Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Finding the right medium for the daily sketchbook

For ages, I have carried a small A6 (4 x 6 inches) sketchbook with me just about all the time.

My problem has been finding the right medium to use for drawing.

I favour drawing tonally, rather than linearly.

I love drawing with the tonally charged charcoal, conté and graphite, but the problem with these is that they smudge pretty quickly, unless they are fixed. I suppose I could apply a fixative back at home base. I could even use skim milk for this purpose, like the artists of earlier times:

from The Painter's Pocketbook of Methods and Materials by Hilaire Hiler (1945)

I will also happily use ink which is permanent and non-smudging.While you can draw tonally with ink using hatching for shading, I prefer to use ink in a more painterly way.

 I'm just  too impatient to knuckle under the discipline of hatching and inherently messy. I'm also pretty clumsy and an open bottle of ink is just too risky for sketching on the go. 

I tried oil crayons and simply just didn't like them.

I tried watercolour pencils, and  these were pleasant to use. I liked using water to soften out some of the tones. 

But, it was somewhat difficult to get a good range of tones, particularly the darkest darks.

Finally, I tried using coloured pencils. Bingo! Non-smudging, clean, nice range of tones, able to flip between line and tone.

sketch using Indigo Derwent Coloured pencil
And here is my rubber band "hack" to carry the pencil so that it is safe, unlikely to break, and with the book.

I hope there may be one or two things in this post that you might be able to use.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Doing Not-doing

The previous post seems awfully breathless, and rushed. It rather sounds like the writings of a time-obsessed lunatic.

While I would be the first to admit to having a powerful Pusher, most of the time he's in the background.

One of the most important aspects of Taoism is "wei wu wei" or doing not-doing. Sometimes, understood as "going with the flow" or  "not pushing the river" or "focusing without concern for the goal" or "intelligent navigation with the flow" as Alan Watts described it.

For me, in finding time in the midst of life's flow to make art, doing not-doing is that state of relaxed alertness and moving effortlessly from that to making art as the moment allows. If it is intelligent navigation, it's an instinctual, rather than a reasoned, intelligence.

For me, in making art, it is the sense of flow, which comes when the mind suspends and follows the direction the art is taking.

Last night in this state, I made two ink drawings.

The first was made with a reed stick and ink (black and burnt sienna). That day, I had spent  a couple of hours in the forest, gathering fallen timber for firewood. Our forest is a rather scrubby, untidy bush with straight limbed trees, some of them scarred and burnt from bushfires, and all of them with patterned bark. When you are in the forest, there is little sense of space and depth, everything seems up close and tangled. When I made the drawing, none of this was in my mind. I simply started doodling, putting down the first form (the tree trunk on the left) and then adding more to it as it felt right. To me, it really sums up that feeling of being in the local bush.

The second drawing started when I was wiping some ink from my fingers with a tissue. i wondered what sort of mark I could make with a tissue and ink. A streak of ink across the page seemed to be an horizon, so I added clouds above, then some land coming in from the left and then more to the right. At that point I started to see the landscape evolving before me and simply added a few details to bring out more of the image. When I reviewed it later, I realised that this too related to an experience I had the previous day. I'd gone fishing for the first time in a year; an unsuccessful attempt to catch one of our sea running trout. For the last month, I've been either in the city, or close to home (except for the forest trip). What struck me forcibly while I was standing in freezing cold water and casting my fly, was the expansive spaciousness of sky and water and land.

So, there you have it, two very different drawings about the sense of space, both the product of doing not-doing.