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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reading, writing, drawing, books

I've had my eye on this little corner to draw for a while. It's the entrance way to our house. I love the way the light comes through the frosted glass at certain times of the day. And I love the bookcase. It's from Ikea but it runs the length of the wall and almost reaches the ceiling and is a compromise on my childhood fantasy of having a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase in my own home.

What actually made me draw the scene, funnily enough, was that chair. We found it by the side of the road and thought it looked kind of vintage so we grabbed it. We don't, however, have any place to put it, so it's lived in this spot for the last few weeks. And the reason it's stayed there is because the day after it appeared, I discovered my two-and-a-half-year-old had climbed up onto it, and was sitting there pulling out the grown-up books - novels and non-fiction - to 'read'. This soon turned the bookshelf into a bit of a dog's breakfast. But I didn't mind because she was playing with books.

My big fear is that my children won't love reading. And not only that, they might not even like it. It has always been such a joy for me - a comfort and a solace. A way to pass the time and relax. A way to go deep into that calm place in an instant. I've worked in a library. I've tried to write a novel. I've been an English teacher. Much of my life has been about books.

But now reading is in snippets. It's on a screen. It's all surface and very little depth. I'm guilty of reading this way. I love surfing, clicking through different links, sampling. But it's not reading. Not really. Not like sinking into a good book is reading. I still read of course, but not as much. But what if they never do? Maybe my fear is unfounded. But it's there.

My hope is that this bookshelf does not become a museum piece. These are the grown-up books in the house. Their picture books are in their own rooms and they love reading them. Storytime is a nightly ritual. And I hope this sets the tone for their future.

I made this sketch this afternoon. I had a couple of kid-free hours and because I'm between paintings, I gave myself permission to indulge in this drawing. I used pencil for set-up lines - trying to get the perspective to at least look like it might be right - and then I went in with pen for the detail. I had thought about cross-hatching, but in the end went for watercolour.

I left that big gaping white space on the left for some writing. I'm not good at writing in my sketchbook. I always feel like it ruins the picture. My writing can be neat when I'm really trying, but when I'm writing on the fly, it's a scrawl. But I know that in the future, the journalling part will be just as interesting as the picture.

So I did end up writing in that space. And then I had to scratch out two mistakes in the first couple of lines, which really annoyed me. See, I thought, this is why you don't write in your sketchbook. But then I got over it. And I'm glad I wrote.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book launch sketch - Coming of Age

Last night I went along to my friend Amra Pajalic's book launch. She co-edited the fantastic anthology Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia and the Melbourne launch was held at The Wheeler Centre.

Amra Pajalic at the lectern at the Wheeler Centre (Micron pen in Hand*Book journal)

Firstly, it was the biggest book launch I've ever been to (go Amra!).

Secondly, the most entertaining - all the speakers were funny and engaging.

Thirdly, the most emotional.

I was overwhelmed with pride for the friend I met 15 years ago in a Professional Writing course (how time flies!), who through grit, determination and sheer hard work continues to follow her passion to write and to put into the world important work that matters.

If you see the book around town, buy it. It's full of excellent, gripping stories of coming of age - tales that people of all faiths can identify with and be moved by.