Rogues Gallery 2

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Last year I made a small book of drawings of early twentieth century criminals, (see here) using images inspired by photos from the Police and Justice Museum in Sydney, and now I’m continuing the theme, but with larger drawings. Every face tells a story – some aggressive, some cocky, some dapper, others beaten down and sad.

Photographs of some Sydney criminals were taken in an almost casual way between about 1910 and 1930, some sitting, others slouching against a wall with their hands in their pockets before more formal mug shots came into use. It seems that these photos were quite random, not all criminals were photographed, some were named and their stories can be found, others were quite anonymous, but to me every one of these has a story written on his (or her, there are women too) face.

There is a book published by Sydney Living Museums which has a lot of these photos, and this is what I have used as my inspiration. I have not tried to copy the photos too accurately, but I’ve tried to gain an essence of who these people were.

Each drawing is 15 cm square, on Arches watercolour paper, drawn using water-soluble graphite. I do a loose sketch with an HB pencil, wet it with a brush to get in some tones, then when it is dry work into it more with a 4B pencil, wet it again, and so on till I’m satisfied.

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Before and After

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This is the result of drawing into one of my monoprints – the top image is the untouched monoprint and the lower is the enhanced version. In some areas I have added a lot of detail, in others I have left the original marks almost untouched. Overall, I have tried to bring the image together, to create a unified whole that tells a story. Its the kind of thing where I could keep working in to it, maybe I will, but for now I think it is done. Using coloured pencils in a limited range of tertiary colours leaves the monoprint colours intact below. However, it may end up being divided into smaller pieces, so that the eye can focus on more contained areas.

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Detail.

The overall image is about 43 x 34 cm.

Monoprints

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An area of printmaking I never much enjoyed was monoprints, but I have been converted. There can be a lot of pleasure in starting with a sheet of acetate and a selection of printing inks and just randomly adding marks. There is a purpose behind doing these, I don’t see them as artworks as they are, but as a base for drawing into, developing the marks that appear or manipulating them into a new image.

Strictly speaking what I am doing are monotypes – a monoprint is a print made on a plate which already has an image on it, usually an etching, but it can be done on a relief plate too. Instead of inking it up and printing an edition of identical images, for a monoprint the plate is inked up in a unique way that can’t easily be repeated, hence ‘mono’. A monotype is made on an unmarked plate – in my case 1mm acetate, or it can be glass or any other impermeable smooth surface. Some artists do a regular painting, then transfer it to paper either by hand-rubbing or putting it through a press, but I am simply making random marks. Interesting results can be obtained as a ghost print, in other words, putting the plate through the press a second time when a lot of the ink has been lifted off. These can be beautiful, delicate images, perfect for drawing into.

The main image above is one that I have started working into, but not yet finished – part of the right hand side has been worked, using coloured pencils and some pen and ink, you should be able to see the difference between the two sides. Once it is finished it may remain complete, but if I find there are elements of it I like, it may well get cut up and remade into something new.

The gallery below has several prints that are just awaiting attention – they may look like a splotchy mess, but to me they are ripe with possibility! Once they are worked into I will post an update.

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Miniature sketchbook

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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.

Miniature portraits

 

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.

Freycinet – from the sketchbook

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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

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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!

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