CNY 2017

Chinese New Year came a lot earlier this year as it follows the lunar cycle rather than a set calendar date. I missed most of our lion dance performances this season so only did Friday and the weekend but that was exhausting enough! Usually I feel this tired after doing 2 weeks worth, not three days – I must be getting old.

I’ve written (plus sketched) in more detail in previous posts about what lion dancing is so if you would like to check them out please click on these links 2014, 2016.

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Supplies – graphite pencil and inktense pencils

Lion dancing is always on the move – not just the performances themselves. We cover so much of Sydney and constantly broken up into teams that at anytime we could be sent off in different directions. So everything we need is carted around with us.

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Unloading – 6B Pencil
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Outside Star City – 7B pencil
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Waiting for a car space – 6B pencil

It can also make parking an issue. This sketch was done at the Marigold restaurant in Chinatown. It’s four levels up with a very small ground level and basement carpark. Despite the number of years we have been booked here they still never leave car spaces for us. There is this constant ritual of having to negotiate space so we can unpack.

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Macquarie Centre loading dock – 6B pencil

When we do shopping centres some at least allow us to use their loading docks.

Raise a glass

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6B Pencil
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6B Pencil

During this period large Chinese restauarants offer banquet deals – you book a table and they serve you a set menu with a lion dance included. Its such a celebrated event that in some restaurants its become more of a spectacle. When the lion dance starts it gives everyone the licence to go mad.

 

 

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6B Pencil

Traditionally what happens is a table will offer the lion a red packet of money. The lion will come over to their table and collect it in its mouth. Many people place their red packet on a cup of tea or a glass of wine or beer with the intention that the lion also shares a drink with them, like spreading good cheer amongst the table.

Some like to take it to another level and cheekily stack the red packet on a tower of wine glasses, beer bottles, saucers, cups, bowls or teapots. The idea is that the lion “swallows” the entire tower and when its finished pulls away to reveal a different combination of cups and so on. Occasionally they are a little too high, or the lion head is a little too drunk (can happen) that it all comes crashing down. Thankfully the atmosphere is so lively and jubilant even the managers aren’t upset with the mess and damage. Though not so pleasant when the lion reverses into a chandelier or expensive light fitting.

 

 

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Image courtesy of JWK LionDance Assoc

At the Marigold there is a low stage at one end where we set up the drummer and cymbal players. We also pop colourful paper confetti that makes the kids go crazy. They flock to the stage and collect it handfuls. Basically once they’re on the stage they don’t leave and jump and dance around.cny_2017_006_LR.jpg

 

A couple of little girls watched me draw, almost sitting right on top of me. As I was doing this sketch below, I hadn’t drawn the faces in yet as the drummer and cymbal players swapped with new people halfway through my drawing. They were completely different sizes or stood differently so it threw me a little. One of the girls asked me to finish the face of the cymbal player [left hand side] which was completely blank. I just drew in his glasses and left it, but she wasn’t satisfied so she took my pencil and drew in the eyeballs for me. They were so good I decided to leave them in – she drew with the book upside down too you know!

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7B Pencil and Inktense pencils

Chinese New Year is all about family, and we are seeing a young generation of lion dancers taking shape with my friend’s kids. cny_2017_009_lr

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6B Pencil

Lion Frenzy

It’s amazing how fanatical people get over the lion, especially the Chinese. I suppose because I am a part of it I have a different perspective. There is no other way to describe it than they just go apeshit for lion. I apologise for my language but you watch mature well respected or at least mild mannered adults go manic over a lion, like Beatlemania or Beliebers. So when there is more than one in a room its a lion frenzy.

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7B Pencil and Inktense pencils
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6B pencil with inktense pencils

Later that night we performed at Sze Yup Temple in Glebe, one of the oldest Chinese temples in Sydney and still visited frequently by the Chinese community. During this period it is incredibly busy and on the eve of  the New Year it’s standing room only. The dragon dance performed by another group had already finished. This temple has a very small forecourt and dragon dances need some decent floorspace so I don’t know how they managed.

 

Even before we started the crowds already encircled us, they crept closer and closer like sharks around prey. Not only was it tight on the ground the air above was thick with burning incense or joss sticks both in and outside the temple.

It burns!

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6B pencil
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Sze Yup Temple 2015 – Photo courtesy of JWK Lion Dance Assoc.
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6B Pencil

One worker who was dressed more like a hazchem cleaner would push his way out of the temple every ten minutes with a bucket loaded with lit joss sticks and candles because they were overwhelming the small urns inside. Only inches from your head were handfuls of lit joss sticks clutched in people’s hands as they pushed past to make their prayers. That’s why I drew this picture, it reminded me of a torch relay but one that stings your eyes from all the ashes.

Your typical day

 

 

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Flemington Markets – 6B pencil with Inkense pencils
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Flemington Markets – 6B Pencil with Inktense pencils

The next day I was out and about covering a whole lot of Sydney. That’s probably the most exhausting part to this side of lion dancing – the amount of travelling that happens from morning to midnight.

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For the papers, Macquarie Centre – 6B pencil
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Waiting at Blacktown – Inktense pencils

The only time I get to chill is when the others perform the lion dance poles – heartstopping, dramatic, highly skilled and disciplined moves. Admittedly I have drawn them jump before so gesturally I already know the most dynamic moments to draw. So even if I can only capture a fraction of it, I can, to some degree, fill in the rest of the sketch based on what I know and have drawn before.

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Market City – 6B Pencils with Inktense pencils

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Market City – Inktense pencils

Happy New Year folks, hope its a great one!
Meegan

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Chinese New Year 2016

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Waiting around to start

I’m part of Jin Wu Koon Liondancing and Chinese New Year is a massive month long celebration in Sydney where the whole city joins in. It also means there a constant and intense schedule of lion dance performances for us that can range from morning till midnight and take us to all regions of Sydney and further.

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Its a very physical thing and the long hours and minimal hours of sleep can take its toll – I didn’t go to all of them and I was exhausted! I think what compacts it more is all the time in-between waiting to do each performance – standing around on the street or in front of a restaurant. I find that quite tedious as its not necessarily enough time to really chill out but not short enough to keep your momentum going.

That’s why a few years back I decided to bring my sketchbook with me. Originally I wanted to capture what we do, click here to see. The second time it was to kill time, click here. This year it was a bit of both.

You also can’t carry much around with you – a small handbag or pack is about it, so that restricts what I can carry with me. I also need something that is also going to give me instant results as well.

So I used disposable Japanese felt brush tip pens.

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“Behind” the scenes

Up on high

JWK have a team who also perform lion dancing on poles – normal lion dance takes some practice and experience, but this – this takes a huge year round commitment and you need something of a fearless character to do it. Below is footage from last year.

Its always hard to draw and capture fast moving objects, especially in this case where its a 360˚ performance. As I’ve seen them perform a few times before I had already worked out the moments I wanted to capture. Still not an easy thing but it helps you block out the temptation or natural tendency to want to capture everything.

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cny2016001_LR cny2016004_LR cny2016010_LR cny2016011_LR cny2016012_LRIts always a good opportunity to draw the crowds who watch with great anticipation.

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Lion? Dragon?

For those of you who thought it was a dragon, no it’s not. These next  few drawings are of a dragon dance, thanks to the Chinese Youth League.

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aaaaanndd if you still can’t tell what that is, here is some footage of them in action.

And when I’m not drawing the “entertainment” I look for inspiration elsewhere.

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Dixon Street
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Chinese New Year display

Lion dancing can have you performing at all sorts of events and venues. This was a wedding held on a restaurant boat. These couple of sketches are us waiting for our water taxi so we could head off to our next performance.

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Possibly someone’s dinner – a lobster waiting its fate at a restaurant in a shopping centre.
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The aftermath of a late afternoon yum cha.cny2016020_LR Hanging out at the gym and watching the Legacy Brazilian Ju-Jitsu students practice tumbles and moves.
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I ended up finishing off my sketchbook, so I went and bought the cheapest pad and pens I could find.

materials_LRIt was tiny, bigger than a business card. I also bought a thick marker which probably wasn’t the greatest of choices too, but I’m always up for a challenge. I did also buy a thin one to get some balanced detail in.

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Some scenes around Chinatown, as we waited for the State MP to rock up.cny2016027_LR cny2016028_LR cny2016029_LR

We also have the largest lion head in the country, again, probably not the best sized notepad for him, hee, hee.
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Amazingly my last performance with them this season was at the Art Gallery. Sadly it was just for some sportscar promotional event, so I doubt many would have given a fig about the art around them. But at least it gave me a chance to visit.
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I think I broke my record on the number of drawings for Chinese New Year. Question is, how will I approach it next year…

Cheers, Kung Hei Fat Choi!

You Am I

I went and saw one of my all-time favourite bands in the whole wide world last night. And it was awesome freakin fun. They’re an Aussie band and have been around for a  few decades now, and every time I have seen them they put on the best damn rock n roll show ever. Seeing You Am I are like re-visiting your favourite restaurant that you haven’t been to in awhile. It’ s not a frilly froo froo fancy restaurant, they probably only wipe down the table once, but the food is good, and when you go back and order your favourite dish, like, say, a masaman curry, it’s exactly like how you remembered it and wonder why you dont go more often.

I started off standing midway on the ground floor. The Enmore has since removed all its permanent seats which is great, coz there’s nothing like seating that kills a rock concert.

Watercolours and artline pen
Watercolours and artline pen

I felt like I wasn’t getting it right, so at half-time I went to the front.

Drawn during halftime – artline pen and dirty waterbrush
Drawn during halftime – artline pen and dirty waterbrush
Drawn during halftime – artline pen and waterbrush
Drawn during halftime – artline pen and waterbrush

But I’m not sure if the portraits were any more successful.

Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen
Artline pen

I think I was trying too hard…? Anyway, I put my sketchbook in my bag, then after a bit of jumping around I gave it another shot. I stopped using my pen, which although I love, for action gestural drawing it is to stiff, and just worked with my brush pen and mini palette. How I did NOT get paint on the guy’s white shirt in front of me I’ll never know.

Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen
Watercolours and waterbrush pen

So although I didn’t capture individual personality as much as I wanted, I think the feel of the show is there in the end. Apologies to the band for the lack of facial accuracy.

Cheers,

Meegan

Abu Dhabi Do!

Me drawing a very willing 4WD driver out in the desert. Photo courtesy of Heidi Yuko Lincoln.

In February I was given the exciting opportunity to travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to play with TaikOz. A huge honour, considering I’m not one of their more dedicated students. It was a unique advenutre and a bit of an insight into the life of a professional touring musician, and it was to a part of the world I’m not sure I would have visited in my own time.

So I hope you enjoy my sketchbook slideshow of my time in Abu Dhabi. Please click on any image for a larger view.

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Sydney Airport – watercolours and artline
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Dinner and a movie – watercolours and artline
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Arriving at Abu Dhabi airport – – watercolours and artline

There was plenty of time waiting in our portable dressing room, so I’m thankful I brought along my sketchbook. Most of these sketches were done during this period – waiting to do a rehearsal or sound check, waiting to go on, waiting to go to lunch, waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotel. There weren’t any windows looking out onto anything either, so all my inspiration came from within the room.

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Ten minutes to dress rehearsals – watercolours and artline
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Our happy Hanten coats hanging out – watercolours and artline
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Curious onlookers from the dressing room next door – watercolours and artline
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Early morning breakfast box – inktense pencils
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The 12 faces of my breakfast apple – inktense pencils and artline pen
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Yet another rehearsal call – artline pen
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Colourful dengaku okedos (roped drums) – inktense pencils and watercolours
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The youngest member of our tour group – inktense pencil
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My clean white tabi (ankle sock shoes) on the first day and last day of performances – watercolours and artline

We had afternoons and evenings free so we managed to do some sightseeing and shopping whenever we could.

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Central Souk Market – watercolours and artline
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The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline
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The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline
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The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline

I found the Mosque to be one of the more visually appealing and challenging sights for me. Because of its clean white exteriors the light reflections, especially as the sun set, was quite interesting. So I stayed to try and capture the sunset, and made a second visit to capture it at night. These were done with watercolour/brush and ink/dip pen.

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We had most of one day to ourselves so we headed off to do a 4WD Safari.

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Camels – watercolours and artline pen
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Rasheed – dip pen and ink
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Bellydancing under the stars – inktense pencils

An international security and defence expo was on at the Exhibition Centre.

Ready and waiting - watercolours and artline
Ready and waiting – watercolours and artline
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Old and new parked on either side of the motorway – watercolours and artline
Military manoeuvres - watercolours and artline
Military manoeuvres – watercolours and artline
UAE Defence force were obliging and posed for me - artline pen
UAE Defence force were obliging and posed for me – artline pen

The last day before we hit the malls, I did some sketching around Emirates Palace.

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A typical sight in AD, cranes and construction – inktense pencils
Etihad Towers and a work in progress gold tower - watercolours and artline
Etihad Towers and a work in progress gold tower – watercolours and artline
Emirates Palace at night - watercolours and artline
Emirates Palace at night – watercolours and artline

And back home… sorting out the souvenirs from the shopping.

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Watercolours and artline

Breaking out


Photo reproduced courtesy of FezzusAustralis and TaikOz

I was given the opportunity to sell some paintings. I wasn’t sure what to charge as it puts a bit more pressure on you when it’s commissioned work. But the brief was pretty open as long as it related to taiko music. So I came to an agreement if they let me experiment I won’t charge too much, especially as it was a non-prof organisation.

FOR STARTERS

Photo reproduced courtesy of Prudence Upton and TaikOz
Photo reproduced courtesy of Karen Steains and TaikOz

I had no idea what I wanted to do but I had a few ideas and techniques running through my head. Ultimately it was governed by what reference material I had on offer. I used photos I found online of TaikOz from various photographers. If you would like to see more of their photos, please click on the photograph or their name. If these paintings were to reach a wider audience, ie reproduced professionally,  I would have gotten permission to use them as reference material before I started. But it is unlikely they will be reproduced beyond this blog and my flickr site. Also I didn’t plan on my paintings being so true to the photos as there was more detail in them than I wanted.

Anyhoo, I planned to use watercolours and Indian ink, and I also wanted to capture the energy of taiko playing and the atmosphere it can create. It’s hard to replicate movement from a static photograph, so I had to rely on my personal experiences of taiko music to give it life.

First step I lightly drew in the basic shapes. As mentioned, these paintings weren’t about detail but about movement and energy, so I only wanted enough detail to comprehend what was happening in the image.

The first stage – light pencils to mostly mark in areas I want to apply masking fluid.

Masking Fluid

As I planned to go crazy with colour I wanted to make sure there were some splashes of white in each painting. There is something about leaving a bit of white paper in your artwork that really lifts the picture more than if you coloured every square inch. Even cartoon drawings or watercolour landscapes have more vibrancy and depth to them if you allow a bit of the paper colour to come through. And I don’t think it works as well if you add white paint afterwards.

So I decided to use masking fluid. For those who have never used it before, it is a very wet liquid but when exposed to air will dry in several minutes and becomes waterproof. Masking fluid is usually used whenever there is a significant difference between the foreground and background colours, and you want the background to be applied seamlessly.

Masking fluid step by step: once the masking fluid has dried; apply colour straight over the masking fluid; when the paint dries rub off the masking fluid. Please click on image for enlargement.

For example, if you wanted to paint a sunset – instead of painting around the trees and cliffs in the foreground leaving little brushstrokes around the edges, you liquid mask out the foreground shapes and paint the sunset in from top to bottom, left to right over the masked areas where it repels the paint. Then when the paint dries you gently rub off the masking fluid with your finger and it reveals your clean white paper.

But for me it was more about creating theatre in the paintings.

A few tips when using masking fluid

It’s something that is traditionally used only with watercolours. In the past I have managed to use it with gouache, but it is not something that works well with all art mediums. Also, depending on the quality of the paper, it can tear the paper when removing it (a bit like so-called “magic” tape). So it’s always good to test out the masking fluid on the paper you plan to use. Manufacturers also warn you not to leave masking fluid on the paper for too long as some versions can stain, especially the yellow version. Clear masking fluid is also available but it’s not always easy to see it when applying it.

To remove masking fluid when it dries, rub it off gently with your fingers (or thumb) – it’s the only way to remove masking fluid. I don’t think there is a tool for it at this stage, and I wouldn’t recommend using an eraser. Sometimes you can peel it off but be careful it doesn’t also start to peel the paper. Oh, and make sure your fingers are clean too!

Testing masking fluid: Some papers tear when removing masking fluid, or it may require a more gentler hand to do so. Please click on image for enlargement.

Also when applying it with a brush it can totally stuff up the bristles and as a result ruin a good brush. One brush I own the bristles have started to come out when I clean it, so don’t use an expensive brush. I have kept two brushes aside just for masking fluid application (I labelled the ends of the brush so I know) and try to have two different sizes.

Next tip: as mentioned before, when exposed to air masking fluid starts to dry. This includes drying on your paint brush as you use it. After the first few dips it will start to dry and harden leaving you with a clumsy stumpy brush. Unfortunately it doesn’t come off the brush as easily as it does on paper. To combat this I have two jars of water when I work. One is plain cold tap water and the other has warm water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid. When my brush is starting to feel a bit chunky I wash it out in the soapy warm water, then rinse it in the cold water. If you only use the soapy water it may dilute the masking fluid when you next apply it.

Left jar has hot soapy water and right jar cold tap water.

So I’ve applied the masking fluid to the areas that correspond to light reflections in the photographs, but I also splashed it around a bit too.

Applying Colour

I worked out the colour combinations earlier. Winsor & Newton watercolour paint can be quite expensive, and although I don’t need a lot to paint with, working out the colour combinations beforehand can save you a lot of paint.

I wanted the watercolours to blend in with each other as I applied them, so I wetted the paper before I started. Watercolourists will do this when they want to paint large areas and have really smooth blends and not leave any brush marks. I used this sponge brush (seen on right) to apply the water.

The only problem with this is that large amounts of water can make your paper buckle. If its important to you to keep your artwork as flat as possible, tape your paper on all sides to a thick piece of board and hopefully that will reduce the buckling in the end.

Mixing it up or going straight

I’m not sure if there are two schools on using paint, ie are there artists that like to mix up their own colours or do they prefer using them straight out of the tube? I used to like mixing colours but I found that if you weren’t happy with the results it is a lot of wasted paint. Or, if you did like the colour but needed more remembering how to remix the same colour again is a futile task. So now I prefer to use colours straight out of the tube. The only time I mix is mostly when I’m using my half pans and its an en plein air situation.

Although I wanted areas where the colours bled into each other, I also wanted to leave some areas “pure” so the colours weren’t muddy all over, like they were squeezed straight out of the tube.  So it was hard to refrain from overworking it. The good thing about applying it quickly was that it also emphasised the movement and energy of taiko music.

As you can see in this photo, because of the liberal amount of water and paint I applied, the paper buckled.
This close up you can see where the paint repels off the yellow masking fluid.

Next step was applying the Indian ink. I decided to leave the masking fluid on for this stage as well, because I wanted to splash the ink around. My only concern was if I could peel off the masking fluid without making a mess, as indian ink is quite thick and can sit on the surface rather than be absorbed into the paper.

But it turned out okay. I did have a few issues in some areas – where the indian ink was very thick it tended to flake off when removing the mask. While others where it was thinly applied I accidentally smudged it. If I had smudged it with watercolours or even gouache you could probably clean it up with a lightly wet paintbrush and dab off the water with a tissue.

Close ups of areas where I smudged the ink trying to remove the liquid mask.

Then I added a few finishing touches like the bolts on the drum, facial features etc.

In the end it was a really good experiment. Probably not how I envisioned it but that was part of the excitement. I learnt I should tape my paper down before starting and that there is still a lot more I can do with masking fluid. Anyway, hope that was helpful. Below are the rest of the pieces and the separate stages it took to produce them.

Enjoy,
Meegan

From baci to brushwork

One of the few ways to play taiko. The drumsticks are called baci (pronounced ba-chi). Drawn with a disposable brush pen.

One of my pleasures these last few years has been learning taiko. It is a Japanese drumming practice which spans thousands of years. Not only are the taiko, or drums, beautifully crafted generation after generation in Japan, this style of drumming is an art. It not only requires great technique but an insight into Japanese aesthetics because taiko playing is a very visual form of music making. It is one instrument that is for the eyes as much as the ears.

So in Sydney we are lucky to have TaikOz, an established Australian taiko music company, who tours nationally and internationally performing predominantly taiko music, both original written and traditional pieces. They have student classes every week and several students are members of an off-shoot group called Taiko No Wa. It is made up of advanced students who want to take their taiko playing to the next level which includes composing music and performing publicly.

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Taiko No Wa achieved great success last year when they performed and won a taiko contest in Japan. Which is no mean feat for an Aussie team to win a traditional Japanese music contest in its land of origin. Anyway, they were invited back to Japan to perform in a “Best of” concert with other past winners. So they put on a small concert in Sydney to iron out any kinks before they headed off.

I love drawing live taiko playing, so this concert was a great opportunity to do some more. Taiko drumming isn’t always loud and frenetic, even so, it is the most exciting to draw. It’s very similar to 15-30 second life drawing exercises. They move so fast you have no time to think or get finicky with lines being in the wrong place, it allows you to capture the essence of the movement and its energy.

Very top pen is my Pentel waterbrush and below is the disposable brush (unbranded).

For my materials I grabbed a couple of brush pens. A friend gave me a couple of disposable pens from a recent trip to China. Initially I didnt take to them because they required a lightness of touch which I do not have. You only have to look at them and a line would appear on your page. But I thought this would be a good opportunity to use them. I also took a Pentel waterbrush  filled mostly with Indian ink and a touch of water. I was scared the ink would clog up so I watered it down a bit.

The disposable pen was made for this kind of drawing! They allowed my hand to flow over the page and replicate the movements of the musicians. And the flexibility of the brush going from thin to thick was great in capturing the turns and shifting of weight as they moved.

Drawn with a Pentel brush pen filled with Indian ink

The Pentel brush was good too. I’ve only ever put water in it but the ink was pretty fluid coming out. However, it did take a few days of soaking the brush section in water to get rid of all the ink residue.

Anyway, I’m not sure how many people will get the chance to draw taiko players BUT if anyone likes life drawing or drawing quick moving objects like animals for instance, I would recommend trying a pen with a brush tip. It has a very exciting feeling and result.

Cheers,
Meegan

Brushwork

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I’ve been crazy busy lately, and cannot fit in as much drawing as I’d like. One small project I usually work on around this time of year is my TaikOz Student Concert tshirt and programme design. I like to give it some thought and time, but only had an afternoon to come up with something. Luckily with Asian-influenced art its very clean and simple. Although I received a lot of positive comments on the design, I realised that I’m not really taken to this style of painting. I dont think it suits my personality.

What Asian-style painting lacks is the opportunity to get down and dirty, and spend a lot of time working and developing a drawing. It requires you to spend more time thinking about your image before you execute – to capture the whole essence of a subject with minimal strokes. It is after perfection and completeness in simplicity. And that’s not me. I love delving and getting lost in masses of linework, much of which is created spontaneously or instinctively. And although you might have a visual idea of what your picture may look like, there is that exciting surprise (usually)  of what you may end up with.

So it worked well for what I needed it to for, but I dont think its something I will want to explore for my personal development.

Are you ready to rock?

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Creating music opens wide the doors in terms of how hands can be manipulated to play a multitude of instruments – striking, stroking, plucking, strumming, shutting, dampening, stretching… It is a very skill-orientated domain and what you can see in the hands are the technical demands (and years of practice) an instrument needs in order for it to be played correctly. On top of that depending on the sound you want to create affects how much pressure you might apply to an instrument, or the way in which it is handled. For instance, even the largest gong can be played with tenderness. It’s all very exciting!!

If you would like to read my drawing notes (or view larger images of these drawings) go to Hand Study – Musical Instruments.

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