SketchBOX May 2023

Having seen unboxing and testing videos of May’s art supplies, I was keen to try them, but I knew the box wouldn’t arrive until mid-March. A week before, I started picking reference photos from my phone and tested drawing the subjects in pen and watercolour marker. Of course, when it did arrive I was already ‘over’ those ideas and entirely different photos caught my attention.

The box contained graphite pencils, a white pastel pencil, liquid graphite and a lovely warm gold glimmer ink. There was also a pad of toned paper, a sharpener, a brush and an eraser pencil. The only supply I didn’t like was the eraser pencil, which was rather hard and scuffed the paper surface, so I used a standard eraser instead.

The first artwork was of a cat stretching, because it captured the feeling of “gimme, gimme right now”.

It didn’t come as well as I hoped, but it gave me a feel for the materials and taught me to avoid drawing with pencil until the ink or graphite was well and truly dry. Two days later I had a bit more time and did three pieces that I like much more. The suggested theme was “shadow”, so I looked for reference photos that might suit. The first was of our cat gazing out of the window. Most of it was drawn with pencil, with the liquid graphite added for the deepest shadow on the cat and day bed, and of course the glimmer ink watered down a little.

Then I found a reference for a sports car. After an initial sketch with pencils, I explored mixing the glimmer ink with the liquid graphite. It makes a useful greenish tone. By diluting, layering or mixing the graphite, ink and white pastel I could get quite a range out of what was a quite limited colour palette.

And finally, I tackled one of a heritage building at night. This took the longest, because of all the decorative details. The darkest areas are painted with liquid graphite – even the 14B pencil couldn’t approach it in blackness. I diluted the glimmer ink quite a bit to get more of a yellow shade than shimmery effect on the stone walls. The white pastel was used only on the light, and love how it conveys the glow.

Overall, this was a much more ‘arty’ box of materials, and much easier to use, than the previous box. I can see myself using everything in it again. Even the eraser pencil, which might prove more suitable on a different, stronger ground or be good for tweaking the surface colouring on a sculpture. My favourite was the liquid graphite, but I was most surprised by the versatility of the glimmer ink. SketchBOX have hinted that the next box will contain them, which I would very much like.

Boucle Chains Scarf

I sold my modified Katie loom late last year. It didn’t make sense to have two 8 shaft table looms, and the Jane was the keeper because it’s wider and has a supplementary warp beam. I won’t say I didn’t feel a few pangs of sadness to see it go.

Since most of the second hand looms I’ve bought have come with free yarn, I decided to do a cull of my cone yarn stash and came up with a box of cotton, linen and wool to accompany the loom. Spreading the keepers over the kitchen table meant it was suddenly obvious that some of what I assumed were solo yarns were actually the same brand and type as others. Putting like with like back into the cabinets made it all look much tidier.

I have quite a bit of boucle yarn, which got me thinking of something I stumbled on in the 8-shaft course sampling. I really liked mixing boucle with smooth yarn in Deflected Doubleweave. It gave the fabric a lovely texture, and for some reason – probably just because there wasn’t a lot of texture explored in the course – I am drawn to texture and simple weaves right now.

A shawl or rug appealed, or maybe a tunic top, but I decided to do a scarf first as a test piece. I chose a pattern in the DDW sampler I’d called “Cha-cha-chains”, tweaked it in Fiberworks, chose the yarn, wound it, warped it and started weaving.

It was as dream to weave. Swift but not boring. It took me six months to weave mainly because of many, many distractions. It felt lovely on the loom, and thickened up slightly after washing.

So cosy.

I’ve worked out the specs and picked a pattern for another one now. Just need a free weekend to get it on the loom.

Box of Goodies

Having sampled one art material subscription box, I decided I liked the experience and wanted to try another. I settled on SketchBox, which had a far more reasonable postage charge. The first box I received was the April one, which arrived mid-April. The extra time it took to get to Australia meant the reveal happened long before I received it, but that’s fine. I’m in it to try some art materials I might not usually pick up, especially those not available in this country, and have fun.

They’d given some pretty strong hints on the website what the contents would be, so it wasn’t a surprise when I opened it to find… Pantone markers. And an extra colour as an ink for refilling markers or working with directly. Plus a marker pad, pencil and brush.

The boxes come with an art sample and a prompt, the latter being “blossom”. I made a sample chart then dutifully photographed some dahlias in the garden and painted… drew… them. The markers were, well, not that great to do this sort of art with. The markers are water-based and it’s supposed to be possible to blend them with water straight after application, but I found they dried fast and wouldn’t reactivate. Painting some water on first helped a bit. The inks don’t all match the lids, and some dried lighter again. They have a chisel tip on one end and a brush tip on the other. at the small scale of the marker pad the thinnest lines I could get were quite thick. I wound up using the brush with the ink to outline everything so it wasn’t so chunky. Too late in the process I realised I could dab the brush on the pen tips and paint with that.

On the up side, the range of colours created when mixing the colours was surprisingly broad, and the saturation of the green was great. The lid of one of the pens had popped off during transport but the pen wasn’t at all dried out. They didn’t bleed through the paper unless applied in several layers and never marked the next sheet.

I found a pile of videos of other artists reviewing them and found most had the same core group of issues, and came up with interesting solutions. Some ‘drew’ into palettes to make puddles of ink they could apply with a paint brush. One had much better results blending and reactivating on watercolour paper.

The pens felt like ones that, (mumble) years ago when I did my tertiary art/design course, were in the kit we were required to buy. They were used in architectural and fashion drawing, applied like fancy highlighters. The look was very 80s. It feels like these would suit that application very well.

Would I buy more? Probably not. But they were completely new to me and I had fun trying them out, which is the whole point of getting these boxes.

Chambray Dress

A year or so ago I saw a woman wearing a denim dress and found myself fancying a garment like that. It was essentially a shirt dress made with chambray, and I had some of that from a destash sale. I went looking for patterns and settled on Simplicity 8014, which had been voted best pattern of the year on a sewing pattern review site.

Having made the mistake of buying a pattern in US sizes that were too small for me, I took care to check the eBay seller’s information carefully and there was no indication it was in US sizings. So of course, only when it turned up was it possible to see it was was. I had to buy it again, and by the time it arrived I’d moved on to other projects so this one got put aside.

Recently I got around to making it.

I have to admit, I wondered how the pattern managed to be voted Best of the Year. The version I happened to want to make involved so many switches back and forth in the instructions that I eventually had to scan and print it so I could cut them up and put them in the right order. Even then, I had to tweak the order on the fly as well because I was top stitching in another colour and didn’t want to be changing the thread constantly.

Then there were some oddities with the collar instruction. The only time the seam allowance is mentioned on the pattern pieces but not on the instruction sheets is for the collar. The collar is the last part to be sewn, and the instructions are incomplete and in one place don’t match up with the diagram. Also, there is no mention of overlocking edges to prevent fraying, and the number of buttons for the view I did was two short of what was needed.

It seems like the manufacturer has decided to truncate the instructions so they took up less pages, and whoever got that job really didn’t care how they got it to fit.

New Art Challenges

My year of Daily Art happened at just the right time, finishing a month and a half before life got too difficult to accommodate such a challenge. I had meant to take a break and start again after a month, then changed that to three, and before I knew it six months had passed and it was clear painting every day is no longer practical.

Which is fine. I do want to paint at home with some regularity, however, and the Daily Art challenge made me realise I really like and want to continue painting still lifes. To do that regularly at home I needed a permanent painting space where I could control the light and it didn’t matter if I got paint on the floor, so I have converted half of our big laundry into a mini-studio.

This is where I did most of the ink-making. It was such a cosy nook I decided to keep using it. We removed a drawer unit and inserted shelving and drying racks above the desktop. The cupboards to the right now hold most of my art materials.

This is an old pine table I restored twenty years ago. I have a new light with an amazing variety of controls and a shadow box set up cobbled together from mdf, aluminium channel and perspex sheeting.

I’m exploring painting different materials. At the moment it is glass, and I intend to focus on wood, ceramic, metal, paper and plastic in future. I’m not exploring grounds or mediums and will probably stick to oils and gouache. But there’s a new aspect that I’m focussing on: saleability.

There’s a lot of work from the Daily Art challenge that isn’t worth trying to sell, which I don’t mind because it was fun to do and I learned a great deal. Now I want to include end use into my plans. In particular I’m considering what makes a piece more likely to sell or be adopted by a friend, and letting that guide my choices. It’ll be interesting to see if I’m right or wrong – either will just be another part of the learning process.

I have also given myself another challenge: keeping art for weekdays, work and family-related matters and restricting hobbies to weekends. For a while now it’s felt like the balance was wrong. So far it has felt surprisingly right to divide up the week this way. I guess old habits die hard.

And while on the subject of imbalances… I’ve been reading articles about AI and finding it all rather fascinating but also sad. Like most new technologies it has potential to be a useful tool, but if it can be used to exploit people someone will find a way. Until the copyright issues are worked out, I’m going to avoid posting images of my paintings online.

Refashioning the Refashion

This was originally a dress that I grew out of and turned into a skirt. Recently I tried it on and found it a bit snug. I love the fabric but redoing the waist would shorten the skirt, and I’m favouring long skirts these days. There was a skirt to top refashion I’d wanted to try for years, so this seemed like the perfect time to try it.

The ideas is, you turn the shirt upside down, unpick the side seams enough to create armholes, then join the hem at the shoulder line. If the skirt fits you can leave the waist as it is, but mine was not just too snug but also a bit long for that. So I cut off the waistband and added a new one that was also a tie. And I added a black band around the sleeves to match the waistband.

A more recent purchase was this wrap top I bought online with a voucher from sending fabric and clothes to be recycled. The shoulders were very wide, and with all the gathering at the top of the sleeve it made my head look too small for my shoulders. So off came the sleeves and a few finger-widths of fabric came off each shoulder before I reattached them. I found the gathering was rather haphazard so now it also has the same amount in the same position each side.

There has been more sewing, but that can wait for another post.

Daily Art: Six Months Later

I wrote the first version of this post and another one on framing several months ago, and they were waiting on me finishing and photo graphing some of the framing for the Nature’s Remnants series, which I made shadow box frames for. I got a couple of pieces done for friends who wanted them, but forgot to take a photo. Then the Mum disaster happened and I didn’t touch anything until just before New Year, when I managed to frame a few more for an interstate visitor. I forgot to take photos of those ones too. Then just after New Year the Dad disaster happened and I’ve only just got back to tackling framing again.

Reading over those posts, I decided to delete one and then publish a modified version of this one:

I hoped to learn something from the Daily Art Challenge and I did – a great deal. One unexpected lesson came afterwards: there’s nothing quite like framing to make an artwork look worth spending money on… or not. It’s not that I wanted or needed for everything to be framed up and sold, but there definitely were pieces I had grander expectations for than what the reality turned out to be, and visa versa. Here’s a quick assessment:

Flowers. The little book was popular, and I was surprised at how well I did with a subject I have never gravitated to. I reckon I’d enjoy tackling some bigger floral artworks – especially since flower paintings are quite saleable.

Toys. A definite success all around. I enjoyed painting them, they came out well, people loved them, they frame up really well and I reckon I could easily sell them.

Hands & Feet. They were fun and I’m better at pencil than I thought. Not a saleable thing, though.

Food. A satisfying subject to paint and people liked them. I did better with acrylic than I expected, but I’m not sure I’d use it again if I was to paint this subject again. Most likely I’d try painting them in gouache or oils. Not sure if they’d sell but it’s worth a try.

Cars. The subject was a challenge and I think I did okay with it. People liked them, but overall I don’t think they’re a saleable subject in the medium I used. Copic markers are definitely a good medium for sketching but apparently they’re not very light-fast.

Nature’s Remnants. These were a deliberate effort at making something saleable at the same time as being an experiment in ground and medium. Casein was interesting but a bit stinky and not as easy to use as gouache or oils. The shadow box frames I made were a time-consuming, though ultimately great-looking, solution for how to present them – made much harder because the pieces of marine ply were all different sizes and not square. I don’t know that I’d paint something exactly like them again – more likely I’d depict the subject in another medium on a ground that could go in a commercially-available frame.

Faces. Turns out ballpoint pens are nice to draw with… if you don’t have anything better at hand.

Chairs. No. Just no. Okay, to be specific, it was more the medium than the subject I disliked. It was the only theme I really didn’t enjoy, which is weird because I liked the pen and ink drawing for the accessories theme. I’m astonished and grateful that my friends wanted these.

Pets. What can I say? I loved drawing them, they came out great, people loved them, they were nearly all worthy of framing and I reckon I could do pet portraits as a sideline. But, but, but… oh, how I dislike the dustiness of pastels.

Accessories. I really enjoyed drawing in inks and depicting the objects, but this wasn’t a subject that excited any people who looked at the artworks and though the few I framed up look nice they still aren’t particularly saleable. Having made a pile of inks in the Maiwa workshop and afterwards, I’d like to be doing more drawing in ink, but probably only when sketching for the fun of it.

Tools. It surprised me how well I was able to depict objects in coloured pencil, especially when the coloured hands and feet drawings were weaker than the monotone ones. Looking at the subject material and thinking about people’s reaction to the artworks, I’m not sure anyone is going to want any of these framed and on their wall, even though the couple of sets I mounted looked nice.

Kitchenalia. Ah, there’s a reason oils are my favourite medium. They just feel right. And you could depict bird droppings with oils and somehow that would legitimise it as a subject. I wanted to keep nearly all of these, but did give two sets away.

So to sum up, the most enjoyable subjects to paint were natural and nostalgic. My favourite medium was oil, followed by gouache, but I also did well with pencil, conte pastel and biro. The most framable and sellable artwork was the toys by far, but the pets and kitchenalia were also popular. The Nature’s Remnants were popular but too fiddly to frame.

Applying that to the future, I should produce more small oil and gouache paintings of natural and nostalgic subjects, and keep Copic markers, pencil, pen and ink and ballpoint pen as sketching mediums.

Posted in art

The Season for Madder & Acorns

When I did the Maiwa Ink-making workshop I really wanted to make an ink out of the madder plant I am growing, but the best time to harvest is when the plant dies back, in Autumn/Winter and it was Spring at the time. I also wanted to try making acorn cap and pomegranate ink, but oak trees were also in the opposite season for producing nuts, and my pomegranates were only just starting to flower.

Well, the seasons have turned and I’ve switched from using the dye pot for fabric processing to ink production. I dug out what felt like the largest of the madder roots, chopped them up and put a good handful aside for making ink. The rest were dried and put in with my dye supplies. After comparing a few recipes, I boiled up the root, strained it off, reduced the liquid to 50 ml and added Gum Arabic and clove oil.

We have a pin oak here, but it is only just reaching the age to produce acorns. I was excited to see a few last year. This year all I found at first were teeny tiny acorns with almost no cap at all. Later I did find a few bigger acorns with caps, but it was clear I wouldn’t get many this year either.

I’d told Dad that I wanted to make acorn ink but needed to find an oak tree in full production, and the next time I saw him he presented me with a small bag of caps from a local tree. So I crushed those up and soaked them for a week, then boiled them for an hour. I strained and filtered out the caps then reduced the liquid down to 50 ml. Acorn is a tannin so, after making 30 ml into an unadulterated ink with Gum Arabic and clove oil, I added 12 ml of a 10% ferrous solution to the other 20 ml make an iron-blackened ink.

The iron acorn version works just like iron gall ink, in that it darkens as it oxidises, though not to the deep black galls produce. It’s very satisfying and a great alternative if you can’t find galls. Oak trees are common in Melbourne parks, and you just pick the caps up off the ground rather than having to collect galls from branches.

It had occurred to me that I could make some inks from leftover dye sources from the Print & Paint workshop, and I decided to try making myrobalan and pomegranate inks. Though my pomegranate tree was laden with fruit, they were far from ripe, and I had plenty of powder so I figured I may as well use it.

Using the proportions of ingredients in Maiwa’s iron gall recipe, I set two jars simmering in a water bath, with the jars of powder sitting behind the pan in the same order to remind me which was which. However, I needed to pick them up at one stage then couldn’t remember which order I’d had them in. The solutions looked exactly the same and smelled too similar to identify them, and the inks looked identical except that the non-iron version of one seemed to shift to red. In the end I had to put a quarter teaspoon of each powder into a little container and add water, then filter them both, because the only difference I could recall was that one filtered through a cloth easily while the other blocked up and formed a distinctive paste on the fabric. Good thing I did, because I had switched them around.

Maybe it didn’t matter, since the inks look so similar, but I don’t yet know how these will develop over time. I’d still like to make ink out of the rinds of home grown pomegranates, and I’d like to try making ink from eucalyptus leaves rather than bark. I suspect there’s always another ink to try.

I played a bit making Jason Logan-inspired ink circles. The madder dripped onto a titanium white base did interesting things.

And the brazilwood on madder looks like a petri dish experiment.

Posted in art

Books Read in 2023

Absolute Sandman Volume Four Neil Gaiman
Fabric Victoria Finlay
Absolute Sandman Volume Five Neil Gaiman
Amongst Our Weapons Ben Aaronovich
We Cry For Blood Devin Madson
Spin the Dawn Elizabeth Lim
Unravel the Dusk Elizabeth Lim

It was all going quite well last year then I just stopped reading – or at least didn’t finish the books I was reading – possibly around the time the 8-shaft weaving course was winding up. Then I devoured four science fiction books in a row, read during long scouring or dyeing sessions of the Maiwa course or in waiting rooms – but I think that was mostly after New Year so doesn’t count for this year.

Testing Times

Back in December I made this shirt:

It was a test of a vintage pattern and I wasn’t all that impressed with it. The shirt came out okay, but when I went to wear it I found the facing fabric in the button band and collar was much too stiff and uncomfortable, so I cut off the buttons and sent it off to a clothing recycling company.

Just about that time, Tessuti released a similar shaped shirt with a collar, so I bought it, and recently did a test version:

The fabric is a rayon sarong I bought in an op shop. I used a very light facing in the collar and under the buttonholes. It’s very wearable, though the weather here has suddenly grown too cold for short sleeves and single layers. The pattern has some annoyances like teeny tiny photos of very busy cloth that you can’t make out the seams on, and the collar method seemed needlessly fussy.

Nothing bad enough that I wouldn’t use it to make the shirt I was testing patterns for. That one will be made from a piece of fabric I painted in the Maiwa class, plus some black and white linen I bought to go with it. I’d have probably started that project this week if I hadn’t come down with a bug that had me sleeping half of most afternoons. Not Covid, but probably the one spreading among friends with sinusitis as the main symptom.

I’ll get to it soon enough. And I’ve thought a lot about art and hobbies, how much of my time I want to dedicate to either, and how the reality is the opposite. I decided to try limiting hobbies to weekends and art to weekdays. This will be helped by finally getting a workable set up in the new studio side of the laundry. The last piece of the puzzle was a still life “box” that controls the direction of light on the subject.

I was happy with how the trial artwork went. Maybe tomorrow I’ll squeeze in another piece.