Portrait collaborations

Towards the end of 2016 a friend, Sue Rawlinson, and I agreed to start collaborating on artworks together. There are two elements to the collaboration, one is portraits, the other is small concertina books, which I will document in another post. We agreed on a size – 15 x 15 cm – and on the paper we would use, Arches 300 gsm smooth, and beyond that it was up to each of us to decide what medium, style or technique to use. We would each draw a portrait – it could be a real person or an invention, then pass it to the other to enhance.

To start with we each had some apprehension about what damage we might do to one another’s work, but confidence grew and we both happily added and altered the portraits as they came to us. As we were both involved in other projects sometimes weeks passed between bursts of energy. By now we have each completed about 15 drawings, but some are still works in progress. Below you will see 18, nine from each of us, that have been worked on.

Next year we are hoping to have an exhibition together and the portraits and the concertina books will be a big feature – we won’t necessarily use all the portraits, but choose those that we feel work best, but ideally have a large display. To see more of Sue’s work go to http://suerawlinson.blogspot.com.au

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The Kimberley in July, Part 2

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Twelve drawings are now complete, so the next stage will be working out how to put them together in a book. I think it will be a concertina, as this gives the opportunity to see the sequence of the images.

See the previous post (here) for more background to where the imagery for these postcard-sized drawings comes from. Below are the final six.

Odds and ends at the end of the year

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a range of different artworks, in a somewhat disjointed way. I have had the (totally delightful) distraction of the unexpectedly early arrival of my first grandchild, a little girl called Lumi. She was tiny, but is thriving, clearly a determined individual! And now the lead-up to Christmas provides other distractions.

On one day last week I heard that I had made two sales, very different artworks in different places. One was a painting, sold through Bluethumb, an online gallery. I have had work there for about a year and a half and had previously sold two paintings to the same buyer, but that was all, so this was a nice surprise. The other sale was one of my miniature hand-made books which was in an end of year group show, this too was quite unexpected. Neither work is new, but I had faith in them both, so it is good to know people liked them! The painting is called ‘Enigma’ and is oil on board and the book is called ‘Sleeping Beauty in Short, a book in a box’.

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Etching is a print medium I have always loved, but have done little of in recent years. It is time-consuming and heavy on equipment, so when a printmaker friend who is also a magnificent teacher said she was going to conduct two mentor workshops in using aluminium plates (as opposed to copper or zinc which I have used in the past) I seized the opportunity. We had a small group of wonderful artists, it was an enormously pleasurable experience and I was reminded of the scope within etching, and how much I enjoy it. There are a few fundamental differences with using aluminium – the acid for etching is very gentle, and easily accessible from any hardware store, and there is no need to go through the complexities of applying aquatint in order to create tones, as when areas of the aluminium are left exposed in the acid, it bites leaving a texture on the plate. The darkness of the tone can be controlled by how long the plate is left in the acid – it can be pulled out and blockout applied to the areas to be kept lighter. The downside is that it can be unpredictable, and it is more difficult to obtain the clear, fine lines that are possible on copper or zinc, but this unpredictability is what I am hoping to exploit when I make more plates next year. The first image below was comparatively controlled, the second one is the same size (10 x 15 cm) and was more experimental in the way I blocked out areas, then wiped off bits of the blockout in an almost random way.

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Drawing into my monoprints is continuing – a never-ending source of surprise and pleasure! The image below is a small part (about 20 x 20 cm) of a larger piece, with a ghost mono print underneath, worked into with coloured pencils. I am now thinking of simply taking the elements that work from these larger pieces and treating them as small finished works. I haven’t come up with a title for this one, so any suggestions welcomed!

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I am so grateful for the continuing support from the people who visit this blog, and who follow me on Instagram and Facebook. So many developments and new directions have come from the intelligent and thoughtful comments that you go to the trouble to make. I am constantly inspired by seeing the work of artists I follow too, so thank you, have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas, and looking forward to an inspired and productive New Year!

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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Water soluble pencils


Since I can’t resist art supplies shops, I tend to collect materials that look interesting – the most recent acquisition was a set of 6 water soluble graphite pencils. These are interesting to work with and require different thinking from normal graphite pencils. Something I like about them is the fact it is possible to get a painterly quality to a drawing, the water marks can add a new dimension. Another interesting quality is that adding water takes away the shine of graphite which can be unappealing at times. 

The top two drawings are small (postcard size) which is convenient while I am travelling. These are on rough watercolour paper, so have a natural looseness to them. The other two are larger, about 25cm square, on smoother paper, so they have a cleaner finish. 

These have all been inspired by plants of various kinds. 

Adding a wash of watercolour adds something else as well. I’m enjoying this, so the experiments will continue!

Back to basics

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Every now and then it’s good to remind yourself about the basics of what you do – about 10 days ago I attended a one-day drawing workshop. The teacher had set up a series of still-life objects along a long table, and gave us various techniques for getting the form, using charcoal, graphite, ink in various degrees of dilution, water-soluble pastels, regular pastels. The techniques weren’t new to me, I have used them many times before, but haven’t used them for quite some time, and this was a good brain refresher. It was about being quite loose, building the forms and working back into them. For most of the morning I couldn’t find my pace and felt fairly lost, but once I gave up trying too hard and just let go, interesting marks emerged.

A large bust of Julius Caesar was the catalyst for me getting into it – by the fourth drawing I had regained my confidence and enthusiasm to do more. I wasn’t looking to get a good likeness, just interesting marks. I’ve realised it takes me a while to settle into a new way of working – when I have done workshops in the past, it’s been only right at the end that I get going, and have the ‘Ah-ha’ moment, so I probably need to do more and really get myself moving more quickly.

Below are four of the drawings I did of the bust, in chronological order. I find it interesting to see how they became less tentative.

This Friday I decided to continue working with these techniques, but using better paper, and have come out with work I find interesting. I’m not sure how much more of this kind of work I will do – in some ways it feels quite foreign, but in others very exciting. Maybe I need to persist a bit more!

100 days under canvas – home again!

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So now we are home again … in the end it was 98 days under canvas, but who’s counting? Extreme heat (high 30s C) then heavy rain prevented us lingering in the back of New South Wales, but that will be easy enough to revisit at another time.

Now to collate the photos, sort the memories and compile the data. The statistics are Neil’s job, but basically we travelled over 16,200 km, used just over 2000 litres of diesel, and camped in 61 different places. No major breakdowns, no flat tyres, a few small wear and tear breakages – switches, catches, that sort of thing. There were highs and lows, times when were ready to chuck it all in and go home, and times of astonishing, mind boggling beauty that made it all worthwhile. Roads that were kilometres of boredom, and others that we had to stop frequently because the flowers and bushes at the side of the road were so exquisite. So for a list of highs and lows, let’s start with the lows:

  • The first two weeks were cold and wet – the moral to this is get out of the Eastern states as soon as possible when travelling in winter!
  • Wind – way too much of it, but as someone said to us that is what you get in Western Australia at this time of year. We were driven mad by canvas flapping and tent poles creaking all night long, and the worry that the whole camper would blow inside out. We had sand blown into a vortex underneath, so that a deep hole formed beneath on one side and sand poured inside on the other.
  • A few scary driving moments, my particular one was when I was stuck behind a three-trailer road train and had to overtake. The road was narrow, the road train was over the centre line and the sides were soft. I got it past but nearly lost control. NEVER again! It didn’t help, just a few minutes later seeing workmen gathering up the remains of a caravan that was smashed to pieces on the side of the road.
  • Some of the places we very much looked forward to were disappointing – Cape Leveque, north of Broome was one. The beaches were still beautiful, but the camping area was dirty and crowded.
  • We had one night that was very hot, still 29C at 10.30 pm. But surprisingly, that was the only one that made sleeping difficult.
  • Someone stole one of our sheets from the washing line in Broome, and my favourite shorts were taken from the washing line in Albany. We have never experienced this travelling before.

And the highs:

  • The big one has to be the flowers – we knew that we would be likely to miss the orchids, travelling in late spring, but we were astonished at how broad the variety of flowering plants was, and from much further north than we expected, right to the far south coast. Beekeepers Reserve, outside Mullewa was an incredibly rich area of plant diversity. As we walked, every step showed us new and different plants. Another treasure trove was near Ravensthorpe, along a route with designated points of interest. it was partly normal road, partly 4 wheel drive, great views of the area, and this was where we saw the strange but beautiful Tennis Ball Banksia.
  • The Painted Desert – extraordinary landforms, with layers of colour. A feeling of being in a really ancient landscape.
  • Station stays – camping on a working cattle or sheep station is almost always a great experience. Simple showers, often in corrugated iron sheds, but plenty of hot water, very often a communal camp fire and always good company, sitting around the fire in the evening. We got many tips of places to go and things to see from people we met.
  • Fossicking. We had never done this before, but have now got the bug! First we searched for garnets – seeing the deep pink sparkle in the sieve as they appear is so exciting! Then we searched for zircons, and the same story.
  • Middle Lagoon – we camped there after Cape Leveque, and it restored our faith in the Dampier Peninsula. The spot we got was on the edge of the cliff above the beach, the most perfect view. We watched humpback whales playing right in front of us.
  • The landscape from Port Hedland to Exmouth, via Tom Price and Wittenoom (a sad, strange abandoned asbestos mining town, with signs warning of death from asbestos) and along the northern edge of Karijini National Park, where the scenery was as striking as it is inside the national park. At the beginning of this road is where we first saw the Sturt Desert Peas.
  • The birds – we didn’t see a huge number of animals, but lots of birds. Flocks of green budgies, butcher birds singing their hearts out, the strange call of the blue-winged kookaburra, a bustard running down the road ahead of us, emus, carnaby black cockatoos, ring neck parrots and many more.
  • Snorkelling at Coral Bay – just floating amongst masses of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes, going about their normal business on the reef was a magical experience. The coral was mostly not very colourful, but had wonderful shapes and textures.
  • Elle’s beach – this was a mixed experience as the wind was very strong and constant here, but the beach was one of the most beautiful we have been to. It was on a sheep station called Warroora, and we had the beach almost to ourselves. The sea was quite wild but a wonderful deep turquoise and the sand white, covered with more giant clam shells than I have ever seen. When the tide went out, we could walk on the reef and see fish, anemones and urchins in the deep, clear pools left behind.
  • Bush camping in the Toolonga Nature Reserve by a series of small pools – dozens of flowering bushes, eremophilas in every colour, birds everywhere but otherwise so quiet! In the morning we waited quietly by one of the larger pools to see the birds coming down to drink, including three emus, grunting to one another.
  • Hamersley Beach in the Fitzgerald national Park. We reached this beach after a bush walk of half and hour or so, on a day threatening rain, dark heavy clouds looming. Walking around a corner on to the beach was jaw dropping – all along the beach were sharp, angled rocks jutting up, the sea was turquoise in the shallower parts and purple in the deep, and there were masses of tiny pink scallop shells scattered all along the white sand beach. The colours and textures of the rocks were rich and intense. I think the dark skies enhanced the other-wordly nature of this place.
  • Mt Ive station, in the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. The people provide mud maps of several 4 wheel drive tracks around the property, which we took advantage of. Amazing scenery including Organ Pipes, which are rock formations which look just like their name, tall pillars, some tipping over, others lining the path of waterfalls. They also gave us access to Lake Gairdner, a massive salt lake. Pure white, it was an impressive sight and a very strange sensation to walk on.
  • There were towns we enjoyed too, in particular Albany and Broken Hill, both of which require more time spent there.

There are so many more things, but this has turned into a marathon! As I digest all the experiences more will come to mind, and different feelings emerge. Already the difficult parts are fading and the memories of the good bits getting stronger.

To finish for now, here is a gallery of the last of the sketches. Click to see them full size.