Monday, September 18, 2017

10x10 Workshop 6: Watching, waiting, walking - People of Gandhi Square

I'm finally getting down to a report of the second workshop I presented in the series to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers, on the 29th of April. (I missed out on workshops 3, 4 and 5 presented by Anni Wakerley and Lisa Martens, having been away from Joburg).

Photo by Leonora Venter
My focus was on sketching the people, and Gandhi Square being a main bus terminal in the city, was hoping for fairly stationary subjects waiting or slowly moving around there. We met at Joziburg Lane, which is in easy walking distance of Gandhi Square. Once again we warmed up with quick portraits of each other, but this time doing 'blind contour' drawings without looking down at the page - a little cheating went on but it produced lots of laughter and surprising, lively results.

Photo by Leonora Venter



After a short explanation and demo of 'contact points' and relating sections of the face or figure to each other and to the background - which in this case was to be minimal - and encouragement to just go for it - not to worry about results but to enjoy letting loose with line, we set off down to the square.




Of course such a large expanse of public space is overwhelming and intimidating to begin with, but it's surprising how quickly one feels right at home, once you've chosen a viewpoint and a perch, and concentrating on the task at hand helps to push curious onlookers into soft focus.



Photographs by Liesl Percy Lancaster of House of Lancaster 
 I was thrilled with the results (not all shown here) and varied attempts to capture figures who really never do stay still for more than a second or two. The act of looking hard and trying to put down some essence of them incrementally improves the ability to do so, most especially when you do it regularly and don't let the efforts of the previous day grow dim in the conscious and muscle memory. As I try to remind myself!

Here are are images from my handout booklet for the session. It covers rather a wide range of figure-sketching tips and approaches as my group consisted of a large range of sketching experience and skills.

 We also took the opportunity to record Urban Sketchers Johannesburg's happy 10th birthday message to Gabi Campanario and USk at this gathering, which was shown to him as a big surprise and tribute at the Symposium in Chicago in July. We're at 1:22 minutes in...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What a Mess!

We are lucky to live in a leafy suburb with a wonderful green space in the middle of it - the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, fondly known as Emmarentia Dam - but boy, do we have a lot of events arranged around us - many with loudspeakers booming across the valley from 6 am onwards.
Last Sunday morning, thankfully not as early, was the Color Run, "the happiest 5K on the planet", starting and ending at a nearby school; so I took my Koh-i-Noor Magic rainbow pencil (unfortunately not the sharpener) over there and started sketching the shenanigans.
It was a hot, hot morning... why anyone would want to run through arches where kilos of coloured powders are chucked over you, sticking to your sweaty brows and limbs and no doubt getting in your eyes, nose and ears, I don't know. I was much happier perched on a small grandstand observing and drawing than down there getting colourfully doused - even so I caught a few splashes on my hat and jeans.
Is too much colour a bad thing? I preferred my simple line sketches before I filled some of the shapes in later - the colours all blended together to make nondescript dusty shades, which in fact is what most of the runners ended up looking like too - red and yellow and orange and purple and blue and green make - mud.
But the real messy sketching came when my pencil was down to the wood and I turned to my new Sailor pen, which is perfect on its own with its variable line possibilities... I got way too creative trying to get coloured powders from the event to stick to my sketch, using candle wax first and later fixative, neither of which worked, the powder fell off with the gentlest blow or shake.
But did I stop there? Oh no, I persevered with watercolour splashes, ink brushes, more spray and white crayon until it was a total shambles and those pages fit only to be glued closed together. Ah well, a lesson to keep it simple and remember my sharpener next time!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Randburg Shuffle

Not my finest sketching five hours, standing up mostly and in a soft-cover sketchbook, but I was very glad to have it with me to help pass the interminable wait in the queue to get my driver's licence renewed at Randburg Licencing Centre last week. It was my fourth trip there, having been turned away on previous mornings as only 200 people per day are accepted into the line, making sure there's no chance that anyone might have to work a minute over the 3 o'clock closing time. 
 This time I made sure I got there early, was relieved to have No.146 scribbled onto my application form, resigned myself to a long wait and pulled out my sketchbook. I noted times as I sketched in the upper left corners...
8:45 - outside the magical doorway to legal driving.
9:30 - just inside the entrance and peering through the window at the expectant faces outside
10:15 - we'd inched around the corner and a fortunate few grabbed a seat on the windowsill
10:45 - shuffled round to the back of the reception desk, where there was a bit of a show to watch. First a group who had successfully completed their applications or collections were locked into the building while a cash-in-transit vehicle collected the previous day's takings; then a series of hopefuls came to ask at the desk if they could have an application form and upon hearing the answer, responded in various outraged/desperate/crestfallen ways. [Note to self: Never throw a hissy wobbly wailing fit before this desk, it provides huge entertainment to the bored audience in the dingy background and has no effect.]
11:00 Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, I reached the bottom of the stairway, a mere 10 metres (I would think) from the front door
11:30 Halfway up. What would we do without our phones?
11:45 Up on the first floor and looking down...
12:30 At last a row of seats that we had to shift up on every few minutes...within tantalising sight of the final stage - the queue for the Cashiers. After this seat-shifting came The Room, the utopia of activity, technology and red tape, where we submitted our many documents, had eye tests, biometrics and fingerprints (of which I have none, apparently) taken - where I paid close attention and stopped sketching for fear I got sent to the back of the queue for some misdemeanor.
By 1:45 pm I was out, blinking in the sunshine, good for another five years before I have to do it all over again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A peek at the Faraday Muti Market

Oh my goodness, blogging has got so left behind in the whirl of this fleeting year, I don't know where to start again...or whether...but I remind myself that if I don't record here some of what I've done/drawn/painted, chances are it'll all get lost in the jumble of events in my mind, and I'll be wondering what on earth I did with my life!
I'm not going to try and do a chronological catch-up, too much work and I have to spend less time on the computer - this sketch was done in May at one of our USk 10x10 workshops, 'Through the Windows' led by Lisa Martens, from Joziburg Lane (now called Hangout Jozi) where I did these sketches, only out of different windows, and looking down.


I felt like a rather illicit voyeur as I squinted down at a section of the Faraday Muti Market, which I've never had the courage to venture into myself. A traditional African healer's market, or hospital, it has animal - both common and highly endangered - and herbal products on display and traditional doctors that prescribe potions and lotions of herbs, spices, bones, flesh and more to cure every ailment or life problem. If you have a strong stomach you can read blogger 2Summers personal account, or google the market and find out more. Fortunately the area I could see below me consisted mainly of grains, herbs or husks laid out on mats in the sun and the 'bush meat' was hidden from my squeamish birds-eye view. People came and went to consult the sangomas and traditional healers for age-old remedies and spiritual and supernatural help; a Don Quixote-like figure poked and slashed at covered piles of who-knows-what with his stick as sellers sat calmly watching - and the 21st century rushed on past on the M2 highway above.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

10x10 Workshops 1 & 2: Tablescapes & Conversations; and Histories, Relics & Collections of Sketches


We had the first of our series of 10x10 workshops on Saturday here in Johannesburg, joining the celebrations around the world of the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers. I started off the three 'Little Stories' classes in the pleasant and relaxed setting of the Second Cup restaurant, with simple concepts of shape, space, focus and drawing faces. Quite a lot to get through... I knew some of our participants hadn't sketched at all, or not for a long time, but wanted there to be enough to work on for the regular sketchers to build onto their skills.

This was my handout booklet to remind everyone what we covered - ellipses, basic shapes, ways to create an illusion of space and focus, and faces - pointing to artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Daumier - and USker Melanie Reim - for expression and character.



To try and get over inhibitions about sketching their companions, we had a quick 'Portrait Party' with one side of the table sketching the other, with a timer on for just two minutes, and then swopping over for revenge! 


 It was satisfying, and a relief - nobody seemed bored or intimidated - to see the concentration around the table as everyone came to grips with getting all the elements in fore- middle- and background, onto a page.


I did a quick demo of making loose watercolour shapes and then drawing over them with line, using the flowers on the table, and suddenly we had a lot of flower studies in between the tablescapes, but they made for a colourful final display. The Urban Sketchers Johannesburg rubber stamp caused a lot of excitement, the highlight ,apparently, for some!


And it was over...a super group of enthusiastic partakers and really wonderful results... all my prepping and unnecessary worrying worthwhile, thanks everyone!

Histories, Relics & Collections of Sketches

Our second workshop was held on Wednesday - yesterday - at Lindfield House, a Victorian home and museum, led by excellent regular Joburg Sketcher Leonora Venter.


The session started with a tour of the many rooms of the museum by its curator and co-founder Katharine Love - her grandmother and mother started the collection and she has maintained and built on it. She is a fount of knowledge of Victorian customs and antiquities, but we'll have to go another time to hear all the stories, there was sketching to be done..

After the sketchers had selected which items interested them and they wanted to feature, Leonora gave an explanation and demo of the importance of making thumbnails to plan your page, trying different alternatives and deciding which would be the best one for your chosen subject matter.

Once everyone had made their thumbnails, they planned out a full or double page spread with light pencil shapes. Leonora then explained how to work out the boundaries of each object with light 'markers' and to measure ratios, proportions and angles within these shapes, working from bigger to smaller, and looking at positive and negative shapes.

Then came the work - and fun - of filling in the details and building up contrast using darker pencil lines, pen or wash, before going on to the other drawings in their 'collection', adding text if they wanted to and had time. There are so many Victorian gadgets, curiosities, furnishings and objets d'art in this amazing old house it would take a lifetime to sketch them all.


Leonora's lovely demonstration sketch of her collected items on a practice run a few weeks before - and the sketchbook display on the lawn afterwards.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Joziburg Lane



After days of unrelenting (but welcome) rain and a forecast for more we headed for cover on our monthly sketch date last week and returned to Joziburg Lane in the city. This is a food, retail and residential refurbishment of some old buildings, including what was known as Motortown, where Chrysler, Rolls Royce and other car brands were based back in the day, before inner-city decline set in and they moved north to the suburbs.

I leaned against my car bonnet and sketched from the windows of the rooftop parking lot - I loved the curves, waves, angles and textures laid out beneath me, and the window shapes helped me to place them on the pages of my concertina Moleskine. As you may know, buildings and architecture are extremely challenging for me - I found myself getting more and more irritated with drawing all the details, when I knew I didn't want details, and my hand got more impatiently scribbly as I went along... until suddenly I realised I was enjoying myself again with almost handwriting-like shortcuts to describe the background buildings.


I decided I really wanted some of the many textures of the rooftops and used white wax crayon before going over with watercolour - not such a great idea as the effects were pretty unpredictable. When I got home I also added bits onto my pages to take some of the buildings up to their proper heights - what would Johannesburg city be without the Carlton Centre, once the tallest building in Africa?

With cramped legs from standing so long, I trekked down the 'Forever Stairs' - there isn't a lift yet - to the food court at the bottom of the building where I met the rest of our group for lunch. We left just before the afternoon/evening event was about to start, a pity as some pretty funky musicians were arriving that would have made great subjects for sketching.

I've just realised I haven't posted the sketches from my other trips to Joziburg Lane here, so for the record...




...some early musicians from their Birthday Bash for Joburg's 130th anniversary, and the huge birthday cake in the food court (also unfortunately before the crowds arrived - I think I'm getting too old for the hustle and bustle of these social happenings) and the last two from a quiet weekday morning...shopkeepers and restaurant staff at a bit of a loose end waiting for customers, in front of a wall mural that those little plants are eventually going to be trained up.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

People, people, everywhere


I'm in a total tizz lately, planning the series of Urban Sketchers 10x10 workshops to be held here in Joburg (that little dot on Africa) from end of March. It's really not my natural state to plan, delegate, administrate and organise but some deep perfectionist tendencies surface and I do it to the nth degree, and nothing else, causing myself terrible anxiety and heart flutterings. I know it will be a lot of fun when it happens, and I will love sharing what I know and will enjoy the people that will come along; and the sketcher friends who are also giving classes, Anni, Leonora and Lisa are right with and behind me...it will all be all right on the night!

I'm going to focus my three sessions on basic shapes and people sketching, starting with faces and quickie portraits, going on to seated and fairly static figures, and then to moving people and bustling scenes - which is why I was doing the above sketch over coffee earlier this week, trying to work out exactly what it is that I do when I do it, and how to explain it to others. If anyone reading this is in Johannesburg March - May and wants to try some urban sketching please sign up soon, the first classes are almost booked up! The full schedule is here.

People-sketching seems to be in the ether, as Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel are holding a week long challenge from March 6 - 10 for anyone who wants to join in, to sketch 100 people over that time (20 a day!) and post them on social media #OneWeek100People2017 
I think I might join in, if I can calm myself enough to venture out every day to find that many people to draw. Why don't you?