Thursday, April 5, 2018

Monday Madness

I've finally finished my painting of the Radium Beer Hall (can you spot where I got the title for this post?) that I was about to embark on in a previous post last year - although I keep seeing things I want to fiddle with... I spent hours on that guy's face on the right and it still looks like a fuzzy jellybaby, and in two minds about the ghostly figure standing on the bar counter (Mary Fitzgerald, a trade union activist who actually did rally her troops from the very same counter, albeit in another establishment).

Tim Quirke, our excellent teacher, has taken us step by step through a process of planning, drawing, leading the eye, thinking of this aspect and that artist, painting 'up' areas and leaving others understated. I kept taking pictures as I progressed - a little dangerous as sometimes you want to go back to a stage you've irretrievably wrecked - but a record for future reference. It has been painstaking at times, and thoroughly engrossing and free-flowing at others, but I've certainly learnt a lot and hope to put it all into practice in my own painting, or at least keep some of it in mind. Why didn't I find all these teachers when I started painting in oils 22 years ago? It would have saved a lot of trash-able canvases, maybe...though most artists have those no matter how much education they've had, from what I hear.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Down on the Corner, Out in the Street

 Nothing like a visit from an ardent urban sketching friend to bump you out of your ennui and out into the streets. For various reasons I was in a bit of a sketching slump, but when Jane, my friend of 50 years (we were neighbours at 11/12 years old - does anyone remember the song in the title? It's about the same vintage as this friendship), who has fairly recently taken up urban sketching with a passion, arrived from Cape Town and declared her intentions earlier this year, I dusted off my sketchbook and filled my pens.

Our first date was in Sandton, where buildings are going up almost overnight it seems. We found a restaurant with a view of cranes and builders at work across the road. (I drove past a few weeks later and it was all finished, clad and functioning!) Jane likes to draw cranes, I like to draw people, so we had something of each with this interior/exterior view. Just as well we were inside as first there was blazing heat, and then later a mighty thunderstorm outside.

On another hot Wednesday morning, we found a spot under a shady plane tree in pretty Parkview. As we sat peacefully figuring out perspective and how to cope with the cars parking in front of us, I remembered again what is so appealing to me about this pastime... getting out from behind your four walls and insulated life, experiencing the weather, the sights and smells, (the bugs falling from the trees!) and especially the delightful exchanges with passers by and fellow pavement roamers - the car guard, the businessman after his breakfast with laptop, the street artist selling his canvases on the opposite corner, the waiter who thoughtfully offered to bring us refreshments from his restaurant, even the quizzical mystified looks, and shouted comments from a car at the unusual sight of us sitting on the sidewalk. Yes, maybe we are crazy!

[After this was the trip to Soweto, described in the previous post - I'm so behind with blogging, I'm just posting whatever occurs to me - I blame it on Instagram which is too quick and easy with a phone and its camera, and makes me think it's all been done!]

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Trip to Soweto

Soweto has been a place on Joburg Sketchers bucket list for years, but somehow we hadn't got it together to find out exactly how to get there, where to park or walk or sketch - it's a vast sprawling area of many suburbs, full of houses and streets that look very similar to the passing eye as you whizz by on the highway.

But when visiting Swedish sketcher Holger and his wife Susanne, and my friend Jane from Cape Town, said they'd like to go, we decided the time had come to venture forth. As it turned out, it was pretty easy - five of us in my car on a Friday morning, past Johannesburg city centre, onto the N1 Western Bypass, turn right and there in front of us were the iconic Orlando Towers, originally cooling towers for a coal power station, now an adventure destination where you can bungee jump, abseil, zip-line and swing from those heights (um, no thanks very much!)

Wiggling through a maze of very sketchable streets full of children playing, neighbours chatting and general community activity, we found our way to the famous Vilakazi Street, and had immediate, copious offers to help us park, watch/wash our car, sing/dance/guide for us, as well as countless shops, vendors, and restaurants vying for business  - we had to explain that we were just there to sit and draw which caused some puzzlement and then fascination -  I wished we'd brought a stack of blank exercise books so that everyone who stopped to watch could have joined in, and I wish I'd had more time and energy to sketch more of the colourful busyness of the street.

We decided not to partake of the rather touristy-priced lunches on offer and headed back, stopping to sketch the towers on the way out - in blazing midday sun we squeezed into the only little strip of shade we could find with a view, outside Bara Mall. Fast sketching as even the South Africans were expiring from the heat, let alone our Swedish visitors!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Cactus Shadows

It's very late in January, but here's wishing everyone a happy, creative and peaceandlove-filled 2018. Wishing lots of water to those who are fast running out - Cape Town and its surrounding areas have something like 90 days supply left, with the rainy season only starting after that.

Here is a postcard I painted for the annual @Twitrartexhibit happening in Canberra, Australia this year, and supporting Pegasus Riding for the Disabled. It's a hot, dry scene from a photo I took at Babylonstoren, a lovely garden farm near Franschhoek. I loved the shadows and may do a bigger watercolour from the same reference - it was hard to control on such a small scale! 

If you'd like to support this, you need to have a Twitter account (I have one that I don't use very much) and get your 16x12 cm postcard to Australia by 6 March. Details can be found here. 

That's it for now - I'm sketching a lot with visiting friends who are very keen to do that, so will post some of those soon!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

And a Grey Lourie in a Plum Tree

A day late for this Johannesburg version of a Christmas tree, but hoping all who visit here had a very happy day, if you celebrated - and peace and goodwill to all!

Not a pear tree with a partridge, but the greengage tree outside my studio, which was vibrating a couple of weeks ago with all kinds of birds gorging and feasting on the not-quite-ripe-yet fruit. We still have pots of jam from last year's crop so I let them get on with it and spent a happy couple of hours watching and sketching them... The thrush thinking he's lord of the manor and trying to chase everyone else off, the barbets bright and fierce looking but quite wary of the other birds and of eyes peeping at them through the window; the little grey mousebirds with raggedy tails and punk hairdos come in cheeky flocks; my favourite bulbuls (they make such sweet, clear calls to each other, "what's for tea Gregory?") and the grey louries  - or Go-away bird - one semi-tame who comes and squawks at me outside the kitchen if there's nothing to eat and to bring out some paw-paw please.

I never used to be much into birds, it was what my mom, aunts and gran did. At last I'm mature enough to appreciate the small, precious things, some positives to these years passing ever faster by!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Radium Beer Hall & Grill

Strange to be sitting in a pub at 10 am on a Monday morning, but that's where I found myself this week, sketching in preparation for another painting in the classes I'm taking (same ones as in the Kalahari bookshop, which is still in progress, and which I should be working on right now.)

This is the Radium Beer Hall, the oldest surviving bar and grill in Johannesburg. It started as a tearoom in 1929 and doubled as a shebeen which, illegally at the time, sold "white man's" liquor to black customers. The very old bar counter was rescued from the demolition of the Ferreirastown Hotel, on which feisty trade union activist "Pick Handle Mary" Fitzgerald apparently stood to spur on striking miners. A fascinating history and great pubby atmosphere - sadly the area around it has become run down and dodgy, but I hope to go back to sketch more of the customers and musicians at one of their regular live music sessions.

 I did a couple of quick watercolour sketches of a couple at the next table - I think the guy is a manager, or works there - he was on the phone a lot and told me he was very, very busy when he came to have a look at my sketch. The girl looked deeply unhappy and the conversation became more and more heated between them, all in French so - probably just as well - I didn't understand a word. As customers started arriving for lunch the argument quietened down. I'm considering putting them in my painting, how times have changed since Pick Handle Mary was around!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The End of Inktober

I'm pleased to relate that for the very first time I tackled - and finished!! - Inktober! Spurred on by the fact that I'd committed to exhibit the results along with a lot of other artists at Assemblage, otherwise I'm certain I would have given up around day 4 as usual. There is one missing, due to being knackered after a morning's intense drawing at the bookshop (see previous post), which I'll catch up with for the show. And that yoga one 'Deep' has simply disappeared so I'll have to re-do it.

I started thinking I'd follow the official prompts, but after several attempts at No.1 'Swift', decided I'd rather draw what was in front of me around my home, and did a series of my daughter's succulents which she's left for me to plant-sit. I ran out of those and reverted to the list - from no 11 'Run', with an urban sketching day at Rhodes Park (a future post) in between 'Fat' and 'Filthy'...can you spot those? You can see them on my Instagram if you'd like to have a closer look.

It was a good discipline to do... of course it develops pen, brush and ink skills - although I tried such a variety of techniques none of them really got polished. It was far more demanding than the hour or so per day I imagined I would spend on it, and distracted me from the recent and satisfyingly regular rhythm I'd got into of going into my studio and working on my very own projects and painting ideas - a lifelong goal. Sigh, my middle name is Distractability.

Things I'll do differently if I do it again:

  • Have a consistent paper, size and format, especially if going to show them afterwards. I made them look pretty neat here, but they're all different sizes, weights and textures. I was trying to use up old stocks of paper and sketchbooks (a major throw-out has to happen soon) and the ink reacts differently on each - some paper sucking up the ink washes and making messy blots around the edges.
  • Have my own restrictions and theme instead of following the prompts - although they're fun to interpret, my results were all over the place.
  • Preferably draw from life - drawing from photographs, memory or imagination feels too much like work, or a commission, which I don't enjoy, although I've loved what others have done doing that.
  • I'd do it quickly so that it doesn't take over my life - I tend to overdo what I do do and neglect everything else that needs to be done.
This method was quick and fun - allowing the ink do its own thing within the drawing. The drawing implement was a very cheap plastic dropper that came in an Artliner refill box. I filled it with diluted ink which flowed smoothly and in varying thicknesses over the surface, then added spots of ink here and there for darker tones and drew some finer lines out with a nib while it was still wet. As in this baby bird in a nest, 'Squeak'...

And the most time consuming one, 'Teeming' where I crazily chose insects to teem, although many of them were added as doodles while I waited for pots to boil and ovens to warm, so not as painful as it looks.