The itch to do plein air painting is back, and that’s led me to tackle a few related projects. The YouTuber artists I watch use box style wet-panel carriers made from wood or corrugated plastic, but I have yet to find a shop selling them in Australia. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to make one, so I went looking for materials and found hamper box and a shoulder strap.
The hamper box closes with magnets, so all I needed to do was add a corrugated plastic inner to strengthen the sides. I bought the plastic edgings in the photo in the hopes it would make good dividers for the panels, but it was too deep for the job. Instead, I used a kind of dense black foam that I could carve grooves into. I drilled holes into the sides to for strong cord loops to hook the shoulder strap on.
Finally, I covered the hamper label with my own.
I’ll only be able to store canvas boards or the thinner style of stretched canvasses in it, and only ones that are 10″ on one side and a max of 14″ on the other, but there’s a good range of options available.
Of course I won’t know if it works well until I try it.
But hey, I was right that most of the materials in it would come in handy one day!
The image in my mind of what this month’s daily art would look like has changed twice. At first I imagined realistic paintings like the toys theme, then cartoony black painted outlines with bright ink wash. But knowing that the final project and notes for the weaving course were due late July meant I needed something fast.
I settled on pen and ink. When looking for a suitable paper to use, I found two pads of calligraphy ‘parchment’ I inherited from Paul’s dad. The ochrey toned colour and interesting texture appealed, especially after a month of drawing on a mid-brown cardboard.
The drawings were super-quick and fun. Toward the middle of the month I started experimenting with coloured ink, and one is drawn with white gouache. Friends offered accessories to me to draw (thank you to KRin and Avril for the fish earrings, cow Swatch, tiara and white beaded gloves) and I borrowed the top hat, cuff links and bow tie from Paul’s wardrobe. The interlocking ovals hair clip and spiral star brooch were Mum’s, I wore the four-leaf clover bangle as a child and the locket was a present from my teens. There are holiday purchases and vintage buys and the straw hat and green bead necklace were made by me.
After calculating how much would be involved in having an exhibition to show all the daily art pieces, I decided I didn’t have the time or energy. That frees me to give the pet drawings to their owners and sell things in smaller batches or whenever anyone shows an interest.
Lately my morning routine has been: daily art, morning tea, final project for the 8-shaft course. After lunch it varies depending on how much energy I have left, from ‘adulting’ matters like wrangling tradies to a bit of sewing or gardening. The sewing is easy because I’ve made the items many times now – skivvies and leggings – and don’t have to think my way around fit and alteration, though I did halve the height of the skivvy collar for a bit of variety.
I also made a chocolate brown skivvy one but it looks like I didn’t take a photo. Just look at the green one and imagine it brown instead.
A few months ago I saw a woman wearing a denim dress and decided I rather fancied wearing something like that. So I searched for patterns and landed on the PatternReview website, where I found one that had been picked as the best pattern of the year of its type. I ordered a copy.
Then a little while later I picked up a large amount of pinky-red cotton knit, and figured this was a good opportunity to try another kind of dress I’d been thinking of making for a while – the wrap dress. This time I went straight to the website and found a pattern that had also been awarded best pattern.
I haven’t made either yet, but they are next in line. Probably the wrap dress while I’m familiar with the behaviour of stretchy fabric.
In contrast to May, June’s daily art theme was a delight. I put the word out to friends on Facebook that I needed reference photos of pets and received a good variety. Most were cats – no surprise to me – so I aimed for half the subjects to be feline and the rest to be a variety of other kinds of pets.
I chose conte pastel as the medium. Though I’ve been avoiding mediums that create dust because I have asthma, conte is really well compacted so possibly the least dusty. I intended to restrict myself to black and white, but pretty soon I was adding a little brown and grey, and then yellow, green and pink for eyes and ears, and the frog really needed to be green…
The brown card was an ideal ground, providing the perfect mid-tone and just the right amount of tooth. Each drawing came out better than I expected, making me question whether the results of using conte are worth the down sides. I could always wear a mask. It’s not like I don’t have a heap of cloth masks now.
I was sad when the month ended, but consoled by eagerness for the next theme: accessories.
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.