on the beach until it rained … but we weren’t daunted and took ourselves to Bridport on the north coast. An unexpected delight, the coastline composed of numerous small beaches bordered by rocks. And the sun shone again!

Our last stop was Launceston, another pretty small city, hilly like Hobart, with elaborate Victorian architecture. We watched the New Year fireworks from a park by the Tamar River – a delight to be so close and walk back to our hotel in a matter of minutes, very different from Sydney! On the ferry back to Melbourne we had a very comfortable cabin, the Bass Strait was a millpond, so a simple and uneventful (thank goodness, I am a very bad sailor!) trip. Then towards home, catching up with friends along the way.

I only had time to sketch between Freycinet and Bridport, but took every opportunity I could, walking around with my eyes on the ground looking for any attractive little object!


Scottish flowers



Two more drawings inspired by flowers found in Scotland. The top one was based on hollyhocks, old-fashioned flowers that are not often seen these days. The plants grow very tall, with elaborate ruffled flowers arranged along the length of the flower spike.

The one below was growing in the garden of Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye. I haven’t been able to identify it – the plant was a creeper, covered with pink/purple bell-shaped flowers, many of which had a long pendulous part hanging down, unusual and exotic.

As before (see my previous post here), the flowers were initially drawn in water-soluble graphite then coloured with watercolour pencils.

Adding colour


The experiment with water soluble pencils continues, but a little differently, as I have decided to add colour. Having the tonal drawing beneath gives a useful structure for the colour to go on top. I decided to leave some parts in graphite for contrast, and highlight the main parts of the flowers/berries with colour. The colour is simple, almost monochrome in each case, with no real attempt to create botanical reality, it is there more to enhance the shape and form, and maybe take the images away from their plant origins into another kind of object.

I used Faber Castell watercolour pencils (Albrecht Durer), so that I could continue to draw, but adding water gives more of a painterly feel, and some unexpected results.

The above image was inspired by a double begonia flower, below the inspiration came from spindle berries, crocuses and sweet peas.

All are 23 cm x 25 cm. Some of the drawings without colour can be seen here.