Thursday, November 8, 2018

Paying Attention


I have been listening to a lot of artist's podcasts - too many, there are a million of them out there! But a couple of phrases have stuck in my head from other nuggets of wisdom I've heard recently. (I will credit them here if I can find my bitty notes, but both have recurred in a few interviews.) 

One, regarding subject matter, is "Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention to" (sounds obvious doesn't it?) and the other is "Work in Series". I think both of these will help with frustration at myself for continuing to have such a diverse range of styles, medium and subjects. I dread the question, "So, what do you paint?" and should really have a ready reply by now!



Something that keeps stopping me in my tracks with a longing to capture them, are the groups or pairs of (usually) women in local streets, chatting, sitting or walking around - wearing bright colours, with umbrellas, children on backs or otherwise attached; mostly in summer when shadows are strong or people are out and about later in the day. Such a warm, convivial feature of Johannesburg, I've painted and sketched these scenes often but haven't found THE way to do them that isn't a rather slavish copy of a photo, but more finished than an urban sketch. I did two versions of this group - dressed all in white in this case, walking home from church through the leafy green streets of Emmarentia - trying to keep to strong, simple shapes, the results not what I'm after yet... are they ever though? 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Can you do the Canna, can!

Is anyone still out there? It's been another long time since I've been here on the blog, and no excuses, but back with an intention to post more regularly, even if just for my own documentation.

I've been trying to find the pure pleasure of drawing and painting again - after far too long of producing work to order, that seems to have gone by the wayside a bit. I think less writing, which takes me longer and longer, and more artwork is the key to keeping up.

These drawings I made when I had a problem with my left eye recently, which was frightening to say the least. After months of fussing about what to draw, what to paint, when, how and why... when faced with an actual threat to my ability to do so, I just sat down and drew what was in front of me, a desiccated canna flower on my studio windowsill. I resisted doing Inktober again, as a pressure I wasn't feeling up to, but got out my Indian ink, watercolours, and the dregs of my morning coffee to make these. My eye is OK again, thankfully, after a small op, but a lesson was quickly learnt - less pondering, more action. Seems obvious doesn't it!?









Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thatchers at Work


As I have mentioned, we are in a long slow process of moving to the Western Cape, where we'll be so lucky as to be living and working on an exquisite farm in Franschhoek. Old farm dwellings have been beautifully remodelled, as well as some new ones built, as guest cottages.
The original French Hugenot farmhouse and outbuildings are now in the process of being restored according to heritage requirements into a hotel, dining areas and more accommodation. I spent a blissful autumn morning on a visit there last month, surrounded by mountains and vineyards, watching and sketching a team of thatchers giving the old water mill a new hat.

The skills of these men are quite awe-inspiring as they deftly turn bundles of long grass into a neat weatherproof carapace for this little whitewashed building. Unfortunately much of the mill has been neglected and vandalised over previous decades, so it's doubtful if it'll ever function as a mill again, but still a lovely feature.
I spoke to the foreman, who told me that this team comes mainly from the small town of Macassar, which has its own fascinating history. The craft of thatching has been passed down from father to son, as his father and grandfather did to him - he doesn't know how long his family has done this work, but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back to the late 1600's, as do Macassar and the Hugenots in the Cape.





Here they were busy with 'toumaak' ...rolling and looping twine by hand, after which the bundles of grass were rhythmically tossed to the roof, where they were lined up and stitched into place with long needles. By this time I was - shamefully having watched the much harder work going on before me - exhausted from sitting in the shade and sketching and had to go in for some tea and a rest... but I checked at intervals as the roof was quickly and expertly layered, combed and knocked into shape and, with a long weekend of well deserved rest in between, finished off with a cap of cement to hold everything in place.

I sat outside again as they completed the finishing touches, and did a final sketch before they packed up and moved on to the next finely crafted job - let's hope the sons of these fathers carry on the good work for years to come.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Monday Madness


I've finally finished my painting of the Radium Beer Hall (can you spot where I got the title for this post?) that I was about to embark on in a previous post last year - although I keep seeing things I want to fiddle with... I spent hours on that guy's face on the right and it still looks like a fuzzy jellybaby, and in two minds about the ghostly figure standing on the bar counter (Mary Fitzgerald, a trade union activist who actually did rally her troops from the very same counter, albeit in another establishment).

Tim Quirke, our excellent teacher, has taken us step by step through a process of planning, drawing, leading the eye, thinking of this aspect and that artist, painting 'up' areas and leaving others understated. I kept taking pictures as I progressed - a little dangerous as sometimes you want to go back to a stage you've irretrievably wrecked - but a record for future reference. It has been painstaking at times, and thoroughly engrossing and free-flowing at others, but I've certainly learnt a lot and hope to put it all into practice in my own painting, or at least keep some of it in mind. Why didn't I find all these teachers when I started painting in oils 22 years ago? It would have saved a lot of trash-able canvases, maybe...though most artists have those no matter how much education they've had, from what I hear.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Down on the Corner, Out in the Street

 Nothing like a visit from an ardent urban sketching friend to bump you out of your ennui and out into the streets. For various reasons I was in a bit of a sketching slump, but when Jane, my friend of 50 years (we were neighbours at 11/12 years old - does anyone remember the song in the title? It's about the same vintage as this friendship), who has fairly recently taken up urban sketching with a passion, arrived from Cape Town and declared her intentions earlier this year, I dusted off my sketchbook and filled my pens.


Our first date was in Sandton, where buildings are going up almost overnight it seems. We found a restaurant with a view of cranes and builders at work across the road. (I drove past a few weeks later and it was all finished, clad and functioning!) Jane likes to draw cranes, I like to draw people, so we had something of each with this interior/exterior view. Just as well we were inside as first there was blazing heat, and then later a mighty thunderstorm outside.


On another hot Wednesday morning, we found a spot under a shady plane tree in pretty Parkview. As we sat peacefully figuring out perspective and how to cope with the cars parking in front of us, I remembered again what is so appealing to me about this pastime... getting out from behind your four walls and insulated life, experiencing the weather, the sights and smells, (the bugs falling from the trees!) and especially the delightful exchanges with passers by and fellow pavement roamers - the car guard, the businessman after his breakfast with laptop, the street artist selling his canvases on the opposite corner, the waiter who thoughtfully offered to bring us refreshments from his restaurant, even the quizzical mystified looks, and shouted comments from a car at the unusual sight of us sitting on the sidewalk. Yes, maybe we are crazy!

[After this was the trip to Soweto, described in the previous post - I'm so behind with blogging, I'm just posting whatever occurs to me - I blame it on Instagram which is too quick and easy with a phone and its camera, and makes me think it's all been done!]


Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Trip to Soweto


Soweto has been a place on Joburg Sketchers bucket list for years, but somehow we hadn't got it together to find out exactly how to get there, where to park or walk or sketch - it's a vast sprawling area of many suburbs, full of houses and streets that look very similar to the passing eye as you whizz by on the highway.

But when visiting Swedish sketcher Holger and his wife Susanne, and my friend Jane from Cape Town, said they'd like to go, we decided the time had come to venture forth. As it turned out, it was pretty easy - five of us in my car on a Friday morning, past Johannesburg city centre, onto the N1 Western Bypass, turn right and there in front of us were the iconic Orlando Towers, originally cooling towers for a coal power station, now an adventure destination where you can bungee jump, abseil, zip-line and swing from those heights (um, no thanks very much!)


Wiggling through a maze of very sketchable streets full of children playing, neighbours chatting and general community activity, we found our way to the famous Vilakazi Street, and had immediate, copious offers to help us park, watch/wash our car, sing/dance/guide for us, as well as countless shops, vendors, and restaurants vying for business  - we had to explain that we were just there to sit and draw which caused some puzzlement and then fascination -  I wished we'd brought a stack of blank exercise books so that everyone who stopped to watch could have joined in, and I wish I'd had more time and energy to sketch more of the colourful busyness of the street.

We decided not to partake of the rather touristy-priced lunches on offer and headed back, stopping to sketch the towers on the way out - in blazing midday sun we squeezed into the only little strip of shade we could find with a view, outside Bara Mall. Fast sketching as even the South Africans were expiring from the heat, let alone our Swedish visitors!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Cactus Shadows


It's very late in January, but here's wishing everyone a happy, creative and peaceandlove-filled 2018. Wishing lots of water to those who are fast running out - Cape Town and its surrounding areas have something like 90 days supply left, with the rainy season only starting after that.

Here is a postcard I painted for the annual @Twitrartexhibit happening in Canberra, Australia this year, and supporting Pegasus Riding for the Disabled. It's a hot, dry scene from a photo I took at Babylonstoren, a lovely garden farm near Franschhoek. I loved the shadows and may do a bigger watercolour from the same reference - it was hard to control on such a small scale! 

If you'd like to support this, you need to have a Twitter account (I have one that I don't use very much) and get your 16x12 cm postcard to Australia by 6 March. Details can be found here. 

That's it for now - I'm sketching a lot with visiting friends who are very keen to do that, so will post some of those soon!