Cornered

“Cornered” 28 x 31 cm, a drawing coloured pencils, October 2020

When I travel I’m always on the look out for interesting street art. I found this arresting piece on the corner of a dilapidated wall in Milan. I photographed it 23 months ago to the day (20 November 2018) and have been drawing it for the last fortnight. The title “Cornered” relates to the figure’s physical placement on a corner as well as being about the tense situation she dramatizes. Note “a disagio” on the top left of the yellow rectangle. It means discomfort.

Street art soon weathers, fades and tears. It has a very limited life span. Now and then I find a piece that I’d like to give another kind of life to – by making a drawing of it. Most of my street art collection is from sources I found in Paris including “Rebel Rebel” which I drew in 2018.

“Rebel Rebel” a drawing of a weathered political poster. Coloured pencils, 250 x 300 mm. March 2018

You can view nearly two decades of my street art drawings here. Not only is it the art itself that I am interested in but where it is placed and the (often decaying) conditions of the surrounding surfaces. While it makes its mark on urban structures it also marks time until eventually it vanishes without a trace – as indeed, in the end, do we!

Afterword: When I posted “Cornered” on Facebook, a reader identified where the original image had come from. The actress was Betty Lou Gerson from the 1949 film “The Red Menace”.

Good Vibrations

“Good Vibrations” drawn with Neocolor and Luminance. 35 x 29 cm. October 2020

It is early evening on via Fiori Oscuri in the Brera district of Milan – lights, colours, action. I’m picking up good vibrations.

Neocolor 2 undercoat.

It had been a leaden grey November day and freezing cold (2 to 3 degrees). (European cities can be so unrelentingly monochrome when it is cloudy.) I shivered around the Brera district until the lights came on. Artificial light changed sad grey to a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours. I heard a sound of bells. In the distance I could see a man pushing a red trolley. He was covered in bells! I waited until he was JUST in the right position and then I got my source photo. Mission completed, I hot-footed it back to my warm apartment.

Another Time

“Another Time”    Neocolor II and Luminance coloured pencils    25 x 31 cm    September 2020

4 July 2018:  Towards midnight as we lie in our continental hotel bed, Matthew asks me, “What country are we in?”  I take a moment to make sure I give the correct answer, “France”.  It is not a silly question.  Two days before we had exited Italy.  This morning we woke in Geneva, Switzerland – the big day of visiting the Caran d’Ache factory.  Right now we are in the alpine village of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and tomorrow we will drive to Grimsel Pass in the Swiss Bernese Alps. 

Even while I’ve been working on this drawing, I’ve been thinking most of the time that I’m drawing a Swiss alpine town.  No – Chamonix is in the French Alps – I remind myself – (well, since 1860 anyway).

What time was it?  It was dusk.  It was before Covid-19.  It was when we could still travel.  It was a day dream, a beautiful memory, another time.

Step 1  Neocolor II undercoat

step 2  working the coloured pencils into and over the Neocolor wax pastels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the World’s a Stage

“All the World’s a Stage”    Neocolor II and Luminance.  32.5 x 48.5 cm.  August 2020

All the world’s a stage...” as William Shakespeare wrote – but it would be a mistake to think that only humans are performers.  The Yellow Legged Gull stands centre stage on Palatine Hill in Rome.  He parades his gleaming health, strength and character amidst this imperial setting.  The sound and lighting are brought to us by Jupiter, Roman god of sky and thunder, who provides a stupendous thunderstorm.  It is a grand drama and we come away wet through and thoroughly satisfied.

The completed undercoat stage drawn with Neocolor II.


A note about art materials:

A new colour selection of Luminance pencils

In July 2020 Caran d’Ache launched a set of 24 colours to add to the other 76 colours of their Luminance lightfast range.  I used these extensively in the making of this drawing.  While the collection is marketed as a portrait set I also find the colours perfect for all aspects of landscape.

I particularly want to mention no. 639 Dark Indigo.  In the image below there is a patch of dark indigo to the left of a patch of black.  This is such a useful colour because it is as intensely dark as black, but here’s the thing, it doesn’t dull other colours when used in layering the way that black can, because it is BLUE, albeit an extremely dark blue.  It is the darkest dark blue of all coloured pencil brands I have ever come across.  Dark indigo is liberally used throughout this drawing.   I have used it with minimal pressure on the light tones and with heavy pressure on the bird’s darkest feathers.   It is a colour enhancer as opposed to a colour oppressor.

“All the World’s a Stage” is undercoated in Neocolor II wax pastels with Luminance coloured pencils worked into, and layered over, the top.

Here are the full 100 Luminance colours.  These are my light-fast tools…

 

 

 

 

Welcome Home Little Bird

5 August 1968  “On Saturday Angela and I were wandering around looking for something to do.  Then Mrs Stetina took us to the Gardens.  We played on the swings a lot and then went to the Observatory and ran.  We then just got to the cable car in time before it left.  We went into town and Mrs Stetina bought Angela a bag of lovely hot chips but I bought some with my own money and then we dawdled through town and came to the lions.  Then we went home on the bus.  On Sunday we took our bird to Porirua to get her a mate.  But the people we went to see did not have very good birds.  When we were coming back it was dark and poor Pookie was tired.  When we got home Mummy shouted Welcome home little bird.” 

A couple of weeks ago my sister, Jeannie, found in her house a kind of diary I had written in 1968.  It was required for school that year when I was in Standard 2 and aged eight/nine years old.  Jeannie still lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where ‘us kids’ grew up.  I’m over here in Western Australia.  Posting the journal to me meant the possibility of it not arriving for weeks (who knows with mail at the moment) so Jeannie photographed and emailed me all the pages.  I decided to take some of the best bits and put them on my blog.

6 March 1968  “This morning when I woke up I opened the window and I found that there would be no sport.  Weeee.  I never did like sport.  Anyway I love the sound of sweet little raindrops pat-pat-patting on the window.  Why do we have sport anyway?  I think it is because they want us to run faster.  But I am not very fast at running.  I would like to be the first one in every race that we do.  It would be fantastic.”

18 March 1968:  “In the weekend Max my brother made a huge cage for the zebra finches.  The zebra finches are little birds.  They are very sweet little birds.  Max made them a nest box.  They have four perches and two doors.  The cage is longer than the table and it is taller than me.  Max would not of done it if John Batt did not help him.  But they made it so that was good fun looking to see what he was doing”.

27 March 1968  “I have got three pets they are all birds.  Two of them are zebra finches.  Zebra finches are little birds with little black lines under their sweet little eyes.  I have also a budgie.  She is very sweet and we let her out of her cage a lot.  We know when she wants to come out because when she wants to come out she says Tata.  It is a sweet little noise but sometimes mum doesn’t like it so she puts Bird in another room.  We all say poor bird.  She is yellow.  She was Miss Wong’s Bird but she has a new cage.  We had a cat but poor pussy died.  I was very sad.  Pussy really did not die but she was put to sleep.  I always think of pussy as I often used to go to bed with her.  She was a tabby cat.  She was the best pet we had.  Bird is also very sweet so are the zebra finches but pussy was much better.”

10 April 1968 [Cyclone Giselle hits New Zealand]  “The storm is vicious.  The storm is strong.  The wind is fast and we hope it will not last.  We wish the day would quickly change to be sunny and warm and not wet and torn.  It’s wrecking the trees.  It’s not just a breeze.  People are being blown on the roads.  Cars are mostly being towed.  Winds swooping in the air.  Wrecking smashing not only bashing.  It howls and roars in the air never giving us things to spare”

11 April 1968 “The Wahine:  The Wahine is being sunk and so far there are 40 people dead.  They say there can be a lot more.  Lots of people have been taken to hospital”.   [The sinking of the Lyttelton-Wellington ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968 was New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster in which 53 people lost their lives.]

20 May 1968 “…the following Friday we went to see Rolf Harris.  When I say we I mean my sister Jeannie and I.  Jeannie could take me with know [sic] trouble because she is 19.  It was at the Town Hall.  We were quite a lot in time so we got a good seat.  We had to change over because where I was sitting it wasn’t very good but then, it was quite all right.  When I came home I said how I liked him to every body and Mummy said he was on T.V.  I thought she meant the whole show.  But then Mummy told me he was only in “Town and Around” [a local magazine-type of current affairs programme].  Then she said I better get off to bed so I did”. 

27 May 1968   [Inangahua earthquake]  “In the weekend in New Zealand there was a huge earthquake.  I felt it in the night on Friday night in bed.  I am very much afraid of them but I do not know how the poor people felt who got the most of it.  Some people had to be taken out of their homes.  A big fire station had a crack in it so the people who worked there had to go to be in a better one.  The earthquake was in Greymouth.  The earthquake company opened on Saturday.  It was a hard job and besides that a woman was killed.  A lot of roofs on houses have been shaken in and so on.  I was very interested to see the news.  There have been great big cracks in the roads.  The waves of the earthquake have come right up to Hawkes Bay”.  [The 7.1 earthquake struck on 24 May 1968.  Damage was extensive along the West Coast of the South Island but Inangahua Junction suffered the most.  70% of the dwellings were rendered uninhabitable and three people died.]

4 June 1968 “In the long weekend I wanted to go to the Freyberg pool but mum was not very well so we could not go.  She said we could go on Sunday but then she was still not very well so I was walking around doing nothing.  But then I had a good idea.  I asked daddy if he would play hangman with me.  He said yes.  We were playing for a long time and then dad said he would have to get up so I said just one more game so he said all right so we had one.  Daddy is all Polish and we were not doing Polish words but then I said I have a good word so he said all right.  Just one more.  So I looked up in the Polish book and did it.  Daddy laughed his head off when he found out that it was Polish.  After that I went out of the room.”

10 June 1968 “On Saturday I wanted to go to the Freyberg pool but mum said she had too much work to do.  So I played with my friends.  Then we went up the hills.  We had a neat fort.  Then I just stepped down to the brook and I screamed.  HELP!!!  There were dog fish at the brook but I thought they were sharks.”

24 June 1968 “On Saturday we had the tape recorder.  I was taping myself a lot.  I was singing and screaming and yelling.  Some times only talking.  Then we heard dad saying get away Julie.  And Mum pretended to be making soup in an advertisement. “

8 July 1968 “On Saturday I went to the park with my little friend Sissy.  We were mostly playing on the swings.  We had a very good time there.  I came home and had lunch and then played with Irene and I came home at half past four.  Then played by myself with my cut-out dolls till dinner.  On Sunday Mummy took Angela and I to the Freyberg pool.  After that we ended up going round the bays.  I sat up excitedly when we saw the Wahine.  Angela said it looked horrible.  But I was glad to see it for the first time.  We went to the Island Bay park then went home.  We got home when it was dark and Angela and I played hiding go seek.”

18 July 1968  “The Monkey Show:  On Wednesday after school Angela, Lency and I went to a Monkey Show.  We had to sit on the floor which was not very nice and I said that we would have to sit together.  We had to wait for half an hour before that silly thing started.  When it did start this man was eating fire.  He had two sticks that had huge flames on them.  Then one of them went out so he put another one in.  Fire was coming out of his mouth so much that it lit the other one.  The monkey was very good too but he came on at the end.  There was a great big dog and the monkey rode on him.  We were not allowed to clap till he had got off or else he would have fallen off.”

22 July 1968 “On Sunday I wanted to go to church instead of Sunday school.  So we rang up Angela and went at half past 9.  Afterwards we found it was pretty boring.  At 2 o’clock we went up to Eastbourne.  We saw the Wahine but not very well.  When we were coming back we stopped and spent five cents.  Then every playground we saw when we were coming back we stopped to play on the swings.  When we were getting closer to home we stopped to play on the [stone] lions.  It was a lot of fun for the lions as well as us.  I rushed over to look inside that building by the lions.  [The Cenotaph]  Angela ran after me and then had the most nasty crash.  I got her back to the car and we went home.”

12 August 1968   “On Saturday Angela and I were at the park growling because I had to go to a party and I did not want to go.  Mummy said it was too late now not to go because we had now brought the present.  So I went and I had a very good time.  When I came home I went to Angela’s and we played the Checkout Game.  On Sunday Angela came up to see a film of Ivanhoe.  Then Mum, Dad and I went visiting to Angela’s place to have afternoon tea!  It ended up that we stayed till 7 o’clock.  Then we came home.  I had a horrible thought that the next day I had to go back to school.”

The Podstolski family in 1968 or thereabouts:

Jeannie and Julie (holding up a bag of plums)

Max and Julie at Lake Ferry (1967?)  Max always carried his telescope for bird watching.

Julie reading to Pookie and her mate (who I think was called Blue Boy)

Afternoon tea on the back lawn with our visitor, Mr Parowski, seated on the left.

Mum, Jeannie and I outside the 1968 Winter Show Buildings, Wellington.

I will be 61 years old in a few days.  Mum, Dad and Max have departed to the “Better World” (as Dad used to refer to wherever-it-is after this physical life).  I am indebted to Jeannie for finding the journal enabling me to reconnect with a long-forgotten time.  Welcome home little memories!

 

Composition with Cat

“Composition with Cat”  drawn in June 2020 with Luminance coloured pencils. 32 x 29 cm.

Serendipity!  Three days before I took the photo which became my source for “Composition with Cat” Alicia and I had already visited the cat community at Ospedale Civile in Venice.  I showed the image below of Alicia (middle daughter) talking to the cats in my recent blog post “The Hospital Cat“.

Alicia is stroking the SAME CAT as in my drawing!

I had already begun drawing “Composition with Cat” when I happened to look back at this photo of Alicia with the cats.  What a surprise I had to see that my current subject was THE CAT Alicia was stroking.  From then it was a  double delight to work on this little puss, knowing what an affectionate character he was.

In the pose for my drawing he has intense concentration on his face.  Perhaps he was eyeing a Venetian pigeon in the hospital grounds!

This composition brings to my mind the spacial divisions of Piet Mondrian’s art.  His paintings were pure abstraction.  Like him (but not like him) I am working with contrast of proportion and contrast of hue in a pure realism way.  He used to call his paintings either “Composition in…” or “Composition with…” hence the title I have given my drawing – “Composition with Cat”.  I am doffing my hat to Mondrian.

Make Your Own Mondrian – A Modern Art Puzzle.  We bought this at Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Initial under-layer of colour right back at the beginning of the work.

 

 

 

The Hospital Cat

“The Hospital Cat” drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 30.5 x 27 cm. June 2020.

On our first afternoon in Venice on 2 November 2018 my daughter and I wandered into a grand looking edifice.  We didn’t know that we were entering the Ospedale Civile or Public Hospital.  Through automatic doors and into a courtyard we went.  What did we discover?  A cat community!

A courtyard within the grounds of Ospedale Civile, Venice.

The automatic doors appeared to be operational for cats as well as humans.  Even though the (slightly spooky) corridor is empty in the photo below, on my second visit I saw a cat padding nonchalantly along a section of it, exiting at the door leading to one of the courtyards.

I took a photo of the entrance to the cat house.  The cat in the porch looks like the cat in my drawing.  If it isn’t the same individual surely it must be from the same family.

Though the tabby in my drawing looks rather aloof with a “Why are you bothering me?” expression (typical of felines) the cat community was welcoming and affectionate as the following photos affirm.

Alicia and cats.

Julie and cats.

If it hadn’t been for Covid-19 I would have returned to Venice in March this year and come away with a whole new batch of source photos to draw from.   I would have been spoiled for choice with 2020 material and would almost certainly have overlooked making a drawing from the Venetian hospital visit 17 months ago.  The 2020 world health situation is forcing me to re-evaluate the photo-treasure I already have.

A final word of deepest gratitude to all the brave compassionate human beings who work in hospitals.  And thank you Venetian hospital cats.  I saw visitors (probably their loved ones were patients) sitting on outdoor benches beside you, comforted by your purring presence.

 

 

 

 

 

Mayday

Today in Western Australia we are having a storm.  My camera and I head out to see what’s happening.  First stop is my local beach – South Beach.  Usually this is a big wide beach where dogs and people frolic but today the surf is right up to the dunes – in fact – eroding them before my eyes.

Where we usually sit having coffee is, on this May day, a maelstrom of spray!

Some time last night the waves had ripped off the top of the sea wall.  The sandstone blocks sprawl on the lawn like fallen soldiers.

In Fremantle the tide surges right up to the buildings at Bathers Beach.

I drive a few minutes further up the coast to Cottlesloe.  Have a look at the disappearing man.  Now you see him – now you don’t.

….and from another viewpoint.  It looks like he is taking photos.  (I presume he is a he.  A woman wouldn’t be that daft.)

Each time I get out of my car I can hardly stand up straight due to the force of the westerly winds.   I dodge squally showers to watch Cottlesloe Beach being consumed by the tide.  (Historic Indiana Teahouse on the left will presently be swallowed up too – disappearing into a modern awful-looking redevelopment.)

From Cottlesloe one gets a wide southern view back to the port of Fremantle.  All down the coast the storm-driven tide is battering and eroding land.

I drive back through East Fremantle following Swan River to Point Walter.  As you can see by the jetty, the river is experiencing ‘acqua alta’.

The enormous sand spit which is the main feature of Point Walter is thoroughly submerged.   For most of the year you can walk across the sand spit as far as the little island on the left of the photo below.  (Not that you should walk right to the end – because birds nest there.)   A curtain of rain sweeps across the river.

In East Fremantle the local black swans are busy scrutinizing the water.

They come over in case I have a treat for them.  (I don’t.)

One of them has a big stretch.

What is normally parkland is, at this moment, river.

Finally I drive homewards, stopping at East Street jetty to visit wing-aerating cormorant and darter.  The darter yawns as I photograph him.

The Bureau of Meteorology says this is an unusual and wide-reaching storm.  Not a typical May day.

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Postscript:  Aftermath – photos of our beach the next day.

 

Quiet Time

“Quiet Time” is a drawing in coloured pencils and Neocolor II wax pastels. 33.5 x 53.3 cm. April 2020.

In the Covid-19 time in which we are living, local cafés and restaurants are shut – except for takeaways.  In Fremantle (Western Australia) Matthew and I line up to buy coffees then take them to some isolated spot or other overlooking the port.

As we sit on canvas chairs facing sky and sea, we may speak our thoughts, or, just listen to water lapping, breezes and bird calls.  More often than not a seagull comes to check on whether we have some food to share.

I am describing a daily ritual during March/April 2020.  However my latest drawing is from when we visited Lido in March 2019.  What were we doing on Lido? … quietly regarding Venice from across the lagoon while being checked on by a seagull!

I’ve spent the last four weeks working on “Quiet Time“.  I could have responded to the ‘new normal’ by drawing something dark and ominous – suiting my pessimistic mood.  But I decided on an uplifting subject from which I could perhaps find comfort.  What could be more self-nurturing than sky, laguna, hazy Venice and seagull?

At first, working on this piece I felt disconnected and unable to concentrate, just as I felt disconnected (in shock) to the dystopian daily news. I forced myself on.  (How does one get one’s head around a pandemic?)  In the end, the serenity of the subject reached out to me.  The drawing and I eventually connected.

Even though the composition was sourced from 12 months ago in Northern Italy, it feels entirely relevant to a part of bubble life now, especially to that hour each day when, sitting before local waters with coffees, Matthew and I share our isolation quiet time.

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“An Italian Dream”  (from nearly the same position) was drawn in October 2019.

 

 

 

Morsels of Happiness

On my morning walk today I saw six black cockatoos in a tree quite close up.  I didn’t have a camera so you’ll have to take my word for it.  I watched them for about five minutes and do you know, seeing them made me happy.

Can a day be without any happy moments?  Even in these anxious times there are gentle interludes: – look at that cloud formation;  the neighbour’s cat has popped over to be stroked; outside our local cafe Rupert the dog is waiting for his pat;  wow – a cormorant is spreading its wings in front of a rainbow!

Happy moments spontaneously pop up.

I find that if I mentally register these morsels of happiness, they nourish me throughout the day.  Later on I see the news and feel all the things that you are feeling.  But it helps to remember those sweet tastes of positivity.  I remind myself that even if I’m feeling anxiety now, I felt joy earlier – and that helps me not to be overwhelmed.

When I experience a moment of peace, something that provokes a smile, registering it might be the most important thing I do all day.  It is an inoculation against misery.

Two mornings ago I took myself down to the waterfront to visit the birds.  Their presence uplifted me.

What lifts your spirits?