Animals! Animals! Animals!

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Elephants – chinagraphs and watercolour

Back in January I went down to Melbourne for a short break to catch up with some friends, and in particular sketching friends.

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Gorilla – chinagraphs, oil pastels and watercolour

I chose  Melbourne Zoo as a location for a day out having not been there since I was probably 16. Its very different from what I remember, a lot more trees and winding paths. The weather never started out well my whole trip but always ended up better as the day progressed.

Orang-utans - oil pastels
Orangutans – oil pastels

There was a bit of rain in the morning threatening to ruin the day for us but then the hot humid sun emerged an hour in which made things like finding a good spot to draw more open. However, I ended up scrambling for little scraps of shade anyway!

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Orangutan – oil pastels

As I was travelling I wanted to minimise what materials I took down with me. Even just sketching around Sydney I tend to take more than I need and there’s nothing more frustrating than a suitcase full of stuff that’s not used.

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Orangutans – oil pastels

I’ve got a new studio space at home now and have since sorted through all my art supplies. I have so much stuff that has barely been touched, a lot from when I was a kid! So my objective was to use some of this stash.

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tree kangaroo – oil pastel, watercolours, ink & dip pen

My selected tools were to be oil pastels, chinagraphs, watercolours with brush, ink and dip pen, and a permanent marker.

It was lovely to use oil pastels then brush over them with watercolours to get that nice texture created from the water’s repulsion.

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Elephant – watercolours and oil pastels

I’m really happy with this elephant. Considering it was through a window with many vertical bars obscuring the view, but my persistence paid off and frankly, I think having a limited view helped me pull back in terms of not overdoing it, i.e. not adding too much detail. I do love the textures I created and the white space, and I seemed to have captured a bit of personality as well.

Gorilla - chinagraph
Gorilla – chinagraph

I’m not sure why I decided to try out chinagraphs. I had a few that had never been touched – don’t even know where they came from. They have a strong colour and application that you would expect from a piece of charcoal or oil pastel but with more control on smaller drawings. They give you an opportunity to put some detail in and it’s not as messy. The black one has nice deep blacks which sometimes I find a 6B pencil won’t achieve. It’s really soft so using it the way I do wears down to the wood quickly but it does feels more fluid.

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Elephant – chinagraph

This last lot I did was with a black Artline permanent marker. I was using it on water soluble paper so it would dry my pen out half way through a sketch – which I was hoping for as it creates a nice texture and a subtle variation in tone as well.

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Colobus monkey – permanent marker

The great thing about working with a permanent marker AND drawing moving objects is that you cannot think too much or linger too long with your sketch. Its permanency and colour intensity means you can’t hide anything.  And if you leave a (fresh) marker too long in one spot it tends to bleed making your lines blurry. So its a great medium to practice expressive drawing.

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Colobus monkey – permanent marker

I didn’t see many animals that day but felt like I got some substantial drawing in. The only thing these drawings don’t show are how many other people you have to content with for a good spot as well as how generous an animal is with their time, or lack of.

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chinagraph

Then a week later I went horse riding at Centennial Park, Sydney with my work. It was a lead up to a brainstorming session for a new client that specialises in animal products, particularly horse care. I’d never been horse riding before so it was quite an experience. I take my hat off to anyone who rides horses for a living. As it was a work thing, I didn’t think I’d get much time to sketch, but I at least managed to fit this one in.

Anyway, not a bad start to the new year.

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Tricky insects

dip pen and ink
dip pen and ink

One afternoon I felt like doing some drawing. I do a bit on a regular basis but they are always project-based and at different stages requiring thought and patience. So after some “serious” art I wanted to splash out and have some expressive fun. A few months ago I came across a link to the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab flickr site, which displays amazing photos mostly taken by Sam Droege. Apart from being phenomenal images, I immediately thought they would be great reference material to draw from – so much wonderful linework, texture, shapes, detail, etc.

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Watercolours, dip pen and ink
Watercolours, dip pen and ink

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4b pencil and eraser
4b pencil and eraser

So I highly recommend a visit to this site and even if you aren’t interested in drawing them they are well worth viewing.

Cheers,
Meegan

A Day at the Museum

Echidna - drawn with a blue biro
Echidna – drawn with a blue biro

I spent the day at the Australian Museum, firstly to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. A yearly event that I always check out. But it was also an opportune time to do a bit of sketching as well. With only an afternoon left up our sleeves, my friend and I headed to the Search and Discover room. I’ve always thought it was an area just for school groups, but it is open to all visitors.

Tasmanian Devil - drawn with a micron pigma pen and painted with watercolours
Tasmanian Devil – drawn with a micron pigma pen and painted with watercolours

What’s great about this room is that they have live and um… less live (?) animals you can get a bit closer too. Well, all natural history museums are essentially a collection of dead stuffed animals I suppose. I dont know how old some of these specimens were but when you can sit less than a foot from one and they dont move at all!!! it’s perfect sketching matter.

Ring tail possum - drawn with micron pigma pen
Ring tail possum – drawn with micron pigma pen

I’ve been here before to sketch (click here), and every time I leave it fills me with the urge to draw more animals. It might be because sketching short-haired animals totally compliments cross-hatching techniques so perfectly making it easier to come up with good drawings.

Cheers,
Meegan

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!
Meegan

Toulouse-Lautrec to Turner

A sketching friend and I spent 10 days in Canberra and Adelaide seeing the touring Toulouse-Lautrec and J.W Turner exhibitions in each respective capital city. Apart from Canberra being the capital of Australian politics and international embassies, it has most of the national museums and galleries. I imagine it is like a mini version of Washington D.C. – which I would love to visit one day.

Canberra workings

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link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Institute_of_Chicago

The amazing work of Toulouse-Lautrec was on display here. He was one of my first artistic influences who wasn’t a comic artist. What I like about his work is although he painted mostly with brushes, his style of painting mimics gestural drawing. Also his bold use of colour is incredible – luminescent greens and yellows for highlights and a lavender-like purple for shading. This latter aspect of his work is something I have been trying to implement more, especially when I use watercolours.

Colour, colour, everywhere

The more I trust what my eyes tell me to paint, ie instead of my brain, I start to see glimpses of colour I wouldn’t normally think to see. For instance, when I painted the Australian War Memorial below, the building itself is a very sandy coloured, almost muted stone. But the sun was excessively bright that day with wispy clouds slowly moving past the sun creating a light and shadow play on the flat surfaces. I also sat right under the sun, so the glare was affecting my sight as well. With the combination of these factors I kept seeing purples in the shadows and decided to put them in, albeit lightly.

Australian War Memorial - watercolours and pen
Australian War Memorial – watercolours and pen

Another thing I have started to do more obviously is “spread” my colours around the page to create a unified picture. When I painted the sky in, which was one of the last things I did, I threw the same blue across the building. I also did the reverse and put some of the stone wall yellow ochre into the sky despite it being a pure blue sky that day. You can also see green areas in the building which match the same colour as the dome. I find that it really completes the picture and gives it some balance, and basically, it just feels right.

Australian War Memorial sculpture garden - inktense pencils, watercolours and inks
Australian War Memorial sculpture garden – inktense pencils, watercolours and inks

Putting it into perspective

Unfortunately I left my camera at the apartment so I didn’t capture the step by step of the above picture, nor what the statue actually looked like. Another thing I am trying to improve upon when I work en plein air is creating more depth of perspective in my scenes. In this case it was making sure the sculpture stood out from the trees in the background. The easiest way to do this is by minimising the amount of detail in the background, not having objects so well defined, and toning back the colours, especially the saturation. As you can see I’m still working on this technique.  I also thought that by creating a foreground, ie the leafy boughs on the top and bottom right corners, it would also help create more dimension. I “thought”…! Didn’t work out as well.

For those who are interested, I created this picture by: first blocking in the main shapes with inktense pencils (you can see it in the brickwork); then lifting out the pencils with watercolours (I think, lemon yellow and turquoise); then inked in linework with dip pen and colour drawing inks (ultramarine, sunny green and canary yellow).

Why are we waiting?

Bus Stop in Kingston, Canberra - felt tip pen and waterbrush pen
Bus Stop in Kingston, Canberra – felt tip pen and waterbrush pen

As much as I love visiting Canberra, it is such a bastard to get around by public transport particularly on weekends. We were staying at Kingston, which is what I would call inner-city, and buses would only come either every half hour or every hour. It was excruciating to wait 20 mins for a 5 min bus ride. Anyway, one plus about being an urban sketcher is you are equipped with a sketchbook and pen to while away the time instead of getting a kink in your neck looking in the one direction waiting for a bus.

Bus Stop, Edmund Barton Building - watercolours
Bus Stop, Edmund Barton Building – watercolours

This one is looking a little French boulevarde-y, but at least I got the depth of perspective down better. This sketchbook I’m using at the moment isn’t great for wet mediums. It soaks up all the colour and doesn’t leave behind the vibrancy or saturation I apply to the page. I love it more for its size.

On to Adelaide

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Link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File: Wreckers_Coast_of_Northumberland_ Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner.jpeg

Both my friend and I had never visited Adelaide before, so we hoped to fit in some normal sightseeing as well. We arrived to experience some freakishly hot weather. It was in the high 30s,  and the next day was scheduled for 40-41˚C. Yaaarrgghhh!!! I made the quick decision that tomorrow we would spend it in the art gallery. I’m not a big fan of air conditioned buildings (no pun intended!) but it was our oasis in a relentless heat. It also helped by looking at Turner paintings of stormy seascapes and lush, shady green country scenes too.

I remember when I visited London over a decade ago I saw many Turner watercolours at the Tate, so it was wonderful for me to relive that experience. Especially now that I have more of an appreciation and personal experience of painting landscapes, not to mention the use of watercolours. So I was learning a lot from such a great and innovative master.

Adelaide Zoo

The next day and for the rest of our stay the weather was a lot more reasonable. Not just for us but for the animals at the zoo. To deal with the spontaneity of our furry friends I used my inktense pencils and a waterbrush pen. It seemed the most practical medium.

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It’s always a challenge to draw moving creatures, and I include humans in that category as well. One has to employ patience, ie waiting for the animal to appear or turn its head towards you, and you must curb any disappointment as well when it moves away before you’ve finished your sketch.

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It’s also a test of your photographic memory and I had to turn to that to help me. Not that I have that skill or its better than anybody elses. It’s more that you NEED to give it a whirl in this type of situation.

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By relying on quick glances and my memory to sketch these critters it made me more aware of each animal’s distinguishing features. For the tiger it was its spine and the undulating shape it creates from a side view, or the curling, flowing tail of the lemur or the large hour glass-like snout of the hippo.

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2013ADELAIDE ZOO 9 LR 2013ADELAIDE ZOO 10 LRThroughout my life I have spent more time drawing the human figure, and one advantage if you are drawing people on the move is that we all have the same skeletal structure and more or less turn and move in the same way. So if I couldn’t capture someone in full before they moved on I could complete the sketch from memory.
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But with animals – not only do they look different on the outside and come in different sizes, but their skeletal structures are so different. The face alone varies so much. Some animals have their eyes in front while other are on the side, some have legs tucked in and concealed under their bodies while others look awkward and gangly. They are so intriguing and challenging.2013ADELAIDE ZOO 12 LR

However, it was a successful day and its a lovely zoo. It does seem to be in need of better enclosures for some of its animals and that it relies heavily on donations and visitors to the zoo. So if you’re in Adelaide for a few days, take a trip to the Adelaide Zoo.

Botanic Gardens

I was hoping to get more paintings done at the Adelaide Gardens, but it wasn’t as big as it looked on my map. And despite the drop in temperature, sitting out in the sun was still intense and not much shade could be found. The Palm House, however, was the big attraction so we set up for that.
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I got out my dip pen and inks for this, and I was also hoping to use my masking fluid this trip. Sadly I left my old masking fluid brushes at home and I refused to ruin my good paintbrushes just to experiment with (see my masking fluid notes in this post). I found a very cheap set ($2!) in town and my expectations were even worse than I imagined. All the bristles came out every time I washed it.
I used it on the painting below, but I ditched it for the rest of the trip. I’m not sure what I had in mind with this picture, maybe it was me warming up. Or I was possibly inspired by Turner’s sea storms but applying it to a static glass house. 😛
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You can see in the finished picture below where I applied the masking fluid in the sky. I would like to take it out again, but not with those brushes. My objective was to make it not only look like a glass and iron structure but to also capture that vintage feel too. It does have a French Riviera atmosphere about it, and some of Raoul Dufy’s work springs to mind.2013ADELAIDE RBG 1 LR
As I had to wait not only for the masking fluid to dry but the watercolours as well, I started up another drawing of the Palm House. This time I inked the lines in first. If you’ve seen a lot of my ink drawings of buildings you might notice that they’re a little askew in places. That’s primarily because I don’t pencil in structure lines of any kind. I start at the very top and weave my way down, sometimes taking a detour to the left or right. I made that decision a long time ago not to worry about things like that as I can get too caught up in getting it right, especially when it is just a sketch. It also forces me to look harder and try to achieve correct perspective and structure as I work, but its a hit and miss thing.
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Here is the finished piece, very different from the first. I think this works better as an overall picture. My personal sense of what makes a picture interesting is if you find yourself exploring the entirety of it. You look at the linework, the squiggles, the shapes, the brushwork, where things overlap, the texture etc. As opposed to something that might grab your attention immediately but it doesn’t pull you in for more review. I dont know if it’s because there is more detail in this picture or that I feel that everything is working together better. And there is more variety in my brushwork to give it more texture. Again, in this picture, like the War Memorial, I have circulated the colours across the whole picture to unify it. See the peach and blue colour in the top right palm tree.
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Big day out

Unsatisfied with having only created two pictures at the Gardens, I decided to do a sketchcrawl of my own the next day. We were staying in North Adelaide so my first stop was a nearby park looking over one of many churches.
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I like using a mix of all my art mediums – inktense, watercolours and dip pen. But when I sit down to draw something, the subject matter dictates to me what it would look best in, so I may not always use the same things. The photo below was taken after I applied watercolour to my inktense penciling. Since posting it I quite like it at this stage for the white areas I’ve left. Again, I’ve tried to frame the church by throwing in the hanging branch above and the flower bed below.
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I think the end result is overworked. I know I was trying to create more contrast with the shadows and light areas but I couldn’t get that intensity with my brown paint. I do like the flower bed and the retreating windows on the side of the building. I managed to show some restraint there. 2013ADELAIDE CITY 1 LR
As I was sitting there I noticed one of the smaller palm trees near me and really like the shape of  the tree trunk. I drew this by first outlining the entire shape, then added the details inside it. I’m also using a new paper that is smooth and occasionally my pen nib gets caught in it or collects some of the paper fibres on the surface. 2013ADELAIDE PALMTREE LR 2013ADELAIDE CITY 2 LR
Then I made my way down to the grand daddy of all churches in Adelaide, St Peter’s Cathedral. I sat across the road from it. Thankfully the traffic in Adelaide is nothing like that of Sydney otherwise I would have been poisoned by toxic fumes. Instead I was almost bitten to death by ants. Not good when you’re wearing sandals and a dress!2013ADELAIDE CHURCH2 LR
I really had no idea how to tackle this or what to use. So I spent some time studying it. I decided it was too hard to take seriously, especially considering the heat, the ants and wanting to covering a lot of locations that day. I went a bit free form with my lines and threw in a bit of blind contouring/continuous line technique for good measure. I inked in the black first and ummed and arrhed about adding another colour, but I went with a brick red. It looks a little Dracula-gothic-blood-thirsty-like but I want to start putting more dimension into my line drawings.2013ADELAIDE CITY 3 LR
Then I headed into town. All along North Terrace are wonderful old building, several dating from the late 1800s. It was almost overwhelming as to where I should start and what to do first. But as it was still such a hot day, finding a good angle in the shade (any shade!!) narrowed down the choices for me.2013ADELAIDE CITY 4 LR
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As it has been awhile since I’ve drawn exclusively with my colour inks and dip pen, I found it really difficult to decide whether to colour it in with watercolours or keep it as a line drawing. When you’re drawing on location you don’t have the luxury of, say, scanning version 1in before attempting version 2, and if it goes wrong then hey! I still have version 1 saved. You instead have to decide how far you want to take it. This time round I decided to leave them as line drawings. I think primarily because this isn’t somewhere I can pop out to on any weekend and do an hour or so of sketching. I didn’t want to ruin my travel souvenirs of Adelaide. I’d love to know how other people feel in this type of situation and how they handle it.
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Me drawing at Ruby Red Flmingo. Photo courtesy of Kaz e Dru.
Me drawing at Ruby Red Flmingo. Photo courtesy of Kaz e dru.
My last sketch of the trip was at dinner. North Adelaide is known for its restaurants, cafes etc. and we found the Italian Ruby Red Flamingo. It was a converted manse (living accommodation for a church’s minister). Very unassuming decor of colourful bric and brac drinking vessels, old wooden school and kitchen tables and used tomato cans for cutlery. But more importantly the food was amazing. I highly recommend to anyone in the neighbourhood. Lovely atmosphere and service, it was a great way to end a trip.
Well hope you liked the post!
Thanks for stopping by.
Cheers,
Meegan

International Scratch Crawl

The Sydney group had arranged the International Sketchcrawl venue in Hyde Park, but on cue the rain came bucketing down. (What makes me cringe is that when I got home that afternoon the sun came out, and has been out for the rest of the weekend!!) However, the Australian Museum was a nice alternative, and always filled with things to draw.

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