Tidbinbilla tracking

My partner and I have been taking the new online class by Marc Taro Holmes on Travel Sketching. Today we decided to to practice some of the drawing approaches that Marc has been teaching. We headed out to the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, (otherwise known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – CDSCC), in the rural part of the Australian Capital Territory, to draw the antennae in their bushland setting.

One of the key techniques we are learning is drawing simplified shapes to quickly gather enough information to capture a scene. This way you can do some drawing and still have sufficient time away from your sketchbook to enjoy your holiday! The goal is to capture basic shapes in one line, or maybe 5 or so lines, which I find quite hard to do.

The ‘blind contour drawing’ I learned at art school tends to be my default position when drawing quickly. It’s actually a good approach, but it’s not quite what Marc is suggesting. The difference with Marc’s approach is that you look frequently at your page as well as your subject and that allows the development of a more accurate outline. If you have time, you can then add further lines and build up your drawing that way. I have worked out that if I think about this as drawing the ‘edges’ then my drawings are more successful. I get less inclined to get bogged down in details along the way. I was pretty happy with this drawing I made of a local convenience store earlier in the day, well except for that very dodgy car welded the side of the building.

A simplified line drawing in pen and ink, 31 August 2015

A simplified line drawing in pen and ink, 31 August 2015

Out at Tidbinbilla there were plenty of interesting subjects to tackle. I settled on the 26 metre dish, or DSS46, (formerly sited at Honeysuckle Creek), that was the antenna that received and relayed to the world the first historic pictures of man walking on the Moon, on Monday, 21st July 1969. As the Centre’s website so eloquently says “DSS46 was retired from service in November 2009 and now remains at CDSCC as celebrated and recognised historic monument.”

While I could hardly describe the following drawing as using one or two lines, it certainly captured the key elements of the scene in front of me with more economy than I usually manage. I will admit though, that I also made several other drawings, which I could only politely describe as being ‘less successful’.

Simplified line drawing of the 26 metre dish, pen and ink, 31 August 2015

Simplified line drawing of the 26 metre dish, DSS46, pen and ink, 31 August 2015

I liked the scene enough to try a more detailed drawing. Having completed a simplified outline I moved on to providing  some solidity with shadow lines drawn with my brush pen. It didn’t take long to realise that the structure of the antenna was such that I’d probably go insane before I could get more than a ‘feel’ for the structure of struts and beams supporting the dish.

The 26 metre antenna, line and shadow, pen and ink and brush pen, 31 August 2015

The 26 metre antenna,DSS46, line and shadow, pen and ink and brush pen, 31 August 2015

At this point we made a strategic withdrawal to the coffee shop. Of course from the cafe’s deck the 70 metre antenna, DSS43, completely dominated the view – not surprising really as it is the largest single antenna in the southern hemisphere. It’s been busy recently with transmitting commands and receiving data from the Mars Odyssey and the New Horizons Pluto and Charon missions among many others.

I couldn’t resist! With a rapidly cooling cup of coffee I set about doing my final drawing for the day.

DSS43, the 70 metre antenna, pen and ink, brush pen and watercolour, 31 August 2015

DSS43, the 70 metre antenna, pen and ink, brush pen and watercolour, 31 August 2015

We are lucky to have so many interesting places, like the tracking station, to visit within our local area. It’s an amazing combination of leading edge technology in a truly beautiful setting.

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Cafe Wednesday panorama

I had so much fun with last week’s panorama that I decided to go with the same format again this week.

The weather was vile with a cutting icy wind so instead of our regular cafe which has very little by way of wind-free tables we decided to try somewhere else with indoor seating. Our choice was A Bite to Eat at the Chifley shops. In Canberra most of the good and quirky cafes are hidden in otherwise unremarkable suburban shopping precincts. The Bite has a retro vibe with lots of anodised food molds on the wall and large laminex topped tables I could easily spread my book and paints out on. And the Persian Spice cake was really yummy too!

A Bite to Eat, watercolour, pen and ink and graphite, 26 August 2015

A Bite to Eat, watercolour, pen and ink and graphite, 26 August 2015

Cafe Wednesday combo

Post overseas travel and we are finally getting back to our routines. This week we have made it back to our regular Wednesday cafe. To hang onto that holiday magic just a bit longer I decided to use the Derwent Panoramic book which I won in the final raffle at the Urban Sketchers International Symposium in Singapore. The paper format is 420x 180 mms and weighs in at 165 GSM. This paper is designed for pencil and light watercolour wash.

I wanted to use the extended panorama format to bring a more interesting compositional approach to this very familiar subject. I had in mind the workshop I did on Day 1 with Inma Serrano and Miguel Herranz where we were working on capturing a complex scenes in a series of images on the one page.

At Biginelli's along with the dinosaur, watercolour and watersoluble graphite, 19 August 2015

At Biginelli’s along with the dinosaur, watercolour and watersoluble graphite, 19 August 2015

I knew I was pushing the paper’s limits with the amount of water I added to the paper, but it seems to have held up quite well to the watercolour, although there was buckling. The elastic strap on the book has helped tame the ‘buckle’ factor. I also intend using this book for pen and ink and brush pen sketches and plan to take it along to some of the other events we attend such as Drawn In and Dr Sketchy where I feel the large format will enable me to make a montage of images. We will see.

PS I’m not sure what the current availability of this book is. I have seen it on offer at various websites, but I couldn’t find it on Derwent’s home page product list. If you want to try this format you might need to get one sooner rather than later.

Drawing the Exhibition – Myth + Magic

Myth + Magic, Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, is the current featured exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The art works on display are predominantly sculptural and relate to the spiritual practices of the people who live along this major river system of Papua New Guinea. The works are quite dramatic and often have a visceral quality which derives both from their subject matter and also from the materials they are made from – wood, shell, pig tusk, fibre fur, hair and mud. This sense of drama is enhanced by the display of these items in largely darkened rooms set off by tightly focused spotlights.

There are a plethora of interesting subjects to draw. I was intrigued by these two large figures which are costumes worn during initiation ceremonies. They represent spirits or awan, that “frighten harass and bully” young initiates during their period of seclusion. Like many other pieces on display, these items were collected in 1916, when Australian forces entered the Sepik River to wrest control of the territory from Germany, as an extreme outlying action of the First World War.

Two awan (spirit) costumes, East Sepik River, before 1916 collected by Captain Walter Balfour Ogilvy, from the collection of the Museum of Victoria. Water soluble graphite

Two awan (spirit) costumes, East Sepik River, before 1916 collected by Captain Walter Balfour Ogilvy, from the collection of the Museum of Victoria. Water soluble graphite, 17 August 2015

These costumes are constructed of fibre, the bodies are woven from plant material and are decorated with clay, shell hair and ochre. The figure to the rear has a head dress made of densely packed cassowary feathers. When the costumes are worn all that can be seen are the wearers feet (there is a photograph of similar costumes being worn, in the exhibition catalogue). The wearer can look through the mouth opening of the nearest figure and the second figure has two eyeholes in the chest to see through.

In each room there were astonishing items to see. In the last room, apart from the massively carved crocodile sculpture on loan from the Museum of Papua New Guinea, are several aripa, or hunting helpers. These aripa are an abstracted human figure, sublimed to a most minimal form, ‘standing’ on their one foot. To quote from the website “If the spirit [aripa] has been correctly appeased it will track down and kill the desired prey’s spirit so it will show itself to the hunter to be killed easily. It was believed the soul (tite) of the aripa spirit being, not the artist, was responsible for the creation of their physical bodies.”

Aripa, 19th century or earlier, wood, Bogonemori River, east Sepik, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Water soluble graphite and watercolour (added later), 17 August 2015

Aripa, 19th century or earlier, wood, Bogonemori River, east Sepik, collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Water soluble graphite and watercolour (added later), 17 August 2015

While we were in the gallery my partner commented on how the sculptures felt somehow familiar – even though we hadn’t seen them previously. We concluded that this sense came not from these figures per se, but from the inclusion of tribal art or the influence of similar works from Africa and elsewhere in the globe, into ‘modern’ art of the early 20th century. We had seen the reflection and now we were seeing the ‘real thing’.

The exhibition is on until 1 November 2015 at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. It will not be touring. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The bigger pictures

Some of the sketches I did on holidays proved to be too big for my scanner, so its taken some time, not to mention a bit of fiddling in photoshop to get them to a state where I can post them.

Here are three drawn in Thailand in date order.

The Reclining Budhha, Ayutthaya, Thailand, watercolour, 30 July 2015

The Reclining Budhha, Ayutthaya, Thailand, watercolour, 30 July 2015

Remains of the Palace Ayutthaya

Remains of the Palace Ayutthaya, watercolour and graphite, 30 July 2015

Inside the Grand Palace Bangkok, pen and ink 2 August 2015

Inside the Grand Palace Bangkok, pen and ink 2 August 2015

 

Something different

On the weekend I went to a talk by Jill Grant of Kimino YES, the sort of fabric store where the goods are had to resist. Apart from discussing some very interesting pieces of fabric that she brought along, Jill also showed us some of her own collection of Japanese textiles and related objects.

A Saga nishiki loom, with paper warp and silk weft

A Saga nishiki loom, with paper warp and silk weft

There was a Saga nishiki loom with its lacquer and gilt paper warp and silk weft. The paper warp is glued to the loom and woven with a highly twisted silk thread. (You can read more about Saga nishiki at Wormspit’s blog here). The loom also had an interesting folded paper heddle used to control the threads when weaving.

A view of the paper heddle

A view of the paper heddle

Here is a closer view of the warp, the lighter section at the bottom is where the silk thread has already been woven through the paper.

Closer view of the painted paper warp

Closer view of the painted paper warp

As you might well understand, this type of delicate work is used mainly for objects such as purses and brooches, that don’t require washing.

It turned out that Jill and I also share an interest in Japanese propaganda clothing – items with motifs such as aeroplanes and warships commonly made and worn during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The example Jill had was an exquisitely woven spun paper (shifu) and silk obi. In this case the paper is white and the thick silk blue, in a pattern of planes and clouds. The double cloth weaving technique means that each side shows the reverse colour to the other.

Paper and silk 'propaganda' obi

Paper and silk ‘propaganda’ obi

The reverse side.

Paper and silk obi, mid-twentieth century

Paper and silk obi, mid-twentieth century

Jill speculated that this was probably worn by the wife or close female relative of a Japanese pilot. I was excited to see such a beautiful piece of work. Thanks Jill.

… meanwhile back at the ranch

So here we are back home after our fantastic holiday and the question is how to keep up the drawing momentum and not forget the lessons we learned at the Urban Sketchers symposium. OK we all know the answer, just keep drawing!

Last Sunday we took off down to the edge of Lake Burley-Griffin to draw in the warm winter sunshine. I selected the High Court, with the flags of the world in front and just a bit of the fairly-recently opened NGA Contemporary gallery.

NGA Contemporary and the High Court, watercolour and brush pen, 9 August 2015

NGA Contemporary and the High Court, watercolour and brush pen, 9 August 2015

Drawing landscapes is what I like doing, drawing people is my weak spot. Now it’s back to the cafes with a purpose. I aim to make at least one and preferably several sketches, each time I’m having my coffee. I’ve also realised that our pub trivia venue is a good place to capture faces and figures as people tend to sit still, or at least still-er while the quiz is underway. There’s only one ‘ax-murderer’ in this lot – I must be learning something!

Some faces at last week's pub quiz, pen and ink and brush pen, 11 August 2015

Some faces at last week’s pub quiz, pen and ink and brush pen, 11 August 2015

We also came back from Singapore groaning under the weight of new art supplies. Not only were the symposium sponsors extremely generous (thanks to Moleskine, Leuchtturm, Creatacolor, Caran D’Ache, Pen Up, Shop Oryx, ShinHanart, Super5, Stillman & Birn, Art Friend, Worther, Arters, Straits Arts, Bynd Artisan and Laloran); we bought lots of supplies at Art Friend and the small but beautifully formed Straits Arts (so much cheaper than in Australia); and we also scored some great prizes in the mega raffle. To add to the haul I also received a very delayed parcel of art supplies from a local supplier in my mail when I got home!

One of our purchases in Singapore was lots of empty half-pans (only to find another 50 in my parcel on my return!). My partner has also been on the lookout for some small metal tins, to make some very compact watercolour sets, (Altoids not being commonly around in Australia). Anyway, we found these tins in Bangkok and they are just right for 9 half pans. At 5 cms x 7.5 cms they are very compact. Given that one of the prizes my partner scored was a set of 32 tubes of watercolour paint we have almost endless colour options to choose from.

Home made compact watercolour set

Home made compact watercolour set