Summer sketching

By Vita Forest

 

I perched on the slope on my plastic bag seat and stared at the paperbark that Katrina had pointed out.  She knew my fondness for old trees, gnarled trees, trees that had lived a little.  The branches radiating out, the bark twisting and peeling.  My book balancing on my knee and my pencil sharp.  I started mapping and tracing, scribbling and hatching with Lucy beside me, laying back on the grass.

A light fall of rain forced us under the canopy of another tree.  I adjusted my layout and with a bit of artistic licence, the drawing continued.  Lucy curled up on her side, reading her book.


Then we crunched over the gravel drive where the carriages used to circle and admired the dense sprays of flowers, buzzing with butterflies, swallows swaying over the grass and even a duck paddling its feet in the fountain.  Sunflowers ripe, clutching their black seeds, petals losing grasp, rusty grass swinging in the welcome breeze come up from the harbour, through those leaning pines.  They reminded me of the ones I had drawn in Kiama, ringing the showground, sprayed by the sea.

We sat on the verandah, gentile in cane chairs and I sketched again and Lucy read again.  Katrina sitting symmetrical to the path to the fountain, us on the right, the immediate foreground a burst of sunflowers stretching up above the grasses.  And I wondered how the others could stand to stand out there in the sun to draw the house?  The heat that drew lines of sweat down my nose and back, that smeared Katrina’s paper as she leaned her arm against it.  We sat in the shade and welcomed that unreliable, capricious breeze that wound its way up from the water now and again.  Lucy tested the grass, the soft velvet grass with a couple of cartwheels, a couple of walkovers and decided it was “good”.


And later we all tramped back down to the pond, resplendent in pearly  lotus, in mauve waterlilies.  We posed for photos, sketches under our chins and admired each others’ efforts and swapped stories and made plans.   And later, as we left, Lucy and I noticed some seeds underfoot and looked up to see the overhanging branches of a pomegranate tree, positively dripping in scarlet baubles of fruit.

This week

By Vita Forest

Gardens at Vaucluse House (can you spot the bird?)

This week I have been

READING 

  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Policy documents for school

WRITING Distracted

MOVING classrooms and

PREPARING for the new school year

VISITING

  • The White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale for Vile Bodies
  • Vaucluse House for some barefoot, lounging about under a tree kind of sketching 

WATCHING

  • The Shawshank Redemption and The Princess Bride with my kids
  • Lion with Briony and friend 

DISCUSSING with my kids why Australia Day is hurtful/offensive to parts of our population 

BUYING school shoes for Lucy for her first year at high school…

MAKING a week’s supply of Jamie Oliver’s Black Rice pudding with mango, lime, passionfruit and coconut. Mmm

Plant stand at Vaucluse House



Gargoyle

By Vita Forest


And Uriel says No, the man over there was not who we were waiting for.  A definitive NO, he was not a sketcher, he was full of rage and swearing and a moment ago, before we arrived, he had been shirtless, not a sensitive arty type, not one for contemplation.  No.  He was NOT part of the group.

Katerina sets up her stool smack in front of her subject.  She doesn’t look for a convenient corner or ledge or wall to lean against.  She doesn’t need a wall at her back to give her power, to give her anonymity, to blend into.  Katerina plants herself right in the middle of the stream, an island the curious will have to circle around it.  She owns it.

Who knew a stool could do that?

I crane up at a stone gargoyle gripping the wall with its six clenched toes.  It could be an owl, a bat, a creature from a nightmare.  Its toes are straining anyway, gripping that wall, about to launch, about to take off.  And a woman from over the sea, from another land, wants to capture me as I capture the gargoyle.  I am trapped on the ground with my sketchbook, mid-sketch, as it is trapped on the wall, about to take flight.  With gestures she makes her request and at my wry nod, comes to stand beside me, to embrace me, to drape her arm around me, as her friend takes the photo (quicker than my sketch), before she too, comes inside the camera’s view finder to stand with me and save the encounter for posterity.  What will they say about this moment?  My friend…  An artist… An Australian…  Will the caption and the tales told last longer than the time it took to take the photo, to construct this story of intimacy and relationship?  Was I like a wild animal momentarily tamed?  How brave to touch the now anaesthetized form of the king of the jungle.

I move to get a fresh perspective, and hear Tomas giving Winona a lesson in perspective.  He tells us that to be expressive, you don’t need to worry too much about perspective.  That’s lucky.  Buildings are hard for me, scare me a little.  I decide to scare myself and sit on the stone floor with the comforting bricks of sandstone at my back and look through an archway to my subject beyond.  My spot is cool and shady but people can and do stroll by, some nonchalantly glancing down at my sketch, surreptitious, furtive, curious without wanting to disturb or invade, playing it cool except for the small girl who peers down, leaning her hands on her knees unabashed and we smile at each other before she runs off, footfalls ringing on stone.

Around us, bells sing and chime.  Up in the tower, someone plays their song and sends it out over the rooftops, over the hills, how far?  The notes tumble and ring against the tiles and the glass and the stone, trickling down to the green green grass, emerald in its brightness, a stage we all face where tourists sprawl before drifting off again, before the heat of the sun becomes too much.

We skulk around the edges, in the shadows, looking in, looking up, looking through, looking past and measuring, recording, watching, the whisper of pencil on paper, the clench of finger muscles, the crick in the neck.  The buildings are at once intimidating and playful, orderly and rambunctious, authoritarian and welcoming.

This is where I came to see my friend’s choir, where I came for a lecture, where Josie Alibrandi raced John Barton in that movie (as Lucy reminded me), where students for years and years meet, and Tomas came in the past with his family on silent Saturdays and abandoned Sundays when they were the only ones around, and this is the place where brides and their entourages visit for the atmospheric backdrops to the beaded and brocaded.  And now we sit, facing in, around the periphery and study and record and express.

We draw.

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

WRITING Overheard… In the playground

WATCHING Rosalie Lum at a preview with Lucy. We liked it!

DANCING 

  • in the school hall as the teachers performed a surprise flash mob for the kids
  • in another school hall with Lucy at her Year 6 Dinner dance (she has now finished primary school…)
  • at Zumba of course

FAREWELLING my little people as the school year ended (for them).

SKETCHING at Milsons Point and its surrounds

WALKING and SWIMMING at the beach with Vastra and Saskia

EATING pomegranates and mangoes

A tale of two brides

By Vita Forest

From a hill in The Rocks

From a hill in The Rocks

After meeting my sketching pals near the quay, we dispersed to go our separate ways, to find our own preferred subjects, to see what would catch our attention, to do our own drawings, before we would meet up again later.  Some of the group gravitate towards architecture, some to street scenes, others hone in on individual plants – leaves, petals, stamens.  Some like landscapes, others tiny-crafted details – door knockers, statues, gates, while I seem captivated by people and plants (an aversion to straight lines?)  We use different media too – coloured paper, textured paper, tiny, discreet, hand-held sketchbooks, larger pieces of paper clamped onto boards, cheap cardboard and thick watercolour paper on wooden easels.  We use pastels, ink, paint, varying lead pencils through the range of “B”s, waterproof permanent pens, watercolour crayons and graphite.  Though we sketch at the same time and vaguely in the same place, it is exhilarating to see the diversity of styles, subjects and media.  And even though we might not see each other again until the end of the session, we offer each other some kind of moral support.

I walked up the hill and headed to the historical area of The Rocks.  There were historic buildings, there were tourists at cafes, there were market stalls.  I could sit on a step outside a shop, or on the ground in a park, or on a café chair, or stand against a wall.  There were endless possibilities.

I wandered through the crowded markets hearing gentle melodies wafting through the air and headed through a cool, narrow alleyway.  I climbed metal stairs, stone stairs and found a shady park against a cliff, overlooking rooftops.  There were benches beneath jacaranda trees, strewn with purple.  There were rusted silhouettes of household items set incongruously in the stony ruins of a house built up a hill.  There was shade (shade is a priority for sketchers as the weather gets warmer).  There was a gnarled and twisted pepper tree with delicate sheets of fish-scale leaves swaying in the breeze.  There was a pepper tree…

I swept purple blossoms off a wooden seat, flicked open my sketch book, chose my favourite lead pencil and began to draw the pepper tree.  As I drew, mauve bells sprinkled down from the jacaranda tree above, tourists wandered through the outdoor rooms snapping selfies on their phones, and a bride and her posse clanged down the metal stairs in high heels, cameras swaying from shoulders, the train of her skirt held high by a friend.

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I finished my sketch and walked down to the market place.  There was a busker on one side whose music I did not like, and another couple further on that I did.  (Music and other ambient noise is another consideration when sketching).  I found a discreet table by the side of the plaza and sat and looked at the scene – the busker with jaunty hat strumming his guitar and singing a mellow tune, the onlookers relaxing at circular tables, the trees and plants framing the scene.  The people staying still.  (This is an issue for my drawings – sometimes my figures become an amalgam of a bunch of different people if the subject moves on too fast).  I pulled out my pad and drew again, conscious of people peering over my shoulder, but continuing nonetheless.

The Busker

The Busker

What kind of sketcher are you?  Do you announce you are an “artiste” setting yourself up squarely with your equipment spread out about you? Or are you incognito, hidden in plain view, a recorder of the scene without being a performer?  There are added difficulties if you draw people.  It might be fine to have onlookers scrutinize a scene of the harbour, but it is a little disconcerting to have your subjects break down that “third wall” and come and look at how they have been portrayed…  And yet, I understand that if someone is drawing, you want to see what it is that they are working on.

There was still a little time left, so I strolled back to the harbour and tried to scribble a few quick portraits while I waited.  But the people were not cooperative, kept moving, kept rushing on, not waiting for longer than it took for a quick selfie before striding away.

Then I saw the bride.  Hobbling along in her high heels, train held off the ground by a photographer’s lackey, her groom on his phone chatting.  (It was very romantic).  The photographer had scouted out a good spot with a view of the Opera House in the background and so they stopped.  Perhaps if I was quick…  I stood under a palm tree and scribbled it down – the assistant adjusting the veil, the proprietorial black stripe of the groom’s arm around her waist, the tight fists of roses in the bouquet, the skirt billowing in the breeze.  And they held their position for just long enough.

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The photographer was happy and so was I.

 

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING 

READING The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

DRAWING at May Gibbs’s old home Nutcote

WATCHING The Hundred Foot Journey with my kids

PICNICKING with Lucy, Max and our old buddy Fleur on a fine spring day

CELEBRATING 

  • my Dad’s birthday 
  • Diwali

LISTENING to Hamilton some more…

ADMIRING the Jacaranda and Grevillea Robusta trees in bloom

    Seeing Henry

    By Vita Forest

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    Reclining Figure: Angles 1980, by Henry Moore

    Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

    To this I would add, “I don’t know what I see until I draw it.”

    Today at sketch club we fanned out to find a subject from the steps of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  The weather forecast was iffy – rain was predicted, but the sunny skies contradicted that certainty.  The art gallery is a good standby – lots of scenery outside, and easy to duck inside if the heavens open.

    Some artists went straight for the interior, borrowing the handy stools that the art gallery will lend a sketcher and searching for a subject in the cool inside.  The sun was shining, the breeze was gentle, so I decided to stroll around outside and see what I could see.

    I didn’t walk far before I came to the large Henry Moore sculpture on the lawn of the gallery.  It’s a female figure sprawling casually on a rectangular plinth, like a sun bather on a beach towel, or one of the many picnickers you will see in the parklands around the gallery.  She leans back on her elbow, glancing over her shoulder, feet bare.

    I have always liked the monumental solidity of it, the way the folds of the skirt are captured in the hardness of bronze.  I have walked by it a million times.  But when I started to draw, I realised there was a lot I had never noticed.

    If you stand close (which I did to do a study of the face) you can see the imprint of Moore’s tools leaving scratched lines in what I took previously as smooth metal.  As if he sketched over the whole body.  You can see how the weather has streaked the bronze with green, so again, that smooth colour that you register from a distance, is fact rather painterly, with contrasts of icy mint green and deep chocolate brown.

    I moved from the shade of one tree and into that of another – a new vista appearing.  I could now see that the figure, rather than being a bulky simplification of forms, had some quirky character details – there were toenails on the feet, and the left foot was turned in, slightly pigeon-toed, with the toes raised from the solidity of the plinth.

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    She is wiggling her toes.

    I could record the lines of the hair pulled back off the face, the eye peering behind as if in surprise, the thin indent of the lips and again the patina of the weathered bronze which suddenly made the face so vulnerable.

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    Detail of her face – notice the lines of her hair

    I guess that is what happens when you spend an hour or two looking at the one object, unpicking it, discovering its secrets.  You learn how it fits together, how the light and shadows move over it, you appreciate the way the parts make up the whole.  So, as various sightseers stepped in for a quick photo and were then on their way, I stayed with her, luxuriated in having one focus, and made a friend out of an old acquaintance.

    Later, I moved back to the steps and tried drawing some passer-bys and a fellow sketching pal who was across the road.  (He caught me at the bottom of his sketch too – hat and all!)  Then I turned and saw another bronze sculpture – a gallant soldier on a horse and began doing some quick sketches of the pair.  This time I noticed that despite having on a rather solid looking helmet, the soldier had bare legs and bare feet!  I wonder how he fared in the battle…

    Soon it was time for our Show and Tell, we trickled back to where we first met, crossing the road, walking up the hill, back out into the light after the dimness of the gallery.  We compared and praised and marvelled at our different styles and what a range of subjects caught our attention in the same place.  It’s comforting to realise how individual we all are.  And what secrets are illuminated if we take the time to stop and look.  Thanks Henry!

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    The folds in the fabric of the skirt is the main feature that I used to notice.