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Wednesday 25th March 2009
The five basic skills in learning to draw at a basic level.

1. Perceiving EDGES or contours.

Understanding where one thing ends and another begins

2. Perceiving NEGATIVE SPACES – what is the space or spaces around or behind an object. As the edges and spaces are shaded with the objects.

3. Perceiving RELATIONSHIPS AND PROPORTIONS. Relative to your point of view, what are the constants – the things that don’t change. What are the relationships of the parts to each other and the whole.

4. Perceiving the LIGHTS AND SHADOWS – what is visible – in the light and what is in the shadow.

5. Perceiving the UNIQUENESS of each set of qualities – the “thingness of the thing” in each particular drawing.

These skills taken from “Drawing on the Artist Within” by Betty Edwards – Make up the first lessons – once these skills are understood – you can go on to draw anything – no subject is different from another – the same skills apply whether it’s a landscape, portrait or a still life.

Tuesday 24th February 2009
Drawing says as much about the artist as it does about the subject.

Rembrandt - Artist Father

Rembrandt - Artist's Father

Drawing is so much more then simply copying what you like. It’s about really experiencing something and seeing it intimately, seeing all the details, seeing it in it’s natural environment when the wind moves it gently, or with the sun shining on it, or how it changes over time. This is REAL drawing, it’s about looking in a really concentrated manner, some might say to actually meditate on it.

Durer - Artists Mother

Durer - Artists Mother

Drawing could be instead called seeing, then, instead of saying you are doing some drawing today, you say you are doing some seeing today.

Holbein - Jakob

Holbein - Jakob

While Drawing or ’seeing’ is mostly about how well you can look at an object it’s a great way to let you translate something in your own unique language, just like everyone’s’ handwriting is unique so is drawing. This is what truly makes a work of art an authentic expression of who you are. The marks you leave on a page describe you in a way that says a lot about you. Do you press hard on your pencil and make strong, bold definite lines? or are you more lighter in your touch and delicate in your drawing.

Rubans - Isabella

Rubens - Isabella

This expression of art and line can be clearly seen by observing the ‘old masters’ Have a look at the the drawings of Durer, Holbein, Rubens, Rembrandt. They are drawing many similar subjects but within an instant you can tell their distinctive lines as being uniquely theirs.

Drawing says as much about the artist as it does about the subject.

More Examples of the Old Masters
Rubens Drawing Examples
Holbein Drawings Examples
Durer Drawings Examples
Rembrandt Drawings Examples

12th February 2009
Using Both Sides of Your Brain
The holiday month of January has been spent less in my studio and more out and about with my grandsons who are 3 and 5. We have made objects with clay, cut papers for collage, drawn with textiles and looked into rock pools and dug in the sand.
Then today with a student doing a drawing of a corner of a room, with a french window on one side of it and a book case on the other. I noticed how this lesson seems to give both hemispheres of the brain a good workout. Firstly the ’sighting’ to get everything in proportion, then the measuring and observation of the edges to record them exactly. Next I started noticing the negative spaces created by the stacks of books on the back of the book shelf, and the movement of my fish mobile in front of the window.
The brain seems to delight in using its left and right sides and when you use the appropriate side for different parts of the drawing it feels very satisfying. The drawing just looks right, as it’s in proportion and the complex shapes and lines seem to fit together and work in harmony.
Once you can do this with ease the next step is to draw with a pen so that the drawing remains fresh. We did this complex drawing in under an hour, so that you are pushing yourself a bit but not rushing and with that sort of time frame you seem to be really alert, but satisfied that you have produced something good in a sort time.
The time last month of looking at the world and playing with materials that are readily at hand seems to have been both restoring and calming. You really need to be calm and still to look at things properly.

8th November 2008

I have just finished reading Kate Grenville’s latest novel The Lieutenant. She writes this about the way language is learnt when the two main characters in the book, Daniel Rooke and a young Aboriginal girl called Tagaran, teach each other their languages:

“The names of things, if you truly wanted to understand them, were as much about the spaces between the words as they were about the words themselves. Learning a language was not a matter of joining any two points with a line. It was a leap into the other.”

Negative Space Drawing
Drawings can be made by drawing positive shapes and by drawing negative spaces – the spaces between the shapes. When you ‘see’ these unnamed spaces clearly and just draw what you see as a shape without a name, you start to draw in a more complete holistic way, giving equal attention to the positive and the negative. Matisse stands out as an artist, who through his paper cut outs, saw this very clearly. They seem to have a completeness and harmony that is very satisfying.

29th October 2008
I have taught Betty Edwards’ method of  “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” for 20 years, both in a class situation and to individuals one-to-one. I now favour the latter approach as each person is starting with a different drawing background (or none) and I can adapt the lessons over 6 week blocks to suit particular needs and abilities.

A few people who manage to work through the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” can get going again after a lapse in the discipline of drawing, but most really need to interact with a teacher. I draw alongside students so that we are actually doing the same drawing. By working this way, students can glance at my work and more non-verbal communication takes place than verbal. This is important because drawing is a non-verbal right brain activity.

The Six-week Course
Blocks of 6 weeks are enough time to focus on one aspect of drawing. The lesson can be either one or two hours long and follow-up drawings are recommended between lessons. For example, I have a student who at the moment is focusing on perspective. We have done a drawing of an interior, another looking through a doorway, and we will progress to a corner of a building and then a street scene so each week the drawing becomes more complex.

Everyone can learn to draw but, to draw well and keep improving, it helps to be guided through a process that sees results in a sequential step-by-step method. I love drawing for its meditative quality and for the satisfaction it gives when you have given your complete attention to seeing something well.

27th October 2008
While in Canberra this week I saw an exhibition of photographs by B O Holterman and Charles Bayliss. In 1886 Bayliss was the official photographer for a Royal Commission the NSW Government had established to look into the effects on the Darling River of the drought. The Commission’s report also identified how farmers were using water. Upon arriving at the drought-declared areas Bayliss found that they were temporarily in flood and his photographs show this. More than a hundred years later we are still coming to terms with drought and our use of river systems.

Also in the exhibition was an album of small photographic portraits called cartes-de-visite…some of houses and shops interested me, especially the one that had a sign on the window saying, “Victoria Pie and Coffee Shop”.  I see a parallel with the portraits of shops that I am presently drawing.

15th October 2008
This week a student and I sat down to draw an empty shop which a month ago sold beautifully-designed clothing made from 1960s fabrics, as well as objects and furniture from the 50s and 60s. “Grevillia”, the name of this small business, suited the art deco shop front, but it is soon to be demolished to make way for an extension to the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

To draw the shop we had to sit on the edge of the gutter, the only spot that was shaded from the 30 degrees heat. We had been drawing for 5 minutes when a huge gush of water came from the drainpipe into the gutter from the nearby Chinese medicine shop. We jumped up, dropping the car keys in the water, and then a gust of wind blew my drawing into the gutter. We decided to give up and find another shop to draw. Soon all the small shops that supported family businesses along that strip will be gone and replaced by Aldis and Coles – we already have a Woolworths.

7th October 2008
Just a couple of quotes, again from the book I’m reading on Matisse who said, when in his late 70s in a letter to his daughter:

“Must I stop work even if the quality deteriorates? Each age has its own beauty in any case. I still work with interest and pleasure. It is the only thing I have left.”

Also from Paul Valery in describing a Matisse painting:

“Perhaps what we call perfection in art…….is no more than the sense of wanting or finding in a human work that certainty of execution, that inner necessity, that indissoluble, reciprocal union between design and matter which I find in the humblest sea shell.’

30th September 2008
Yesterday I was drawing a two-storied 1909 double shop in Carrington’s main street. Half of the building’s lower floor has been turned into a new hairdresser’s – all dark glass and stained cedar wood with the old doorway gone in favour of a flat-fronted façade of ‘newness’. The other side remains a separate shop with the original step up to the door, and a milky glass window that slants in at the doorway., as many shops of that era had. The original verandah posts remain, and the verandah shades a very wide footpath.

These two shops seem to epitomize the changing face of Newcastle and suburbs like Carrington, which itself has huge wheat silos at one end, and a fuel depot and six coal loaders at the other. The shopping strip remains with some two-storied shops alternating with small cottages. The picture theatre, Everybody’s Theatre, has been made into smart apartments, but it retains its name and, at the other end of the street, is a charming B & B – charm and grit side by side.

23 September 2008
I am still reading Hilary Spurling’s book on Matisse – at the point where he is in his 60s and going through a 5-year period when he can’t paint. He goes to America for the first time, also to Tahiti. He draws the trees and plants and observes “the undersea light which is like a second sky”. So although he wasn’t actually drawing or painting much, he was storing up images that he used later in the Chapel of the Rosary in Venice, and in ‘cut paper collages’, the latter being inspired by the patterns used on Hawaiian quilts which he saw in Tahiti.

A change of scene can bring about so much new work, and stored-up images come to the surface years later.

15 Sept. 2008
I am reading Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling. I am impressed by Matisse’s work ethic – up at dawn, two sessions and painting and violin practice, simple dinner of sald, boiled eggs and fruit, and in bed by 8.30. This was during the 1914-18 War when he started to work in Nice. He is constantly making portraits – “portraits that are so life-like they resemble not only the sitter but several of her relatives as well.”  Matisse said it came from a level below conscious thought.

I have been working today with a student doing erased portraits from an Ingres image. Even the style of rubbing out – the way each person does this – varies and speaks of who they are. Some are tentative while others like to ‘scrub’ at the darkened paper. Erasing so as to bring out the lights helps you see in a fresh way.

29 July 2008
I’m thinking about the Dobell Drawing Prize in September. Drawing at the coal loader yesterday, in the rain, we were asked by security what we were doing there. (They are anxious as, 2 weeks ago at the site, there was a big protest by environmentalists at Australia’s dependence on the export of coal.

The ridges of coal are like pyramids, but black with the huge orange coal loader astride them. Trains move almost imperceptively along multiple tracks as they are emptied of coal, which is then loaded onto one of the thirty or more ships waiting outside the harbour for their turn to be loaded.  The coal loader is at the end of our street, 3 blocks away, and we always have a film of coal dust on our windowsills. We hear the coal trains at night shunting, so it’s all very present.  I have been drawing the coal heaps for years; now I want to put them into a series to enter in the Dobell competition.

Sunday 6th July
I have started a series of drawings of Norfolk pines – ancient and new, planted around Newcastle. Some are very old – older than many buildings – and as have been drawing the buildings being pulled down, it occurred to me there is a parallel….trees cut down and replanted just like what’s happening to many buildings. This was brought home to me as I watched some 80 year-old Canary Islands date palms being cut down in Dangar Park, Mayfield. Firstly they were bandaged up, just like the buildings have been netted in green mesh. Many of the groves of palms that were planted after World War 1 have a grace unmatched by the new ones that are brought in and planted when they are mature.

Wednesday 21st May 2008
Now that the Royal Newcastle Hospital is just a hole in the ground next to a mound of rubble, it made me remember how lovely it was for patients and staff at the Royal to look out to the ocean, and see the waves breaking on the shore, and the ever-changing sky above. It was a sort of ‘window’ onto the coast and harbour provided to all in the Hospital. I’ve become more aware of the white wooden fences that go along the cliff tops and down the steps to the beach. They represent an unnamed space between the busy streets fronted by large solid buildings and the wildness of the shoreline and beach.

I’m interested in these spaces – negative spaces that are not often the focus of artwork.

My next group of drawings with bamboo pen will explore these fences and the land- forms and contours they accentuate.

Thursday 1St May 2008

The one and half hour L’Arche ‘creative workshop’ that I ran recently was attended by thirty-eight people. They included some highly creative primary school children, and about ten people with an intellectual disability and their carers and friends. The aim was to experience drawing as a visual language with its own vocabulary that includes line, form and structure.

I began by saying to the participants, “If you can throw a ball, you can do this.” I believe saying this helped set the tone and allowed the group to understand that they were going to be able to ‘play’, and that it wasn’t a test of drawing skill. Each person was given an A4 visual diary and a 3B pencil. The first exercise explored different qualities of line and led into eight drawings of themes such as anger, loneliness, joy, and femininity. These individual drawings have general characteristics that are similar – something like “family” resemblances – but still have infinite variability within the broad similarity. When finished each pair of participants looked at each other’s work – to “read” what each had drawn.

Next we drew our own fingers holding a myrtle leaf, all taken from the same branch of myrtle – the tree that used cover this area of the Hunter. Because the group was so concentrated on looking at and recording millimeter by millimeter what they were seeing, the room was absolutely still and quiet. They did not look at the paper while doing this ‘blind contour’ drawing so that they engaged with the process and not the product. Nevertheless, the result was beautiful sensitive drawings that had a line quality that exactly expressed that of the fingers and leaf. The second drawing was a modified contour drawing of the same subject, but being more aware of edges. They all produced very accurate and life-like drawings.

Many spoke to me after the workshop saying that they were surprised at how much they enjoyed the quiet and a feeling of power and satisfaction. All did work they were proud of and very happy to show to others, and wanted to do more. As Betty Edwards says in her book, “Drawing on the Artist Within”, “In drawing there is always the sense that if you can just look closely enough, see deeply enough, some secret is going to be revealed to you, some insight into the nature of things in the world.”

The children kept working in their visual diaries for the rest of the weekend during talks and breaks when they drew cows, trees, and ants with clarity and, as with anyone who draws, experienced the world with a new vividness. This not only gives new insights into the world outside but the world within as well.

Thursday 10th April 2008

I have been asked to present a creative session for participants at a L’Arche retreat. L’Arche aims to set up households for people with intellectual and physical disabilities so that they can have a place they call ‘home’.

So I am trying to use a visual language – the language of drawing, to explore ways of communicating without words. We will work in pairs so those who need help will get it.

I want to introduce the concept of using a Visual Diary, something that has been my practice for many years. It’s a visual record that can be looked at and enjoyed later to remember people, places and events. For example, I am at present recording the dismantling of the Royal Newcastle Hospital.

As a starting point to get inside this non-verbal language of drawing, I will get the retreat participants to explore the expressive use of line-making – small drawings that don’t use images or symbols, just lines to represent ideas such as ‘anger’, ‘depression’, ‘femininity’, ‘peacefulness’, and explore how universal is the quality of line used to express feelings. I am using as a source reference Betty Edwards’ book Drawing On the Artist Within. We will then do some portrait drawings of people we know, not by drawing their features but by using a format with lines that represent their personality and character.

Some exercises will follow on blind contour drawings of found objects from where we are staying for the retreat. This will help to further explore line and to give some tools for learning how to see what is really ‘there’, rather than what we think we know about.

Thursday 3rd April 2008
This week I had a change of practice and did some acrylic paintings, they were of Still Life flowers from my garden. The medium is more forgiving then water colour or painting with Bamboo Pen and Ink, as you can build up the artwork and paint over areas where your depiction of the scene may not be as you desired. It’s almost like a holiday from the rigors of my usual practice so she is able to be a lot more loose and flexible in her approach. These artworks will be up on the site in the coming weeks.

Thursday 27th March 2008
This week has been spent drawing the old Newcastle Hospital. I’m particularly interested in recording old buildings in and around Newcastle, these hold many memories for me personally over the years so they remind me of past times and life in and around them. They also change the shape of the landscape which in turn influence the relationship with other structures and the natural environment. See some of my Newcastle Hospital Buildings here

Thursday 20th March 2008
Just finished a series on Newcastle Harbour. There is a lot of activity down there with new structures being built, I love drawing here as there is always something changing, being built being taking down – it’s a landscape in constant flux. See some of my Newcastle Harbour artwork here

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