This is my second attempt to sketch and write a blog this week, the first effort was not great – more wilting lilies. So, I decided to draw a fantastic tree for which Devonport (where I live) is quite famous – the Moreton Bay Fig. This large evergreen tree of the Mulberry family happens to be native to Eastern Australia. Lucky Devonport has many of these fabulous giants based around our library. They are so big they almost straddle the road, and I always stop and admire the amazing root systems which have tourists clicking their cameras. I became the tourist this day and took a photo while out walking. This will make a nice art project I thought.
I started sketching using a water-soluble graphite pencil, which has a nice thick, soft lead. My idea at first, was to make this a tonal wash sketch, using different techniques. I have tried using a white blockout lumocolor before, when there are considerable white spots in the texture in tree trunks, and would be too fiddly to leave so many bits of white paper showing, as I usually do. The blockout has worked well when I’ve used a straight watercolour wash. However, it doesn’t work that well with the water soluble graphite (for me anyway), as it leaves residual grain. So, I left the work to dry, and then tried to erase the extra pigment which had penetrated the white blockout. So now my work looks grubby, which is not unusual when I try using water! Never mind, the watercolour paper is 33gm Hahnemühle and can cope with heavy treatment.
I was reasonably happy with the top sketch but could see I had missed the proportion somewhat bottom left and top right. I did adjust that, and feel it is better. I also used a clean Staedtler eraser to lift off some of the unwanted tone. Done. But now, my task was to work more texture into the sketch, and to add limited colour. I used an 8B graphite pencil (not a water-soluble one) for the extra texture on the tree, colour pencil for the moss and the smattering of leaves. My conclusion is that maybe it’s okay to enjoy these magnificent trees while out walking, and forgo the urge to draw them – just saying.
Again, I have a vase of flowers on my table, lilies this time, which were resplendent for over a week. As the flower heads opened the colour went from a rich yellow to a lighter tone as the petals lost lustre. Yesterday morning I noticed how papery the petal tips were, then, oh no! they began to drop onto the table. A hasty trip to grab a watercolour pad from my art shelves; paint, pencils, brushes, pens and a jar.
I took some photos of a beautiful native Nikau palm while walking last week, which I felt compelled to draw as the bulb was large and particularly colourful. I needed a break from my writing, and the time to let new ideas gel, so I started the initial sketch yesterday and finished it today. Sometimes I wonder why I write or draw, as it often more difficult that first envisaged, or let’s just say, either art form can be hard work when in progress, but feels great when done. Similarly with the novel. You get an idea, sketch it out and keep going until the work’s finished. It’s just the tools which differ. The tools I used for this sketch are: artist-quality polychromos pencils. The colours: Apple green, permanent green, chrome oxide green, lemon cadmium, dark sepia, brown ochre, van dyke brown, Indian red, sky blue, and light grey.
Sometimes the days are too filled, don’t you find? The past weeks certainly have been. There was the matter of extra people in the house, followed by my writing critique group Monday, which meant writing new scenes for my novel that I wished others to comment upon. Book Club was on Tuesday, and Wednesday I spent time with my daughter, as it was her penultimate day before departure. First thing today, I dropped her in the city, returned home and spent a number of hours cleaning up the place as tomorrow the plumber is coming early to fix our shower, and, someone is delivering a new bed. They are expected around 7am! And that’s early for a ‘retired’ ( or I should say ‘tired’) person like me.
My daughter was staying for a while as she is directing a stage show in Auckland, and suggested that she could mind Ninja, our tabby, should we wish to have a few days away. “Hawkes Bay,” Kerry and I said in unison and set about looking for accommodation. We booked a cottage in Clive, which is equi-distant between three centres; Napier, Hastings and Havelock North. Fabulous beaches, bike trails, wineries and food abound in this region – a five and a half hour drive from Auckland. The cottage was new though named Colonial, as it was built to look like the small wooden homes from the late 1800s. It was delightful, inside and out and the bed super comfy, especially since Ninja wasn’t hugging our space (don’t tell him).
It began many years back, when I was was helping a ten-year-old with ideas for a story. In a nutshell, her ideas fed mine, and set me thinking of my own story for children. This would of course be an illustrated story, done by yours truly. After writing many drafts, I decided on creating the first illustration; something that might work for the cover. Apart from the grandfather, who features in the story, the drawing above features all the other main characters in The Lost Civilisation. From top left, clockwise; the parrot Herakles, Penelope, Achilles the dog, Helen of Troy, the cat, and Archimedes, the goldfish, all named after figures in Greek mythology.
I’m still on the botanical track – sorry, if you were thinking I’d written a Mills and Boon style romance – although the passionfruit flower I’ve sketched is as beautiful to look at as its fruit is to eat. This particular plant was thriving a couple of years ago on a wall in my relative’s garden, and thinking it would make a great drawing I took a photo of a flower and the fruit. Alas, the plant shrivelled and died in the heat the following summer. So, I guess my sketch is a kind of memorial to that luscious passionfruit vine which died prematurely. I could have sketched this in one sitting, but decided that I’d like to take it slowly. I sketched it in three short sessions, spread out over three days, as family were visiting.
I continually sharpened my pencils and kept changing from one tone of green, or purple, to achieve the desired effects. While drawing the initial sketch I wondered how I could show the delicate white tendrils so they would show against the darker background of leaves. This was a good time to leave it alone. On return I began fleshing out the foliage and used an olive green, apple green, and a lemon cadmium for highlights. For the stamens, I used dark violet and magenta. Picking out the edges was tricky, as I wished to keep their delicate appearance, yet I needed to add depth of tone in the line, in order to have the stamens show against the green.
I applied more colour to the foliage, yet left the sketch loose around the outside, so the flower would remain the focal interest.
The significance is that the Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros), with its showy scarlet flowers around Christmas, has since shed those beautiful blooms to the wind. The Pōhutukawa comes in many forms and sizes, and it was the shrub I came across in my relatives’ garden which took my fancy on Boxing Day. This was the Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’), a compact shrub approximately 1m x 1m with its yellow flower stalks and the soft sage green of the young leaves I thought delightful. Well, to this artist’s eyes at least. I had an immediate desire to draw it, and trimmed off a piece of branch with a pair of secateurs (with permission from said relatives).
Last post, I talked about the Heide art museum and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture. One piece, sculpted from stone had instant appeal to me. While examining it from all sides, and peering into the carved out holes, I decided I would like to draw it once I was back home. Why draw a stone? I hear you ask, and the answer for me is simple. I love drawing texture. I would have liked to sketch in the museum, but that was not possible, so, the next best thing was to take a photograph, knowing I could work from it later. Little did I realise at the time, that I was going to be stuck indoors as Covid came to visit, and thus my promise to draw the Hepworth came to pass.
I feel a bit guilty, not having posted for some time, but not having the sanctity of my study nearby did that to me. And travel. I’ve been back a couple of days from a trip to Tasmania and Melbourne, Australia. Tasmania was new to Kerry and I, but not Melbourne, as we have visited often because of family and friends who call it home. The whole trip was eclectic, including the changes in weather and temperatures. Looking at different land forms, buildings, creatures and art. I still feel a little unsettled, but let me begin with some art that we saw.