Sketchjournal 19/11/09

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“Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” ~ Robert Browning

Last night I finally sat down to sketch a leaf I picked up about a week ago. Pressed between the pages of my sketchjournal, it was temporarily spared the fate of crumbling into dust (the fate of so many other leaves my little girl and I have brought home over these autumn months) and I was able to paint it in light washes of gouache and, for the patches of green, Victorian Gold acrylic.

This shimmery gold-green paint was purchased on a recent trip to an art materials shop in Cambridge, where I also bought some coppery gold-leaf flakes. I plan to experiment with both of these in my oil pastel paintings.

We are on the cusp of that dark, dread season where the reds and russets and yellows of autumn are lost, crumbled, trampled, rotted and gone for another year. During the bleaker months, we are left to create our own colours, and must conjure shimmer and sparkle and light however we can.

Pens … friends!

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Teddy was sketched on a Hahnemühle watercolour card at my parents’ house on Saturday night, and posted to myself. Not having tried these postcards before, I found I enjoyed the canvas-like texture of its surface. I’m thinking my most lightweight sketching kit could include a couple of these cards, in place of my sketchbook: I could then mail my sketches home and paste them in later.

My card arrived yesterday, not unscathed, having undergone not only bending at the corner but also the cruel branding of Teddy’s right paws. This was all part of the experiment: if I were posting a handpainted card to someone else, I would now be certain to slip it into an envelope first, but in this case, I rather like the visible record of its journey. I haven’t asked Teddy what his feelings are.

It seems this is a week for playing with new materials. This lunchtime sketch was done in Stabilo Point 88, with a touch of white gel pen. I’d never built up a drawing in coloured pens before. It’s quite hard work!

In the classic words of Pauline the restart officer in The League of Gentlemen, “Pens … friends!” I’m not sure these Stabilos are my friends just yet, but this sketch has at least left us better acquainted.

November, November, the fifth of Remember …

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… or something along those lines.

I present a handful of November sketchjournal pages – with minimal blog commentary, I’m afraid, because that’s the sort of mood I’m in. It has been an unusual month: my little girl and I have been suffering and snuffling for two weeks now with the cold that just won’t quit; and having returned from Australia, Paul is now in the US; and I would like the viral unpleasantness and the incessant work trips to cease and desist, thank you very much.


Pen, watercolour & Starbucks wrapping in Canson journal


Pen & gouache in Canson journal


Staedtler pens, gouache & silver thingummybobbies in Canson journal

Paints and pomegranates

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What a long, strange week it’s been. But enough about me.

Tuesday’s sketchjournal entry was really just playtime with a couple of colours I bought to celebrate the prettiness of the frosty autumnal weather: a half pan of dioxazine (Winsor Violet) watercolour and a tube of gold gouache. The scan doesn’t capture the shimmer, but I fell in love with the warm, pearlescent purple created by mixing the two.


I emptied out the student-grade watercolours from a lightweight Cotman box and squeezed gouache into the half pans: much faster and easier for sketching and journalling than having to faff around with the tubes every time, and my Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache seems to rewet pretty well.


As you can see, I decided to forget the ubiquitous pumpkin today and celebrate the fact that it’s pomegranate season. Pen, watercolour & gouache in Canson watercolour book.

SketchCrawl 20

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It was a year and a half since I’d last had the chance to sketch and chat with Anita, so there was no way I’d be letting the wintry chill of the coldest day of autumn so far keep me from my date with her, here in Ely, for SketchCrawl 20.

Having downed the first of several coffees, we got the sketching underway with the King’s School boathouse, as seen from a bench overlooking the River Great Ouse. Anita was generous enough to let me use her Daniel Smith watercolours, and they were a treat. This is in my Canson journal.


I managed to fill another page as we recaffeinated and lunched at the Lamb Hotel. Going straight in with my pen for the people sketches was fun, but there are parts of this page I would happily obliterate. I gave no thought to layout, being caught up in trying to capture the lunch crowd, who were quite the most fidgety bunch of people I’ve ever observed. I used pen, Inktense and a bit of watercolour and gouache.


Our last coffee stop was at Costa, where our table out front amid the stream of Saturday shoppers afforded me my next sketching subject: this bloke, talking on his mobile phone. Anita and I had made a detour into the art materials shop prior to this, where I’d been unable to resist buying a tiny Paperblanks sketchbook, and at 2.5″ x 3.5″, it was the perfect size for a bit of surreptitious scribbling.

This is the mess I made of Nitsa’s watercolour palette. She didn’t mind. She’s a star!

Back to paradise

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… and now, back from it once more. Big sigh.

It was a very great pleasure to revisit the beautiful island of Zákynthos (and that’s ZAK-ynthos, not zuh-KYN-thos … why do all holiday reps feel the need to pronounce it this way?) for the first time in ten years, and to find our beloved Alykés remarkably unchanged.

This zentanglish journal page was done during the afternoon of our first day at the beach, in between swims and sandcastles and plates of calamari.


Pen in square hand*book journal, 3.5 x 3.5″
This sketch was done from my sun lounger, and shows the view from Alykés beach to the next resort of Alikanás. I last sketched this view 11 years ago, and the scene felt incredibly familiar even after all this time.


Pen & watercolour in Canson w/c journal
One afternoon I had a couple of blissful hours to myself, which I mostly spent sitting at the decked terrace of a tranquil riverside bar, sipping a fruit cocktail amid the olive trees and doing this next drawing. The owner was a friendly Greek gentleman who asked about my sketching. I left him one of my little Moo cards.


Pen & watercolour in Canson w/c journal
At the bottom of the page: the tiny brown scorpion that took up residence on the ceiling outside our room, and the (in reality much tinier, but very pretty) beetle I spotted on my sun lounger one afternoon.

The beach at Alykés again, on a breezy day.


Pen on 2 pages of Canson w/c journal prewashed with watercolour
As an artist I am architecturally phobic, and was clueless as to how and where to even begin in depicting this view of the neighbouring balconies from our own – but I really wanted to capture something of the Koukounaria (“pine cones” in Greek) and to make the most of my bits of early evening chill-out time. So I just sort of got on with it, and am pleasantly surprised by the results.


Pen & watercolour across 2 pages of Canson w/c journal
Though the mostly gorgeous weather afforded us 11 days at the beach, given the season I realised I had to have a project for the occasional sheltering-from-rainstorm scenario. My starting point for this was the silhouette of Kefallónia seen through a misty morning sky.


Pen across 2 pages of Canson w/c journal
Lastly, those sun loungers again …


Pen & borrowed Cotman watercolours in Canson w/c journal
End of season means relatively few holidaymakers cluttering up the beaches and tavernas, but I’ve perhaps exaggerated that tranquility just a touch here. 🙂 That the Zákynthos of my sketches is apparently a desert island belies the fact that we had a lively, sometimes hectic and ultimately exhausting (but fabulous) family holiday. But it does perhaps reflect something of what art does for my soul.

I have a handful of tiny sketches still to post, along with random crafty nuggets. In the meantime, my holiday photos can be seen here.

But is it art?

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Today, as on most days, my creativity took many forms. Today, as on most days, they were forms that would not be considered high art.

I drew thumbprint butterflies in raspberry yoghurt on the kitchen table to amuse my daughter.

I made spiral patterns in her porridge with the squeezable honey as she guided my hands.

I made a dozen silly things out of plasticine, among them a carrot, a dinosaur, a pig, a tortoise, a snowman sporting a hat and scarf (“Pingu!” she exclaimed delightedly), a false nose, a strawberry, a rose.

I also squeezed in 30 selfish minutes of oil-pastel sketching – an eggbox, since you ask, for an EDM challenge – before she awoke from her afternoon nap.

The art is there … You just have to look with a somewhat creative eye to identify it as such.

This is what the two of us got up to a few afternoons ago. As you can see, M rejected the interesting shapes I had laboured to carve into a potato (I do not buy potatoes … this was a special purchase) in favour of the beautiful mess she could create with her own fingers. Apologies for the rollercoaster effect induced by the bizarrely-chosen angle of this photo: clearly a further attempt, on my part, to justify myself as an artist.

This is what Mummy produced, with cheap poster paint, as a souvenir of the afternoon. Thumbbugs.

Yes, say I. It is art.

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