Monthly Archives: July 2013

In the Beginning(s)…

The first beginning was 1994.  It was the year that Lucy was born.  Using oil paint was impossible with a new baby in the house.  I had to think of a cunning plan.  *Light-bulb!*  Try using coloured pencils instead.  In my distant past I had experimented with pencils …and so… I bought a box of Derwents and a box of Stabilo Schwann Softcolor pencils.  What fun!  Here goes…

"Lucy's Buzzy Bee" 1994, my first coloured pencil drawing.

“Lucy’s Buzzy Bee” 1994, my first coloured pencil drawing.

At this fledging stage, I thought I needed to outline everything in black.  I did this for my first couple of drawings – as if they were leadlight.

"Summer Window" 1994, my second colour pencil drawing.

“Summer Window” 1994, my second colour pencil drawing.

In these early years I was cutting up bits and pieces of photos out of magazines.  I had a big box full of cut up bits which I added to regularly.  I made collages out of the tiny bits, doing drawings from my reconstituted compositions.

"Herbacious Border" 1995. Partly from my own photo of Christchurch Botanic Gardens' herbacious border and partly magazine cut-up collage.

“Herbacious Border” 1995. The composition was made up partly from my own photos of Christchurch Botanic Gardens’ herbacious border and partly from magazine cut-ups.

I didn’t even note down the sizes of these drawings and none of them are in my hands now – except for “Lucy’s Buzzy Bee” which we still have.

"TImeless" from 1997.

“Timeless” from 1997. Another collage from many different sources.

This period of drawing from collages began in 1994, fizzling out in mid-1998.  I ended up feeling that the images were too stilted; decorative but lacking life.  I returned to painting landscapes in oils for the next two to three years; an example is ‘Ebb Tide’ below.  The pencils were well and truly packed away and I haven’t worked from collages since.

"Ebb Tide" oil painting, 2000. This is typical of the oil landscapes I was doing from 1999 to 2003.

“Ebb Tide” oil painting on canvas, 2000.  20 x 24 inches. This is typical of the oil landscapes I was doing from 1999 to 2003.

The second beginning was in 2001.  I was working towards an exhibition of Perth/Fremantle landscapes to be shown at Gadfly Gallery in Perth.  I already had about half the oil paintings needed.   An early morning entry from my art journal on 15th January 2001 reads “I am back from New Zealand and I’ve just had a miraculous thought – to do the rest of my exhibition pictures in coloured pencils!  I was looking at the photo I took of the leadlight window at Dunedin Railway Station and I thought of doing it in pencils.  And then I thought ‘Why not do a whole series in pencils – they are suitable for all these new landscapes’.  But the amazing thing was, I went to tell Matt of this breakthrough.  He’d just gotten up that second…and he said…”I’ve just been thinking about coloured pencils – or even dreaming about them.  I’m not sure which and I’ve no idea why!!!”  Now is that telepathy or what!?  We are both incredulous that this thought popped into his head.  We shook hands because this is what I’m going to do.”

"Left Bank Illuminations" 2001. First drawing in pencils for over two years and first drawing from my own photo.

“Left Bank Illuminations” 2001. First drawing in pencils for over two years and first drawing from my own photo. 28 x 30 cm.

“Left Bank Illuminations” was my first attempt.  The entry from my journal, 19th January 2001, reads “Tonight I finished my first drawing.  I didn’t enjoy drawing it.  I was very anxious that it would be a failure.  Also I didn’t like USING the pencils.  I was out of my comfort zone, being so used to oils now.   But Matt kept encouraging me.  The result is very soft and quite restful to the eye.  I’m all geared up to start another one now.”

"Trespassing" second of the 'new' drawings in 2001.

“Trespassing” second of the ‘new’ drawings in 2001. 28 x 33 cm.

"Forever Cleaning" my third 'new' drawing from 2001.

“Forever Cleaning” my third ‘new’ drawing from 2001. 29 x 36 cm.

These new drawings are completely different from the 1994-1998 set.  They have much less clutter and I am now drawing from my own photos – which happen to be landscapes from the Fremantle area where I live.

"Forty Winks" fourth drawing in the 'new' 2001 drawings.

“Forty Winks” fourth drawing in the ‘new’ 2001 drawings. 28 x 32 cm.

The second beginning started the coloured pencil journey which I am still on.  I am 54 today and hope that I still have several years of journey left.

Speaking of journeys, I am travelling for the month of August so it may be that I do not post again until September, depending on whether or not I have opportunities to post while I am overseas.  See you later!!!

To see several more examples of the 1994-1998 collage drawings here is the link to the Miscellaneous Works page on my website.

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Le fugitif:  cat on the run

"le fugitif" coloured pencil drawing, 29 x 30 cm, 2013.

“Le fugitif” coloured pencil drawing, 29 x 30 cm, 2013.

When I take my camera out on adventures, I say to myself “Be open to everything”.  I give myself this instruction so I won’t close off my senses to unexpected subject matter.    Look outside the square – or better – don’t construct the square in the first place.

“Le fugitif” is an example of keeping an open mind when subject-searching.  I came across a PERDU (lost) notice taped to a window whilst walking in the 3rd arrondissement last October.  The home-made sign caught my attention and caused me to linger for a while.  I felt sad for cat and owner…yet ever so slightly amused.   I was mesmerized by the cat’s expression.  I photographed it then went on my way.  You never know…

I had thought about making a drawing of the notice several times over the past few months but I couldn’t get past the large word perdu above the image of the cat.  Its large black letters dominated the composition.   I wanted it there – to tell the story at a glance – but last week I excluded perdu.   Without it the composition finally had balance.

What do I find appealing in this ‘found’ composition?  I am fascinated with the cat’s intense expression and his restless position.  Face and body seem to be saying “I’m outta here!!”   He looks like he is, at the very moment of the photo being taken, preparing to scramble over the couch and head for the window.  He looks anxious for adventure, excitement and a fast night on the tiles.

I like the rough quality of the notice itself.  It is a photocopy and part of it has been cut away, maybe to remove a person’s arm.  The photocopy has its own foibles.  It is grainy with horizontal lines running across it.  I relate those lines to stripes on a tabby cat’s coat.   Notice the waves of the piece of paper itself – not unlike patchy patterns on fur.  I like the tonal balance of the composition.  The achromatic tones give the drawing a print-like quality.  Certainly, it was lovely to leave colour out and just work in tonal greys for once.  No white pencil was used in the making of this picture though I used three different brands of black and a little blue.

Now to the words in the drawing.   I am reminded of Beatrix Potter.  Tom Kitten (not his real name), in the night between this time and that time, fell [or jumped] from a window of XX Rambuteau Street.  He was seen in Temple Street.  Further down in the notice, but cropped out by me for the drawing, the information states he is a three year old male.     The story is a mystery after that.  We hope it has a happy ending.

Finally, I like the fact that this was never meant to be an art work.  Its function was to alert the local community to look out for a lost pet.  No doubt the sign has long since disappeared.  Perhaps the cat is home again.  Perhaps he isn’t.  Whatever the situation is now, this moment in time has been caught, studied, and with utmost respect, turned into art.

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Related post:  Aberration                 Related page:  Subject 4: Street Art


"Aberration" 250 x 400 mm, 2013.

“Aberration” 250 x 400 mm, 2013. Coloured pencil drawing.

Aberration: ‘departure from what is normal or accepted as right; a moral or mental lapse’: from The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.  Also, my latest drawing.

When I am on city streets hunting down inspiration with my weapon of choice (my camera) one of the subjects I look out for is street art.  It isn’t necessarily easy to find, depending on how industrious aberrant artists have been, combined with the vigilance of local councils to clean it off.  In Paris there must be quite an effort to discourage street art as it seems to be annihilated soon after installation.  I feel fortunate if I capture examples of this furtive artistic practice.  Now and then I want to give permanence to a temporary public image by making a drawing of it (inasmuch as a drawing may be considered permanent).

Plain old tagging is ghastly but street art may be humorous, stylish, chic, confronting, thought-provoking, clever and/or valid fine art.  Perhaps it is just something to cause an inward chuckle.  Maybe it has a social or political message.  Whatever it is, if I see it, I scrutinize it, weighing up its value to me as a spectactor.  Might I, as an artist, want to make my own art from it?

You may look at this drawing and wonder why anyone would want to draw a picture of torn images on a dirty and decayed wall.  Well, why wouldn’t you think that; even more so when weather and time have caused partial degradation of the artwork.  Yet there is something about the smiling woman, her 1950s outfit and the warm colours and textures of the surfaces.  The paste-up of the woman has elegance and wit about it.  The head to the left of the woman represents Sid Vicious from The Sex Pistols.  His presence in this tableau suggests rebellion and punk culture.  I am pondering over concepts of beauty and ugliness; which is which?   How does one draw the line between one and the other?  Can art attract and repel simultaneously?

It is all gone of course…long ago washed away by cleaners.  I saw it, captured it and drew it.   Is it art?  Is it art as a drawing?  Was it art while it was displayed on a Saint Germain des Près wall?   Am I deluded?  What do you think?

"rue du Chat qui Pêche"

“rue du Chat qui Pêche” 240 x 340 mm, 2012.  Another drawing of Paris street art.

I invite you to cross to my page Subject 4: Street Art to see a selection of street art drawings from 2003 to the present.

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Five Views of Kotomi


“Repose”375 x 505 mm. 2009

For a week in October 2008 my youngest daughter, Lucy, and I stayed at Kyoto Kokusai Hotel opposite Nijo Castle.  Each Friday and Saturday evening, a maiko (apprentice geisha) arrived to perform two dances for the hotel’s guests.  I can’t promise that this still happens because I haven’t been to Kyoto Kokusai Hotel since 2009 (when it was still taking place).   The information about this regular traditional dance performance was nowhere to be found if you looked at the hotel’s website in English.  But…ahh…if you looked at the site in Japanese, there it was…a secret.  If I remember correctly, 7.30pm was the arrival time.

The maiko who turned up on Saturday evening was Kotomi from Gion Higashi (East Gion).  She was ethereal; unruffled and serene.  As was the routine, first she was displayed in the lobby in a specially designated area.  As she quietly sat, guests were allowed to politely interract with her; chat, pose and take photographs.  Lucy and I can’t speak Japanese but I think we managed to communicate our esteem and reverence!   The drawing “Repose” is a portrait of Kotomi in the lobby.


“Unfolding”305 x 655 mm. 2009

After Kotomi’s session in the hotel lobby, she disappeared for a while, perhaps to mentally prepare herself for the dancing.   Guests went outside to the beautiful courtyard garden to be seated and wait for her to appear on stage.  Between the small stage and the audience was a pond inhabited by a pair of swans.  Can you imagine the scene…sitting in the dark; the most exquisite Japanese garden around us, swans gliding on the black water and stage-lit Kotomi slowly dancing with her fan.

"Silk Cocoon"

“Silk Cocoon” 380 x 560 mm. 2009

“Unlike ballet, which is based on jumping and flying into the air, Nihon-buyo [Japanese dance] comes from our roots as agricultural people and from our worship of the gods of the earth.  It is based on bringing our feet down and connecting with the ground.  When the movements of the dance combine with the music and lyrics, customers can easily understand whether we’re crying, or enjoying ourselves, or feeling sad.  To me, that’s what dance is all about.”  A quote from Komomo from her book “A Geisha’s Journey.  My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice”  Published by Kodansha International Ltd, ISBN978-4-7700-3067-2  (Komomo is a geiko of Miyagawa-cho hanamachi.)

"Kotomi on Stage"

“Kotomi on Stage” 381 x 419 mm. 2008

When Kotomi finished her dances, she took a small white woven basket containing some sort of food and fed the swans.  This is what she is doing in my drawing “Kotomi on Stage”.  (Lucy took the photo which I used as source for this drawing.)  The swans were obviously used to food at the end of every performance.  They knew the score and were eagerly awaiting their evening treats, necks outstretched!

"After the Dance"

“After the Dance”375 x 495 mm. 2009

After the dance Kotomi wound her way down the garden path, past the pond, to the lobby.  She had spell-bound her audience with her performance. It was only right that she should be smiling to herself as she left the stage.

My five drawings of Kotomi were drawn in 2009.  Sadly Kotomi retired from being a maiko in early 2010.  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

ps One Kotomi drawing got ripped up.  You can see all that is left of it on my page Failures!

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Art Personality Disorder

"Vertical Hierarchy" 310 x 575 mm, finished on July 4th 2013.

“Vertical Hierarchy” 310 x 575 mm, finished on July 4th 2013.

Today I finished slaving over a drawing which I have called “Vertical Hierarchy”.   The drawing took three weeks and rather predictably ended with a bout of ‘art personality disorder’.  I get this affliction each time I have to pull a drawing together at the end stage.  Why can’t it just be a smooth and gentle process from first pencil mark until the finishing line?  That would be too easy.

Instead the stage is set for a battle royale each time an almost-completed drawing is taken off the drawing board (which I sit at to work) to the easel (where the remainder of the work is done from a standing position and I can observe the drawing from a distance).  Moods swing from triumphant – “I’ve done it!” to horror-stricken – “It’s NO GOOD.”  You probably think I’m exaggerating but I’m not.  If you have read my posts ‘Art Hell’ and ‘Art Hell 2′  you will know that some drawings end up being shredded.  The ones that don’t end terminally are still at grave risk in these final stages which can take several tortuous days to endure.

Family members are called up for their opinions.  Hands are wrung.  Eyes are half-closed with concentration.  Yesterday I wailed to Matthew “I’ve overdone the lantern.  It isn’t red enough; it isn’t standing out.”  We were just about to go out.  His considered reply was “Put more green around it.”  He said this as he was walking out of the room.  BOLT FROM THE BLUE.  My civil engineer husband just stated the absolute obvious.  Why didn’t I think of it?  (Golden rule: to make a colour stand out, surround it with its complement.)  I put a green pencil on top of my other pencils to remind me to carry this out after our coffee break up the road.

At the café, I was discontentedly mulling over the drawing.  I could hardly have been good company as all I could think was ‘I’ve ruined it.’  There was no reason to be unhappy other than art anxiety,  which is why I call this state ‘art personality disorder’.  In the process of working a drawing to its conclusion I go on a wild ride.  It can be fun and it can be awful…and WILL be both these things (one after another ad infinitum) in every case until some sort of conclusion is reached.

When we got home I made a beeline for that green pencil and got to work.  Of course it made a difference.  When I told Matthew how he had stated the obvious, he replied “You taught me well.”  That Matt!  After some more work I knew that “Vertical Hierarchy” was finally on safe ground.  The madness subsided…until next time…when art personality disorder and I will meet again at the easel to fight it out.

Vertical Hierarchy is the link for the work-in-progress page where you can see this drawing in six stages from beginning to end.

Since 2006 I have drawn six variations of this scene.    All six drawings are together on the page called “Subject 5:  Lantern Set”. 

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