The meaning of pencils

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I love sharpening pencils, as it reminds me of sitting on the back step as a child, and watching how my father sharpened pencils – always using a knife. He was never without a pencil, which he kept behind one ear, whether for jotting down sales in his bookshop, or sketching a scene for painting. ‘A sharpener doesn’t give nuance to the lead’, he told me, and I only discovered the value of this statement when I became an artist much later in my life.

one of my boxes of colour pencils

I had planned doing a botanical kind of drawing this week, showing three stages of our native Pohutukawa tree, which are abundant around this area. I walked along the waterfront and stopped to take a photo of a clutch of new buds. Next I photographed a limb, a great example of its old bark; a least a hundred years old. Then I plucked some coloured leaves from the footpath, a last memory of autumn. The plan: three sketches, using different drawing mediums for each one. That afternoon I pulled out my scalpel and sharpened the colours I would need. I drew the two leaves, one reddish and one more golden and it didn’t take me long to finish.

pohutukawa leaves

My plan only reached first base. But, I thought I’d tell you how I go about drawing using colour, which is not just a matter of sketching with graphite and then adding colour. I don’t use graphite when using colour pencil, as I sketch in lightly with colour from the start. I chose the red leaf to draw first, and examined it carefully. Which I note, is the most vital start for any sketch. I selected two reds from my Faber-Castell collection: Dark Carmine, and Indian for the deep tones, with Dark Orange under Indian Red for the lighter side. I could see the stem was yellowish, and the edges the same, with a touch of green. I used Lemon Cadmium, and Apple Green here. I used Dark Sepia for the darker textural lines.

The leaf was curling, and with any sketch when creating a curve, it is necessary to draw using a curved motion. There was also a rippled look to the edges, and to achieve this I apply and lessen pressure to my hand, thus creating a line which is thick, then thin when necessary, showing variance in movement. I drew the yellow leaf in the same manner, using a mix of Burnt Ochre, Orange Yellow, and Dark Sepia again.

Next time, I’ll work with graphite, and explain what my father meant by the nuance in the pencil lead when sharpened with a knife, and how that helps your drawing. Thanks for your patience.

Writing or sketching? – what to do?

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sketch of Roman statue

I wrote recently of being in a slump, where I wasn’t feeling like writing or sketching. Weeks of Covid Lockdown have done that to me, to some degree. Then one day I felt like continuing the novel I’d deserted, just a few pages in. With any genre of writing, but especially with a longer piece, it is necessary to write then leave it alone for a while, returning with fresh eyes, as one can become too close to the work. I read through those pages, adding something here, and removing something elsewhere. I was happy to be writing again.

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A Van Gogh inspired post.

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If it hadn’t been for Kerry sending me the photo above through to my phone today, it probably wouldn’t occurred to me to write about Van Gogh. The photograph was taken in April this year at the touring Van Gogh Alive exhibition in Auckland. The clever little scene, where I am perched on a chair, is a 3D recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, France. He lived in Arles for little more than a year, yet his output of work from February 1888 until May 1889, was prodigious. Yet this post isn’t just about the famous Dutch artist; quite likely the most well-known artist of our times, but what his paintings conjure; in my memory, and imagination.

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Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori: Māori language week

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mānawa – mangroves

While out walking around the mangrove estuary the other day we passed an area which accommodates several of Navy buildings. Devonport has been the Navy’s base for a good deal of years, and this area is just one part of it. It is a tranquil place, settled beside the mangroves and looking across water to a peninsula, and to the harbour bridge to the south. The glare was harsh on the water, when I took this shot, just a few steps on from the navy marae, Te tau Moana marae.(This tab will give you a sample of simple greetings, if you were to introduce yourself in te reo Māori. Example here is from an NZIE meeting at the marae). Kerry and I skirted around the wharenui (large house in the centre of the marae, meeting ground).

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Stormy skies

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While walking, on the lookout for something I could sketch, I looked no further than the sky. It was both fantastic and rather terrifying, as the brooding clouds looked ready to empty their heavy load on me. So, before the anticipated deluge I took a photo, and continued on my walk, expecting to find myself racing for cover at any moment. Weirdly, those clouds kept on brooding and finally wreaked havoc in the middle of the night. Wind thrashed the trees, streets, and whipped up the sea, but our region was relatively unscathed, fortunately. Not so, further out west where floods drowned cars and wrecked homes and businesses.

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Finding a saving grace

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Usually I am up reasonably early, take off for a walk once I’ve finished my chores, returning refreshed and ready for ‘work’. But, lately, I have been staying in bed longer, reading, not wishing to face the world. I do go out eventually, masked while walking, and steer clear of others coming too close. I look at at the clouds, the sea, and the trees still in blossom, to help lift my spirits like they usually do. But my heart is heavy, as the Delta strain of Covid has hit New Zealand and we are in lockdown again. I miss my family terribly. One week has become two, and I have done little artwork or writing. I knew I had to shake myself out of this slump, and gave myself a little drawing project to complete. 

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It’s been a crazy few days

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Belated gift. Artist: John Drawbridge

It all began with me couriering an artwork to Melbourne, as three of my son’s planned trips to New Zealand were cancelled through Covid, and I had intended to pass this over to him when he came. The artwork was intended as a gift when they’d finished house renovations, a year or so back, but I have been a bit slack. You see, I had promised him that I’d do an artwork as a house-warming gift. I did get as far as sketching the idea, but then I just didn’t get around to doing it. That dratted procrastination thing again. But, when I spotted a print in an art store window, by an old tutor of mine, I knew it was the perfect present, and I brought it immediately. I packed it securely for travel, and sent it off to Melbourne last Monday, anxious about it surviving the trip. I was thrilled when Duncan phoned to say that it had arrived safely and he and Harriet just loved it. I got to talk with my granddaughters too, which was great, as It has been a long time since I’ve seen any of them. Then, Beatrix the eight year old said, “Can you draw a sloth for me, NaniViv?”

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Something. Is that better than nothing?

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watercolour, pen and aquarelle pencil

As I shall be in Wellington for the week, I was aware that I’d not find the time to post a comprehensive blog. I thought, I know, I’ll do a sketch, and sorted through photos from my recent trip. Nothing there that beckoned me, but wait? I’d taken a photo some time back of the lovely white orchid which sits on my desk, blooming beautifully. Okay. I quickly uploaded the image and sketched it. Hmm. As I’ve stated many times before, sketches always work best if one keeps up regular practice. I haven’t been sketching lately, in spite of all my promises to do so. Yet, I have decided to show this ‘something’ rather than nothing. I sketched quickly in pencil first, on 140lb, Canson watercolour paper, adding some aquarelle pencil for colour, before grabbing an 0.5 pigment liner to provide a loose outline for the white on white flowers. Perhaps I’ll take my sketchbook with me?? No excuses with some free time up my sleeve… Maybe I’ll find the inspiration I need.

Going with the flow

Cloudy skies [6B, B, and HB graphite].

I was meant to be speaking about my book tomorrow at a local library, except … Auckland is not yet done with Covid 19 it seems and we are back in partial lockdown. This means libraries, events, shops etc, are closed for the week. Like all of us, we hope the lockdown doesn’t continue past that. But, it is some time since I sketched anything, and so I got cracking on a small drawing project. I love sketching clouds, and decided to do three; each in a slightly different medium. Yesterday’s was a brooding scene, done from a photograph I took a few days ago. I worked on Hahnemühle cold pressed water colour paper 300g/m. It took the graphite well, as I used the back, which has a slightly smoother feel, but still gives enough bite for the leads. I used 6B, B, and HB pencils. I shall use the same paper for each sketch.

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The aftermath

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A shadow of my former self

I have done little since returning from the family holiday, as I arrived home ill, and still feel a shadow of my former self, three weeks on. Such great plans I had: to get cracking on my new novel, sketch and sketch some more, but for anyone who understands what exhaustion feels like, you’ll understand. I have also been wanting to write a substantial post on art, writing or similar, but that is yet to come. All I have to offer are a few pen sketches and a short excursion to talk about.

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