The second pair of inks we made in the Maiwa course was yellow from weld. This one did not go smoothly because I’d mistakenly bought ground weld, not weld extract. So the first batch went down the sink and I started again with instructions from the tutor on extracting colour from the plant material before repeating the ink-making process. The green is weld with indigo added.
The third pair of inks was extracted from cochineal bugs. Fortunately, I’d bought the right product for this one, and the process went smoothly.
In the middle of all this I made my own ink: Ash Pit Black. The source material was a chunk of charcoal I found where the ash pit at Boort Railway Station was back when they ran steam trains on the line. I ground it up in a mortar and pestle then mulled it for, well, aaaaageees. Maybe an hour. The resulting ink has a brown tone, which is probably because charcoal is not completely burned up fuel so the original source affects the result – in this case the fuel would have been coal. I was worried it would have oil residue in it, but so far nothing has come to the surface.
Of course, I had to try using it to make some art. Here is a drawing of the former Boort Railway station:
A few months back a friend (hi Amanda!) recommended I do a natural dyeing workshop run by the Maiwa School of Textiles. When I headed over to the website I discovered they were also running an ink-making workshop. I’ve been wanting to try making my own paints for a while, and after enjoying doing a month of pen and ink drawings for the Daily Art Challenge I’m keen to go back to that medium. Making inks seems like a natural crossroads between my two interests in fibre (dyeing) and art (ink).
I signed up and after pricing the items in the materials kit I realised it was much cheaper to buy them locally – and I didn’t want to worry that the materials wouldn’t arrive in time. Well, it would have been much cheaper if the shop I used for my price research actually had them all in stock. I hadn’t noticed the ‘out of stock’ on one item, but the other had no warning until I went to buy it. Having most of the materials bought or on order already, it would make no sense point buying the kit for just two items, so I had to hunt around online and wound up buying those two ingredients from Israel (from Dekel Dyes, where you can also purchase an interesting little booklet on making ink that includes eucalyptus as a source). This meant not buying the kit didn’t save me as much money and I still got to worry about a parcel not arriving on time.
Luckily it did, and I gathered everything together before we went on our holiday. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and reread a book I had on the subject (Make Ink by Jason Logan). Finally the workshop start date arrived, and I started working my way through the weekly modules.
The first task was to make sock solutions. I’d only found gum Arabic in solid and liquid form, not powdered, but figured I could grind it up myself in my mortar and pestle. Wow, that stuff explodes when you smash it. I had gum Arabic shards everywhere. The second stock solution was shellac, which was easy but time-consuming to make.
The second task was to make carbon black ink. An easy task, but I managed to make it complicated somehow when the pigment didn’t want to mix with the solutions. But I persuaded it to eventually, and without too much mess, and finished with two black inks: water-soluble and water-proof. Which I then put to good use:
The main aim of our recent holiday was to visit friends in Adelaide. I wasn’t keen to risk the chaos of unreliable flights and understaffed airports, yet my back wasn’t going to stand up to long hours of being a passenger in a car. So we planned to take a meandering route there and back, staying two nights at each location in case I had to lie down for a day to heal.
We stayed in the Euroa campground first, where a bunch of our friends had arranged a weekend away. It’s a nice spot. A pretty creek winds through the place. People were fishing or kayaking, walking dogs or riding bikes down the path alongside. Paul and I stayed in a cabin, and I was so keen to get painting that I did this not long after we arrived despite a cranky neck headache.
The next morning I took a little longer to paint one of the bridges.
On the Sunday we bid our friends goodby and headed to Boort in central Victoria, where Paul spent most of his childhood. I didn’t paint anything as it was only a one-night stay, but if I’d had the time I’d have painted the lake.
The next day we headed to Mildura, managing to catch only the leftmost edge of a storm as we left, then later just missing the top of a long ribbon of rain. There was a little extra blob of rain on the weather radar that didn’t look substantial, but when we and it reached Mildura at the same time it turned out to have grown into a full-on thunderstorm with torrential rain and large hailstones that had me seriously worried our car would be damaged – as mine had been in a storm several years ago. Fortunately there was no damage and we made it to the campground.
We had arranged to stay in a cabin on the river, and it was a lovely spot. The next day we went for a walk around town and the riverbank and stumbled upon the art gallery of the local artist society, where I was told I could buy art supplies from a local hairdresser. (I needed some linseen oil.)
That afternoon I did a painting of riverboats from the cabin. The sun kept going behind cloud, so it was easier to paint something that was in the shadow of trees.
Our next drive was to Adelaide. I’d noted that our windscreen had hardly any bug splatter on it, and I hadn’t seen many birds so far – mostly carrion-eaters. Now there were no bugs and no birds, and the roadkill lay bloated by the side of the road. Perhaps it was because were were passing through the fruit fly quarantine area, and all the bugs were being sprayed out of existence.
We also noted people were jumping fences and trampling canola fields to take photos, and figured farmers might not be too keen about that. Sure enough, this week there was an article about the biosecurity risks and nuisance it causes. Filing that under “The stupid, inconsiderate things people do to follow the latest Instagram trend”.
Once in Adelaide the only painting I did was my daily art. We stayed with friends, visited friends, had dinner at friends’ places, and spend many hours chatting with friends.
When the time came to farewell our friends we headed south, following the coast to Robe. Just before we arrived we learned a couple at one of the dinner parties had Covid. So we spend the rest of the holiday staying away from people – eating takeaway rather than going into restaurants, not going to touristy attractions where we’d encounter people, and cancelling visits to two friends living in places on the route home – and monitoring ourselves for symptoms.
Which we never manifested, thankfully. I did a painting on a Robe beach, but it was terrible and went in the bin after a failed attempt to fix it when I got home. The next stop was Dunkeld at the southern end of the Grampians. The day we arrived the weather was good but the sun was in the wrong position and my back was not happy. The next day it rained. The day after it was sunny, but we were heading home. Before setting forth, however, we drove around to take some photos, and when I saw the view from the Arboretum I had to stop and do a final painting. And I’m glad I did.
Despite the near-brush with Covid, it was a lovely break. There were moments when my back did get cranky, but nowhere near as much as I’d feared. We saw our friends, I got some plein air paintings done, and really benefited from a break from routine and familiar surrounds. It had been four years since our last trip, and I’m glad we travelled locally rather than set off overseas. I’d like to do more trips within Australia. Maybe next year.
Deciding which theme and medium to use for August was a bit trickier than usual, because I was going to be travelling at the end of the month. Since I would still be travelling in September I needed both themes and mediums to also be relatively portable.
The two themes left were tools and kitchenalia. I guessed that kitchenalia would be easier to find than tools in the cabins and motel room we’d be staying in. That was right, though mainly because it was harder to find tools while travelling. Paul’s car had surprisingly little in the way of drawable tools in it. I even bought a spanner in an op shop purely to draw it.
Since I was aiming to do some plein air painting in oils during the trip I knew I’d have that medium on hand, but I preferred the idea of doing kitchenalia as oil paintings. Instead I chose colour pencils for the tools. Water-based ones, because I like how creamy they are.
For a portable, folding backdrop I stuck two pieces of card on the back of a sheet of white paper. I took two lamps (warm and cool). Fortunately this was a car trip and we have a station wagon, so there was plenty of room for my art materials.
I was constantly surprised how effectively I was able to depict the material the tools were made of – especially metals – when white highlights are hard to create in pencil. Some of these bend the definition of ‘tools’ somewhat, but they were all fun to do.
Even after the month was over, the pencils and pad of cartridge paper I used came in handy on the holiday when we had a rainy day and nothing to do. We went for a drive and found an old rusty cart to draw from within the car.
Two months shy of finishing the daily art challenge I started to think about what I’d do once it was over. I want to continue to make art every day, but not in the same format since I’d be scratching to find twelve more different themes or mediums to tackle.
A couple of of ideas have me interested. The first is to depict a different material each month for six months. Glass, metal, wood, ceramic, paper and plastic seem like the most interesting and practical. But in what medium? While it would be good to try depicting each in different mediums, that would involve a lot of messing about putting one medium away and getting out another. There are a handful of mediums I didn’t use in the daily art challenge, and a few I did use that I don’t fancy going back to. I could just pick a shortlist of favourites and revisit them.
It also occurred to me that most of the daily art I produced in the last year is still life, and the materials challenge fits that category too. What if I took a similar approach to portraiture, and narrowed in on eyes, noses, ears, mouths, hands and clothing? Or concentrated on aspects of landscape by depicting sky, water, rock, buildings, vegetation, figures and animals?
I seem to have come up with another year and a half of daily art challenges!
Well, I’m not going to decide until I get to the end of this challenge at the least. As I near the end I am growing more and more in favour of taking a rest for a month before considering anything.
There’s a fabulous shop called Resource Rescue in Bayswater that sells all kinds of leftover bits and pieces from wood scraps to craft supplies to old shop mannequins. The foam pieces I used to carve grooves for canvasses in the wet panel carrier were from there. A few weeks back the shop announced on its Facebook page that it had taken leftover stock from a closed art and craft warehouse, so a friend and I headed over to check it out.
The first thing I saw was an easel full of art supplies. The art supplies were very much at the low end of quality, but the easel – a French style box – was pretty sturdy.
The design had a few flaws, but I figured I could fix those. The drawers were on the wrong side of the easel, for a start. The canvas clamps onto the lid of French easels, but that means that when the lid is open and in position to paint, the main part of the easel is behind the lid, out of reach. To get around this there is usually a drawer or two on the lid hinge side, but on this easel the drawers were on the opposite end side.
At home, after much rumination, I came up with a plan.
First I set about creating a way for a canvas to be attached to the inside of the lid instead of the outside. A pair of L-shaped metal corner supports on the lid struts provided something for a canvas to rest on, or be clamped onto if there’s a bit of wind. I also made a divider for the top section because every time I picked up the easel the contents would slide down into a muddle.
The drawers took up a lot of space and added weight to the easel so I removed them and screwed on a little door.
One cavity holds a brush carrier and some other bits and pieces, the other holds a palette I made that fits onto the top of the open easel and has beading that keep the paint from touching the inside of the cavity when stored.
The last amendment was to add a foot plate for a tripod and bigger rubber feet to accomodate the thickness of it.
I mostly use canvas paper taped to a board thesedays as it is light and takes up very little room. It can also be any size or shape so long as it fits on the board. I’ve made a board the same size as the drawer cavity, and a smaller one just because I had a scrap left over.
I’ve used the easel several times now, in life drawing workshops and to a plein air meet. And I took it with me on a recent two week slow drive to Adelaide and back. I’m pretty happy with it.
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.
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.