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.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

“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?

 

 

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.

Most Serene

“Most Serene”   Neocolor 2 wax pastels and Luminance pencils. 33.5 x 48.5 cm. January 2020.

On my final morning in Venice I plan to sleep in, having risen before daybreak for the previous six days in a row.

In our dark bedroom at 5 o clock, a mosquito is sent to wake me up.  Eventually this insistent messenger’s whine is enough to toss me out of the room into a cold foggy dawn.

I cross the Accademia bridge without a particular plan.  As I wonder which way to go, a vaporetto (little steamer) materializes through the mist.  As she glides nearer she brings the scene to life – aglow, awake and at work (as am I) in a still-slumbering city.

Venice – La Serenissima – Most Serene

Postscript:  What a funny thing that something as irritating as a mosquito could lead to a serene situation.  There must be a moral to this story.  Happy endings may come out of perceived misfortune.


Notes on colour-building with Neocolor 2 and Luminance are in my previous post Perfect Partners

Neocolor 2 undercoat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Partners: Neocolor and Luminance

Recently I have been sharing a method in Facebook coloured pencil groups which has piqued the interest of some of my peers; therefore, I have decided to write a post about it.

My method is to use Neocolor 2; a water soluble wax pastel by Caran d’Ache (I use it without water) as undercoat for coloured pencil drawings.

Putting Neocolor onto the paper before coloured pencils are applied speeds up the process of the drawing – which is especially good if I am working on a large picture.  (The drawing shown here is 33.5 x 48.5 cm.)  Anyone who uses coloured pencils alone to render big areas like sky or still water knows how tedious it is.  Neocolor makes the process faster and more pleasurable.

The texture of Neocolor 2 makes a welcoming cushion-like base for coloured pencil to relax into.  The pencil glides over Neocolor so much more readily than it glides over virgin paper.

I find that complicated areas (such as Venetian palace facades) cannot help but be simplified when the initial layer is put on with Neocolor.  You can’t be too fussy with this medium because it is never super-sharp.  (I use a knife to sharpen the pastel but even at its sharpest, it is kind of blunt.)  Therefore it attunes my brain to the main shapes as opposed to fiddly tiny details.

I use very light pressure when putting Neocolor on.  It is barely there – and yet it makes SUCH a difference to the surface texture.

Work in progress 1:  undercoat of Neocolor 2 before any coloured pencil is applied.

Because I don’t like holding a crayon-length instrument, I use a Fixpencil 0012 (also by Caran d’Ache) to hold it with.  I find this longer length much more comfortable for my hand and it gives me added control.

Applying Neocolor 2 (held inside a Fixpencil 0012).

If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ll know that Luminance is my number one pencil.  However in the photo below you’ll see I’m blending using a Derwent Blender.  This blender is hard and dry.  There’s enough wax already in the Neocolor/Luminance mix.  It doesn’t need added wax in the form of a wax-based blender, so the raspy dry Derwent blender makes the perfect tool.  Once I’ve blended, that isn’t the end of it.  I can carry on adding more colour over the top; no problem.

Enter the Derwent Blender

The final image shows where I’m up to currently with the drawing.  In my opinion, the partnership of Neocolor with coloured pencil gives a soft painterly aesthetic which, to me, is delicious.

Work in Progress – as it was on 13th January 2020.
Work in progress – as it was on 18th January 2020

Postscript:  The drawing is finished on 24th January, 2020.  It is called “Most Serene”.

Most Serene January 2020

See also Art Materials page

See also Brush and Pencil post

Here is a step-by-step exercise to show my impressionistic technique using Neocolor and Luminance. I originally created the piece “Daydream” for Ann Kullberg’s COLOR Magazine. It is featured in the November 2020 issue. You can click on the images to enlarge them.

Source photo for “Daydream” exercise
Line drawing for “Daydream” exercise.

Working from a cropped photo I took of a maiko (apprentice geisha) I trace minimal lines onto a piece of Arches Aquarelle smooth paper, 9 x 7 inches. The lines are arbitrary for when everything is blurry where exactly does one draw the line? With no sharp tonal boundaries and everything merging the graphite guide lines may only be approximate.

Once I have my graphite lines on the paper I begin the undercoat process. This can be done purely with coloured pencils but I like to begin with Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels. Neocolor’s waxy texture makes a nice surface for coloured pencils to go over. Because a Neocolor stick is a fairly blunt instrument it encourages me to work in a loose manner. As I put Neocolor on I simultaneously erase the graphite lines. I work with such light pressure that if I put a colour in the wrong place I can lift most of it off with an eraser.

Once the page is filled with Neocolor I bring in the coloured pencils. At this early stage I am working them over the Neocolor gradually intensifying the values. I am using light to light-medium pressure only. I still see this as a continuation of undercoat even though I’m now using pencils. My pencil work is reasonably free and non-fussy as I begin to build tone over the page. I lay white pencil over the pale pink kimono (but nowhere else in the drawing) because I want the maiko eventually to stand out from the rest of the drawing. The application of white will give her kimono a glow. I use the pencils in a vigorous way letting all manner of expressive marks show.

From now on it is a matter of layer-building. I mostly work with small vertical strokes however I use other directional strokes too. For instance on the path you can see that my strokes are diagonal – in tune with the perspective. I also use an all-over-the-place scribble which helps the diffused look. My scribble marks are gossamer-light however; no heavy-handed scribbling. (What is scribble if not a type of mark-making?) Stroke direction can also add to a feeling of movement. I want the maiko to look like she is rushing away from me so my directional strokes help to create that effect.

To create blurriness there is a lot of colour overlapping taking place. For example I push the pink of the kimono into the grey path and push the grey of the path into the pink kimono. Throughout the drawing I am pushing and pulling colours which constantly merges the boundaries between areas and objects.

Because this kind of drawing comes together from a distance I only sit down to work on it in the early stages. I work in an expressive way with my whole self. That is, I work from one end of the room to the other. The drawing stands on an easel. I walk up to it and away from it, putting a mark here, going away to check how it looks, going back to adjust, stepping back again to see from afar. It is action work. And as I go I continually adjust and fine-tune until at some point I think I am done.

“Daydream” is complete. What were my aims? I was seeking a mood, an impression, an atmosphere, in this case perhaps a sense of walking speed as well. The source photo was my jumping off point – or you could say it was my way back to the memory of that Kyoto afternoon.

An Italian Dream – technical note

How the drawing looked as a work in progress.

In “An Italian Dream” I wanted the colours in the foreground to be the most deeply saturated parts of the picture, being closest to the viewer. So I put Neocolor II wax pastels down as undercoat for this water/boat area. The sky, hills and buildings have no Neocolor underneath. They are rendered with coloured pencils only. Having wax pastels for the pencils to work into and over makes for a finish of delicious intensity.

“An Italian Dream” December 2020

How do I manage to do fairly detailed work at the undercoat stage with Neocolor? The answer is that I sharpen my Neocolors using the Faber Castell dual pencil sharpener. The larger of the openings of the dual sharpener fits Neocolor perfectly.

Currently (January 2021) I am working on a drawing of sunrise on the Grand Canal.

Undercoat stage with Neocolor II completed. Ready to begin with Luminance.

When you see the Luminance colour go over the top of the Neocolor undercoat, you can appreciate by comparing the coloured pencil with the pastel areas how lightly I use the Neocolor. Neocolor maps in the shapes with the lightest pressure. The Luminance going over the top does 95% of the work. Despite the light pressure of the Neocolor, its presence makes a difference – enriching the work as a whole.

Luminance making its presence felt on the left of the work.

The drawing continues – Luminance over Neocolor gradually moving from left to right across the buildings. Also I adjust as I go, for instance, intensifying the glow in the sky.

In the next image I am working on the building on the right. These are not its final colours; rather, it is perhaps half-way completed.

Look Out

“Look Out” – a drawing in Neocolor 2 and coloured pencils. December 2019.

I don’t fall in love with Rome until there is a thunderstorm.

We are exploring Palatine Hill, the two of us huddled under one umbrella.  As we reach a magnificent lookout, the deluge ceases.  Rome, freshly washed, is before us under a dramatic thunder-sky.  As usual I am exclaiming loudly in my excitement.

A yellow legged gull swoops up from below and places himself right there.  (Some people are scared by these enormous gulls – LOOK OUT!)  But I think they are beautiful.

As we regard one another while he poses this way and that, a plan for a drawing is hatched.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

A technical note:

Neocolor 2 colour mapped onto the paper, ready to be layered over with coloured pencils.

A light Neocolor 2 underlay makes a welcome base for coloured pencil work, adding soft richness to the drawing.  Only the sharply focused seagull is 100% pencil without Neocolor undercoat.

Fixpencil 0012 by Caran d’Ache fits Neocolor and coloured pencils.

 

Eventide

“Eventide”     Neocolor 2 and coloured pencils. 34.5 x 42.5 cm. December 2019.

Here we are, our first evening in Venice.  We emerge from a labyrinth of claustrophobic lanes to the grand  promenade of Molo.  Before us is a floating world which takes our breath away.

Love at first sight.

The drawing “Eventide” is from that moment of euphoric discovery.  Resting gondolas bob on the high tide, San Giorgio Maggiore perches erect in the distance: elements of Venice juxtaposed, enveloped in blue.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

I have made three drawings from the evening of 2 November 2018 (All Souls Day).  They are …

“Deep in Castello” – one of the paths taken on our walk towards Molo.

“Eventide” – as described above.

“A Room with a View”  – the view from a window of our Cannaregio apartment.

Love at first night.

 

 

 

 

A View from Lido

“A View from Lido” is drawn with Neocolor 1 and coloured pencils. 39.5 x 32 cm.  November 2019.

On a hazy Sunday morning in the northern spring of 2019 we sit on a park bench on Lido and look out over the lagoon.  A young seagull allows himself to be photographed and even gives me a minute  to studiously compose before flying away.  In perfect tune with the universe (compositionally-speaking) a vaporetto  appears.  In the watery distance San Giorgio Maggiore Benedictine church and campanile hover mirage-like.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Winter Rain

“Winter Rain”
coloured pencils, 24 x 20 cm. October 2019

The word fine is synonymous with sun – as if only sunshine can feel fine.  And what words do we dream up to describe rain?  Miserable, bleak, dreary, and dull are a few that come to mind.  “What a shame, it’s raining.”

NO!  Rainy days can be even more wonderful than sun-filled days.  Notice reflections of sky and electric lights mirrored, glowing and abstracted in wet pavements.  Look at the full-blown shapes of umbrellas.  (I like umbrellas.)    Wet objects gleam.  Watery colours are luscious.

Replace gloomy with dramatic, moody, even romantic; the poetry of precipitation, the wonder of wet-look.

The “Summer Rain” duo; Verona during a July thunderstorm.

 

 

Space Oddity

“Big Sky” oil painting, 1990  (Paraparaumu)

It occurs to me that each one of us has a universe inside.  There are light and energy sources – suns and stars.  Also plenty of space.  And black holes – awful negative nothingness which is another name for the bottomless-pit-of-need where you can never get enough validation or self-esteem.  Inner planets too?  Why not.

Positive energy (the sun) shines forth as one loves, receives inspiration, gives back, and puts ideas into action.

But it is hard not to be afraid of the black hole and of being drawn into it.  It is such a hopeless void.

Sometimes I blaze through my universe with rocket-fired determination – gladly constructing and carrying out ideas, projects and schemes.  At other times I languish, lost in space.

These are elements within my inner universe, and perhaps they are elements inside yours.   The universe isn’t only out there, but also in here.

I lay in bed early this morning thinking these thoughts before turning over and going back to sleep.

“Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”  David Bowie