Category Archives: abstract realism

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.

An Autumn Feast

“An Autumn Feast” A drawing in Neocolor II pastels and Luminance pencils. 25.5 x 28 cm. November 2020

In November 2018 I visited Florence. Because I had spent the last few days in Venice (which is rather claustrophobic) I now needed to find nature – wide grassy slopes and trees. I headed for Giardino di Boboli. There I found spectacular views of Florence and the surrounding hills. Hardly any other people were about so it was perfect. The light was constantly changing with the passage of clouds. Eventually those marching clouds brought steady rain, trapping a cold me for a time under my umbrella.

Later I wandered over to the adjacent Giardino Bardini. Wherever I was, Filippo Brunelleschi’s enormous dome dominated the view. There is no ignoring Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the last word in vast architectural statements!

Later that same day a fatigued me lamented in my journal, “I simply can’t experience everything. It’s all too much – like an enormous banquet of food is laid out before me but I’m only one person so cannot possibly eat it all. I will try a little here and a little there but when I’m done, so much food will be left untouched. Such is life”.

Seeing this journal entry reminds me of my overwhelmed state of mind – anxious over so much abundance. (Note to self: one must be thankful for the spiritual food one tastes rather than fretting over what is yet to be sampled.)

The undercoat stage in Neocolor II.

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…

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Ascension

“Ascension”        Wax pastels and coloured pencils, 36.5 x 36.5 cm. February 2020

Yes, all the complaints are true; tourists, floods, cruise ships, corruption, commercialization – not to mention that Venice is actually sinking.  It is mortal, as is everything physical.

But look past all that, to the utter beauty, and the spirit.  Her soul soars – as does mine when I am there – embraced by her environment.

Close to Heaven.