I’ve long been fascinated by the patterns that trees create – how they repeat, with variations. Leaves that all follow the same basic shape, manage to create depth and texture on trees with variations in colour, size and the angles from which they are viewed. So much complexity, and yet the overall effect is so pleasing.
I also really like collage. I love cutting and sticking and layering. So I’m combining these two interests to explore the leafy side of trees. I want to understand how leaves can be so similar, yet different. Sometimes when I look at trees, the repeated patterns created by the leaves jump out at me. How it is that we see the patterns in the chaos?
So these are the first of what I think will be a lot of experiments with leaves, their shapes, their patterns and effects.
My theme for 2021 is going to be trees. I’ve long loved trees. I spent my childhood in the branches of a giant Plane tree in our suburban garden in Pietermaritzburg. I was proud of my climbing abilities and loved that I could hide in the highest branches with a view of the suburb. That tree was a great comfort to me, a place I could escape to when the world felt overwhelming. Up there with my arms around a sturdy branch and my face against the bark was my happy place.
I’m less agile now, but I still find solace in admiring trees from below. This month I enjoyed the rare treat of admiring trees from high-up again when I visited the Treetop Walk at the Serralves Park in Porto. This was an opportunity for lots of photos of trees that will serve as inspiration. I’ve also managed to get pics while walking around Guimarães (strictly for exercise of course – we’re in a hard lockdown here).
My art materials are severely limited, but I do have some water-soluble oil pastels that I am experimenting with. I know, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I’d never encountered such things before. They were a Christmas gift. They go on like waxy crayons, but turn into nice creamy colour with a bit of water added. They are messy, giving lots of opportunity for mistakes, which I like. I particularly like the effects I got for the sky in the image below. I’m looking forward to doing more like this.
This is the first winter I’ve spent in Europe and I’m excited by naked winter trees. In Johannesburg, the autumn leaves were still clinging to the branches when the spring growth started, and I never got to see trees in all their naked glory. Here every last leaf drops by January and there is a good month or two to admire their structure in detail. There are also many new trees to learn about, so plenty of new inspiration.
So here are more of the lovely, colourful women who kept me company during the lockdown. I learned that just about any colour combination can be used to depict faces. And that layering many colours makes for interesting tones and textures.
I was, of course, unprepared, and faced lockdown with nothing in the way of art supplies but a (thankfully quite empty) sketch book and a lovely new giant pack of fineliners. That lack of choice was quite useful since I didn’t have to think too much about what I was going to do.
Lockdown was not a time for great inspiration, so knowing that I was just going to draw women’s faces made it easy to get started, even on those days when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed.
Old but happy
I learned that faces depend on the right degree of contrast in the right place. Here are some of my favourite, but the kindly face on the right needs more contrast around the hairline.
I also learned that there are great liberties to be taken with depicting faces. That as long as the eyes, nose, mouth combination is there, one can change the features, and their spacing and size and shape. Faces allow great freedom, they develop on the page in a most satisfying way.
Since lockdown has been over (at least here in Portugal), I’ve had less time for drawing. Which is a pity really. It was a wonderful space, all that time to just work on faces.
My latest exploration is of drawing faces using coloured fineliner pens. In part this is due to the limitations of living in a small apartment, but it’s been interesting to have limits. To limit myself further, I’ve been focusing on women’s faces.
I’ve long been interested in portraits and working to express some of the complexity of people through portraits, but here the experiment is more about learning the medium. I’m after repetition, practice, and learning. These sketches are a record of my learning. I try to draw one or two of these a week, and I have a growing pile.
I’m enjoying playing with different colour palettes and the process of building up the features with layers of ink. I’m not totally happy with the outcome yet, but there are some effects in each of these that I like.
These are drawn from pictures, and so depend also on the skill of the photographers involved. Interesting lighting angles make for interesting shapes.
I’ve also drawn a few faces from my imagination. The first I call Watching, and it reflects my sense of having to watch deeply sad events unfold with no way to intervene. The second, I call Dismay, and its the feeling I get when I realise that I’ve just agreed (again) to something I don’t want to do.
Here are my 31 Inktober pics all hung up for the exhibition. I spent a rather hot hour yesterday doing this, in the company of other wonderful artists quietly working on their walls. A sense of calm chaos. The exhibition is on the 7th floor of a rather empty office block. Lots of walls and views!
I got a chance to look around at some of the other work on display. There is some really good stuff. Only about half of it was up when I was there, so I am looking forward to seeing lots more tonight. That said, mine are the most colourful. Clearly not too many people have worked out that ink comes in many colours.
The exhibition opens tonight (Thursday, 9th November) at 6pm at 96 Jorrissen Street in Braamfontein. There is some parking in the building, but the Joburg Theatre’s parking is just a block away too. Do come along and say hi. If you can’t make tonight the exhibition will be up until Sunday, see details on my previous post.
Well I managed to complete 31 days of drawings. It was actually rather fun. Some evenings I only got to my studio after 8pm, and feeling rather uninspired, but the muse was there, every day. It’s a good discipline, but if I did it again, I’d make it a first-thing-in-the-morning priority, like meditating before breakfast.
During these five days I found myself busy and sitting in meetings. It was easier to fit Inktober in by drawing the people around me. So portraits came to the fore. It turned out to be quite a lot of fun, reminding me of why I set out to work on portraits this year.
On impulse, I signed up for the Inktober challenge. It’s a real challenge because I have never used ink before. I just assumed that ink was always black. Then I went out and found some great colours at my local stationers.
It’s been interesting, learning what ink can and can’t do. I’m loving the unpredictability of it all. I’ve also found it goes well with my favourite silver pen.
So here are my first five contributions to Inktober…