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.
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.
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.
Its always a good opportunity to draw the crowds who watch with great anticipation.
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.
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.
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.
Possibly someone’s dinner – a lobster waiting its fate at a restaurant in a shopping centre.
The aftermath of a late afternoon yum cha. Hanging out at the gym and watching the Legacy Brazilian Ju-Jitsu students practice tumbles and moves.
I ended up finishing off my sketchbook, so I went and bought the cheapest pad and pens I could find.
It 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.
Some scenes around Chinatown, as we waited for the State MP to rock up.
We also have the largest lion head in the country, again, probably not the best sized notepad for him, hee, hee.
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.
I think I broke my record on the number of drawings for Chinese New Year. Question is, how will I approach it next year…
How did we get so far into the year already? I’ve had so much on this year with home rennovations and a new job that I never find any down time to post to this blog. However, I feel a bit of a routine returning to my life …even though I should be in bed by now (not use to being back into full time work!!).
Anyway, I did manage to do some sketching over the last month, how? I don’t know.
On impulse I bought tickets to see American industrial metal rock gods Ministry. I do have one of their albums but hadn’t followed them intensely, though from previous experience I know bands like this are really good live. They were puh-lenty awesome, releasing the closet metal head in me, however its music not for the timid or pure of heart.
The venue was the Metro – my favourite live music venue. It’s intimate, the sound is good and doesn’t matter where you stand as everyone can see. Perfect not just for headbanging but for sketching. I took a black Artline 0.8mm pen possibly inspired by their sound and look, and I tried a scribbly drawing technique which is as soon as the pen hits the paper you scribble like mad, a motion similar to tapping your fore-finger really faster – just short jabs across the page and never lifting the pen off. It’s a very free flowing style and creates wonderful texture.
I was told it might have been the farewell tour, I hope not. But glad I managed to see them. I feel its important to include an image of the band here just to validate my drawings of Al Jourgensen (singer) as not a figment of my imagination but that he actually looks like that. A band like this is so much fun to draw – their look is very graphic and physical input on stage is ferociously animated.
Now to go and update my Ministry cd collection…
Sunnyboys and Riptides
About a week later I saw two Australian bands that I have so longed to see since I was a teenager. I was too young to see them in the 80s during their primo years but thankfully they have started to play reunion gigs and I managed to see them at the Enmore Theatre. Admittedly this time round I was having too much fun dancing and singing along so didn’t get any decent sketches done.
That and being compressed in by loud and drunk 50-somethings who obviously got the night off from their kids and were going hell for leather to have a great night, to my amusement some of them were wiped out by 10pm. When the Sunnyboys came on I was further away from the stage I couldn’t pick up much detail so I tried some blind contour drawings and shade only sketches.
A rare night out these days, a friend and I headed out to see UK act Band of Skulls. Beforehand we went to dinner at Toko in Surry Hills. Only at the last minute I decided to take a sketchbook and pens. I have drawn quite a few bands lately and felt not much more could be discovered in that kind of environment. And I am always self-conscious of delaying my friends to eat the food we order because they allow me time to draw it.
Thankfully I did as we sat at the bar. Toko is an izakaya style of restaurant, which I think is a casual seating environment where diners share dishes and the food is usually prepared in view. We were given seats right in front of the “sushi” chefs (I’m sure there is a better word for them as they do more than just prepare sushi) so it was with immediate glee when I realised I could draw them in action.
We got there early and the three chefs in front of us were just hanging round wiping their knives and boards. I was thinking I would get very little opportunity to draw their skilled hands at work, but about ten minutes later they were flying. In fact the entire kitchen was like a busy intersection at peak hour.
I only drew a couple of sketches at the gig. I could see very little, as you can tell in my drawings, and it can get a little dull not only not being able to see the main attraction in view, but that you are drawing so little of it and in darknesstoo. Not a great combination to advance your drawing skills.
Anyway, hope you enjoy. Oh, and all the drawings were done using disposable brush pens.
Thanks for stopping by,
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.
I felt like I wasn’t getting it right, so at half-time I went to the front.
But I’m not sure if the portraits were any more successful.
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.
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.
Last Saturday night I went and saw an American band called The Black Angels. Their style of music is very psychedelic, grungy, bluesy rock and roll. I am reminded a little of Jefferson Airplane and the Doors. My friend and I sat upstairs at the Enmore Theatre and right at the front. I dont normally like sitting down for gigs, but for me this kind of music is a “chill out” sound.
I took my sketchbook with me and a cheap throw-away Japanese brush pen. I must wrack my knuckles (is that a proper saying?) each time I go out with a half-dried up pen!! Its the equivalent of not throwing out old milk, every time you go to use it only then you realise it needs to be replaced.
This brush pen was already on its last legs when I took it with me, so as I am drawing the Black Angels in the dark, wondering why I couldn’t see anything definitive on my page, it was because my pen was drying out.
Having said that, I think the blurry, washed out effect suits their music. So there’s always an upside to everything I suppose.
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.
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.
We had afternoons and evenings free so we managed to do some sightseeing and shopping whenever we could.
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.
We had most of one day to ourselves so we headed off to do a 4WD Safari.
An international security and defence expo was on at the Exhibition Centre.
The last day before we hit the malls, I did some sketching around Emirates Palace.
And back home… sorting out the souvenirs from the shopping.
December flew by and I had a small collection of drawings I did over that time, plus some from the last few days. Collectively they’re all a little random but it ends another sketchbook at last. Only took me a whole year and eight days.
My dad’s long drawn out stay at RPA to have a kidney procedure.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many Chinese celebrations do not have fixed dates, like Christmas or New Year, they are instead governed by the appearance of full moons. The Harvest Moon Festival celebrates the change in season, and the main day is when the moon is at it’s brightest, fullest and highest in the sky. For those in the Northern Hemisphere it is a Mid-Autumn festival, but for us “Southerners” it is the beginning of Spring.
I belong to a martial arts school where lion dancing is one of its disciplines. As part of these lunar celebrations we walk around Chinatown visiting stores and restaurants to wish them good luck. They in return wish us good fortune by tying a red packet with money in it to a head of lettuce or choy. However it is not easily handed over, the lions have to reach them as they hang from door ways or awnings, even if it means climbing a 10 foot pole.