Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My DIY Homemade Pocket Sketch Book

My DIY, homemade pocket sketch book fits into my shirt, pants or jacket pockets. (outside dimensions are 4½ by a little over 3 inches or 115 by 80 mm). This neatly fits over and protects the paper which is A6 size. I use an A4 sheet of standard copy paper folded along the long side and torn (too lazy to cut), then folded long side again and torn, then folded in half to make the leaves.

The sketchbook has a watercolour pencil (sepia) attached, so that I can always sketch using line and tone. because it is a watercolour pencil, I can wet the shading to create a watercolour effect.

The pages are removable, so I can always have clean paper to work on.

The front and back covers are separate and hinged to the bamboo stick using filament tape, which is also what I used to construct the pencil holder.

I also put a small pocket on the inside cover for my art shop discount card.

Given my hamfisted approach, the sketch book has proved remarkably robust. I've been carrying it daily for about a year now, with no signs of  serious deterioration.

I hope that this inspires you to design and build your own. I'm sure that you can do a more elegant job.

Feel free to comment and share your own solutions.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Notes about entering art competitions

What is your aim in entering?

·         Building profile or resume, enter juried and the big, prestigious shows.
·         Selling, exhibitions aimed at buyers with lots of marketing to the public.
·         Winning, regional and local shows with fewer entrants where the odds will be better even if the prizes are smaller.
·         Building local presence, regional and local shows

Will this competition fulfill your aim?

·         Run by reputable organisation, professional group?
·         Is it in a good location?  
·         What is the marketing for the event?
·         What publicity will be generated by the event?
·         What publicity opportunities are there for you? (e.g. can you have artist’s flyers, notes, and cards at event? How can you use your entry for own publicity via social media and traditional media?)

Is it feasible to enter?

·         Are you eligible to enter?
·         Cost and effort of getting work to and from the venue
·         Time to prepare
·         Does the range of prices in the competition fit your aims? (You might be prepared to trade price for exposure.)
·         Check the security and insurance arrangements, ensure that responsibility is clear and you agree
·         Check the copyright arrangements. Ensure that you understand them and agree

Does your work fit the competition?

·         Read prospectus
·         View previous entries and winners
·         Check who the jurors will be, what style and type of art they produce (if they are working artists) or favour (if they are critics) or teach.

What to submit to maximize chances

·         What gets noticed.
o   Conditions of viewing, assume
§  you have a few seconds to make an impression
§  work viewed physically will be viewed from a distance (large, impactful from a distance)
§  work viewed photographically or digitally needs strong design and contrast
·         Be yourself, don’t try to pander to the judges’ tastes or follow previous years
·         Something unique and innovative
·         Large and impactful
·         Your best work
·         Multiple entries. Consistent quality is crucial (both one weak work and one standout work will reduce your chances). As a series, rather than a random group.
·         Enter work in multiple categories, if this is possible. Gets more notice.


·        Follow the competition rules and prospectus exactly. Make a checklist.
·        Create timetable for preparation of entry and submission of artwork
·        Submit art only within the subject or theme of the event.
·        Provide the best quality images possible.
·        Enter the maximum amount entries allowed.
·        Submit high quality images

Sunday, 19 March 2017

More on my current collage series

The collage series has grown quite a bit since my last post. I'm making 4 or 5 of these small collages each week and posting them on my Instagram account.

I did scale up the process completing this image, which is about 12 by 22 inches. I called it "Taking on the News"

This collage is on plywood, primed with acrylic paint back and front and all sides. The background consists of acrylic paint applied with a palette knife.

I am beginning with the intention of constructing a single figure in space. I may, of course, revise this as I go along.Then, as usual I began by building up the figure, using torn pieces of paper (in this case newspaper). The figure is built up from the bottom. As I proceed I get a feeling for where the shoulders should be, and thus the head.When I have this sorted, I search for  eyes of the appropriate size. The eyes are not necessarily a pait taken from the same original image.  Once the eyes go in, the character of the figure becomes more obvious. This figure seemed to want an arm and hand, so a suitable one was built up using torn paper and an image of the hand.

I then added various texts from newspapers. When I was making this image, I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount and pace of news happening around the world, particularly in the United States. My placement decisions are partly aesthetic, achieving a balance in the composition by breaking up the large space above the figure, and partly thematic, the sense of the figure being threatened by a wave of news. The little texts, to the right of the figure, contain suggestive words, so they add another dimension to the piece.

At this point, I usually modify the raw image, softening some parts and bringing others to the fore. Text can overwhelm image in our word-dominant culture. (Note, the number of people who read the description beside museum art works and then glance briefly at the painting before moving on. I once got told off by an angry lady for standing in front of the description and looking long at the painting). So I knocked back the words and some of the main figure by applying a light paint mix with a brayer.

At this point I may use a drawing implement (pen, crayon, pencil, charcoal, watercolour) to add suggestive details or to add shadow to bring out more of the image. The trick here is to use as little as possible and not to  complete the image. I want suggestion and a fertile field for the viewer. An example of this is the suggestive face left of the main figure, where I have emphasized the eyes to more clearly show the face I could see here, along with the fingers holding some sort of cylindrical object (stick? staff? scroll?). And the masked  face above that. In working by responding to what is happening on the surface, I use pareidolia ("seeing faces in clouds") to access an inner direction for the image.

It's finished when it's finished. The danger is overworking the image and killing whatever sense of liveliness and mystery it might have. So I try to stop before I think it is finished. I let it sit around for some period (a few days) to see if it needs any further touches.

Sometime during this period of reflection, the name will come. Since I don't work with ideas directly or overtly , but rather subliminally and subconsciously, what the work is "about" in the notional sense is only revealed, and then only partly, by NOT thinking about it at all This one was particularly problematic, because my mind was captured by the partial word in the top left VOCAT...which led me on to Vocatus. Such a lovely word, redolent with mystery, but, alas, just not right for this work. Only when I "killed the thing I loved" (to slightly misquote Oscar Wilde), could the phrase "Taking on the News" come to me. I delight in the duality of meaning, taking on  as in taking on cargo and

In writing this blog post, I have tried to be as clear and as honest as I can be, given that the process I am describing is one that happens without conscious direction by the rational mind (the I-mind), but rather is directed by the whole mind (the no-mind). Happy to answer any questions you may have or respond to any relevant comments.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Working methods of artists and how to feed and sustain the practice of art (Notes)

Dedication & commitment: true of all, but not necessarily to the extent of the monastic Brancusi, the obsessive Giacometti, the monomanic van Gogh.

Reclusive and gregarious, monastic and hedonistic… all preferences can be found among artists, but what you will find is never by halves. Hone your own preference.  

Feeding: Learning
Never stop studying the works of others, great and not great. Copy and transform.

Copy that which interests you the most  in order to train the eye-hand, but also copy with intelligence to understand the works more deeply and to grasp the creative processes behind them.

Keep building the skills of observation, drawing and the manual aspects of your art.

Keep building the technical and historical knowledge of your art form. Read widely, not just in your own field.

Music, art, poetry, theatre, dance, film…diet of the muse. Depth of tragedy and love, leavened with humour and the everyday.  Everything is potentially a gate to the sacred. Stay open. Stay vulnerable.

Feeding: and preparation
Draw anything, everything, frequently. Always carry the means to draw. Gathering materials and training the eye-mind to really see and understand without words.

Turner and others: Travel to dramatic, picturesque locations.  Using a pencil, small, simple line (contour) sketches done quickly (maybe with abbreviated notes re colours) on site. Could also do thumbnail tonal studies  (notan or 3 tones). Multiple views of each site—panoramas, vistas, close-ups, details. Possibly apply a watercolour wash later.

Constable and Chinese artists: Spend a lot of time getting to know a place. Long looking, observation and immersion in place and subject, without drawing. Looking for the essence of subject. Multiple studies of subjects and motifs. Developing a practiced hand able to produce image without involving the mind.

Transform sketches, don’t merely try to copy. Work from memory, not sketch or photograph. Follow the gesture, the feeling. Begin without the end in mind, trusting that your preparation, as above, will come through.

Monet, Degas, de Kooning Re-work and develop the motif.


Are you the sort of artist-person who needs, like Giacometti or Bacon, to remain in the one spot? Or do you need many secret places, like Freud? Are you a traveller and returner like Turner? Or a dweller in the one place, like Constable? Note how many artists need the stability of place.

Giacometti: "During those years, with very few exceptions, I couldn't let a single work survive. For that matter, I did not have a single exhibit between 1935 and 1947...All of this depressed me enormously" (Charles Juliet Giacometti, Art Data 1986 p 40)

keep working, even without hope and with despair. Just keep working.

A few notes from dipping into the Letters of van Gogh
When he arrived in a new place, he would walk around in it (he was a prodiguous walker). he would draw from his window, sketch places and paint (it seems) whatever caught his eye. I wonder if his art was a means to get his bearings in a new environment?
He was democratic in his subject matter and seems to have painted whatever took his attention. On the other hand he was also deliberate in his approach and choice of subject matter. He was a great sponge, reading avidly and widely, and exploring the art of others, not exactly copying, but making his own.
He was also prolific when enthused.

to be added to...

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A New Style of Collage for Me

I started by doing a watercolour wash background and pasting on some brown paper bag. Then added some bits and pieces of papers I had lying around. For some reason unknown to me, I started tearing the black and white material into small pieces and laying them down without any real plan. This figure and face seem to be present and I brought it out by extending the eyes and moustache with a drawing pen.

What I liked about this, what really struck me was the sense of presence about the black and white "figure" against the more neutral background. I didn't much like the colour paper on the left or the dividing line of leftover watercolour scrap.

So, taking what i did like as a point of departure I made a second figure.

And then this, which reminded me of some sort of horrendous bust of one of the Caesars, so I titled it "Bust of a Powerful Man" (with more than a touch of irony).

Then followed three more, each with their own personality and mystery.

Somewhat fearful?

Enigmatic mother?

Stormtrooper? Helmetted warrior?

It's always exciting to discover a new path, but I'm not sure where to go from here. You see, these experiments are quite small (roughly 9 by 7 cms or 3 by 3½ inches).

 I wonder what to do with this sort of really small work. Would they die framed on a wall? Should I consider making an artist's book of them? Should I consider photographing them and making an ebook from them? Should I try scaling them up into a larger format for displaying on a wall?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Doing Not-doing

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.