Craft Day

From time to time a bunch of my crafty friends get together for a Craft/Quilt Day. It’s as much about having a girly get-together (away from the kids) as it is about being creative, and there is always a little hilarity among the general nattering. Fellow bloggers included Margaret, Beky and Karen.

On Saturday I played host. There was some sewing of dresses, dog coats and quilts, some stamping papercraft, and some crochet. Though many WIPs called, I used the afternoon for more portraiture practise.

My warm up sketch was not so great, but I was pretty pleased with these three portraits:

(The paper is blue in the second one, not white in bluish light.)

I’d planned to do some really quick sketches while people worked, then get them to pose for me, but I found that it took longer to draw someone when they were doing something because they’d shift position and I’d have to wait until they returned to where they were or work out how to compensate. So the sketches took longer – but why interrupt anyone when the drawings were coming out better than I expected anyway?

The classes proved most valuable in that I could fall back on methods and mediums that I was familiar with and concentrate on the new challenge of sketching friends. What I found most reassuring was that my friends didn’t seem to mind being drawn. I was able to spare enough attention to chat a little at the same time – which will be good if it’s just me and the subject in the future.

I’m hoping to start arranging with friends to do sittings next year, and start working in oils. I haven’t yet worked out whether I’ll keep going to life drawing classes as well, either for portraiture practise or to return to drawing figures. I’ll see what my teacher recommends.

Phil-ing In for a Model

Phillip Tophead’s modelling career began a month or two ago:

I put him within sight of my tv-watching armchair, with sketchbook and oil pastels close by. Not quite the perfect substitute for knitting as I can really only listen to the tv at the same time, but now and then Paul will be watching something I’ve seen before, aren’t so interested in, or wants to read instead.

As my teacher says, you don’t get good at something doing it once a week. I wasn’t feeling the love for drawing in pencil, and charcoal or pastel creates too much dust and mess. It was actually research I was doing for my current book that sparked the idea of trying oil pastels. No dust, and it’s closer to what I’m doing in class.

But drawing a skull over and over could get a bit tedious, so I’ve swapped Phil for a head I bought to pose knitted hats on. Hmm. I should name her, too. Maybe Ms Anna Quin?

On the Face of It

Portraiture classes are going well. I feel that wonderful, slightly frustrating but ultimately rewarding sensation of change and growth that comes with learning. For the first six months I stuck to monochromatic neutral black and browns. After the mid-year break I found myself naturally starting to move into colour.

I’m hoping that by next year I’ll be ready to pick up a brush, dust off come canvasses and talk some friends into posing for me.

A Sketchy Plan

I haven’t kept a regular sketchbook for a while now. The itch to sketch faded last year after I started life drawing classes, though while I was overseas I managed to do a sketch per week. I do miss it, though. It was fun, exercised my artistic ‘muscles’ and I get a lot of satisfaction from looking through the completed sketchbooks.

This year I’m going to the same class, but drawing the faces of the models instead. My intention is to start doing portraits, and this is great practise and a warm-up for the ‘real thing’. It’s surprising how intimidating it is to draw a model’s face. It feels much more personal that drawing a naked body. I need to get over the reluctance to stare at someone’s face as well as learn to draw it well. Especially when nervousness on my part is going to make any sitter I work with feel less comfortable with me staring at them.

I’ve done some truly atrocious drawings, but also some that I’m not ashamed of. While I decided not to post pics last year in case anybody found drawings of naked people objectionable, but that shouldn’t be a problem with portrait drawings so here are a few:

I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped obsessively trawling through art and drawing blogs lately. I’m hoping this is because my search for direction is over. Drawing faces is proving to be even more of a challenge than I expected, but I feel like I’m learning something and making progress. It’s all about building up skills of observation right now. Later I’ll have to find a technique and medium that I like and is distinctively mine. I’m attracted to two quite opposite approaches: realistic black and white pencil drawings and abstract, colourful slap-it-on oil paintings. I guess I’ll have to try both, and see which I like better.

My teacher said last year that to be any good at art you need to ‘do it more than once a week’ – and, well, I already know she’s right. I’m thinking of holding a craft day again, and see if my friends will spare twenty minutes to sit for me. And I’ve been trying to sketch a few faces from a reference book of facial expressions one night a week. I do them in a sketchbook, filling pages where I’d faltered last year.

It’s making me want to reclaim that little weekly ritual of sketching the world around me and playing with mediums. Today I caught up with some of the art blogs I’d been neglecting and found a lovely post on Senioritis by Danny Gregory. It’s so much easier to do nothing. But so beneficial to exercise your powers of observation and get in the zone on a regular basis.

And it would be a great way to gain a bit of short term satisfaction in my lifestyle of year-and-a-bit long projects.

The Sketchbook Project

I miss Sketch Sunday. For those who weren’t reading this blog previously, two years ago I set myself the challenge of doing a sketch every week. I kept it up until I got back from the Tour, but then lost enthusiasm for various reasons. Going to life drawing classes was part of the problem, because I was getting my drawing fix each week that way.

A few months ago I signed up to The Sketchbook Project. Thousands of little sketchbooks are sent out to people to fill, then gathered together and toured around the US, UK and Australia. I chose the theme ‘Stitches and Folds’ because I figured that, even if the sketches I did didn’t relate, at least a sketchbook was essentially folded paper stitched together. (Well, except that it turned out they’re stapled together, but I can fix that since alteration of the books is allowed.)

The sketchbook arrived (and the t-shirt – well, it was a nice colour) but then sat in various places in the studio as I pondered whether to do sketches that were related, or random. There are 32+ pages to fill, so I didn’t want to be doing anything too complicated. I considered drawing magpies. Or stylistic drawings of people wearing voluminous clothing filled in with patterns. Or faces from a reference book of facial expressions. Or drawings done by stitching the pages with thread.

Thinking about the sort of sketching I gravitated to for Sketch Sunday – loose black line work filled in with watercolour – and the need to put off a whole lot of things until after my book deadline, I hit on the idea of a daily sketch of what I wore each day in December. It could include around-the-house casual clothes, fancier outfits worn to Christmas gatherings, gardening and fence-painting duds, refashioning projects and my New Year’s Eve costume. I could write comments, like a little history about garments I made or purchased overseas.

December first came and though the ms wasn’t done I started sketching.

As you can see, I added glitter and some fabric scraps to my glitzed up shoes. But the glitter was rather messy, so after this I decided not to stick things into the book.

I didn’t want to always do the same kind of sketch, so occasionally I’ve drawn clothes tossed onto the bed, or folded.

And occasionally I’ve drawn the clothes as if they were on the body.

After the first sketch it was clear that the paint was showing on the other side of the paper, so I stuck to drawing on the right. Then I realised that meant I had only 16 pages to work on, so pulled the staples out and sewed another 8 folded sheets of paper in. I used plain old printer paper, which is pretty close to the original paper.

After a week or so I realised that I wear t-shirts a lot. It’s put me in a ‘what the heck will I wear?’ dilemma more often, when I usually only have that when I’m dressing up for an event. Also, I usually wear something twice if it didn’t get sweaty or dirty. Don’t want to waste water or power or end up with huge pile of washing to do. But I became really conscious of how this would look in the sketchbook. Do I wash my clothes every time I wear them? Do I let them pile up for a second wear in January? Do I wear them twice and risk the sketchbook being a bit repetitive?

I’ve kind of been doing all three. I’m halfway through the month now, and I’m thinking about more interesting ways to draw the clothing (on a washing line, perhaps?) and hoping the weather warms up a bit so I can wear and draw more interesting summer clothing. With more Christmas parties coming, Christmas itself and a costume party at the end of the year there’s more opportunity for fun.

Sketch Sunday 71

Not much crafting has been going on around here. Instead there’s been this:

Planning for an overseas trip. But not a holiday. An author tour. This is both exciting and terrifying. And it’s going to be a lot of hard work. There’s so much to organise. Not just the usual cat sitter/house sitter/bills/post/packing to do, but public speaking events to prepare for, publicity material to arrange and a whole different wardrobe to pack.

Earlier this week I went looking for the impossible: shoes that I can walk for miles in and stand up for hours in, yet look good with a skirt or pants, are nice enough to wear to a fancy restaurant, can be worn in hot/cold/wet weather, and aren’t so expensive that if my luggage is lost or stolen I’ll want to cry.

Believe it or not, I think I managed it, thanks to the current fashion for runner-style impact absorbing soles on shoes. I found a pair of mary-janes for warmer days, and some lace-up boots for other times. The boots do have rather high heels, however, so I’m going to give them a bit of a test run first.

I go ironing-free when travelling. My favourite store for crushable clothes worthy of a fancy restaurant is Motto. I also keep to a limited colour scheme – in this case black, red and purple. Yesterday I found myself wishing I had a flirty red top top to include on this trip, and then it occurred to me I have a red dress made of t-shirt material that I like the top half of, but don’t like the skirt part.

I can see another refashion in my near future.

Sketch Sunday 68, 69 & 70

The band we went to see on Saturday night was Hawkwind. I joked that I was there as Paul’s support act. He’s a long time fan of Hawkwind and was pretty excited to be seeing them again – I think the last time he did was in ’86. I’m more in that ‘don’t love but don’t dislike’ category.

Knowing what concerts can be like (standing in a crowded space for hours) I swapped my usual big, heavy-ish handbag for a small one I call my my gig bag because it’s just large enough for a cd, sharpie for autographs and cash for drinks and snacks. I also packed pain killers, tissues and eye wash, because the reason I’ve only gone to one or two band gigs for every decade of my life is I am very allergic to smoke. At the last moment I slipped in my sketchbook and a pen.

It proved to be a good decision. It kept me occupied while we waited in the queue:

And when the support band, Night Terrors, was on the lights were still bright enough that I could sketch the band. I started from the right, but ran out of room for the fourth band member:

But since he was the most visually magnetic of the group – very tall, lanky, alternating from stunningly skilled feramin playing to wild, rocking guitar – I did a lone portrait of him:

Afterwards I saw he was working the merchandise counter and waited until there was nobody in his queue to ducked over and got him to sign it. He asked me to send him copies, so I emailed the above pics. (Hmm, not that I think of it, I should have signed them, but I don’t usually bother signing my sketchbook pages.)

Hawkwind were very entertaining and Paul had a really good night. But I liked the support band more, and from the comments I overheard the mostly 40+ crowd were pretty impressed, too. And I didn’t need any of the allergy supplies, thanks to non-smoking rules. I had known that laws were coming in but hadn’t yet shaken my long-time habit of avoiding public venues. Hmm, maybe I’ll go see more live music now.

Sketch Sunday 66

On Thursday, after a big lunch in the city, Paul and I headed to a camera shop he likes. Seeing this park opposite the store I thought ‘Great! Instead of standing in the shop feeling bored, I’ll go do a sketch’. So I settled in and got to work. But within a few minutes Paul was out of the store, and I’d barely got started with the paint. So I finished it in a bit of a rush.

Bet he’d have taken three times longer if I’d gone into the store!

Sketch Sunday 65

The year before last (is it really that long ago?), while on holiday in Canada, we went to an Ethiopian Restaurant and had a fabulous meal. The dish we shared with our travel companions involved a big platter of injera – moist crepe-like flat bread covered in spicy meat and bean sauces that you eat by hand. I decided I had to try making it one day. When I got home I googled some recipes, but a few of the ingredients were going to be hard to find here so the idea slipped to the back of my mind.

Recently some friends of ours have been hosting dinner parties trying out social ways of eating food, like ‘steamboat’. They’ve inspired me to finally try those Ethiopian recipes. A few days ago I bought a spice grinder so I could make Berbere sauce (though the recipe I used is more a spice mix than an actual paste). Yesterday I got out our rarely used slow cooker and made a lamb sauce which included the Berbere spices, and then last night I whipped up the injera and we got nomming.

It went better than I’d expected. The sauce was fabulous. The injera was a bit bland, but I suspect that’s because I used ordinary wheat flour rather than traditional grains – one of the hard ingredients to find. Still, it’s better that than the other way around. The injera is used to mop up the sauce, so the sauce tends to dominate anyway.

Tonight I’m going to try 100% wholemeal flour and see if that makes a difference. In a couple of weeks I’m having one set of friends around to experiment on, and I’ll try two more meat sauces. Yum!