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.
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!!
Liquid Pencil is a medium I keep returning to. It has an unpredictability that I like, surprises emerge that I can take further. This drawing is on Yupo paper, which has a plastic-like surface, not at all appealing for regular drawing as it is slippery and resists most media, but Liquid Pencil pools and smears in ways that I can use by drawing into with an 8B graphite pencil. I used an old, poor-quality paintbrush to apply the Liquid Pencil. Hairs were coming out and dragged behind adding to the unpredictability of the resultant forms. I twisted and flopped the brush in an uncontrolled way. The only level of control that I imposed was to have the marks diminishing as they came down the sheet. My favourite marks were those that were very light, they offer more opportunities for working into.
The resultant forms are reminiscent of animals, birds, insects, underwater creatures, but none are identifiable with anything we recognise.
Within our world are many other worlds, tiny, incomprehensible, outside our imagining. In a cloud of dust particles may be creatures and lives we cannot know. The creatures in my drawing come from these other worlds – I do not know what they are, but they have a beauty of their own, a history we can create for them but never know the truth of. The truth is what we make, and everyone who sees them will have a different truth.
The paper is 50 x 40 cm. Below are detail images – black and white images on Yupo are very difficult to photograph well, so I apologise for the uneven tonal qualities.
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.