Recently I had an interesting discussion with a friend when I talked about miniature portraits – his response was ‘Isn’t that a tautology, surely ALL miniatures are portraits?’ So, the simple answer was no, modern miniatures can be any kind of subject matter and any medium – landscape, still life, abstract and sculpture to name a few.
The annual awards exhibition for the miniature society is coming up in June, so I have been thinking in miniature. Every year as well as prizes for each media section there is a special prize for a themed artwork. This time it is Australian Icon. I have to admit my heart sank when I heard this – I can imagine a mass of Sydney Harbour Bridges, Opera Houses, cockatoos, Dame Edna Everage, Don Bradman. The idea did not inspire me. So I decided to think laterally, to people who maybe should be an icon but are not so well-known, and it seemed obvious to choose an Aboriginal person. The two above are long dead, and the likenesses extracted from old photos. I have not been too fussy about copying photos exactly, it was more about getting the essence of the person.
On the left is Truganini, reputed to be the last female full-blood Aborigine from Tasmania, who died in 1876, and on the right is William Lanne, died in 1869, said to be the last male full-blood from Tasmania. His original name has been lost. For both of them, their stories are tragic, of exploitation, harsh treatment and ultimately the deep humiliation after death, for William at least, of having his head stolen for ‘scientific purposes’. Truganini’s skeleton was put on view in a museum for nearly 100 years until finally it was removed and cremated according to her wishes in 1976.
Truganini is drawn with coloured pencils on drafting film, and William is on white scratchboard. The form was drawn with black ink, then the detail scratched away.
When matted and framed, Truganini will be 6.5 x 8 cm and William will be 8 x 9 cm.
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.
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.
Time to reflect, absorb, think – this is a key ingredient in developing ideas. The drawings that I have been working on over the last few months based on blots made from Liquid Pencil are moving into the next stage of development. From the beginning I had an instinct that they wouldn’t feel finished as framed artworks. I have framed one and realise that it is something that should be examined closely, if looked at from across a room it says nothing at all, the delicacy of marks are lost.
The artwork demands an intimacy that largeness of scale cannot provide, so I decided to take elements of the drawings to concentrate on. First I started with the drawing I called ‘Blot Series No 4’, see here for details. I made a 10 x 10 cm mask to choose elements from the drawing that had an integrity of their own. I found 5 pieces, cut them out and, once I had chosen the arrangement and rotation of them, glued them lightly to a length of heavy watercolour paper which I had folded into a concertina. The next step was extrapolating some of the marks at the edges of each piece, extending and developing them across the support to link the individual pieces. I may extend this piece with more panels.
The concertina is 14 cm high and 70 cm long, each panel being 14 x 14 cm.
The so-called blot series continues … as I do more, the character is changing, and so are the names I am choosing. ‘Galaxies’ still seems a good overall title, with individual titles for each. This one is more colourful, and has a few whimsical parts which I am not sure work … such as the dangling spheres on the lower right. When I look at small details I feel like expanding on some of these, enlarging them and redrawing them with more detail. Maybe that is the next development.
Details of No 4
This one, number 5, is back to the limited palette, more understated with more graceful forms. I have called this ‘Filaments’, and it is now framed and ready to go into an exhibition.
Detail of Filaments.
The first three in the series. All are worked on a base of Liquid Pencil random blots, worked into with graphite pencil and coloured pencils. The paper is Magnani Corona, and each drawing is 25 x 35 cm or 10 x 14 in. Filaments has been cropped for framing to 18 x 27 cm (7 x 11 in).
Travelling last year in Western Australia, one of the things I particularly wanted to find was a Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii) growing the wild. They are surprisingly hard to find – cultivated ones are found in gardens throughout Australia, but the green and red wild ones are much more elusive. So, I was very excited when we came upon a few plants growing in a wilderness area. These particular ones are not large, generally a single flower on a stalk about 50 – 60 cm high. It is a strange flower, with several tubular parts that split open at the top for anthers to pop out. It is pollinated by birds as pollen is deposited on their heads when they are searching for nectar in the tubes. The flowers are covered in tiny hairs which give them a velvety texture.
This drawing is an exaggeration – much enlarged, it is 42 x 41 cm which 7 or 8 times its real size, and I haven’t drawn the form with botanical accuracy, I have added fleshiness and an almost animal-like, aggressive quality.
It is drawn with coloured pencils, with a loose, textural background.
The third drawing in the blot series is complete. I have decided to give the series the title of ‘Galaxies’ – ‘blots’ doesn’t really cover where these drawings have progressed to, even though that is where they began. The word Galaxies can cover more than just other physical worlds, it can be the worlds of our imagination. Something I am really enjoying about these is the input I get from viewers as to what they see in them. Some are quite literal, faces or insects, others much more ephemeral, to do with stories and ideas, brain activity and portals into distant worlds. All are equally valid. To me they are floating, drifting shapes, changing form and character, coming in and out of focus, each element has a story of its own, and these stories change from one day to another.
Above are details of this drawing.
Above are the first two drawings in this series.
All are made using Liquid Pencil and Caran d’Ache coloured pencils, graphite pencils on Magnani Corona paper, 35 x 25 cm.