Easter treats

Prize winning goats

Prize winning goats

I’m not sure if this happens around the world, but in Australia, for those of us that live in the city, every Easter the Royal Agricultural Show comes to town. It was originally established in the late 1800s as a way to bring attention and promote the state’s agricultural produce and industry. And it still does to some extent but they have thrown in fun fair rides, foods, amusements and so on too. But its usual tag is when the country comes to the city.

Dog judging competition

Dog judging competition

As a child it was all about the sample bags, or as they are now called, showbags – overpriced bags of small packs of confectionery or cheap ‘made in China’ toys that for some reason are irresistibly a good bargain. But now as an adult, and part-time artist, it provides a refreshing variety of things to draw.

One great thing about going to the Easter Show, what it is commonly called, is that it is all about interaction and getting up close with the animals. Although many are in pens you can still stand close enough to get some good details unlike the zoo. I wish I had more time to get to all the animal pavilions but I was pooped by the afternoon. All the sketches were drawn with a blue biro pen.

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The Farmyard Nursery was great. Some of the animals were penned but they had a lot of baby goats and sheep walking around. A lot better since I was a kid. Speaking of kids, I had one little kid who I think found sanctity underneath me from some excited children.

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Another highlight was drawing the woodchopping. Not the easiest to do but very compelling and addictive. Partly because each woodchopping heat would last only minutes and their movements aren’t as repetitive as I hoped, so it took some time to observe the movements and body stances.

But they have such wonderful and dynamic movement when they swing and aim their axes, not just with the arms but the legs and back. I  made two visits to the woodchopping arena that day. I think if I go to the show next year I either buy a 2-day pass and spend one entire day just drawing them.

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Cheers and happy easter!


Chinese New Year, Part II

A week after the first lot of drawings, the lion dancing performances intensified but I still fitted in some sketches in between all the rushing around. If you would like a larger view of the sketch, just click on the image

This is a shop entrance that sells Chinese ornaments and decorative hangings. If you think the doorway is jam packed you should see the inside.


Usually around 3pm we get to have something to eat, usually…


This is a pole jumping performance, where the lion jumps, runs, swings, bounds, cavorts ;P across a series of 4-10ft poles with very little cushioning below. As you can see in the tree it was a bit windy that day, not great conditions for jumping.


While waiting for our next orders,  I sat on the footpath opposite Market City (a shopping centre) and started to sketch the old features of the building. I didnt get far as I bumped into an old family friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

Our next performance I tried to capture the firecrackers going off behind the lion, but it just looks like a christmas tree. Ha, ha!cny2014_14LRThe school also does dragon dances, which I dont have the muscle for (you have to hold it up with a pole, run and move it from side to side). This was drawn at our gym where everything was stored for the new year.

Again waiting for the lion dance to start. This was out at Flemington in front of the local bbq shop. A queue started to form which wasn’t there when I first started.cny2014_10LR

Back in Chinatown for another peformance. The Sydney mayor and other politicians were doing the rounds with us, but I think the crowds were more excited by seeing about five lions together. It looks like a paparazzi moment.cny2014_11LR

Getting one of the vehicles ready to head out for a performance.There is an art (or science) to packing a vehicle full of lion dance equipment.

cny2014_12LR One of the last venues on my schedule was the Randwick racecourse for a corporate function. Unfortunately we couldn’t wait around outside where the horses were, but hidden away from the approaching guests until we had to perform. I would have much rather drawn them than a boring race track.cny2014_13LR


Chinese New Year

All sketches drawn with a black Artline pen and coloured with a waterbrush

All sketches drawn with a black Artline pen and coloured with a waterbrush

I’m a member of a kung fu school in Sydney (although to be more accurate, a lapsed student for a few years now) but when I can I help out at Chinese New Year with lion dancing duties. For those unaware of what lion dancing is please check out this link to my school, Jin Wu Koon‘s website. Admittedly I haven’t been to this in a couple of years too and limited myself to just playing cymbals.

The three lion heads waiting patiently for the festivities to begin.

As there is always a lot of waiting time to start I took my sketch book along. And Chinatown in Sydney is always quite interesting to draw any ordinary day of the week.

Another patient onlooker waiting for the "show" to start

Another patient onlooker waiting for the “show” to start

…okay, he wasn’t that patient. He moved around every ten seconds.



Cockatoo Island revisited

Big outing out with the Sydney Sketch Club on Saturday and the venue was Cockatoo Island which has become a bit of a happy hunting ground for me in terms of successful art exploration (see my first visit here). I think it’s primarily due to it being this huge industrial site where you can use any materials, spread out and not worry about making a mess. Plus… there are all the rockin’ cranes and machinery left behind. I also had a few new art supplies (thanks to some friends)so I was hoping to test them out as well.

The first one was drawn with a permanent white Sharpie, and I drew on the back of a breakfast cereal pack. I’m not use to drawing on tonal backgrounds so kept forgetting to NOT colour in the dark areas but instead to use the tone of the card to represent that.

SSC CockatooIsland LR 1

White sharpie on a cereal pack

The sketch below I wetted the paper before applying the watercolour background so the colours would blend in more and not have so many hard edges. Then once it dried I got out my trusty dip pen and drew in the crane with indian ink. I’ve drawn in this “jaggedy” free-flowing style before but for some reason it was really different this time. I think I applied more restraint to my linework – trying not to make it too busy and overwork it. For instance, normally I would finish the rest of that wheel you see in the bottom left hand corner, but instinctively I stopped myself from doing it. I was so happy with this, which doesn’t happen all the time. In my brain what makes a good piece of art is when you can keep looking at it and get lost in it, always finding something interesting or aesthetically pleasing to study.

Watercolours and dip pen  with ink

Watercolours and dip pen with ink

How do I choose what to use and in what style? A lot of the times it’s inspired by the subject matter. It can still be quite fuzzy in my head but you just have to go with your gut feeling. But… sometimes it just doesn’t happen. And that can be a gut feeling too. It’s not that the below drawing would have been bad or wrong if I continued to finish it, but as I started to ink in the line it didn’t feel like it was gelling together with the background. It felt like I was trying to merge two completely pictures together, so I decided to scrap it.

watercolour and dip pen with ink

Unfinished – watercolour and dip pen with ink

This one was drawn again on a cereal pack but with one of those kids multi-coloured pencils. I love this medium, it’s so exciting, but probably not best on a coloured background. Only some of the colours are showing through.

Multi-coloured pencil

Multi-coloured pencil

This next one was using those Japanese disposable felt pens where the nibs are shaped like brushes. This drawing was just a filler till we had to meet up at lunchtime. It didn’t take me as long as I thought. They look like prototypes for Daleks.

Coloured brush pens

Coloured brush pens

After lunch I explored another part of the island and I took a break from drawing cranes. These towers had a large brick pattern across it so I thought I’d play around with that.

Watercolours and coloured ink with dip pen

Watercolours and coloured ink with dip pen

This next one I absolutely love. I know its in my style, but I can’t believe I did this. Again I wetted the paper first then threw on watercolour and I love those areas where it has bled and gone fuzzy. But the greatest achievement in my opinion is that I have made a very complicated subject matter look like a complete unit. As if all my lines are connected and complement each other. There’s balance, interest, movement and unity. So it was worth sitting through this despite all the freakin’ ants biting me as I sat on the ground, and the gale force wind that was brewing up towards the end.

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Watercolour with dip pen and indian ink

Hopefully this breakthrough will transfer into my other drawings and at other locations, and it’s not something that only seems to happen in what I feel is like a spiritual ground for me.

Till next time, thanks for stopping by.


Newcastle USK

Newcastle, Queens Wharf

Newcastle, Queens Wharf

The first Urban Sketchers Australia outing for the year was a day trip to Newcastle. Over two hours by train from Sydney – the three things I always associate with this city are – surfing beaches, mining and the rugby league team, Newcastle Knights.

I had never been there before (I know, shameful) so I decided to stay overnight. If there was anything we missed, I had a chance to see it the next day. But the weather was so sunny hot, I ended leaving Sunday around noon – everywhere I wanted to draw had no shaded areas to sit under. The sun was relentless, it was just too damn hard. But I got a bit done and I’m happy that I came away with some interesting paintings.

So enjoy, and Happy 2014!

Stephenson Place

USK Newcastle 1 scene

I pencilled in the structure with an Inktense pencil

USK Newcastle 1 stage 1

Then threw lots of watercolour in for the background.

USK Newcastle 1 stage 2

To give contrast to the very loose splashy areas I selected areas for a more detailed execution. To tie the whole picture together I kept my palette to four or five colours.

USK Newcastle 1 stage 3

The above images were photos I took of the different stages on location, and after cleaning them up in photoshop they look different from the finished art scan, so apologies for that. I finished off the scene with a dip pen and indian ink, but held back on the linework so it wouldn’t take over the entire piece.

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Newcastle Beach

USK Newcastle 3 scene
I shaped the scene with a few inktense pencils.
USK Newcastle 3 stage 1To spread the colour instead of using water I used watercolours instead.
USK Newcastle 3 stage 2
I wasn’t sure how to finish this. I wished I had brought along my bottles of coloured ink but they can collectively weigh a bit. I’m not sure if I am a fan of landscape drawing as I really wanted to put lots of details in the rocks and cut-away hills, but it wouldn’t have helped me create a true perspective/depth of field drawing. If that makes sense.
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Newcastle, Queens Wharf

Later that afternoon we sat along the wharf, mostly longing to be sitting amongst the cranes and industrial buildings on the other side. But it was pleasant enough where we were.

USK Newcastle 4 scene USK Newcastle LR 3

Newcastle Cathedral

After a calf-burning hike up “The Hill” – I think naming it such was stating the obvious. The Cathedral had some interesting angles, sadly to capture them would mean sitting in full concentrated sunlight. My only option was across the road in a slither of shade. USK Newcastle 5 scene It was a very blocky cathedral and I didnt want it to look heavy and grounded, but make it lift up towards the sky. I thought the only way to achieve this was to not draw in the walls and all the various points and spiers, but keep it very loose and free.USK Newcastle 5 stage 1I added details only in the areas that jumped out at me and that gave the building character.

USK Newcastle 5 stage 2
And the finished piece below – I thought about inking in linework but I only had indian ink and it would have been too overpowering.USK Newcastle LR 5

Back to the Beach

I headed back to the beach on Sunday because I love all the rock formations. Again, it was too painfully hot to sit out under the sun to get any closer. So I found a little refuge in the shade of a street lamp! Lucky it was a big street lamp.
USK Newcastle 6 scene

I used inktense pencils and a waterbrush pen only, and kept layering it. Lucky it was good drying weather, so I didn’t have to wait that long inbetween washes.USK Newcastle 6 stage 1 USK Newcastle 6 stage 2 USK Newcastle 6 stage 3 USK Newcastle 6 stage 4 USK Newcastle 6 stage 5
I wasn’t particularly happy with the result because I couldn’t get the texture and shapes of the worn down rocks (which is what I love). I think I was positioned to far to capture it the way I wanted to.USK Newcastle LR 6
If you would like to see the work of my fellow sketchers from this weekend, please visit USK Australia.

The Art of Onikenbai

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The final artwork

In November a team of Onikenbai performers travelled to Sydney to perform as well as conduct workshops. For those not in the know Onikenbai is a traditional Japanese dance. Although they are dressed like warriors – wearing oni (demon) masks and carrying katanas (swords), it is actually a Buddhist-inspired dance that acknowledges their ancestry, and the movements symbolise the cleansing of the air and the protection of the earth that they farm. It is not even practiced nationally within Japan which makes it even more unique.


Image courtesy of TaikOz

As students of TaikOz we are fortunate that our teachers learn directly from the Iwasaki Onikenbai Hozonaki (Preservation Society) of Iwate Prefecture, the oldest practitioners of onikenbai, and then share their knowledge with the rest of us back in Sydney. It is not an easy dance to learn – its physically demanding, which I believe is part of the ritual cleansing process, and very layered in the feeling and spirit in which you have to dance.

It was a great honour to have an entire team visit us in Australia – to see them perform in the flesh and to learn from them, so I decided to make a gift for them as a thank you.

The concept

Thumbnails in the beginning, to try and interpret what was inside my head.

Thumbnails in the beginning, to try and interpret what was inside my head.

The TaikOz community has given me lots of opportunities and inspiration to drawn and paint in the past. The bulk of it being sketches with an ink brush, and to be frank I’m a little over that style. I find when creating art, once I have “worked” a style quite regularly I cant continue it as I get bored – there’s nothing more I can learn from it. It feels like work rather than fun.

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More developments

I thought I’d challenge myself by creating a linocut. I’ve only done one or two in the past and was dying to do another one. I was familiar with the techniques and had all the tools, it was more a matter of if I could get it done in time. But that’s never stopped me before.

Another issue I had to overcome was how to come up with a linocut design that showed the constant movement of this dance. It’s very elastic in it’s feel, e.g as soon as you stretch out you pull back in, as soon as you push down you come back up. It’s a very complex dance. One has to move with lightness but stay very grounded, it has to be dynamic but show restraint, it has to be masculine but graceful. Generally linocut designs are very line heavy or kind of chunky and angular so I needed to express all this in the picture.

Developing the final image

Developing the final image

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I felt that not drawing in the complete figure gave the whole picture more movement

Photo reference was hard to come by, so in the end I had to use my own experience and learnings to get the pose I wanted. I did a few colour thumbnails first to work out how I was going to use colour. The colour choices were largely based on the dominant colours of the fan and uniform. I wasn’t totally convinced I was on the right track, but I felt that if I could make it work as a quick sketch it should work as a linocut.

The final drawing, after many alterations

The final drawing, after many alterations

Aftern scanning the original, I exaggerated the brightness and contrast to get a much cleaner image.

Aftern scanning the original, I exaggerated the brightness and contrast to get a much cleaner image.

A Herculean task

The largest sheet of lino I could get was 300mm x 300mm, but I would have preferred something a bit bigger. I drew up the final design on cartridge paper and it took me awhile to get it right. I scanned it in and adjusted the levels to get rid of all my extra markings and sized it to what I wanted. Once done, I printed it out and shaded in the other side with a stick of willow charcoal. This was going to be my carbon print that would help me transfer my image onto the lino.

The first couple of cuts

The first couple of cuts

Different steps and tools I used

Different steps and tools I used

I taped the design down onto the lino and used a biro pen to trace over my artwork. It worked really well as the imprint didn’t fade from the lino throughout the whole carving process. So off I went on my big lino cutting adventure. I wont talk about the tips and techniques of this medium because my experience is very limited.

To see if my cutting was clear and distinct I did a pencil rubbing to see if it came through

To see if my cutting was clear and distinct I did a pencil rubbing to see if it came through

What I will say is that lino cutting is sooo much fun, so therapeutic. I had to ask myself why I didn’t do it more often. I like mediums that have a strong character and qualities that tend to influence your own style and technique as you work.

The final piece

The final piece

It took me two weeks and weekends of long late night labour and once I made the final cut it was all done! I sat back, pumped, and looked at my completed mission, feeling really proud of myself and excited about the coming printing stage when I realised…

This is the dumb bit

What my picture would look like printed as a linocut

What my picture would look like printed as a linocut

I didn’t flip my design when I transferred it to the lino cut! It had completely escaped my mind when I began. I made a mental note to reverse the image weeks before, but completely forgot it once I started cutting. Some of you might say that it looks fine and no one could tell it was wrong, but it is. Onikenbai is danced with the fan in the right hand and the sword in the left hand. ALWAYS!! If I was printing it for the general public, yes they would be totally clueless, but it was for the professionals. People who have been practicing this dance since…forever!

What was I going to do? All my energy completely drained from me. I couldn’t entertain the thought of doing another one as I was so exhausted at the end of it plus I didn’t have time. I was so angry at myself for being that stupid. I was in a state and was desperately working out how I could salvage this.

This is the smart bit

That’s when I thought of getting it reproduced as a silk screenprint. I would make one lino print in black, scan it, flip it in photoshop, print it out and use that to create a screen. Could that work? How would I get it done? Would I be able to get it done in time.

Flipped in photoshop

Flipped in photoshop

Thankfully I came across a screenprinter who runs small workshops and not that far from me too. I sent her a email to see if she could make the screens for me and how much it would cost. I spent a very sleepless night hoping it wasn’t an old ad or a dead end. Thankfully she replied. Not only could I get the screens made by her but I could print them all myself if I signed up for a one day workshop. I was so relieved. And screenprinting was another creative thing I had on my checklist of “things to do” for awhile so it was great to tick that one off as well.

Workin’ it

My spirit was a little better. Anxious, but better. One good thing about putting it through photoshop was I could muck around with colour choices and decide beforehand what I wanted. I also changed the background layer too and inversed it, meaning there would be more colour printed rather than a white paper background.

Marking up my original background linocut.

Marking up my original background linocut.

The workshop was great. I was shown, and involved in, putting my images onto the screens and prepping them too, so I learnt about all the different stages of screenprinting. As each stage started to come together I got more and more excited. And I guess it wasn’t until I put the second, and final, layer of colour on that I sighed a huge relief that it worked. (Anyone interested in the workshops in Sydney click here)

My two options for background - the black area indicates the printed colour area

My two options for background – the black area indicates the printed colour area

Photoshop gave me the opportunity to try out different colour options, which saved me a lot of time and guesswork

Photoshop gave me the opportunity to try out different colour options, which saved me a lot of time and guesswork

I was really happy with the result. The colours were strong and I was amazed at how much of the detail came through. The trickiest part was lining up the black layer with the red, particularly where the mask was as that had to be a clean white. But I kind of liked that they were occasionally a little out of register, it gave some animation to the image.

And yay, the ogi and katana (fan and sword) were in the correct hands!!

Onikenbai Workshop

Three weeks later we had our workshops and they were awesome. It was amazing to watch them the night of their performance, but to then learn from them was incredibly fulfilling. Basically, it rocked. Despite my body begging for mercy for it to end (three days later I still cant walk properly), I could do it again in a heartbeat. Oh, yeah and they really liked my prints too. Double YAY!

Quick sketches during a performance

Quick sketches during a performance

Iwasaki_Onikenbai_2_LRWe were also very lucky to get a private performance from them in full costume on the last day of our workshop, which gave me a chance to draw them. I fought the urge several times over during their “tour” because this was an opportunity to learn, not draw, but I gave in towards the end.


Not an easy task – drawing someone or something that moves so quickly in so many directions. For those unfamiliar with onikenbai it might be hard to see what’s happening in the sketches, but I got a nod of approval from the most senior member that I got it right. Smiley face!



A rainy weekend full of sunshine

Japanese sumi watercolours and brushes

Japanese sumi watercolours and brushes

Two years ago I started to meet up regularly with three of my sketching friends to work on our Sketchbook Projects. We enjoyed the catch ups so much that after the project was over we decided to continue the drawing sessions but work on our own projects. We sketch, eat and chat (not necessarily in that order) for most of a day once a month.

All systems go - only four of the smaller bags were our clothes.

All systems go – only four of the smaller bags were our clothes.

A topic that always seemed to pop up in our conversations was how we have all bought, or been given, art supplies and never have the chance to try them out. Or how we would like to try out different styles or approaches that we don’t normally sketch with.

So I came up with an idea of the four of us heading off somewhere for a weekend and spend the whole time trying out and experimenting with a lot of the art supplies we own, and more importantly, to do something different. That was the paramount objective. The golden rule was to NOT use what we normally sketch or paint with, or in the style we always use. However, there were no rules on how you used the new mediums or what you drew.

Packed and... un packed

Packed and… un packed

We booked a “summer” house up in the Blue Mountains, 90 minutes out of Sydney. It was listed to be able to accommodate up to 8 people, but with all our equipment it was just enough space. Although this area is a wonderful and popular tourist location, we banned any sight-seeing, eating out and scenic drives and closed the doors for much creative art-making.

and this stuff.

and this stuff.

When we unpacked all the supplies it was quite intimidating at first but as we tested out some things that night, so we were able to go to bed with some plan of attack for the next day.

Bring it on

After a brisk morning walk we got stuck into it. We eased in with a 10 minute warm up where we all grabbed three different mediums and drew a picture. Then it was all systems go and nobody needed any prompting for the next one, or the next, or the next.

Because we only had one full day of art we even minimised time spent making lunch and dinner, by having a cold antipasto buffet for lunch where everyone could pick and eat as they worked, and for dinner we let the oven do all the cooking and popped a lamb roast and vegges in the oven. The dinner table was covered more with paint brushes and paints than cutlery and plates the whole day.

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My 10 min starter featuring our fifth adventurer we dubbed as “Numb”.

Collage and mixed media is something I dont dabble in a lot. It requires patience, and cupboard space to collect just too many things to make up these pictures. Although it was fun, and I could do it every now and then, I didn’t find it as satisfying as drawing or painting a picture. Its more about cutting, gluing, sponging and so on.

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Getting stuck into it

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The finished piece

Another one I did using old Chinese prayer books, red packets, gouache, indian ink and a gold oil pastel

Another one I did using old Chinese prayer books, red packets, gouache, indian ink and a gold oil pastel on the back of a cereal box.

I’ve been clearing out the family home and I found a box full of old Gestetner carbon paper. My mum used to work as a school assistant and when I was growing up, this stuff was used to reproduce work stencils and school newsletters. I think most from my generation, and past ones, will remember this stuff quite fondly. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.

Gestetner paper

Gestetner paper

Anyway, the carbon still worked well and we started to experiment with it. Another thing that was quite exciting about it was when you applied water to your finished drawing, the purple coloured exploded everywhere and gave an interesting bleed to your linework.

I placed my drawing paper inbetween

I placed my drawing paper inbetween

Typically you would use a hard pen/biro to write on it or typewriter. But I found a 4B pencil gave a great result.

Typically you would use a hard pen/biro to write on it or a typewriter. But I found a 4B pencil gave a great result.

The "carbon" copy

The “carbon” copy

i added copy to give it texture

i added copy to give it texture

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I then washed water over the background and used watercolours on the centre object.

I then washed water over the background and used watercolours on the centre object.

My mixed media piece using gestetner paper, blue biro pen, water soluble crayons and drawn on cut out pages from a second-hand story books.

My mixed media piece using gestetner paper, blue biro pen, water soluble crayons and an old writing pad.

I tried using some of the plastic stencils with acrylic paints. These were fun but I think it takes a bit of trialling to get it to do what you want it to do.

Acrylic paints and stencils

Acrylic paints and stencils on a vintage cash book

All of us had our own objectives to achieve this weekend. Mine was to try and put more “interest” in my pictures. What I mean is to give it more direction and more contrast, whether it is through light/shade, busy/quiet, loose/tight. While the others wanted to loosen up and be more expressive, I wanted to reign that looseness in and find that balance between drawing purely with instinct and executing some discpline.

First layer was using Derwent XL Charcoal that is water soluble.

First layer was using Derwent XL Charcoal & Graphite that is water soluble which I wetted with a short-hair dry brush

Then I went over it with Derwent Inktense pencils, and used a dry brush to paint with.

Then I went over it with Derwent Inktense pencils and continued with the dry brush.

Finished piece - after several layers

Finished piece – after several layers or inktense pencils

I was quite happy in the end. My goal was to lead the eye around the page through the dark blue shadows under the waves and rock, so that your eyes are moving in a continuous spiral.

Then a straight up acrylic paint picture and I kept my palette down to three colours. I also tried not to mix the colours too much beforehand, but rather let them mix on the paper. The key in this picture was to use the black sparingly, keep it “unblemished” and hoped that it tied the whole picture together. I also wanted to created balance between the flat surfaces and the textured areas.


Acrylic paint on paper

My next one was from photos I took of some old building blocks. Initially I wanted to play around with the strong lighting and shapes. So I used another water soluble medium, and wanted to spread the colour with my old Letraset markers I used to use for storyboarding. But they were sooooo dry I couldn’t barely colour in one side of a block. Thus, I lost track of what I wanted to accomplish in my attempt to get some ink out of these pens. I will say this, they didnt get re-packed for the trip home!

Started off with

Started off with Portfolio 24 Water Soluble Oil Pastels – a very smooth flowing medium

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At the beginning of my attempt to use half-dried Letraset markers

At the beginning of my attempt to use half-dried Letraset markers

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The finished piece

For the last one of the weekend I wanted to apply this new approach to materials I DO use all the time (ok I broke the house rules), but I really wanted to exercise some discipline with my splashes of colour and free flowing lines so that it had quieter spaces and points of interest.

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Inktense and watercolours

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colour inks with dip pen and more watercolours

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and… a bit more of the same

It was a great weekend, and for anybody else who might have spent the weekend in the Blue Mountains, the unrelenting cold rain, hail and mist (in spring!) would have ruined their time away. But for us it was the perfect weather for staying in and being creative.

Below are some of the results from my friends. If you would like to see more of their stuff, please click on their names below.



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kaz e dru

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