Thursday 31 March 2011

Drawing, blogging and making friends

Customs house from the Brisbane River - Ink on paper-170mm x 120mm
© 2011 Carol Lee Beckx

When I started writing this blog back in August last year, I began as a complete novice, and had, in fact, only recently started reading other blogs. I didn’t know whether there would be anyone out there interested in what I had to say. Since then, I have learned a lot – and I’ve discovered that there are readers out there and that they are spread around the world.
So this is a big thank you to all of you in the USA, UK, Ireland, Malaysia, Russia, Canada and The Netherlands as well as the faithful readers in South Africa and my growing Australian audience. But I’m curious; I wonder why there was a sudden interest this week from all of you in Germany? I wonder if it's not a Google stats glitch - do tell - I'd love to hear from more of you.

In becoming familiar with the many art blogs out there I am so impressed by the discipline shown by so many. Daily posting, I realized, is not something that is accomplished easily. The PAD – Painting a Day movement also has numerous devotees – painting and posting is arduous. The challenge of coming up with something of value on a daily basis is daunting.
I know, I tried it for a while and then somehow something (oh yes - theBrisbane floods) threw me off stride and I lost momentum for painting something and posting each day. I content myself with knowing my limitations and try to post weekly. It’s a good idea to subscribe to email updates because there won’t be one every day. But – do click through to read these online to see the whole picture – and read the comments as well.
But this post is really about drawing. When the Queensland Art Gallery re-opened I went to see Lloyd Rees: Light and Life, an exhibition of drawings he did as a young man in Brisbane. The exhibition shows wonderful drawings done between 1917 and 1922 and includes many pages from his sketch book. These were done in preparation for highly finished work in ink of Brisbane landmark buildings, that Lloyd Rees was commissioned to do. However, I enjoy the quick spontaneous nature of the sketchbook pages – there are sections merely hinted at, other areas are rendered in more detail. There are also very delicate pencil drawings of landscapes, rock and trees where the natural forms take on almost human characteristics
Seeing this exhibition has prompted me to look for buildings to draw – and rekindled my resolve to do more daily sketching. Learning to draw is much like learning any other skill. Repetition and practice are key to improving confidence and skill. What needs to be remembered is that it’s the process that is important and not the product. I have started doing some pen drawings of buildings in the city.

Brisbane city high-rise Ink on paper 170nmm x 120mm
© 2011 Carol Lee Beckx

I find that if I use pen, immediately, I am forced to look more closely, observe the detail and think about where the line must go. If I use pencil there is such a huge temptation to scribble and cover careless drawing with smudgy detail.  The other factor is that if the drawing is a complete failure there is the difficulty in hiding the mistakes so you have to live with them (Of course you can resort to drastic measures and rip a page out!) This whole phobia we have about mistakes is such a hindrance. Mistakes help us learn. We often discover new solutions as we stumble through an error-packed life.
A couple of interesting links:
Daily painting here from Julian Merrow-Smith Postcard from Provence
and wonderful sketches here at Liz + Borrowmini

Saturday 19 March 2011

Catastrophes and abstract painting

My intentions are always to follow a coherent logical thread as I write these posts, yet somehow that seldom happens. Life gets in the way.
As I write, I am mindful that we live in uncertain times, times of immense hardship to many people worldwide. As each natural catastrophe unfolds with increasing severity, we are constantly reminded of our frail humanity. We are helpless in the face of the strength and power of nature and can but take the hand that life deals us. We can only watch and pray as we see our fellow human beings suffer – be it those here in Queensland still trying to recover from floods and the cyclone, our friends across the Tasman in Christchurch and those brave souls in Japan, enduring earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear radiation.
It seems banal to return to my topic of discussing abstract painting – but painting is as important to me as breathing – so I must continue living and painting, and in some way bring some light to dark days.

Flinders Blue - oil on canvas 101cm x 101cm
© 2011Carol Lee Beckx

The evolution of a painting is sometimes rapid other times there are a number of steps along the way. This painting started off with the sketches posted previously. Ideas from my client gave the impetus to creating more curves and flowing lines, and with this direction was able to do a further acrylic sketch.
Acrylic sketch for Flinders Blue

On starting to work in oil on canvas the painting, (as they sometimes do if you’re lucky) took on a life of its own. The end result has luminous colour and lively movement.  I called the painting Flinders Abstract in honour of a new yummy colour I found – Flinders Blue violet.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Our love affair with Technology

Not technology - instead - Pink Roses with mirrors

I am easily smitten. Show me something new and immediately I want one. A recent acquisition was my iPhone and I must confess to being in love. I really don’t use it to talk much – but so much else on it is such fun.
As mentioned in a previous post, looking at other examples of digital art got me experimenting more with the Brushes app. I have such a lot to learn and am a real novice, but the experimentation is great.
There is so much technology that makes life simple, quick and easy. It is much maligned as a time-waster – and indeed that it can be. The skill lies in learning to sift, edit, discard and utilize only that which is of value.
The development of a finely tuned ‘rubbish/nonsense/ plainly untrue’ barometer when searching for information is essential. If we are not careful we would be tempted to believe everything written as the truth. However, used properly, with restraint and discipline it is an extension of many artists’ creativity. We can duplicate, magnify, crop, colour – the possibilities are endless.
When I think back to my first years as a student teacher (now I feel as though it’s my mother talking) I remember the complicated process of compiling notes and worksheets for a class. We would type or write the notes on a Roneo stencil – blocking out errors with lumpy white masking fluid, then laboriously churn out blurry copies on the wind-up Gestetner machine. It was a laborious process. I am not sure that kids today get many notes – they most likely get a list of urls to research!
I started this post a couple of weeks ago and then got side-tracked with abstraction. I’m not too sure about the love affair now – there’s a waning of affection.
My old notebook was groaning every time I tried to open more than one website so I decided the time for a replacement had come. Well, a shiny new HP Pavilion dv6 was delivered last Friday.
Since then it has behaved like a spoilt child every time it’s asked to surf the net or show a video clip – giving me a blank screen/blue and red pinstripes/green and black pinstripes or just plain black and goes into a total freeze. It’s just not good enough so it’s about to go home to HP Mama to be replaced by a better behaved sibling. Has anyone else had issues like this? I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Thursday 3 March 2011

More abstraction - the evolution of an idea

The re-kindling  of my interest in abstract painting was sparked by a commission. I was given an idea of the colours the client loved – and that was about it. Quite a broad brief - in fact, not much of a brief at all.

In a previous post - Moving from the real to the abstract I discussed using photographic reference as a basis for abstraction. In this case, I started by playing with shapes and colours, without using any reference material. I used watercolours and worked in a sketchbook.

This was not successful as the paper buckled and the watercolours were too pale for what I wanted to achieve. I enjoy the spontaneity and translucent qualities of watercolour, and the depth of colour to be obtained by glazing one layer over another. To do this successfully the paper has to have a good weight.

Then I  looked at photographs of some of my landscape paintings and cropped small sections that were completely abstract. It’s interesting to discover many paintings within a painting.
After photographing the sketches, I played around with the contrast and colour saturation with a simple photo programme to get the bright hues needed. This is fun because it changes the mood of the sketch completely and is effortless.

Then I moved on to using some acrylic paint. Acrylics have never had much appeal for me. I don't enjoy the texture of the paint and I find they dry too quickly (and I haven’t invested in the proper retarding agents that are available) and I really didn’t have a wide enough colour range. However, the acrylic sketches were more successful as I could mimic the type of paint application I would use in the final painting. I was able to do a number of rough colour sketches to get a feel for the composition and colours.
During this process I paint intuitively – adding colours, shapes, lines and textures without much critical appraisal – I just allow the sketches to grow organically. Once I have a few sketches, I put them aside. Later I  went back and reviewed the sketches critically in terms of the formal elements of balance and composition.