Flower-a-Day, Week 3

At the beginning of the third week, my friend KRin brought over a rose from a bush given to her to commemorate her late husband. It had an amazing scent of cinnamon, and was a lovely matte orange.

She wanted to watch me paint. Unfortunately, I do find it hard to talk and paint at the same time, and tend to ramble inanely when I do.

As I said in the last post about these paintings, I’m struggling with defining edges and depth. In dim light with a matt single-colour flower it’s hard to see much definition. Though the camera captured the shadows more easily than my eyes perceived them. And I suspect I was at the edge of the capacity of the paint set, too. I eventually outlined the rose with black paint applied with a paintbrush.

A few days before, an order for some Winsor & Newton designer gouaches arrived and I was keen to try them. Especially as I hoped they’d give me the subtle but effective range needed to show depth. Working with a photo of a flower that had the same kind of matte (mostly), single-colour petals, I took my time and I’m pretty happy with the result.

The next day I sat outside and attempted to portray this convolvulus flower. I wasn’t happy with it until I deepened the shadows with black later.

I tried the purple variety the next day from a phone pic.

While it’s very rough, I do feel like I captured the light.

The next day I headed to the native garden. The flower I picked is tiny, and when I found I wasn’t getting much subtlety I decided to approach it as if it were a printed fabric design using only three colours.

I tried the same approach the next day, but the result wasn’t as satisfactory, though perhaps I’d like it better as a fabric design if it the flowers and leaves were more densely packed.

Same area and also a native, but this time only using pencil.

Looking back, I created the best and worst flower art in this week. That tree peony turned out so much better than I expected, using a medium I’m not overly familiar with. But the chocolate lilies disappointed me.

The Art of … Getting Art Done

Lockdowns have meant I’ve been to few art classes in the last two years. In the first lockdowns I barely managed a few simple sketches at home. I’d anticipated a freezing up of creativity because I’d read about going into ‘survival mode’ during stressful times, which I’ve experienced before, so I don’t feel bad about that.

In the past I’ve managed to do some art at home, but always when I had no classes, and as soon as I started going again I stopped. I’ve assumed this meant I had a limited need for art, which classes satisfied. Recently it occurred to me that it might not be that classes fulfil my need for creating art, but that going to classes reduces the incentive to do art at home.

It’s not that classes discourage me, but to set up a workable space and regular habit takes focus, time and dedication, and that doesn’t happen because I don’t need it to.

I’m not going to stop going to classes. Feedback is essential, and hanging out with other artists is inspiring and motivating. What I am going to do is see if I can keep painting at home as well.

When I rearranged my craft room a few months ago to have a permanent sewing area I also examined my painting space critically. Acknowledging that I don’t want to stand to paint, I moved out my floor easel and put a table easel on my work table instead. My art materials cabinet was already beside the table, which completed what is now a cosy painting corner.

I’ve been making paint charts, started on a painting that will be a Christmas present, and done the occasional flower painting there. Some issues still need to be resolved. Lighting, for a start. There’s no good spot in this house for natural light. I’ve requested an easel light for my birthday so hopefully that will solve the problem.

Creating a habit is the next challenge, and for that I need to plan ahead. The art that I’m doing and two little cat portraits waiting in the wings will keep me occupied for a month or two, but I have nothing after that. I might need a bigger objective, like the portrait painting I challenged myself with a decade ago. Something that won’t be stalled by lockdowns and such.

Flower-A-Day, Week 2

On day 8 I tackled another rose, this time using watercolour pencils blended with a little water. I’m not as happy with this one. The rose petals had a pink line around the edges, but in the painting this just looks like a pencil outline.

The following day it was wet, so I painted clivias from the shelter of the desk. I started with the intention of using only paint, but couldn’t get enough nuance from the brigh, saturated colour so delineate the edges, so I resorted to pen, which looks great.

Another day of unappealing weather so I went through my phone pics searching for flowers, and hit upon photos of grass tree flowers on Flinder Island. I enjoyed doing something different. A pale yellow silhouette of the plans went on first, then some green and grey, then I switched to watercolour pencils for the texture, then switched back and forth to get the darks and background. If I’d painted this for a travel diary I’d have been very pleased.

Another photo reference, of the native pigface that grows on the embankment next to the pool. There is no black in the background in real life, but I liked the contrast and drama it created.

On day twelve I drew the flower that identified the Dietes plant that had sprung up among the Dianellas, before getting Paul to dig it out.

Only lucky day thirteen I painted this magnificent rose I’d spotted the day before. It has the most divine scent, despite the unromantic name of ‘stainless steel’.

On day fourteen I popped outside to paint an azalea. The sunlight was quite hot though the day itself wasn’t particularly warm. Unfortuantely, I don’t have the label for this one.

I didn’t use the watercolour pencil until the end, when I added some texture by working into wet paint.

I’m learning something with every flower, whether by making mistakes or trying something new in approach or medium. Portraying depth and defining edges are proving a challenge, but at least I’m getting the flower in the middle of the page now!

Trying Different Hats

Normally, I try not to even think of the ‘C’ word until the beginning of December, unless I know I need to order a present early. This year I’ve put that rule aside for three reasons:

Firstly, I’m sick of ordering online. While I understand and empathise with Aussie Post for the delays, it’s one more thing to worry about. And the delays are only part of the problem with ordering online. Recently some items I ordered hadn’t arrived so I tried contacting the shop, but they didn’t reply to messages left via email, their answering machine, their website’s contact form or their Facebook page. It took a couple of weeks to finally get through on the phone, only to find out the items had always been out of stock and help up by international shipping issues. If I’d known they were out of stock I wouldn’t have ordered the items. Two and a half months later they still haven’t arrived, but the shop is the only one in the country selling them so I really don’t want to cancel my order.

The second reason is I don’t much fancy shopping in person, either. When lockdown ends there’s going to be a rush on shops, and things will sell out, and since we’re supposed to be transitioning to ‘living with Covid’ (which will no doubt mean ‘dying with Covid’ for a number of people) and I doubt the vaccine passport idea is going to go smoothly, I’m intending to stay away from strangers as much as possible.

The third reason is because my solution to the above is to make most of my gifts, and that takes time and planning.

On the up side, I have a very short recipient list. On the down side, it includes two men who aren’t easy to pick something for even when not choosing hand made.

One of the ideas I had for gifts was to sew hats. I found a free bucket hat online and gave it a try. Aside from me misreading the interlining pattern pieces as lining and having to unpick them then cut and sew a new lining, the construction was problem free and it fits perfectly.

The outer fabric is denim and the inner a navy cotton with tiny flowers in red, green, yellow, blue and white. Both came from destashes.

I also have a sunhat pattern I’ve been wanting to try for ages, so I gave that a whirl. The main fabric is a white corduroy printed with green and black parrots from an old, stained dress of Late Lucy’s. The lining is a white cotton bed sheet.

This was a bit of a faff to construct, with lots of stay stitching and a seemingly unnecessary bit of gathering thread to ease the side piece to the top, but there is a nice bit of theatre when you turn what looks like a clump of fabric inside out and it turns into a hat. It fits and I like it.

Still, it’s not really Mum’s style and definitely not Dad’s, so I stuck with the bucket hat.

Mum’s uses some offcuts of fabric from a dress she made years ago and more of the white cotton sheet for the lining, and Dad’s uses the same denim I used on my bucket hat with a lovely soft red cotton plaid for the lining.

All the hats have used destashed or repurposed fabric, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I’ve offered to make one for Paul, but I’ll have to enlarge the pattern. If I made it with the black denim in the stash it would be easy to tell which hat was his and which was mine, and I have a black and grey plaid shirt that would work for lining. Hmm.

Flower-A-Day, Week 1

The sketchbook. Teeny weeny.

For the first flower, I went out into the garden looking for something relatively simple to start with. And accessible. Most of our flowering plants are on a steep embankment, but I found this little nasturtium had sprouted behind a low retaining wall where most of my lavenders died.

I learned two things from this: first to consider carefully if the picture needed a background, second that sometimes you can’t mix a colour and need to add a new pigment to your set. In this case, I brought out the Stuart Semple palette, which had an orange bright enough for the flower. From then on it was my first choice when I wanted to use paint.

Next, the red hot poker had one last flower on it, so I decided to do that before the opportunity passed.

Much happier with this one. I realised that at eye level the tubular flowers rarely come straight at me, but up and down.

Next, I was going to paint bright yellow flowers on one of the natives, but they were already past their prime and their position on the embankment was not going to make for comfortable painting. Instead, I headed for the Unexpected Succulent Garden, which has been looking amazing recently.

I hadn’t intended to add the leaves, but got inspired. But adding them put the picture off balance on the page.

Soon after I started the next one, I went and got a seat. I thought I’d be able to sit on a rock, but I was wrooooong. I got myself a stool.

It really needed a green background to contrast with the red flowers. The paints weren’t getting me the feel of the subtly striped petals, so I ducked inside and got some watercolour pencils.

I’d be happier with this if I’d managed to centre the flowers on the page. I had to look up the name of the succulent and this one, and I was amused to find this one was an African Daisy. A couple of years ago I went looking for African Daisies for the front garden, not realising I already had them in the kitchen garden.

The next day was really cold, so I turned to my iPhone’s photo albums. And I finally managed to get a flower centred.

Again, watercolour pencils made adding texture much easier.

This plant isn’t in flower at the moment. It’s in the giant tongue-like leaves stage. They’ll die off and the plant will all but disappear until the flowers emerge from the ground next autumn, first with bright buds like giant parrot beaks, then opening to make these alien-like flowers.

The following day was lovely for flower painting.

The label stuck into my gardening diary told me this was a Dianthus. It didn’t mention that Dianthus are ‘pinks’, which it turns out is another name for carnations. Now I understand why on gardening shows presenters would sometimes gesture to a bed of not-pink flowers and call them pink.

Turns out the colour pink is named after the flowers, not the other way around. And pinking shears are named after the shape of the petal ends.

This one was quite the research black hole.

The seventh flower was a rose. One of my climbers.

No paint this time, just watercolour pencils without water. It suited the densely packed petals.

Overall, I found that I was always better off trying to painting what I saw, including flaws, rather than ‘fix’ anything or try to ‘just paint the gist of it’. Taking photos and looking at the thumbnails helped to reveal overall flaws too, and a friend’s honest assessment that the carnation looked a bit flat helped me fix the problem.

The painting have taken between 20 mins and an hour and a half. I’m sure I’ll get faster, or at least better at choosing quick subjects when I’m short on time. Though it is nice to spend more time as well when I have it.

Recovery

Recently I was watching a video in which an artist talked about burnout and I realised she was describing how I’d felt in the last few years toward my work. I’d assumed that back pain was the cause of my lack of enthusiasm – after all, it’s hard to be keen about doing something that hurts – and I hadn’t considered there might be more to it. Acknowledging the burnout felt right, like finding the piece of a puzzle. And because it’s hard to recover from something if you don’t know you have it.

Deciding that this was the year of being flexible and avoiding commitments was a good idea, in retrospect, but it’s been frustrating as well as beneficial. While it’s been less stressful, the break has confirmed that I do need an aim or challenge to work toward. But I needed time to consider what I wanted to do, and what I am capable of now.

Looking back, I’ve always maintained three passions in my life: writing, art and craft. I’ve turned two of them into work, as a designer for four years, a self-employed illustrator and designer for nine, and a writer for twenty…

… and as I typed that last paragraph, I remembered that I was seriously burnt out as an artist by the time I wound up the illustration business. It took time and taking up a new medium (oils) to recover my love for art. Maybe that’s what I’ll need to recover my enthusiasm for writing.

I’m in no hurry to get writing again, though I am feeling like I’ve recovered some interest. Until I do, I have art and craft to call upon for my aims and challenges. Yet at the same time I’ve been wondering how I can avoid spoiling either by turning them into work. Well, ‘work’ and ‘work at’ are entirely different things. Deadlines, clients and money are involved in the first, but aren’t essential for the latter. What matters for the latter is learning, practising and improving. Becoming good at something can be fulfilling in of itself.

I think that’ll be more than enough for me for now.

The 7 Day Urban Sketching @ Home Challenge

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been watching lots of fast motion videos of artists working and talking about their methods, and one I stumbled on was a young woman, Taria, who runs the Urban Sketching World website. She had done a series of videos of herself sketching at home during lockdown earlier this year, presenting them as an artistic challenge for others to try.

Having decided I should do some art around the house, this seemed as good a place to start as any. I have a sketchbook I draw and paint in when I go on day trips or weekend away, which I had nearly filled, so this could be a way to finish it off, too. It turned out to have five pages left, so this challenge would not only complete it, but get me started on a new sketchbook.

The first day’s theme is ‘art supplies’. Always fun and easy to depict:

The second day’s is ‘something from the cupboard’. I chose the shelves in the door of our TARDIS liquor cabinet:

The third theme is ‘plants’. I live on an acre with more than half of it garden, from native to vegetable beds. Spoilt for choice there, you’d think. Only it was freezing outside so I brought in this little pot:

Theme number four is ‘modes of transport’. I’m always up for drawing my Mini, and I was fortunate that it was a sunny day:

The fifth theme was ‘the room’. I thought this one would be difficult, so I was thinking about it ahead of time. I settled on the corner of the kitchen:

Day six’s theme is people. Lockdown meant my subjects were limited to me and Paul, but then I remembered that people like to walk along our street and drawing people quickly is an interesting challenge. However, in 1 1/2 hours only four people passed, and one of those I spotted too late. So I started sketching Paul, then realised I didn’t have enough space so abandoned that and drew his head.

For the seventh day we could draw anything. It was a dim, overcast day and it was hard to make out the cat on his bed under my desk, so I went for something brighter:

It’s been fun most days and a great way to reacquaint myself with my sketching tools. It finished off my old sketchbook with a ‘bang’.

I’ve been considering whether I’ll do Inktober, but I’m not sure about the prompts. Another idea is to paint the same subject a day for a set time. A friend is doing horses for a year and is still at it seven months later – and she says it’s worth doing even if she’s totally over drawing horses! Trouble is, there’s a good reason I called this blog ‘creative fidget’. I tend to cycle through my interests so I don’t get tired of any. Daily drawing might not be my thing. Still, I am intrigued by the idea of regularly drawing or painting flowers. The subject has never attracted me in the past, but I really enjoyed painting the spring blossoms. I can do some from photos and some from life, and play with different mediums.

Pinwheels Scarf

Some while back when I had a backlog of posts to publish I decided not to post about the 8-shaft weaving certificate course samplers. I am having fun and learning heaps, and maybe at some point I’ll do a catch-up post.

I’m also toying with the idea of weaving an item in some, if not all, of the structures we explore. The first was twill, which I’ve woven plenty of times but I’ve never made anything that utilised a tabby binder. At the last Guild meeting of weavers on Zoom the subject discussed was weaving with handspun. Some of the oldest yarns in my stash are handspun, and I’ve been wanting to use up older yarn. Somehow the three ideas – twill, handspun and using older yarn – came together, and after the usual planning I got stuck into winding the warp for two scarves using a corkscrew twill in Strickler that looks a bit like tyre treads.

Before I could get that on the Lotas, however, I needed the loom for a class sampler. The colour-and-weave sampler was meant to be done in the Guild on one of their floor looms, but since we’re in lockdown and I have the same type of floor loom, I offered to be ‘one less student to worry about’ and do it at home.

The sampler was meant to be 50cm long, and since the loom waste is 50cm, it made economical sense to increase the length to the warp and make a scarf. Though I tried a whole lot of fun varieties of colour-and-weave and designed my own, none jumped out and said “do me for the scarf”. It was a project for pinwheel towels in Handwoven I found while researching colour-and-weave that caught my attention. I decided my scarf would be made up of 20cm sections of all eight pinwheel versions – or seven if I didn’t have enough warp.

It turned out to be quite addictive and fast to weave, but I had to make myself not weave the entire thing in one sitting and cause a back flare-up. As I suspected, I only had enough warp for seven of the pinwheel designs, but that’s fine. Odd numbers often look better than even, anyway.

One of my favourites for the year, I reckon.

Helping Hands

Recently I’ve been watching art demonstration videos on YouTube, starting with James Gurney, then various other artists. Inspired, I’ve been doing a bit of art at home and wishing I could go out and paint en plein air.

Many more portable easel options are available since I last looked, from expensive ponchard boxes to cheap DIY set ups that attach to tripods. I was particularly amused by a laptop conversion I saw, though I suspect it wouldn’t be a practical solution in the long run. I have a DIY ponchard box I made in 2010 and a plastic version I put together for our trip to Central Australia. They all rest on my knees, which means I need to sit down when painting. Having something fixed to an easel would be much more flexible.

I bought James Gurney’s video on his DIY sketching easel and as I watched it, I couldn’t help thinking all that wood looked heavy. Or at least, heavier than I was willing to carry. All the clips and magnets holding things to the boards made me wonder if the boards could be eliminated and the clips remain. A bit of searching later, I bought this:

It’s called ‘helping hands’, and is for soldering. I was worried that the arms would be too weak to hold a palette, diffuser and sketchbook/canvas board steady while I worked, but they’re impressively sturdy. It has a hole in the base for screwing it to a table, which Paul enlarged and created a thread that matches the quick-release plates on tripods. And that hollow in the centre is just right for a water container.

The next step was to gather the things the clips would hold. James uses pencil tins as palettes, and I didn’t manage to find one before the lockdown, so had to order a tin of pencils online, which took ages to arrive. The first diffuser I came up with used bamboo skewers and bendy straws for the frame and white plastic sheet for the fabric, but both double-sided and masking tape peeled off the plastic so I wound up sewing on some white poly-cotton instead. I wasn’t going to attempt to buy kite fabric from Spotlight as they’re slow getting orders out so with Aussie Post delays on top who knows when it would arrive. At the moment if something can’t be bought in a supermarket, chemist, baker, butcher or green grocer, I’ve got to either make it using bits and pieces around the house and garage, or just do without.

Once I had all the components lockdown had eased enough that I could leave the house for a ‘picnic’. Reluctant to go out on my own in case people approached me, I invited a friend to keep me company and shoo people away. She agreed and we set a date and time… and when the moment came it was waaaay too cold.

I had to begrudgingly acknowledge that all this waiting for the perfect conditions was silly, and I should just paint, darn it! I found a sketchbook challenge and put the easel aside. But then it turned out one of the themes did require a bit of outdoor work:

I’m pleased to say that my easel idea worked. I wound up swapping the front and middle sets of arms around so that the front ones weren’t in the way and the book was closer to me, which meant the water bottle had to sit on the palette, but that was fine. The least successful thing was the diffuser. It flaps around in the wind too much, which is a problem with the construction, not the arms holding it. I’d need a lighter tripod if I’m going to carry it far, too, and the IKEA kid’s paintbrushes are about as good as you’d expect.

Overall, a surprisingly successful, if rather whacky, DIY easel.

Sewing the Good Stash

All this stretch garment sewing began a few years ago when I bought two fabric remnants, a black jersey with flowers and a navy and white striped knit. The striped fabric was meant to be the test fabric for the leggings I was going to make from the floral.

A few years, various hesitations and much fabric and sewing machine buying later, I have finally sewn that floral fabric.

When the fabric arrived it proved to be a bit thin for leggings, so I figured I’d make a long-sleeved top or skivvy. Of course, laying out the pattern pieces required care to ensure I didn’t wind up with big flowers in unfortunate locations, but I managed it without too much fuss. However, what I found then was that even if I’d plonked the pieces down in the most space efficient way, I’d still wouldn’t have fit in both sleeves.

That left me with a choice. Either I have 3/4 length sleeves, which I hate, or cut outs at the shoulder. So I went with the latter.

Expecting disappointment, I have tried using the cover stitch machine again with varying results. Sewing two layers seems okay, but it wouldn’t stop dropping stitches when I attempted two layers either side of waistband elastic on a pair of leggings. After I’d exhausted the setting adjustment options in the manual, I tried pulling the thread out of the lefthand needle, which is the side that always fails, and just sewing with two, and you know what? It worked!

Obviously, it’s not okay for a brand new machine to not sew as it’s supposed to, but the internet tells me it’s a common problem and most likely operator error. Still, I will be checking the guarantee to see how long I have to work out the source of the problem.