Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looking up: city rooftops

One of the best things about urban sketching is noticing lots of little details you'd otherwise miss.


Like the way the glass cone of the Melbourne Central complex pokes out behind a building of apartments, which have little balconies along them, hinting at the life within them.



And the way many buildings in Melbourne have names. I love the typography of these building titles. I wonder about the original businesses which once occupied these buildings when they were first built. All long gone now. Replaced by new tenants, with new businesses and new stories.


Sometimes you see trees on top of city rooftops.


There is a whole other life that goes on in the city, high above the bustle. You only have to look up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Drawing history: Argus Building

Open House Melbourne ran on the weekend, an event where doors are flung open to buildings not normally accessible to the public.

There were a few buildings on my wish list but one must-see was the old Argus building on the corner of LaTrobe and Elizabeth streets. It had been derelict for a very long time but last year renovations began to turn it into a private college.


Until the 1950s this building was the site of The Argus, a now defunct daily Melbourne newspaper. My great, great grandfather worked for The Argus as a stereotyper - a job title that sounds odd to the modern ear - but apparently this printing process is where the modern meaning of the word comes from. He was at the paper before it relocated here in 1924. He went to another job when he moved to a country town but it's entirely possible that when he returned to Melbourne, he came back to work at this grand location.
 

Here is a sectional view of the building which shows how it looked when it operated as a newspaper. I love imagining the buzz of the building at work. The reporters tapping away at typewriters. The artists at work, creating illustrations. I can imagine that the vibrations from the machinery hall could be felt through the building when the paper was going to press. It was all under one roof. How I would love to step back in time and see the building as it was then.

But Sunday was a little bit like that. The Advertisement Hall has been restored to its former glory and you get a real sense of the grandness of the building. There was a queue to get in; an excitement about it, probably helped by a write-up which appeared in The Age that day.
 

Of course I had to sketch the scene. Pen with watercolour in a new Hand*Book sketchbook, which I'm dedicating solely to urban sketches.


One sketchbook for everything is just not working for me so I've recently started three new sketchbooks for various projects, in addition to the two I currently keep. Call me crazy, but I think it's going to work ;)

I've also been trying to think of a way to create a portfolio of my sketches. I've just uploaded a bunch of recent sketches to my Flickr and I'm planning to keep this updated with my sketchbook work. I haven't used Flickr much in the past but I'm sure it won't take long to get the hang of it.

Speaking of ease, I tend to use Instagram a lot these days to show work in progress and finished work. It's just so quick and easy! But I do intend to try and keep up with this blog a bit more. Promise ;)

Friday, June 20, 2014

A creative day

Last weekend my friend Maria and I went to Montsalvat for a creative day.

It was so good to spend the day on our own creative pursuits and being at Montsalvat is incredibly inspiring. It's an artists' community in Melbourne's north, with studios on its grounds, as well as stunning buildings open to the public, huge green spaces and beautiful, old trees.

While we were there Maria, who is a photographer, took some photos of me sketching. Here are a couple but head over to my studio blog for more about our day and more photos.

Jodi Wiley, sketchbook, Montsalvat {Photo by Maria Colaidis}
Jodi Wiley, sketching Maria's Polaroid {Photo by Maria Colaidis)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Keeping a sketchbook: start with why

I haven't updated this blog in almost two months but that doesn't mean I haven't been drawing. Au contraire. I've been drawing plenty.

I've been participating in Sketchbook Skool - an illuminating experience. The structure of having a new teacher every week allows a voyeuristic peek into many different sketchbooks and exposure to a variety of styles and techniques. I (mostly) did all my homework! And I learned a great deal from each artist.

Sketchbook Skool is about more than technique, although technique is part of it. What I liked is that it's about exploring the process of keeping a sketchbook.

Line drawing of my kitchen (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

For me, I had many lightbulb moments about the why of keeping a sketchbook while also picking up a few new things for my repertoire for the how. Sketchbook Skool was so rewarding that I'm going back for Semester 2!

My kitchen with colour added (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

Some of the things I've been thinking about in my blog hiatus have been these:

  • When life gets busy (as it has recently for me) keep drawing. Prioritise the things that bring joy to your life and make sure you can slot them in, if not every day, then every second day, or whatever you can manage. Don't drop them entirely.
  • Keep chipping away at the things you want to get better at. Reality is, I don't have endless hours to pursue my creative goals (who does?). So by keeping up my sketchbook practice - whether it's a five minute sketch while the kids are playing, or a half hour drawing in the evening - it all adds up, and improvement is inevitable (surely, right?).
  • I'm completely over the tyranny of the perfect page. In the past I have avoided my sketchbook because I knew I didn't have enough time that day to sit down and make a 'perfect page'. I don't care anymore. I'm now using my sketchbook to experiment wildly, do quick sketches, or more elaborate drawings. I have even started making notes in my sketchbook. Crazy, huh?
  • Notice what you notice (I'm sure I'm paraphrasing someone here). But making drawings is only fun when you are drawing something that interests you. I'm learning to notice what I enjoy drawing and to go for that.

For example, yesterday I met with the Melbourne Urban Sketchers. At first I couldn't see much at the meeting point to excite me - I didn't feel like sketching a cityscape. But I took a walk with some other sketchers to the nearby Polly Woodside - an 1885 Tall Ship docked permanently at South Wharf and protected by the National Trust (and which I hadn't seen since I was a kid!).

We walked around the ship several times to find the best perspective. I still wasn't very excited until I realised that I didn't particularly care much for sketching just the ship - but that I was more interested in sketching it in context. That is, telling the story of the location.
 

Here is this ship, originally launched from Belfast, Ireland in 1885, set amidst contemporary city buildings - an ultra-modern geometric structure in the background, cafe umbrellas in the foreground - how fascinating it's ended up right here.

Once I knew what I wanted to show, I had my 'frame' - I knew what to include and what to leave out - and could maintain my own interest throughout the entire sketch, which took about two hours.


So that's probably the biggest thing I've learned about my sketchbook practice in the last couple of months. In order to draw, and keep drawing, to remain resilient against failed experiments and disappointing pages, I need to know why I'm doing it. And slowly, those answers are coming to me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Drawing High Tea

High Tea in a hotel restaurant is one of the most fun places to sketch on location.

Here's why:

1. The variety of finger food means you get a choice about what to draw. Traditionally there are three layers. The first is sandwiches, the middle layer holds scones and pastries and the top layer displays beautiful, dainty and often colourful sweets. Lots to draw!
 

2. You're expected to stay for hours. High Tea is to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and no one is going to rush you out of your seat. Granted, we stayed longer than most tables! But no one seemed to mind.

3. Other guests are often enjoying High Tea for their own special occasions so no one is very interested in what you're doing. Apart from the wait-staff, who usually like a little look :)

4. You get to eat the subject. And drawing it first means the delayed gratification makes it all the more delicious!


Thanks to my Mum for this birthday treat...which is fast turning into a yearly tradition of enjoying afternoon tea and sketching together!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Just keep drawing

For a long time my aim was to make sketching a daily habit. And finally, I feel it is.


I get itchy fingers if I haven't sketched for a day. And pulling out the sketchbook at every opportunity has become second nature.


I even look at scenes during times I can't sketch and imagine how I'd compose them on the page. What I'd put in, what I'd leave out.


But a funny thing has also happened. At the same time as I'm sketching more and more, my standards for my own sketches are getting higher. Sometimes higher than I can currently meet. I'm more often disappointed with what I produce, whereas previously I'd be happy just to have made marks on the page.
 

I have to keep reminding myself that the outcome is not the point, it's the process. It's about the exploration of materials and subject. And the precious state of creative flow that is achieved mid-sketch. Being present. A state so hard to achieve in everyday life, which is almost always about what's next.

An improvement in skill is a desirable by-product of keeping a sketchbook, but not the actual point.


Also something brought me up short the other day. I discovered at the bottom of a drawer a sketchbook I'd tried to start about four years ago. I wasn't in the habit of sketching back then, not one little bit. And I was amazed at how far I've come.


I have improved, I realised. I just haven't noticed it. Like the way your children grow before your eyes, so you barely even notice until you look back at photos and are floored by the changes.


Lately, when I have been frustrated by the outcome of a sketch, every fibre of my being has urged, 'just leave it, have a break from the sketchbook, this is not working'. But what I actually need to do is the opposite. Keep going. Smash through that block.

Just keep drawing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Art of Waiting: a sketchbook approach

There are two things I've realised.

1.) There's no point in waiting until I have enough time to sketch. That time will never come. It's up to me to fit it into my days.

2.) There's no point in getting frustrated with my drawing skills or hoping they will miraculously improve. The only way to get better is to do.


So with those two points in mind combined with this post by Roz Stendahl (which gives some great tips about how to go about drawing people discreetly), I've tried to integrate sketching more seamlessly into my days.

A small pocket-sized book and a handful of pens always come with me, and even if I only have a fleeting moment, I pull out the sketchbook and draw something. I've been trying to take this approach for a while, but recently I've been more intentional about it, and it's slowly becoming second nature.


I've found the best time for a super-quick sketch is when I'm waiting. Waiting for a coffee to arrive, waiting for an appointment, waiting and watching my kids' structured activities - swimming, gymnastics.


And because one of the things I struggle with most is sketching fast (I love nothing more than spending an hour or two on one drawing, which is not in the least bit practical, and if I tell myself that this is the only way I can draw, then I'm sabotaging my chances of improving) and the other thing I struggle with is drawing people, I've decided to make these two things the focus of my regular sketching practice.


Already I feel some improvement in my approach: a lack of hesitation before beginning, more confidence in restating lines when they didn't come out right in the first place (instead of giving in to that feeling of defeat when it all goes horribly wrong).

I've been experimenting a little with media - nothing too messy. Just simple pen, sometimes colour. Maybe a waterbrush over soluble ink.
 

And it doesn't matter if it's not quite right. I just turn the page and start a new drawing. It's not meant for an art gallery!
 

One thing I've noticed is that I am definitely getting better at drawing the back of people's heads! Now to muster up the confidence to draw faces and people in profile more often. Yikes!

But I can tell you that by sketching during wait times I'm very slowly, but surely, clocking up more drawing hours.