Sunday, 22 February 2015

Half-term sketchbook challenge

I have spent an enjoyable few hours this week drawing.  My sister set up a challenge for half-term week with a group of her friends, some of whom belong to a sketching group.  The challenge was to do a drawing a day.  We all know that artists should do this, just as musicians should practise every day, but I don't think many of us make time for it.  So having something to encourage us helped.

My sister set up a 'secret' Facebook group, i.e. one with closed membership.  This was great as it meant that people like me who live some distance from the main group, could still share in what was happening.  Of course one or two people were not on Facebook or did not know how to upload photos but that did not matter.  I found it reassuring that plenty of people were no better than me at this sort of thing!

It was interesting having to choose something to draw each day, especially as I am somewhat limited as to where I can draw.  Now that I can no longer drive or walk very far, working 'on location' is not really possible.  I also have to remember that I cannot sit down to draw because of the problems of getting up again so, particularly at this time of year, so that ruled out the garden.  It mostly had to be still life but one day I was able to draw our wisteria through the dining room window.

The cats are always available as a subject but they spend most of their time in the winter asleep in one or other of their two 'doughnut' beds.  They sleep very tangled up in each other which makes for boring pictures so I only used them on one day.

They started on the sofa but then got into the doughnut.  I managed to catch them with one arm out but by the time I had sketched it in, the arm had disappeared inside!

I decided that this week was a good opportunity to get out all my different materials and try them out.  I have a vast array of pencils, pens, pastels and paints although I also found that some things had died, and that my supply of paint brushes is very small.  I also have a book called: One Drawing a Day by Veronica Lawlor which says it is a six week 'course'.  I have not really used it but when I read through it, I realised that I could dip in and out of the suggestions rather then working through them.

So I tried using dip pens with Caran d'Ache water soluble coloured pencils

and combining coloured pencils, water colour and oil pastels.

It is interesting how we can avoid techniques and subjects that we do not enjoy or do not feel confident with so one day I forced myself to draw a person.  As we do not have spare people round the house I had to use a photo but I made sure it was one I had taken myself.  I used colour pencils for this drawing but I also tried out pencil and dry pastel.  I soon realised that I would need to practise a lot to master pastel.  The rules for drawing people began to come back from the depths of my brain because I honestly don't think I have done any portraiture or figure drawing for over thirty years.

What did I learn from the week?  Finding something to draw and half an hour to do it is not that difficult (I can be a great procrastinator in my textile work - I spend hours thinking about the design before actually doing anything).  Knowing what to include and what to simplify is difficult (the wisteria).  The week confirmed that I am more of a designer that an artist as I kept seeing the potential for design using techniques other than drawing and painting.

But all in all it was a good experience and helped me to get my eye back in as they say.  I think a week was about right for the length of the project but I will try and do some form of art work two or three times a week now.  I brought all my drawing materials into the house from the studio and I realise that this sort of thing is better done at the dining room table so I plan to find a cupboard where I can keep them.  Some of the images, e.g. this last one which was a photo of pumpkins I took at a farmers' market, shout 'printing' at me so now I just need to revise all those techniques I have learnt down the years and create some new work.  As I now put myself in the category of people who do not go to workshops because they are too technique focused, I realise practice is what it is all about.

Monday, 9 February 2015

PS to knitting post

I realise I haven't posted at all this year.  My excuse is that I have not done any textile work partly because it has felt too cold to go into the studio.  However, I do have something to add to the post I did on 17 November last year about NZ women knitting in World War One.  My brother-in-law sent me a photo of this painting which his grandfather, Charles Hay-Campbell, painted in Whanganui in about 1915.  He thinks it was done in the boarding house where his grandfather lived when he first went to NZ while his family remained in England.

This scene echoes what my sisters say about our grandmothers talking of knitting for the troops.  I have very strong memories of them both knitting in the years immediately after the Second World War so I grew up believing that grandmothers knitted and mothers sewed.

My mother made virtually all our clothes - well, not coats, as sewing is what women of her generation did.  The really talented ones did 'tailoring' and did make coats and jackets for their children.  As we were all girls there was no pressure for my mother to do this and we had one or two winter skirts (with bodices) that were made by a professional dressmaker and paid for by my grandmother.  I remember going to this woman's house for fittings and being appalled at the age of about five because she kept the pins in her mouth!  Practically the first health and safety lesson I ever had was to never hold pins in your mouth.  I do not think my mother was particularly fond of dressmaking and really preferred gardening, but when her generation of women were pushed back into the home after the war, sewing, which had always been an integral part of colonial life, became something that almost everyone did.  Bought clothes were expensive but there was a huge range of fabric available.  This fabric was all imported from Britain so we grew up with famous names such as Vyella, Liberty lawn, robia voile and a fine cotton the name of which I cannot spell and which I cannot find  a reference to on the Web.  A trip to town centred on the specialist fabric shops and the department stores and I reckon I could write my autobiography in terms of fabric and dressmaking!   Fashion was approximately two years behind Europe because of the time-lag in receiving the pattern books: McCalls, Butterick, and later Simplicity and Vogue.  You needed to be an advanced dressmaker to make a lot of the Vogue designs so I was quite proud when as a teenager I began to work from the more advanced Vogue ranges.  We were not really knitters in our family and I had to rely on my aunt to teach me both knitting and various sewing techniques because I was left-handed and so was she.  My cousin tells me she also relied on this aunt because of being left-handed.

For Christmas I was given the book; Knitting for Tommy: Keeping the Great War Soldier Warm by Lucinda Gosling.

This is a fascinating read, particularly for those of us who are old enough to remember the sort of illustrations that are shown, particularly the knitting patterns  which my grandmothers were still using when I was tiny.  In the end knitting socks gave way to knitting pullovers and cardigans for the grandchildren.  I think darning died out because socks began to have some nylon in them but I have a distinct memory of my father mending his own socks with the sock stretched over an orange.  Generally his mother did this task (we lived in the same town) but I remember being very impressed with his ability to darn.  I think military life gave men of that generation some useful skills although in theory my father may have learned to darn in the boy scouts.

The book deals with the Empire and the US and there is a photo of the cover of the book I mentioned in my previous post, written by the wife of New Zealand's governor-general.

As Lucinda Gosling points out, absolutely everyone knitted because the need for knitted 'comforts' was so great.  I realised that at that time there were no garments made from man-made fibres as there were later in the twentieth century and the role of Australia and New Zealand in providing wool was very important.  I also learnt that the company we know as Patons and Baldwins was at that point, two separate companies.