Friday, 23 June 2017

Just practising

Thank you everyone who commented and shared their views on blogging on my last post. I am glad that there are still many of us out there, who value blogs and are continuing blogging.

I've been busy these past few weeks mainly practising in my sketchbook. As I've mentioned earlier, I'm exploring botanical art at the moment and I'm taking a class to learning more about it. At the moment, it's all about drawing and graphite. I enjoyed drawing the tone scales, I never really quite realised how much difference there is between different brands. I always sort of assumed that an HB pencil was an HB pencil. Well, it isn't. My favourite brand is the classic Faber Castell 9000. This is also the lightest of the ones I tried out and it gives a good variation of tone. Caran d'Ache Grafwood and Staedtler Mars Lumograph are nice too. The Derwent Graphic I didn't really like. They were almost impossible to sharpen. For botanical drawing, you need a super sharp point. Often this is achieved by sharpening your pencils using a craft knife to cut away the wood, and sand paper to get a really long and pointed point. Here I used a new sharpener by M+R, which sharpens the pencil to a concave point. It sharpened the Faber Castells to a lovely point, the Grafwood are too big for the sharpener, the Mars Lumographs were okay too. But with the Graphics, the leads just kept breaking off. It was okay for the 2H, H and F, but for the rest, it was pretty much impossible. I have a few of those pencils, and I'll use them for other drawings, but definitely not for botanical drawing. Taking the time to make these tonal strips is certainly a very good way to getting to know your pencils - and finding your favourites!


I'm also practicing leaf drawing. And I still have a lot of practising to do! i have to admit that I became a bit sloppy with this one and the result is a very irregular drwaing. But it will be useful as a measure for my progress. In traditional botanical darwing, the subjects are drawn in actual size, which can be rather tricky. It's amazing how much detail there is in a leaf! A magnifying glass is quite essential, not only for getting a closer look at the leaf, but also for drawing. Drawing through a magnifiying glass is actually quite amazing! Especially when you look at your drawing afterwards and see the even layers that you would have had difficulties to achieve with the naked eye.
I started a new leaf but only got as far as the outline. Which means I now have to start all over again. That's the problem with leafs. You have to work relatively quick, as they wilt, some faster than others. Or maybe that's the advantage of drawing leaves. Once you've started, you have to keep going. No room for procrastination.


I also started working through Sue Vize's book Botanical Drawing Using Graphite and Coloured Pencils. I love the good old pencil, and am discovering the potential of coloured pencils. I wasn't aware how much you can actually mix colours by layering them. The colour wheel was done using just three colours, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarin Blue and Alizarin Crimson.


There's lots of exercises in the book with both graphite and coloured pencils. They're a useful way to pracise your drawing skills as well as getting to know your tools. There are of course exercises in actual botanical art as well, I just haven't got so far yet.


Last weekend, there was a Medial Market here in Zürich, and my Mum and me went to have a look around. It was very nicely done, with a great mix of stalls selling hand made goods, food and entertainment, and wonderful costumes. It wasn't quite as hot as it is now yet, but I still wouldn't have wanted to wear some of those costumes, they look so hot!

The guards at the main entrance to the market - very popular with the Asian tourists...

The Medicus demonstrating is skills

The knights in their best plumes

Quackery and amber

Modern Middle Ages

The basket maker

Friday, 9 June 2017

Leaf portraits - and some thoughts about blogging

I have have not posting very much here at the moment. It's not really because I don't want to, or because I'm tired of blogging. Well, I am a bit tired of the design of my blog, and I've been wanting to make some changes for absolutely ever, but that is another story.

I've come across some remarks here and there in the past few months, about more and more people questioning blogging and/or stopping to blog altogether. Personally, I think that's a shame and I don't have any intention of stopping myself, and I want to make some changing both in my own blogging as well as blog reading practice. I still think that blogs are the best way to show your work and all, in your own, personalised space. But maybe that's also because I don't like Facebook very much (especially as I don't seem to have much control over what I actually get to see, and I really dislike having some sort of algorithm make that decision for me). I do like Instagram, but I don't like to read longer posts on there. It's just too small on my phone.



I've been spending a lot of time with all kinds of drawing exercises in my sketchbook, and learning more about botanical art. It's fascinating - and a bit confusing - how much detail there is in a leaf, when you look closer! 

And that's why I haven't been blogging that much recently. Because there simply isn't much to show at the moment. It's just that not everything one draws, paints or sketches is really worth sharing. And I also think that it is important to keep some things for yourself. To do them just for fun, play, practice, without any intention of producing something post-worthy to be shared on social media. Process versus product.

There's so many things I want to do at the moment, and sometimes I feel that I'm not really getting anywhere. There never seems to be quite enough time. Especially as at the moment, I'm also working through 2 online classes, and a book. One of the classes I've been looking forward to for months, the other one came quite unexpected, as a free gift. But it turns out to be a very interesting class that could be just what I need right now, as is the book. But it does all take up a lot of time, and doesn't leave much left for painting. I'm trying to squeeze in more time for creativity during the week. Many people seem to opt for getting up an hour earlier in the morning and use that time to do something, be that drawing, reading, yoga etc.. But I already get up at 5.30, so that is definitely not an option for me. The TV is a big time waster for me, and I'm trying to switch it off more often in the evening and use that time for more rewarding things, and only watch things I actually really want to watch - like Springwatch at the moment. I love it!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A spring walk

I live in a valley, surrounded by gentle hills and lots of trees, and at the edge of a forest. The forest has been put under protection in 2007 and declared a "regional nature park of national importance" in 2009. It is a nature reserve and a rare example of a large original forest, which means that nature is left untouched, with only little forest management. No trees are felled and fallen trees are left where they are, only if a tree has fallen over a path is the part covering the path cut off, but only that part. It's a beautiful place to be. A few days ago I met up with my Mum to walk along the bottom of the valley to the visitor centre. That part doesn't really have the most exciting scenery, it's a broad path, sometimes close to the railway line and the road on the other side of the river. But if you look closer, there is much to see, such as lots of wildflowers, little ponds full of newts and tadpoles. We left early in the morning to avoid the heat and luckily, this side of the valley was still in the shade.


In the past two centuries, there used to be lots of industry along the river, including a spinning mill and a paper mill. The factories closed long ago and almost all of the buildings have been pulled down by now, but there are still remnants to be found along the river. And with all the industry gone, it means that the river is now clean and full of diverse wildlife.


It's not a too long walk to the visitor centre on the other side of the bridge, but if you're too tired to walk back, you can take the train from here.


Because we were so early, the restaurant was still all empty when we arrived there, and we enjoyed a cup of coffee in the peace and quiet before it was no doubt flooded with people later in the day, it being a fine day and a public holiday.


We walked back again, the same way we came, parts of it among the trees, which is always the best part :)


There were so many wildflowers on the way, including some gorgeous aquilegia, bush roses, and even some rare wild orchids.





It was such a beautiful morning, so energising and enriching. I don't spend enough time in this beautiful area, which is just outside my doorstep, but I should definitely take more time to explore and enjoy it.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The joy of layering graphite

I am exploring a style, or genre, that I have admired for a long time, but always felt too intimidated to really try myself - botanical art. I very much enjoy the loose and expressive styles of sketching and painting, but I actually also very much like to sit down and spend a few hours producing a (reasonably) precise and accurate drawing or painting.


I've worked through a course on Craftsy called Drawing Essentials: Inspired by Nature, taught by Kathleen McKeehan, this week, and it was just perfect. If you're interested in learning more about working this way, I can only recommend this course. It teaches you all the basics you need to get started: how to measure your subject, different transfer methods using tracing paper, how to light your subject, as well as different techniques for shading - using mainly an HB pencil, which, when putting several layers upon each other, can give you as dark a shade as a much darker pencil. With these three drawings, I was mainly interested in the shading techniques, so I just used the supplied photo references and drew them in my sketchbook without any measuring. I totally enjoyed sitting down for an hour or so and just put one layer of graphite over the other and seeing the subject emerge. These pencil drawings are also the perfect thing for me to do in the evenings, when I'm too tired to get the paints out. It's also rather relaxing, almost meditative.


The next steps will be working on actually seeing all those little details (this kind of drawing is also a very good exercise in observation), working from life, including all the measuring, as well as using watercolours, and maybe also coloured pencils - and of course lots and lots of practice. This course has also been the perfect preparation for a class I signed up for at the beginning of the year, and which is going to start soon. I can't wait to dive deeper into this fascinating way of drawing and painting!



Sunday, 23 April 2017

Playing with inks

I meant to continue working on my oil river landscape - and the other two oil painting that I started earlier, but I just felt like laying with ink and mixed media instead. I didn't use any reference for these, they are imaginary landscapes of lakes and mountains. I love mountains, and I love water, and as the sea is far away from here in Switzerland, lakes do me nicely. A cold, crispy clear mountain lake with its turquoise water straight from the snow and ice of the surrounding peaks. I used India ink, and a watersoluble ink from a wonderful little calligraphy shop in Basel, in my favourite colour, Pascha. These were really fun to do, just to see what you can do with two bottles of ink (and some other mediums). It's so important to take time for just playing and experimenting some times.




Friday, 21 April 2017

Inspired by the Dorset countryside

I spent a lovely 10 day holiday in Dorset at the beginning of the month. Almost 10 days of sun and blue sky, and often not even a single cloud in the sky. At one time, we were actually saying that it was almost too much sun for taking photos... We took lots of little trips to some favourite places, like Charmouth beach, Brownsea Island, Kingston Maurward, West Bay (probably better know these days as 'Broadchurch'). I dutifully carried my sketchbook and pencil case on each and every one of these outings - and yet again, didn't get a single sketch done. Ah well, the intention was there. And one day, I'll get there...

West Bay with East Cliff

But our strolls around the Dorchester and Dorset countryside and coast has given me lots of inspiration. And of course I had my camera with me. I used photographs for reference and inspiration for the drawings below, done in pencil, after I got home.



The drawing in turn became an inspiration for a little oil painting. It's still a work in progress, and by the weekend it will hopefully be dry enough for a next layer. I still haven't really got a clue what I'm doing with these oil paints, but I'm enjoying it anyway. And I feel quite drawn to landscapes at the moment. It is probably all those lush greens out there right now, the gorgeous blossoms, the colours in the fields everywhere.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The big blue teapot

This is my big blue teapot. It really is quite a big pot, and I haven't used in about 15 years. I bought it when I spent a year studying in Stockholm. Me and my friends used to spend a lot of evenings together, and whenever we met up in my room, I used this pot to make tea for us. So it has huge sentimental value, and that's why I've been hanging on to it. For 15 years. But I never use it, and I've been doing a lot of clearing out in my home, and I've decided that it's time to let it go. But before it goes to the second hand shop, I'm drawing and painting it with different mediums, so I'll still always have it with me, in my sketchbooks. The first one was done in oils. I intended to work some more on it once this first layer was dry, but now I think I'll leave it like this, as a sketch.


For the second one I used coloured pencils, in my Hahnemühle D&S sketchbook that I just finished. It has great paper for dry medium, and I enjoyed working in it, trying out different mediums. But I have to admit I did miss being able to use watercolours.


I started a new sketchbook this week. I'm back to a Seawhite one, the same that I used before the Hahnemühle. The paper takes watercolour well enough to serve as an alround sketchbook, but what I really like about it is, that it quite thin. It only has about 45 pages, which makes it about half as thick as the Stillman and Birns, and about a quarter of the Hahnemühle. With all the notebooks, journals, sketchbooks, books and various pencases I've been carrying around lately, my rucksack has become ridiculously heavy, and as consquence, my shoulder has been aching like mad again. So this thinner, lighter sketchbook comes in very handy.



And after all this blue, here's a bit more colour. I found this Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, that I started in 2014, but only filled four double pages. It's about time to finish it. I just grabbed the first pen that was lying on my desk, a lovely fountain pen filled with brown ink, which I thought was Noodler's Brown, a water resistant ink. As it turned out, it wasn't, but instead a water soluble ink, which created a bit of a mess. Or an interested effect, if you choose to look at it in a more positive way. The radishes were delicious anyway.


Friday, 10 March 2017

More oil painting exploration

There's so much about oil painting to learn. I adore the paintings of the old masters, and I do want to learn how to build up a painting through layers - eventually. But at the moment, I'm trying to concentrate on the Alla Prima, or direct, painting technique first. Which is basically to finish a painting in one go, wet in wet. A technique that, actually, many of the old, as well as more recent, masters used too, for different reasons. It's certainly tricky to add layers to a still wet layer of paint without turning everything into mud. And I'm definitely at the struggling stage. But when you're just starting with oil painting, you want to see some results, a finished picture, quite quickly, without having to wait for weeks and weeks, with each layer having to dry first, before you can continue.


Well, this isn't really an Alla Prima painting, as I intend to work a bit more on it, once this first layer has dried. But I did try to get down as much as possible in the first layer. It's really just play. Seeing what you can do with the paints. How you can move them around, how far you can go. It's entirely done from imagination. Inspired by my upcoming holiday near the sea at the end of the month. And while I want it to be loose and slightly abstract, I do want to give it a bit more definition and depth. But first I have to wait a good week or so. Inspired by this blog post by Lisa Sonora, I started to keep a studio journal at the beginning of the year, at the same time I decided to finally tackle oil painting. With such long drying times in between, it's useful to make notes of the colours used, as well as anything that comes to your mind. In this case, I made some notes about what I want to do with it next time.


To help me learn more and dive deeper into oil painting, I did what I always do in such a case - I bought some books. I just started reading the top one, Alla Prima, and it's fascinating, and very inspiring. All the beautiful images in the book are Alla Prima paintings, and at this stage, I really just can't get my head around how it is possible to achieve that!


I worked a bit more on my still life a couple of weeks ago. It still needs a lot of work, obviously. I made the shadow areas far too green, due to a tinge in the photo I'm using as reference, since I put away the original set up a long time ago. The bright pink in front is completely wrong too, but I'm quite pleased with how parts of the book have turned out so far.


And last but not least a touch of spring. The weather this week is very dull, grey and wet, but these lovely tulips bring a bit of spring into my home. Did I mention that I love the macro feature on my new lens?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Signs of Spring

What weird weather we're having at the moment. Yesterday, I was walking along the river in mild spring air, with blue sky and the sun shining above my head. Today, I woke up to it snowing vertically. The sky is a dull lead grey and the snow has turned into rain, but the grass in the park around the university campus is still white. And this afternoon, we'll have winds up to a 100 km/h apparently.

But spring is definitely on its way, the signs are unmistakable and everywhere. On Sunday late afternoon, I grabbed my camera and went out to look for the sings around my neighbourhood, and I found some leftovers from past seasons too. I love the macro option on my new lens!

Snowdrops are appearing everywhere. They're such delicate, beautiful heralds of spring. It's always a joy to see - and capture - them.



As are the catkins, with their soft fluffy heads reaching up into the air. You just want to reach out and touch them.



Many signs of the past seasons are still around, and they add to the charm of this time of transition, like these withered dog rose seed pods.


The Chinese Lantern is such a beautiful plant. And it looks good in every state, with its papery husk, but especially in this delicate, filigree state of decay.


I haven't had much to post for the past couple of weeks. It's not that I haven't done any drawing or painting, but there just isn't anything to show, really. But I enjoyed taking my camera out, and doing some photo editing right afterwards for a change, instead of just letting my photos sleep on their hard drive. I should do this more often.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Discovering oil painting

I am so glad I took that introduction to oil painting course last Saturday! It was exactly what I wanted/needed. I just wish I had discovered this course earlier! But hey, better late than never, right? We were a nice and small group of only six plus the teacher, and the atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful. We started with a short introduction and our expectations/wishes for the course. My expectations were simple: I wanted to lose my fear of oils, especially the mediums, by learning about the materials, and how to use them (safely). And that's exactly what I learnt. Plus a whole lot more.

We plunged straight into the matter with an exercise. We each took a sheet of painting paper, squeezed some paints on our palettes, grabbed a couple of brushes, and filled a bit of terpentine substitute into a jar. And then we just had to play. I'm sure we all felt the same: But how? What are we supposed to do? Just do it, said the teacher. Try it out. With solvent, without, mix the colours, on the palette, on the paper, whatever you want to do, just do it, and see what happens. And so we did. And it was a great way to start, it was discovering oil paints.


After that, we talked a bit more theory. My fears of burning down the house are, indeed, not completely unfounded. There have indeed been cases of studio fires, or builder's vans burning, but they were all down to the same cause: linseed oil. When linseed oil has a big enough surface, like those old rags with lots of threads and fibres, that is then scrunched up and thrown away into a container, it can go up in flames. So if you want to use it, it's a good idea to wash out your rags and hang them outside to dry. But to stay on the safe side, just avoid linseed oil altogether. All you need, really, is a solvent like (odourless) terpentine substitute (unless you absolutely want to use the real stuff), which can be used for both painting and cleaning your brushes.

After the lunch break, we looked at and talked a bit about different painting styles and technique, to get an idea of what you can do with oils (basically pretty much everything), and then we each chose a postcard with a motive we liked, took a small canvas, and started painting. I chose a painting of a tea cup by Henri Fantin-Latour, because I like my cup of tea, and I wanted to try a more traditional style with lights and shadows and a dark background. So here it is, my first proper oil painting. I still want to work a bit more on it, maybe letting it dry first, and then add another layer, but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out (despite the rather bent spoon).


I can't believe we did all we did in a one day class! I went home feeling confident about how to use the paints and solvent, and now I just want to play, experiment and practice lots more.

And another funny thing happened too. One I thing I also remembered from my first attempt at oil painting over 3 years ago, and that was the quite strong smell, despite the "odourless" solvent. The same happened when we started with our first exercise. I could not only smell the odourless solvent, I also felt a stinging sensation in my eyes. Would I ever get used to that, or would that mean the end of oil painting for me? But then, in the afternoon, after my fear of the medium had been dissolved, I suddenly realised that I found that the odours didn't bother me anymore, and that in fact, I found them quite pleasant. Isn't it funny, how your perception can change so quickly when your attitude changes?

I didn't do any drawing this week, I started reading The Girl on the Train on Tuesday morning, and I just couldn't stop reading! I finished it yesterday, so now I can go back to my pens and pencils, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with my oil paints at the weekend.

Have a great, creative weekend!

Friday, 27 January 2017

How to avoid burning down the house... Or, know your materials

I haven’t got much to share today, the last couple of weeks have been rather busy in one way or another, and did not always leave as much time and energy for drawing as I would have liked. But now I’m looking forward to tomorrow, as I’ve got something exciting on (well, I hope it’s going to be exciting and meet my expectations, anyway). I’ve been wanting to learn how to paint with oils for ages. Actually, I just found this old blog post from December 2014, about my resolution for 2015 to learn painting with oils. But it started even earlier, in 2013 already. I had bought all the paints and mediums, and even made an attempt at it. That’s how far I got. The underpainting. At least I got two layers done. And It's definitely dry now...


I absolutely can’t believe that that was in 2013 already! Where has the time gone?? Ah well, no point in crying over spilled milk, right? What kept me from actually getting into it were the materials. I learnt about the “fat over lean” principle, about the different mediums involved, but there were so many questions. How exactly do I use the mediums? How much, and which ones (I have a product catalogue that lists over 30 varnishes alone, and that's just one brand)? How many layers can I paint with the “fat over lean” principle? Is there a problem if I have too many layers? And what do I do if I don’t like the result? With acrylics, it’s easy to just paint over everything and start again, but with oils? But what scared me most were some of the mediums themselves. I had read somewhere about instances where rags with some oil painting medium or other on them, had started to catch fire in the bin. Now I realise that that is not something that happens regularly, but living in a rented flat in a 100+ years old house with lots of wood everywhere, I just couldn’t get those thoughts out of my mind. I don’t want to burn down the house. Actually, after having painted the underpainting above and cleaned the brushes (another mystery, in fact), I put the used rag into a bag, went for a walk and threw it into a public bin…
A history programme about ancient Egyptian mummies, that I saw recently, hasn’t helped matters either. The archaeologists were wondering why some of the mummies they had discovered were burnt underneath the wrapped bandages. Eventually they found the answers, and showed the process in a (to me memorable) demonstration. They drenched bandages in linseed oil, like the Egyptians did, wound them into tight balls, and then measured the temperature inside the balls. It didn’t take long for the temperature to rise inside the balls and eventually burst into flames.


But tomorrow, hopefully, all my questions will be answered, and all my fears appeased. I am going to a one day course of introduction to oil painting at my local art supply store and where all the materials and basic techniques will be explained. I’ve already made a list of things I want to know, and hopefully, tomorrow evening I’ll be ready to confidently get those oil paints and mediums out and start painting. And get that still life finished!

I haven't been able to keep up with the homework for this week's A Drawing A Day class, but at least I did it for one day. Draw your feet. It was a bit cold, but I did enjoy it. And I'm going to draw more.



We've had some nice winter weather these past two weeks, with snow and temperature never reaching above 0 degrees Celsius. I loved the beautiful winter scenes, nature transformed by snow and frost, but temperatures are going to rise again in the next days, and all the snow will soon be gone.