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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Kalahari Bookshop

The Kalahari Bookshop in Orange Grove is a cavern of delights for anyone who would take the time to sift through its groaning shelves, boxes and bookcases to find their particular brand of fascination (or if you're in a hurry, ask the knowledgeable owner Richard for help). I gladly accepted an invitation, along with a few friends, to join artist Tim Quirke in this tucked-away shop's day off - a Monday - to draw in this stacked to the ceiling space. 
Tim was working on a painting, and chatting to us about his methods and approach while the rest of us sketched, as we do, recording the moment in this nostalgic corner of Johannesburg. It was really hard to keep my mind on my sketch when titles that lined my childhood bookshelves kept catching my eye and drawing me to them with squeals of recognition.

After a morning chatting about art, by lunchtime we'd agreed to return over the next few Mondays to continue drawing and painting and learning from Tim the much he has to teach us. So that's what I've been doing over the last three weeks, instead of straightening the house after the weekend, laundry and keeping up with emails and blogging (and Inktober, more of which later), it's been pure indulgence in the world of tone, pattern and observation, which of course is all good!

The sketches below are studies of shape, flow, volume, light and dark, pattern, trying to make sense of the jigsaw of shapes. Hand-toned paper helps to convey something of the feel of the shop and its vintage, well-loved contents as a base for painting on later. While in theory I know of this approach to composition - notan, grouping of lights and darks to form passages - I'm very happy to feel I'm at last starting to figure out, with guidance, how to do it in a real situation...something that's mostly escaped me up to now.

To add to the alchemy, Richard's assistant Arthur kindly sits for us - he could possibly have stepped straight out of one of the books towering over us.
Next on this final (I think!) version, more light and dark passages following the studies above it, and some colour - I'll keep you posted, eventually!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Going to the zoo, how about you?

Our first Spring sketchday was to the zoo again, where I've sketched herehere and here... You'd think I'd get tired of it, but once there I get thoroughly engrossed in trying to capture the animals, even while my heart is aching for their imprisonment. It is really the only place you can get close enough for long enough to study and draw them. I've tried in the wild and believe me, they move and disappear in seconds, even the biggest ones.
The elephants were wandering around their large enclosure and I captured them as I could - and couldn't resist including a briefly paused onlooker with remarkably similar trousers on!

Next door to the ellies was a bored and lonely looking rhino, though he seemed popular with the birds - a peacock, a rooster, plus a dozen little chirpers hung around him as he lolled around in the shade.
I wasn't sure what the pale, elegant looking antelope were in the distance - later identified by my husband as gemsbok - I haven't seen such light coloured ones before.

Lastly, after meeting the rest of our group for lunch and sketchbook chat, Leonora and I found some pelicans - one optimistically fishing in a rather filthy khaki pool - and became entranced by trying to reproduce their sculptural feathers, their nursery pastel-coloured faces and their elastic movements, and once again I thought the time at the zoo was too short, I'll have to come back another day, just for the birds.

“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I'll be darned if I know how the hellican?”