In May I struggled with this challenge. I started off drawing chairs on graph paper in line and dot rendering with the intention of painting colourful 50s style brush strokes and squares in ink as a background. But the tracing paper was too absorbent so the ink came out very dark and obscured the fine drawing lines.
By the fourth day I knew I had to change what I was doing. I tried tracing the chairs onto tracing paper then arranging that on top of rectangles of graph and colour paper on top of a black card, and I liked the result. A bit of double sided tape and some black sticky dots to fix everything in place, and I now had “collage” as the ground. Then to that I added my signature and the date, and punched holes in the tracing paper for repetition of the circle element.
Partway through the month I had a big flare up of neck pain and didn’t draw for two days, so the next day I got back to it I drew a stack of three chairs. That means I have 29 collages. I want to frame them in groups.
All through the pandemic so far I’ve heard people say they want everything to go back to normal. I doubted everything would, and predicted that some things would change permanently for good and for ill. Because that’s what happens over time anyway, even without a catalyst to speed up the process.
Twenty years ago I was broke and living alone. I barely drove anywhere and could only afford an hour a day of internet, which was mostly spent dealing with emails. A few years passed and when my income improved and I could get about again, online and in real life, it was like I’d been living on the moon. So much had changed I scrambled to grasp some of it.
Three years ago I knew I was heading into a new phase of my life. There’d be good changes (more time to explore hobbies), bad (the stress of my parents’ declining heath), and a lot of questioning of identity and purpose. I was ready to embrace change… but I couldn’t have predicted the pandemic.
“Evolve and Simplify” is my motto for this year. Now, nearing the halfway point, do I feel like I’m managing either?
Evolving: Definitely! Until October 2019 it was always writing first, then art and craft equally in importance, but it has shift to art first, craft a close second, then writing a distant third. Socially, I’ve become much less tolerant of selfish people. More recently I’m contemplating what it would mean to be considered ‘disabled’, whether by myself or by others.
Simplifying: A little. I’m changing parts of the garden to make maintenance easier. All social media has been relegated to one session a week, on the desktop not the phone. I’m resisting the lure of new hobbies, wanting to consolidate knowledge and skills in existing interests instead.
In the second half of the year life will get much simpler when I finish the 8-shaft weaving course and the daily art challenge. In their place I hope to weave some of the structures I’ve learned but at a lazy pace, and increase the amount of art I do. I’d like to try some weekly workshops or joining a plein air group, and go back to always having at least one painting on the go.
Simplification can go too far, and evolution doesn’t always go in good directions, but I’m hoping that, overall, I can embrace and benefit from the changes to come.
At the end of March, after a month of painting, my back needed a rest. So for April I chose a theme and medium that would allow me to do quick sketches while watching tv. Faces seemed easy enough but I still wanted a challenge, so I chose a medium I hadn’t even contemplated up until then: biro.
I’ve always hated biro. I hate how the ink blobs when you write. I hate how the point presses into and distorts the paper. I hate how it can fade out unexpectedly. But that was all to do with writing, not drawing.
Now and then I see art work in biro and it both blows me away and fills me with puzzlement. Do these artists know of some special brand of biro that doesn’t blob or distort or fade? Nothing I read suggested that, so I decided to just embrace the inconsistency.
Since this was the tool of doodles, I picked an equally humble surface to draw on: a notebook I made during my bookbinding days out of old envelopes. This turned out to be a very good pick, because something about drawing on the patterned side of the paper added an extra magic.
It did take me a few goes to get a feel for it, and straight away it was clear that bad references make for bad drawings. I started off drawing a model in a craft magazine, but those kinds of pics tend to have very even, uninspiring lighting. I didn’t want photoshopped perfection, either. And I wanted a diverse range of faces. The internet came to the rescue with free photo websites.
In the end it was the first month in which I wasn’t eager to finish. There was an appealing ease to the theme and medium that made me think I could easily make tv time drawing an ongoing habit.
The fabric stash has been growing lately, both due to a few destashes and me buying knits online in order to make basics to replace those that had worn out. I haven’t made the basics yet, but did whip up two new 50/50 skirts.
The first has some destash material on the front. I’ve been craving colour, and it certainly fit the bill.
The second recycles fabric from one of Late Lucy’s old skirts.
Now I just need to get around to making those basics, because they’ll go very well with these skirts.
March’s theme was all about biological litter: bones, seed pods, shells, fossils, feathers and other remains of living things. Some I’d collected over the years, some I picked up during the month, and some loaned by a friend. Two were fakes.
They were painted with Casein on some kind of particle board (maybe marine ply) I picked up at Resource Rescue and prepared with primer and clear gesso. I set up on the craft room table with a spotlight – one thing I missed from the toy painting was doing interesting shadows.
I didn’t like Casein at first. It’s not as forgiving as gouache, thickening and drying out quickly. When I painted the red-orange leaf I found I could not get the richness of yellow I needed. the set I’d bought contained Naples Yellow, which seemed to create a dull orange when mixed with red. The red that came with the pack is Rose Red which was very pink, and I was glad I’d bought Alizarin as an extra.
Fortunately, I did not need Cerulean Blue for any of these, as it was the colour the shop forgot to include in the package.
I first learned about casein paint in one of James Gurney’s YouTube videos. He uses it as an underpainting for gouache and watercolour because it doesn’t reactivate with water. I found it did. However, in a recent video he demonstrated which paints reactivate and the casein did so. Looking close at the Alizarin tube, which appears to use an older label design, it says that it become “insoluable with time and exposure”.
By the end of the month I liked casein better and felt I had the hang of using it, but I still prefer gouache. Having thirty-one paintings, most of which I reckon are good enough to sell, left me feeling pleased with myself. But I also had a VERY sore back, and I chose the fastest medium I could think of to do in front of the tv for the next theme.
The first warp I wound on my new horizontal warping mill was for a set of Summer and Winter tea towels in 16/2 cotton that I’m calling “Wonky Blocks”. They were to be a Christmas present for a friend. Needless to say, they didn’t get them in time.
The first snag was the realisation, halfway through measuring the warp, that I wasn’t going to have enough yarn. So I ordered more. When the yarn arrived I picked up the cone holder and realised the yarn in it had 8/2 written on the side of the cone. Not only had I wound half of the tea towel warp in the wrong thickness of yarn, I had used this 8/2 cotton with the 16/2 pink for both warp and weft of the pinwheel towels.
Well, the pinwheel towels look fine and maybe the thicker thread will make them thirstier. 8/2 cotton warp wasn’t going to work for the Summer and Winter tea towels, however, because then the ground yarn would be thicker than the pattern yarn. So I set what I’d wound of the warp aside and, starting from scratch, wound a new warp in 16/2 cotton, put it on the loom and got weaving.
For the pattern yarn I wove 16/2 doubled, on my double pirn shuttle. It was a fun weave, but progress was slow. I just couldn’t seem to fit weaving sessions into my days. It seemed like I only made progress during Zoom class sessions. One of the problems was that the pattern doesn’t go all the way to the end, leaving a ten end boundary of plain weave. That meant moving the pattern shuttle through the warp to the top or bottom at both ends of each pick.
This is a six shaft design, so I ought to have put those ten stitches on either side on the last two shafts, but I hadn’t thought of it until I started weaving. When I got to the end of the first tea towel I snipped off those pesky ends and tied on new ones weighted at the back of the loom after threading them through the last two shafts – which meant I didn’t lose any warp length by cutting off the first towel and tying on again.
Weaving was MUCH faster after that. However, I now found that I kept making mistakes with the box pattern. Mistakes that weren’t worth going back to fix, so I decided there was just going to have to be variations between towels. Then it occurred to me that it would be fun to get a dice and roll it to decide the box heights. Numbers 1 & 2 equalled a box 8 picks high, 3 & 4 meant 16 picks high and 5 & 6 were for 24 picks. So for the third towel I did that, though not strictly. I didn’t want really big boxes.
More than three months after I started I was under pressure to finish because I needed the floor loom for one of the class projects. The rethreading and using the dice made it fun, though. Then just like that, they were almost done. I save the last few design rows and the hem until the recipient was here, and could see how they were made. I sewed the hems and gave them to her that day, which meant I had to leave the washing and snipping off of ends for her to do.
I’d definitely weave this design again. If we didn’t still have a set of handwoven tea towels still going strong I’d do a set for us with a red, white and black theme. But we have plenty of tea towels. What I need, however, is more dishcloths. They’re high on the to-do list, on which the 8-shaft course project is the topmost item now.
February is a short month so I decided I should tackle something challenging that I might not like, but also something I could do in front of the tv, like the hands and feet sketches, so I had a rest from dedicating part of every morning to painting.
In the end I picked a double challenge: Copic markers (which I’ve barely used before), and cars (which I’ve always found harder to draw than I expect). I didn’t end up doing them in front of the tv, however. Somehow I got stuck in the morning art groove and continued working on the same table in my craft room I’d set up for the toys and food paintings.
Preparation was much easier than for January’s food theme. I simply watched YouTube videos and stocked up on Copic colours. Of course, on the first day I found I didn’t have enough of the right colours for cars. All that chrome requires a variety of warm and cool greys. I also needed a blender pen. Off to the art shop again – and another trip later when I couldn’t get the right pinks for a friend’s car.
As far as mediums go, this was all new to me so I learned the most out of the themes so far. Alcohol ink markers are like watercolours on sticks… except when they’re not. The pigment is much more controllable than in watercolours, but it can be pushed around. I especially liked being able to use one pen to pick up a bit of colour scribbled on plastic, to get hues between those I had. A fine white gel pen was good for highlights, but I discovered I could then colour those highlights by drawing over them with the Copics.
The popular method is to start with black outlines and fill in with colour. Since I’d like to be able to use Copics for urban sketching in a painterly fashion, I wanted to see if I could lose the black outlines. First I bought a set of grey fine liners, then later I tried just using the markers.
There aren’t 28 pics below because the drawing of parked cars seen from above was done over three days. That seemed reasonable when I was drawing a car a day and there were several in the picture.
Once again, getting good photos proved difficult as the special marker paper seemed to reflect a lot of light, exaggerating the shadow to the right. I’ll have another go at getting good pics when I put these in the art pages in the menu.
I know how it looks. All this art and no craft. But you’ll have to trust me – craft IS happening. It’s just not being finished.
I’m still weaving the tea towels on the Lotas. When I tried finishing the Theo Morman inlay project that had been on the rigid heddle loom I struggled with the sticky warp for a bit before deciding the inspiration was gone. The fine warp came off and I’m now weaving a plain white scarf from the ground warp.
Most of my weaving has been class samplers, and I’m not going to post about those again until nearer the end of the course. Which I’m starting to look forward to finishing. It’s not that I’m over the weaving and learning, but just a bit tired of doing a course. I’ve been thinking about why, and I reckon it’s partly because I’m tired of uncertainty. Will my health take another dive? Will my parents suddenly need all my attention? Will WW3 start? I have a strange itch to get it done while I still can.
But then, maybe it’s just because I’m really enjoying art at the moment. Life drawing classes have restarted and I tried doing a nude from life in oils the other day and was surprised to find I could do a reasonable painting in the time we had. Aside from a few back issues, my daily art practise is still going strong. It’s amazing me how all these finished pieces are building up. I’ve gone from two portraits plus a handful of pet paintings per year, to potentially 365 small artworks.
Of course, I already know that dedicating an hour or so a day can accumulate to big achievements because that’s how wrote the first draft of my last few books. The question I’m asking myself now is… what else could I tackle in this way?
That’s another reason I’m looking forward to finishing the weaving course. I want to put what I’ve learned, both in weaving and art, into practise, but I have only so much energy to spend, and a good part of it is taken up (sporadically) by classes and weaving samplers. I am, however, looking forward to doing the final year project, which is a finished object woven using one of the techniques we’ve explored.
Preparations for January’s daily art theme began a few months before the start date, when I tested all the tubes of acrylic paint to see if I had a full set of the colours I like to use and if they were still viable. A few tubes were dried up but most were okay, which is amazing because I think I bought some of them more than 20 years ago.
For the ground, I fancied painting over text of some kind – perhaps a book – so I grabbed two old magazine pages and tried priming one with gesso and the other with a clear binder medium. I preferred the gesso. Next came a hunt in op shops for a suitable second-hand recipe book, with matte paper and sewn binding. Well, it turns out most recipe book pages are shiny but I did eventually find one with mostly matte paper. Perfect bound, but that’d have to do.
Then came gluing pages into sets of four. I started by sticking two together, then the third on top, then the fourth. But that came out wonky. Since the first two pages had adhered together nicely, I glued the rest of the pages into pairs, then stuck pairs together. Much better. Then, because I had a few extra pages, I cut out the ones that had shiny-surfaced photos on them.
Next, I gessoed all the pages a spread at a time over several days. When they felt completely dry pressed the book under several heavy books.
All this time I really didn’t know if it any of this would work, but when Jan 1st came and I did the first painting, I was happy with the result. It helped that my painting approach was a bit looser than the toy paintings. Instead of looking for a complimentary colour for the background I chose a similar colour, and let it be brushstrokey and not hard-edged. The objects had only a thin bit of shading at the base of each object. This approach gave the pictures an interesting flatness, even while the object was three dimensional.
It took me a while to get the hang of the paint (and to remember that drying retardant makes it a lot easier to work with under air-conditioning!) as I haven’t used acrylics for 20 or so years. The first objects were a bit wonky looking, but I liked embraced that, deciding to not aim for the lettering on packaging to be exact.
I expected taking individual photos of the inflexible, wonky pages to be near impossible, and I was right…
Where did they go? It seems like the last month passed in a flash. I’ve thought about writing a post several times, but nothing was quite blog-ready. Not that I wasn’t doing anything arty or crafty, it’s just that none of it was at a good stage to blog about. So here’s my work-in-progress:
Weaving: there’s a set of tea towels on the Lotas, and I’ve done a bit of class work.
Art: the daily art challenge continues. In February I drew cars using alcohol ink markers. It was a big learning curve, but I really enjoyed that. I was pretty tired of cars by the end, though – something I suspected would happen so I picked a short month for it.
March up is “Nature’s Remnants”: shells, seed pods, bones, feathers, fossils, dried leaves, etc., which will be a nice contrast from manmade object. It wasn’t on my list of subjects, but I decided to bring together ‘cats’ and ‘dogs’ and make it a ‘pets’ theme, which will allow me to draw other kinds of pets as well. That gave me room for a ‘wild card’ subject. I’m using casein paint on sealed and clear gessoed plywood boards. I’ve not used casein before, or painted on boards. The first painting was definitely a journey of discovery.
I also tried the local art association’s portrait workshop, which was great. Lots of very talented artists in there.
Sewing: nothing since January, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about what sort of clothes I’d like to make, and whether the weaving course final project will be a garment or not.
Other: I painted a huge backdrop for a James Bond party. It’s too big to keep, so it’s waiting to be dismantled. I’m a bit sad about that, but that’s the trouble with props. If you do a good job, you’re going to regret having to destroy it at the end.
One thing I do remember about the month is lots of garden contemplation. I’m planning changes to make it easier to maintain now I have an unsteady leg and less stamina. There’s going to be some serious landscaping happening in winter to improve access, and the last six months of vege garden failure is an extra motive to simplify that area, too.
‘Adapt and simplify’ is my motto of the year, and the garden is definitely one area that needs both.