Thinking It Over

“Thinking It Over” wax pastels and coloured pencils. 28.5 x 23 cm. June 2021

A young woman sits cross-legged at East Fremantle jetty with the port of Fremantle laid out before her. Usually I need a seabird to soften this heavy industrial scene (in order for me to connect to it artistically) but a female human form serves just as well.

She reminds me of our eldest daughter, Emily. It isn’t Emily – but it could be – deep within herself – thinking it over.

Morning on the Swan River

“Morning on the Swan River” Wax pastels and coloured pencils, 34.5 x 42.5 cm. May 2021

A pair of black swans add their elegance to an already sublime view during sunrise on the Swan River.

This work would not have been conceived if it were not for our current pandemic. If life was normal with open Australian borders I would have returned to Europe after my art exhibition in April to find new inspiration. As it is I must re-sensitize myself to the place where I live so that I am able to see the beauty which is right here. It was not easy and I struggled with this work. As I drew it was hard to find the landscape interesting but when I concentrated on the swans they melted my resistance. And so the whole scene suddenly became inspirational.

In 2021 my goal is to find the treasure which is right here under my nose. Neither biding my time until I can travel again nor wishing myself somewhere else, but loving here – Perth, Western Australia.

Here is the progression:

Undercoat with Caran d’Ache Neocolor II wax pastel.
Working Caran d’Ache Luminance coloured pencils over the Neocolor.
Once the swans are in I rework all the other areas, enriching them.

“Morning on the Swan River” has given me confidence that I can be fulfilled by my own neighbourhood. A new day dawns.

The baby we had to have

Left to right: Emily, Lucy, Matthew, Alicia
Left to right: Emily, Lucy, Matthew, Alicia

(First posted on April 30th 2014)…I’ve told this story many times but in case you missed it, here it is again.   In early 1993 I was happily married with two daughters when out of the blue Matthew (husband) announced that he wanted another child.  This was quite a shock but after several weeks of thinking about it, I decided to rise to the challenge.  Have I already said that Matthew is one of thirteen children?  No wonder he wanted a third.

Lucy was born on 30th April 1994.  Today she is 20!  It has occurred to me during the past few hours that it is also 20 years since I put down my paint brushes and picked up coloured pencils – and it is all thanks to Lucy.

Working with my coloured pencils in the lounge while Lucy had a sleep, 1994.
Working with my coloured pencils in the lounge while Lucy had a sleep, 1994.

Any new mother who is also an artist knows that it is extremely hard to do one’s art with a new baby.  I was working in oils back then.  I thought I’d be able to paint when Lucy had her naps.  The reality was anything but.  Once I thought she was asleep I would go to my studio and start to mix colours.  But…oh no…a sound from the nursery.  And now that sound is turning into crying.  Ahhh!!  And so it went.  I thought I might go mad.

I had a light-bulb moment.  Try coloured pencils.  I had used them briefly at art school; why not try them again?  Matthew thought it was a good idea.  I took myself off to the local art shop and bought a 72 box set of Derwents and a 36 set of Stabilo Softcolor pencils…and some paper.  I didn’t know what it would be like working in pencils but it had to be more convenient than oils.   And no matter what it would be like, at least I’d be doing art.

"Lucy's Buzzy Bee" 1994, my first coloured pencil drawing.
“Lucy’s Buzzy Bee” 1994, my first coloured pencil drawing.
"Summer Window" 1994, my second colour pencil drawing.
“Summer Window” 1994, my second colour pencil drawing.

I also kept a pair of earplugs at my art desk so that I didn’t hear the small sounds that a baby makes when she is going off to sleep.  I was so nervous of those tiny sounds.  If I didn’t have the earplugs in I wouldn’t be able to relax enough to draw.  After an hour or so I’d take my earplugs out though I’d still hope she wouldn’t wake for another hour.   As long as I could keep doing my bit of art once each day I could nearly cope with what it took to be a mother-of-a-baby all over again.

Timeless 1997
Drawing from collage

For the first few years of using coloured pencils I didn’t draw from my own photos.  Instead I bought all sorts of magazines, cut up the photos and made collages from them.  Then I would draw using the collage as source material.  This is mainly because I didn’t have the opportunity to go out to take photos – and – consumed with baby I didn’t even have photo-taking ideas of my own.  Much easier to find images from magazines and compose from them.  I could do my composing in quiet moments or at night.

Artefacts Around 1998
Drawing from collage.

Lucy doesn’t mind at all that she is ‘the baby we had to have’.  She knows the story.  If it wasn’t for her I might never have stopped painting in oils.  I’m very glad I did though.  I much prefer pencils to oils.  And as to Lucy…she is the only daughter still living at home and … she’s OKAY!  As Wallace said to Gromit, Lucy is “a valuable addition to our modern lifestyle”.

Lucy riding in the New Forest, England, in 2010.
Lucy riding in the New Forest, England, in 2010.

2021 note:  Seven years after I first posted this, Lucy is 27 today – and now lives across the other side of Australia from us.  We miss her VERY MUCH!

Lucy and Julie at the opening of “Fascination” art exhibition in 2016.
Lucy admires my Caran d’Ache Supracolor Exceptional Box in 2018.

On another note – THANK YOU to everyone who came to “An Italian Dream” art exhibition (8-18 April 2021). I am still in recovery; that is, still reflecting on the wonder of it all. It was fabulous to talk art for 11 days with so many interested visitors. I loved it. Now I am getting used to being a quiet-artist-at-home once again.

“An Italian Dream” opening celebration on 8 April 2021. (Missing-in-action was Lucy who couldn’t come over from Sydney.)

Pictures from Italy

Nearly everybody in the world who reads my blog was unable to visit the art exhibition which opened on April 8th 2021 featuring 24 of my drawings and 22 clay sculptures by Robyn Varpins. The world is vast. I live in the most isolated city within it – Perth, Western Australia.

So here is the collection of drawings which took 28 months to put together. I am showing them in the order in which they were drawn along with a brief description of each.

Early One Morning 07:50 on a November Saturday in Cannaregio. It is my first morning discovering Venice. 35 x 28 cm. January 2019. SOLD

A Room with a View I am contemplating a nocturnal view from a window of our Cannaregio apartment. 31.5 x 25 cm. January 2019. SOLD

The Remains of the Day Looking across the Venetian lagoon to Punta della Dogana and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute as the sun descends in the west. 36.5 x 31 cm. February 2019. SOLD

Silent Night All is quiet except for lapping water, a soft breeze, and footfalls in Dorsoduro late at night. 32.5 x 29 cm. May 2019. SOLD

Deep in Castello One may feel submerged within the narrow vertical spaces of Venice, as I do, deep in Castello. 31 x 26 cm. August 2019. SOLD

Winter Rain Unrelenting winter rain falls over Venice as the tide stealthily rises. 24 x 20 cm. October 2019.

A View from Lido A hazy view from Lido, looking back across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore. 39.5 x 32 cm. November 2019.

Eventide San Giorgio Maggiore floats in the distance during The Feast of All Souls, November 2nd. 34.5 x 42.5 cm. December 2019. SOLD

Look Out At a lookout on Palatine Hill a yellow legged gull poses under a thundery sky. 28.5 x 30 cm. December 2019. SOLD

Most Serene A vaporetto emerges out of the dissipating sea fog early on a spring morning. 33.5 x 48.5 cm. January 2020. SOLD

Ascension The dome of Santa Maria della Salute glows above the Grand Canal on a heaven-sent evening. 36.5 x 36.5 cm. February 2020. SOLD

Quiet Time On Lido, an obliging yellow legged gull poses before a panoramic view. 33.5 x 53.3 cm. April 2020. SOLD

The Hospital Cat Within the courtyard of Ospedale Civile in Venice lives a small community of cared-for cats. 30.5 x 27 cm. June 2020.

Composition with Cat An alert cat sits within framework at Ospedale Civile, Venice, bringing to my mind a Piet Mondrian composition. 32 x 29 cm. June 2020.

All the World’s a Stage “All the world’s a stage…” wrote William Shakespeare. On Palatine Hill the stage belongs to a yellow legged gull. 32.5 x 48.5 cm. August 2020.

Another Time Chamonix is an alpine resort in the French Alps near both Switzerland and Italy. On a balmy evening, tourists saunter. 25 x 31 cm. September 2020. SOLD

Good Vibrations It is early evening on lively via Fiori Oscuri in the Brera district of Milan. Lights, colours, action – “I’m picking up good vibrations”. 35 x 29 cm. October 2020. SOLD

Cornered A threat with style! This piece of street art commands attention on a corner wall in Milan. 28 x 31 cm. October 2020. SOLD

Summer Rain A summer thunderstorm causes colours to run in Verona. 24 x 21 cm. November 2020.

An Autumn Feast The Cathedral of Florence hovers above the autumnal trees of Giardino di Boboli. 25.5 x 28 cm. November 2020. SOLD

An Italian Dream It is a fine autumn morning in spectacular Vernazza. I am dazzled by this fishing village on the Ligurian coast. 41 x 29 cm. December 2020. SOLD

Morning has Broken The palazzi and the Accademia vaporetto stop reflect the rising sun from their east-facing surfaces. 40.5 x 29 cm. January 2021. SOLD

Wet Verona A summer evening thunderstorm erupts over Verona’s pedestrians. 21.5 x 25 cm. February 2021.

Europe Endless A small station somewhere in Europe (Chamonix) invites the question, “Where next?” 23.5 x 20 cm. February 2021.

…and the answer to the question “where next?” is Fremantle (home). But that is another story and possibly another exhibition in 2023….

Robyn and Julie

To view the sculptures of Robyn Varpins, see her website here

And here is a link to the article in The West Australian Newspaper by Journalist Will Yeoman on “An Italian Dream”.

This was opening night on 8 April 2021.

Neighbourhood Watch

“Neighbourhood Watch” Luminance pencils, 32 x 28 cm. March 2021

Biko, a fine feline friend of mine, watches the comings and goings in the neighbourhood from a table on a veranda in South Fremantle. As he observes others, so I observe him.

I’ve been using Neocolor II wax pastels to undercoat many recent drawings however “Neighbourhood Watch” is drawn with coloured pencils only. My method doesn’t change much whether my undercoat is with wax pastel or coloured pencil. First I block in the undercoat. There are already a couple of layers of undercoat on the wall in this image.

Luminance undercoat

When I am building up tones I decide early on that the deepest darks and the brightest whites will be on the cat’s fur so he will stand out from his surroundings. With this in mind I use my UNDERCOVER WHITE method on all the lighter (and white) areas of his fur. But I don’t use undercover white anywhere else in the drawing. It is the cat I want to glow, not his surroundings.

Surroundings mostly done. Cat still in undercoat stage.

Even though there appear to be dark areas under the table and in the bit of window behind the cat, they still are not quite as dark as what I save for parts of the fur. Though the window frame is kind of white, it is actually done in various greys because I don’t want it to compete with the fur.

So Biko sits on his throne looking out at the world. And when I have finished photographing him, I make sure I catch his eye so that he jumps down and comes to me for some stroking and scratching behind his ears.

Click HERE for my UNDERCOVER WHITE theory and method.

You Are Here

“You Are Here” Neocolor and Luminance, 25.5 x 20 cm. March 2021

Sometimes you see large helpful maps on streets, especially in touristy areas. There is usually an arrow on the map pointing to the spot corresponding to where you are standing. The arrow is accompanied by the words YOU ARE HERE.

I have recently come to the conclusion that I AM HERE. I am at home in Fremantle, Western Australia. The international borders are shut so here I stay. Over the past two years I have worked on 24 Italian drawings for the exhibition “An Italian Dream” – on next month.

I felt a sense of grief when I finished the Italian drawings. I loved mentally hanging out in Europe for months after I physically returned home. And I’ve been fearful that nothing will inspire me locally. It is easy to romanticize about somewhere else; not so easy to get excited about my own neighbourhood.

However I have taken the tentative first step; it is the small drawing “You Are Here“. I drew it last week using a photo I took eight years ago.

Here is the original 2013 drawing.

“Just Landed” drawn in 2013.

I wanted to draw it again to ease myself back into local colours and subjects. The resulting “You Are Here” is different from the 2013 “Just Landed” as technique continuously evolves.

I enjoyed working on “You Are Here” but when I finished it I had another crisis of self-confidence. What if there was nothing in Fremantle I wanted to draw NOW? I’d be lost in a void in my own neighbourhood. But let’s not get carried away with groundless fears.

Yesterday I found a brand new 2021 composition while outside with my camera. So I will begin. I will take things one drawing at a time. I hereby anchor myself in the here-and-now, observing this small port town with steadfast attention. Grounded in Fremantle.


And if YOU ARE HERE, I hope you’ll come to the exhibition…

Europe Endless

Neocolor II undercoat of “Europe Endless” 23.5 x 20 cm. February 2021

NOW – February 2021: There are two albums I listen to which take me straight back to Europe. They are by German group, Kraftwerk, and are from the 1970s. One album is “Autobahn” and the other “Trans Europe Express“. The first track (no pun intended) on “Trans Europe Express” is “Europe Endless“. As I am working on this drawing, the tune of “Europe Endless” rolls into my head and brakes. It is the name I will use for my title.

Luminance coloured pencils going over the top of Neocolor undercoat.

THEN – July 2018: I am in Chamonix Mont Blanc. As I walk with my camera (having deposited Matthew in our hotel room) the evening sky blackens and a thunderstorm begins. While crossing a railway line I attempt to capture the glowing station lights and wet reflecting tracks before rushing back to a dry hotel, dodging lightning forks as I go.

“Europe Endless” completed. 23.5 x 20 cm. February 2021

This seems like a fitting drawing to finish off my exhibition collection. It tells me that even though I am having an exhibition in April, it is not the end of the line, merely a station along the way. The train, so to speak, will continue on after a brief stop, forever going to new places.

I pay homage to Florian Schneider who co-founded Kraftwerk. He died last year – but perhaps he only changed trains and is continuing his journey on another line.

Meanwhile the song fades, “Europe Endless Endless Endless Endless Endless...”

PS: “Europe Endless” is a drawing where I employed my theory of UNDERCOVER WHITE to help achieve glowing colours. If you would like to know more about using undercover white in your own work, I have explained my methods in the post UNDERCOVER WHITE

Wet Verona

“Wet Verona” 21.5 x 25.5 cm February 2021

In my latest drawing I return to a summer evening thunderstorm in Verona. I so liked that storm that “Wet Verona” is my fourth drawing of it. If you compare “Wet Verona” above to “Summer Rain” below you can see that the couple with the rainbow umbrella have walked away a few paces while the lady in the shocking pink raincoat has left the scene. The colourful tourists are untroubled by the sudden downpour on this warm evening which turns them and their surroundings into a watercolour-like impression.

Summer Rain (Verona)

“Wet Verona” has an undercoat of Neocolor 1. This is the original Neocolor which is not water-soluble like Neocolor 2. Neocolor 1 feels drier to use and less slippery than Neocolor 2. In fact it feels nearer to coloured pencil whereas Neocolor 2 feels nearer to crayon.

“Wet Verona” is my 23rd piece for the upcoming exhibition “An Italian Dream”. My colleague, Clay Sculptor, Robyn Varpins is my co-exhibitor.

Morning has Broken

“Morning has Broken” January 2021 40.5 x 29 cm.

I regularly write about a method I’ve developed of putting an undercoat of Neocolor (wax pastel) onto my paper before I build colour over it with Luminance coloured pencils. I’ve used the Neocolor/Luminance partnership for this work.

One doesn’t absolutely need Neocolor when working with coloured pencils. Here is the same subject; sunrise reflecting off buildings on the Grand Canal, which I drew two years ago with Luminance coloured pencils alone.

“Sunrise Reflected” drawn in June 2019

I wanted to tackle this subject again so I decided to give myself a different experience from the first time by adding Neocolor. I ask myself each time I’m ready to begin a new work, “Am I in the mood to use Neocolor or am I not?”.

Incidentally you may notice the same seagull in both drawings. The bird is actually in the source photo for my latest drawing “Morning has Broken” however I wanted him in the first drawing “Sunrise Reflected” so I borrowed him.

Here is “Morning has Broken” in stages:

Undercoat in Neocolor finished.
Starting to work the Luminance over the top from the left.
As I move across I continually adjust all the earlier sections.
The building on the right is in the process of being worked on.
“Morning has Broken” January 2021

At every stage I fix things up, trying to get perspective right plus have windows and columns lining up as best I can. One thing about Venetian architecture is that it is warped and wonky. This gives me a bit of leeway. The unexpected sags and lumps may be the buildings themselves as opposed to this artist’s poor skills. Mayhap – this is a word I often say in my head – a mixture of maybe and perhaps.

During this week, over forty years of work comprising more than 550 paintings and drawings in 15 categories, was migrated over from my old website to a brand new 2021 website. I’d love you to take a look.

An Italian Dream

“An Italian Dream” a drawing of Vernazza. 41 x 29 cm. December 2020

Six weeks ago I sent my middle daughter, Alicia, a text. It was a photo of Vernazza, a fishing village on the north west Ligurian coast of Italy. Vernazza is one of five towns of Cinque Terre. I wrote, “This Saturday 24 months ago“. I was remembering that two years ago, in a time before COVID-19 was even a glint in someone’s eye, we had stayed in Vernazza. Alicia’s reply was, “Wow what a beautiful photo!!! I almost didn’t recognize it as a place we’d been!!!”.

Alicia’s enthusiasm for the beauty of the photo I’d sent planted a seed in my brain. Why hadn’t I drawn Vernazza yet? I looked through the photo files on my computer and found the photo source which I would use for this drawing. For some reason I’d never even printed it out! It was hiding, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself.

I looked up to see what I’d written in my journal on 17 November 2018. “I have had a spectacular day. I walked +++, in fact 9.6 km up and down steep hills. First I went up one side of the town and then up the other side (the latter on two different paths – both UP!) So I’ve worked extremely hard physically. It was peaceful, quiet and stunningly beautiful. What a perfect antidote to noisy Rome. It is very cold and quite windy, though sunny too. Today has been one of the highlights of the trip. I did so love exploring and being rewarded for my climbs with views, birdsong, the sound of the sea and utter peace.”

And then, “We learned today about an enormous disaster which happened to the Cinque Terre on October 25 2011. 20 inches of rain (accompanied by a tornado) hit the area. They had that much rain in three to four hours that it brought down rivers, landslides, rocks, mud, cars – everything – upon Vernazza and her neighbours. Mud and water were metres deep. Three people died. I appear to have been oblivious to it at the time. That was the year of Christchurch’s earthquake on February 22 and Japan’s earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Vernazza was practically destroyed and had to be put back together which took two years and millions of euros.”

11 pm. Little children play soccer in the piazza until very late. They are so cute, looking to be about six years old. An adult or two supervises them. Perhaps it helps the children to sleep well. One never sees such a thing in Australia. Eventually the children are herded home to bed, calling and shrieking all the way.”

How the drawing looked as a work in progress.

A technical note about the drawing: I wanted the colours in the foreground to be the most deeply saturated parts of picture, being closest to the viewer. Hence I put Neocolor wax pastel down as undercoat for this water/boat area. The sky, hills and buildings have no Neocolor underneath. They are rendered with coloured pencil only. Having wax pastels for the pencils to work into and over makes for a finish of delicious intensity. On the page “Perfect Partners: Neocolor and Luminance” where I discuss the collaboration between these two Caran d’Ache mediums, I include this information.