Well… Here I am. Putting it all out there to the big wide world. My art, its successes and failures. Here, I hope to share my inspirations and my struggles behind my pieces. Hopefully I can inspire you too.
A leap of faith
There’s a good reason I use this picture so often. It’s not just because it stars my very own husband and daughter (although that is a good reason) it is also because this was my first “Oh yeah!! I can do this!” piece.
My very talented sister-in-law took a quick candid photo, and I knew I had to draw it. But, AARRGGHH!! look at all that blonde hair and tricky hands and those dreadlocks?? Oh i really bit off more than i thought I could chew, but 4 days later and I had created something better than I had ever imagined I could. This piece reminds me to aim just a little bit further than I think I can reach.. I might just succeed.
I feel much the same way about starting a website and blog around my art. It feels like too big a gap, and I don’t know what I’m doing? I’m just going to take a deep breath, jump straight into that deep end, and see what I can do!!
An itch to scratch
I have so much to do with each day. With so many kids, the household itself is a full time job. Throw in a paying job… well it doesn’t leave many hours in the day for art.
I have learned to squeeze it in around the sides. I rush around and plan meals and compositions at the same time. I think about which colours to use while I’m loading the washing machine. I study my customers as I work and plot how I would draw their skin tones or hairstyle. I always loved drawing, but lately it has become so much more a part of myself, an ingrained piece of my personality. Maybe even an addiction.
I set aside this week to put together this little website, but the itch needed to be scratched. I store reference photos in my phone for occasions like this. This colour pencil drawing came from a magnificent photo I found on Paint my photo.com by Kathy Throop. I really do love drawing glass, and looking how the light reflects and bends. The itch has been scratched, and I love the result.
The story so far
How did I become an artist? That’s a long story
I think I was born with a pencil in my hand. I was always the child drawing funny little cartoons on every surface I could reach. When a serious illness in my tweens left me bedridden for over 6 months, I used drawing to fill the endless hours. This endless practice vastly improved my skills and consequently I found a great love for graphite and charcoal.
I was aimless in my youth. At 19 I enrolled in Certificate III in fine arts at Goulburn TAFE. I did not study with the intention to work as an artist, but purely for the enjoyment and for the opportunity to learn about mediums and methods that I had not yet experienced. I had some great teachers and some even better classmates, however i fell pregnant halfway through the first year, which stopped me from participating in many classes. All those noxious substances we artists use and I was willing to expose myself to, suddenly became an absolute no no!!!
Life happened. 4 kids, a husband and 2 step-children, meant no time for art. Pencils down. I took a job in a deli at the supermarket and got on with the business of daily life. I didn’t even think about art . I had my little box of supplies tucked away high in a cupboard. Dusty and forgotten for many years, until about 7 years ago, when my husband met a man named Paul who had a framing business, and happened to mention to him that I could draw. This man asked to see what I drew, so i pulled out the old charcoal pencils and bought myself a new sketchbook.
Art is a little bit like riding a bike… you don’t really forget how.. but oh I was rusty. After several days of drawing, I showed Paul what I had done and he commissioned some charcoal faerie drawings from me on the spot. I was making money! I did about a drawing a month for him and as I did I started to post my completed drawings on my Facebook page for my friends to see. From there my friends started to ask me for drawings. This was never planned and the requests were always a surprise! I did not consider myself an artist. People were willing to pay good money for my work, and I did a large number of pieces, but I would never have called myself an artist!! Just someone who was lucky enough to make some extra money doing something that i enjoyed.
2 years ago, my husband I and decided to pack up our lives and move 1500kms across country to the Sunshine Coast.. Chasing the sun and surf and all the beautiful things in this part of the world. We packed our belongings into a shed said goodbye to our friends loaded kids and pets into the cars and drove off. When we found a house to move into, we had no furniture!1 it was all packed neatly in the shed down south waiting for a moving truck… so we sat in a big bare empty house.. just a basic set of cooking pans a set of uno cards and an outdoor furniture setting that we picked up from the Salvation Army store for $15. to relieve the kids boredom I picked up some art and craft supplies including a couple of sets of 50c colour pencils and a new sketchbook for me to use. As we sat in that big, empty, quiet house, i picked up that set of 12 colour pencils and drew an apple. more of a doodle really… but i kept colouring that apple. To my surprise as i kept putting on more and more layers of colour, the pencil started to blend together! I had never used colour pencils as an art medium.. I didn’t know they could do this!!!
POW!! at that moment a whole new world opened up before my eyes! i bought a set of cheap student grade pencils and set to work learning everything I could… YouTube tutorials opened my eyes to even more possibilities!!! Wow!! The things pencils can do!! I posted a piece to Facebook and was bought by my friend Sheree, who insisted that I used the proceeds to buy more supplies..I owe her a lot!!! A set of shiny new Derwent Artists pencils in the sexy wooden box became my new prized possession. More drawings, more tutorials. With coloured pencils I found a new drive for art! I upgraded to a set of Polychromos pencils and BANG!! again, everything stepped up a notch!! more pencils, more drawings!!
2 years on and I have surpassed anything I thought i could do with my art. I set up a facebook and Instagram page exclusively for my art. I won a contest on Facebook group full of very talented people!! I had my art published in Colour Pencil magazine! I have recently started selling prints of my work and have a list of commissions on my board. Finally now, at 37 years of age.. I call myself an artist.
An old dog learns new tricks
I can draw! I love to draw! I know when I pick up a pencil, whether it be graphite, charcoal, pastel or colour, that it is going to do what I want. My hand knows how to hold a pencil. I know how much detail I can add with a pencil. I know what the result will be before I even start. I really love drawing.
I have attempted to paint in the past .. I have acrylic paintings on my walls at home, which are….meh! But let’s be honest, I’ve never really put in the effort to learn. Painting is messy, it requires space and drying time and is certainly not something you want to leave around the house with toddlers lurking. But now my youngest child is in school, and I have a little space and a tiny bit of time, I have branched out and purchased a bunch of oil painting supplies.
I am an absolute beginner with this stuff. When I was about 14, my father bought be some oil paints and set me to work in the yard with a bottle of turps and no instruction at. I had a great deal of fun, but i didn’t know anything about mediums or thinning down paint, so I ended up with these big thick impasto blobs and a wreck of a painting that couldn’t be touched for the next 6 months. It’s no wonder I didn’t fall in love with painting.
These are my first attempts and there are plenty of mistakes. I’m sticking to subjects that are easy to draw out, that way I don’t have to feel bad when I stuff them up! I keep accidentally mixing my colours together, I have no idea what brush does what, I have no idea what I’m doing with that palette knife (although I like the results) and I’m doing horrible, horrible things to my brushes trying to clean them… but I sure am having fun.
What’s my “style”?
I am struggling!!!
It’s been over a month since I claimed this little corner of the internet, and I still have not found a way to describe my artwork for the “about” page of this site.
I’ve never had to describe my art before. I just think something that might make a pretty picture, pick up a pencil and dive straight in! I have spent hours looking over pictures of my pieces, looking for points of similarity or something that would be described as “my style” but for the life of me, I just can’t see it!!
I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s artwork, and so many of them have a distinctive style. I find that I know who did the piece before I even see the name. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but find myself feeling a little jealous of people who have found themselves a unique and recognisable approach to their artwork.
Me, I just can’t sit still enough to create such a body of work. I love to draw using my colour pencils, and they are my favorite medium. However I quickly become bored of doing the same thing, day in day out. I tire of doing similar subjects. I love to draw portraits, but doing them everyday would become a mindless chore. I love drawing animals and birds, but they can only hold my attention for so long. I enjoy the challenge of realism, but it can be tedious and time consuming to analyse and render the details. Sometimes I just want to draw for fun, without reference or with consideration of accuracy.
For example, after last week’s experiments with oil paints, this week I have found myself playing with my copic markers in my sketchbook. While my colour pencils sit lonely in their box upon the shelf. Of course all these different mediums result in a different style of artwork! I never try to be anything more than cartoonish with my markers! attempting realism with these wild and free creatures would send me into an uncontrollable tail spin of frustration and tears.
All this chopping and changing means my artwork always looks different to me than the piece I did yesterday. Maybe it is a case of being unable to see the forest for the trees, but from where I stand, I couldn’t tell you what my style actually is! I am going to keep working on a description for the sake of this page.. but for all my searching, so far the only thing I could tell you, is that I really seem to like the colour blue.
Can you draw me a……?
The answer is usually YES!! (well for a fee)
Call me a fool, but I really enjoy taking on commissions. I know it can be a touchy subject for some artists, and commissioned work can certainly present a minefield of difficulties, but I find generally find I enjoy the challenges that come with accepting the work.
Accepting a commission always kind of feels like sitting for a test. I spend time most days working to improve my artistic skills, where I get to draw what I like, when I like. However taking on requests is a challenge to my skills. Now my family can tell you that I can be quite obstinate, and very competitive, especially with myself. So when a client hands me a reference and that little creeping voice of self-doubt says “Can I really do that?” I cant help but to jump straight in and try to conquer whatever challenge has been laid before me.
My favorite pieces are portraits. Especially when I am given a reference photo that shows the personality of the subject/s. A big brimming smile, a gesture or characteristic moment allows me to create something really special. Clients will usually tell the story behind the reference photo and I spend so much time pouring over the details in these drawings, that I feel I get to know these people in some way. The real magic happens when I can get a result that really shows the heart of the subject.
Another favorite challenge is when I am presented with an idea for a piece that I would never have considered on my own. The picture on this post is an example one of these pieces. A client requested a black and white piece with a tree theme. It’s a great idea!! And it is something that I would never had considered without the suggestion. After about a week of searching for images and consulting with my client, we decided to do this bark and fungi. The textures were quite challenging and the values in the reference were a little difficult to work with, but in the end the client receives a nice piece, and I had learned a few new tricks along the way. Win, win!!
Now there are always issues that pop up.. Terrible reference photos, a difficult client who wants impossible last minute changes and of course the occasional non paying customer.. All of which are annoying, and can be extremely stressful. But like all things in life, I look for my gains, instead of my losses To me, the chance to learn and grow as an artist makes commision work fun and worthwhile.
The effort starts to show.
Art has always been a part of my life in one form or another… it is only recently that have I intentionally made time to practice and improve my results.
It has become a borderline obsession. Some part every single day of the past 2 years, is spent studying my craft. If I am not working on a larger, complete piece, I am scrawling away in my sketchbook, watching other artists on YouTube, reading books on the old masters, or just spending the time to take in my surroundings and mentally decide which colours I would use and how I would depict the scene.
I have noticed a change in the way I see the world, yes I mean an actual change in my visual perception of the world. Colours are brighter and shadows are deeper and the highlights are brilliant. I see the way light bounces around objects, light bouncing inside shadows, the reflexion and refraction of light through a body of water… Of course my eyesight hasn’t improved (If anything, it’s getting worse as I age!!) but with practice I have learned to notice more of these little things that build up our visual world. I suppose it’s a bit like physical excercise, constant flexing of my perceptual muscles has made them stronger!
To test out these new muscles, this week I intentionally chose a subject that has been very difficult for me in the past. I have never before drawn a tiger I was happy with. All those stripes and the changing colours of the fur has always left me stumped, but having noticed a great improvement in my work lately, I thought I would “tackle the beast”again.
This time I can say I am truly happy with the results… There are a few areas I would have liked to do differently (but there always are) but overall I am proud to say this is one of mine. The image for this post shows the result of 19 months of solid, dedicated and deliberate practice. Judging by the difference, I can say that I cant wait to see what I can do 19 months from now!!
(here is the video I made of the recent tiger drawing. Learning to video as i work… now thats a whole new ball game!! more to come )
Love, hate and every feeling in between
Every single piece of art I create sends me on an emotional roller coaster.
It starts with the inspiration! The adrenaline rush and excitement that comes with the new idea! Yes!! this is a great idea!! This is the most amazing reference photo! This will be the BEST thing I will ever make! Yayyyyy!! I write these ideas down, make a sketch, or find and file reference images. This is the top of the hill at the start of the ride.
Sometimes the idea stops right here at the planning stage… The excitement builds up, I get on with my daily chores, go to work, head to bed full of enthusiasm for my next project… Then by the time I wake up and look at what I have planned… It suddenly doesn’t inspire anymore. Sometimes the ride just stops and everyone gets off.
For the pieces that retain my interest, I am held at the top of the ride. Before I set to work, I need to prepare. I need to get on top of my housework, because I know my art will hold my attention for the next few days and the washing pile will be left ignored. I need to prepare my space, make sure I have the tools, I may need to purchase some supplies. I take the time to draw out my image; measuring, comparing, laying down the skeleton of the piece…I am at the top of the ride, anticipating the moment I can start.
When I finally set to work, I immediately plunge right down to the bottom of the ride. “Oh no, what have I started? I can’t do this! I don’t have the skills… this is too hard?” the first layers of any drawing always look like crayon or scribble. My colour choices seem ridiculous. I doubt that I can ever build it up into something that passes for art. My hand tightens up and the self-doubt is crushing. This is the biggest dip in the ride. When I was younger many pieces ended at this point, but experience has taught me to hang on tight.
The first rise comes when the initial section starts to look complete… I usually start with the eyes so I can reach this hill faster. A well drawn eye breathes the first life into the piece.. and I can start to see how it just might turn out right. “Yes!! I can do this”
And so it goes over the whole drawing, as I finish and start each section…
I can do this,
No I can’t
I Iove it, this is turning out GREAT!!
I hate it, It’s all going wrong!!
Up and down around the roller coaster. Until the finish is in sight. And I can settle on my feelings toward the piece as a whole, good, bad or indifferent..
I have had a good run of late, many of my drawings have turned out better than I expected. They truly are the BEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE!! and the ride leaves me on a glowing high point. But I don’t feel that way this week. I like my giraffes, they have pretty faces they are fairly accurately drawn …but it is not the BEST thing I have ever done… and it leaves me feeling a little in between.
I wish I had chosen a different paper. I wish I had spent more time planning the composition. I wish I was able to put down more layers of colour before the paper would take no more. To be brutally honest, this ride has left me a little disappointed.
However this ride is not over, and it never really will be over. Now the drawing is complete I will put it away in its folder, post the images and the video. I will see this drawing many times, and each glance will bring me back to the ride. Today I feel deflated, however in a month, or a year I could feel very differently.Time and distance from the project sometimes allows the love to come back into it. I will see the things I did right, and I will probably judge the flaws less harshly or at least appreciate the lessons I have learned from those mistakes.
Why do I do this to myself?
This battle between expectation and ability is one of the things I love most from practicing art… I suppose I must like roller coasters
But, what does it mean???
Ugh, the big questions!!
So many great pieces of art come with considerable meaning attached to them. The teachers and historians explain with great detail the significance of each element of the piece and how the artist was trying to tell some great story, highlight a social issue, or depict their own personal struggles.
And so many artists have impressive stories to tell! They have seen something in the world and they wish to show their vision through their art. These artists are story tellers. Sometimes it is the good and sometimes it is the bad, but these artists hold a mirror up the world and demand that we LOOK!
I always quietly wished I was one of these artists. I wanted to have some huge, important story to tell as I handed over my pieces for assessment at school. I wanted to be able to stand up and hold my art to the world and say “This means something!!” However I have never found it to be in my personality to intentionally create art for this purpose, and at times this has made me feel like “less” of an artist.
I certainly have my own share of personal demons, and I see so many things in the world which I think demand a closer look. But I am not as bold as those story tellers. While I see plenty of stories to tell, my personal approach to life is quieter and much more optimistic. While the storms of life rage on, I take time to look for the little things, the pretty things, the millions of tiny wonders that surround me every single day. While the daily news jabbers in the background telling me to be afraid, and the thousand pressures of modern life try to grind me into submission, I try to shift my focus to studying a bee working on a flower or breathing in the colours of the afternoon light.
Now I am older, I understand that my outlook on the world IS the meaning behind my art! The two concepts are inseparable. I want the people who see my art to stop for a moment and appreciate the little things; for example, the way the light shines through an onion skin like a stained glass window, or the moment a frog is balanced precariously amongst the flowers. I want to hold up that artists mirror and show you magnificent things and uplifting moments! If I don’t achieve this lofty goal, I hope that my art gifts the viewer a brief moment in their day to let go of the stresses of the world and rest their mind upon something beautiful. That is more than enough meaning for me.