I’m pleased to announce that my Zambian waitress that I met in the restaurant “Ngoma Zanga” in Livingstone in Zambia won its section at the Royal Adelaide Show. It’s a scratchboard 16″ x 20″. Sorry about the glare in the photo but the original is underneath it. I checked the competition out and there’s some really good work there so I feel like it’s a good win and I’m very happy.
I don’t think I was always much of an artist. Growing up I was more interested in sports though I’ve always been fascinated with animals. I did however get an ‘A’ in art at O Level (known today as year ten) but then regressed to a ‘C’ at A Level (year 12). However, I guess I never did want to draw or paint what my teachers wanted me to paint. Wildlife wasn’t what they considered ‘art’. Ain’t that always the way!
I’ve also never been a hoarder, having thrown out most of the things that I now wish I would have kept. I was 18 in 1978 and that’s the year I must go back to to find my earliest art that I still have images for. This cheetah stippled in ink doesn’t show much promise, especially since there’s an outline of dots.
Fortunately I had found something I could do, work in ink, so I tried to develop that style and this owl is the next piece I can find, also from 1978
However, if we zoom ahead to 1994 we find that I’ve improved somewhat with this frill-necked lizard
Ok, back to the early 80s. I wanted to try something different and gave coloured pencils a go. I had no idea what surface to use so this peacock and the following kingfisher, both from about 1984, are on normal cartridge paper straight out of a sketch book
Not much sophistication in these, but I do feel like I’ve improved. Here’s a zebra done this year in coloured pencils
In the 90s I tried to find something that worked for me. I’d emigrated from England to Australia and work was seriously getting in the way of art so I hadn’t done anything for ages, but I bought some acrylics and started coming up with things like this elephant ensemble with foreground and background completely made up and elephants from all sorts of different references including black and white photos.
I also tried watercolours around this time
Again because of work, I lost my mojo and didn’t really do any art from many years until I joined the online forum “WetCanvas” in 2005 and started getting influences from artists all over the world. This was a major turning point and someone suggested I try pastels (something I’d never thought of). This hippo was my very first pastel
I related to pastels immediately and when I started using sanded surfaces, I loved them even more
Then one day I saw someone using a thing called scratchboard. I remembered this medium as my dad had done one of a leopard back in the late 60s which you can see below
My dad was one of those annoying people who could do literally anything he set his mind to, and if he set his mind to something, no one could stop him.
I started to try scratchboard and very quickly fell in love with it. It’s now my favourite medium as I love the results but more importantly, I love the process. This is my first scratchboard on a cheap board
Yet again, not very sophisticated at all, but once I started buying the excellent quality that Ampersand provides, I never looked back.
I’ve written this post to show people that where they are today is not necessarily where they will remain. Hopefully my improvement (and I’m a million miles away from where I want to end up) can inspire someone to take their art as far as they can go.
Keep well guys.
Imagine 200 school children demanding their photos be taken, decending on you like some crazy throng and posing in attitudes from their favourite gangsta rappers, like in the following photos.
Now imagine what it’s like for the shy girl who’d love to have her photograph taken but simply can’t or won’t push her way to the front because of all these extroverts.
What happens when the photographer (me) sees this shy girl hanging back but desperately wanting a piece of the action?
I’m in a tiny outback town that I’ve written about many times before, Spitzkoppe in Namibia, and I’m at the local primary school being beseiged by all these kids, the boys adopting aggressive poses that they think look cool because they’ve seen them on telly, and the girls all posing like supermodels (and some of them are more beautiful than some real supermodels). I see one small shy girl hanging back, unlike all the others, and I go over to her and ask if she would like her photo taken. Her face beams and I take some shots and then show them to her on the back of the camera. She loves them and laughs, but then still shows her shy side and I manage to get one final shot of her showing her true colours.
This scratchboard piece is the result of that encounter and I’ve called it “Demure Joy”, symbolising both reactions I saw from her that day.
A couple of years ago I did the following portrait and kept a record of different stages, so here are some of those stages as I went along. I used Art Spectrum’s aubergine coloured Colourfix, a sanded pastel paper about 19″ x 15″. I chose this colour as I felt it was fairly close to many of the tones in her skin. If you get the colour of the paper you are working on correct, you can save yourself a lot of headaches. I remember once getting the colour choice wrong and it was a nightmare to try and save my portrait. In fact, I should have thrown it out and started again, so you live and learn.
This is the finished portrait and I think I got the choice of paper correct. Colourfix has a sandpaper finish to it so it has a lot of ‘tooth’ (which means it’s quite rough) and holds a lot of pastel which means you can work in layers and you can blend or not blend to get different effects. I often blend with my fingers but it can remove a few layers of skin. I guess, like a weightlifter or a gymnast, you develope tough skin.
Here’s a closeup of her eyes. I feel that if you can get the eyes right, you go a long towards a very nice portrait. If you get them wrong, no matter how good the rest of it is, you might as well throw it away.
Eyes speak to people and I concentrate heavily on them so that a story can be told through them. It may be in the wetness around the lids, or the bags and creases, or a rheumy colour to the whites of the eyes. Observe carefully what you see.
If I’m working from a photograph I start out with a grid which I erase as I go. The grid helps me to stay accurate. I keep my drawing fairly basic and work in the detail with the pastels using soft sticks and pastel pencils.
I seem to think that my work goes through ugly stages as I try to bring things together at the end. This is because I work some areas to completion, other areas only a tiny bit and some areas not at all until later. In the first few pictures you will notice this kind of progression.
I also have a couple of ways I approach the eyes. Sometimes I’ll do them early because this does two things, i) it gives you a ‘win’ early on and keeps your interest up as your picture, if the eyes are good, will always look pretty decent and ii) you’ll know that if you’ve done a good job on the eyes, any further work won’t be wasted. The other way I do them is leave them til the end. This is for my own satisfaction, seeing the portrait come together right at the end which can be fun. However, the danger here is that eyes can be hard to do and easy to get wrong. If you’ve worked for a long time on a portrait and then can’t get the eyes right, you may feel like you’ve wasted a lot of work. The trick to that one is to be confident and simply expect yourself to always be able to get them correct, or to fix anything that may be wrong. Art is often about confidence.
I continue working my way from right to left. I’m a left hander and since pastels are easily smudged, I work from right to left – even though I put paper over my art and rest my arm on that, I still want to eliminate as many ways of smudging the art as possible.
At this stage I’m simply finishing off the hat and then adding details and pulling things together
And finally we are back with the finished portrait. The main differences from the last stage to completion (other than the hat) are toning down what was too harsh a shadow on the left hand side of her face (on our right), and I’ve added a lot more sunshine colour to her cheeks to warm things up a bit, and that way I can play the warm tones in her face against the cool tones in the background. I’m also careful to make the shadows ‘add’ to the image. Rather than them simply being darker versions of the rest of the skin, shadows nearly always contain reflected light so since I have a lot of purples and greens in the background, I’ve used these colours in the shadows. It’s a way to make your portraits more interesting and real
Here’s another portrait of someone we met in Malawi which shows how reflected colours in the shadows can help.
I’ve camped in wierd and wonderful places all over the world and could be considered an experienced outdoorsman. My friends all know it and talk to me if they need advice about where to pitch a tent, what to carry, etc etc. Here are three stories which show why I’m known as such an expert – NOT!!!
I took my family camping on a whale watching trip at the Great Australian Bight. We camped at Cactus beach and I found a perfect spot for the tent out of the wind. It didn’t look like it was going to rain but rain it did!! Buckets of it! In the middle of the night, our mattress seemed to be floating and when I could finally brave the elements, the rain had stopped and the water had subsided somewhat. This is our tent and the kids have never let me forget about it. The water was up to the car wheels earlier.
In my desire to find a spot sheltered from the wind by those bushes I had set up in the lowest part of the site. Clever!
We camped in the Clare Valley. Well, it was actually on a hill and we were using one of those old fashioned canvas tents that took about three hours to put up, you know the kind – they weigh a tonne and have steel poles. I didn’t even consider the wind because it was calm when we got there. By the time I had erected the tent it was starting to rain so we finished up and left things and drove into Clare for lunch (typically tough camper that I am!!). The wind rose and the heavens opened. When we got back to the top of the hill the tent was about sixty yards away draped over the branches of a tree in two pieces!! We shoved it into the boot of the car and rented a cabin and thanked our lucky stars since it rained for the next three days.
When I proposed to my wife, she thought, like all my friends, that I was the complete woodsman. We honeymooned on the south island of New Zealand. I had spent four months solid ‘tramping’ (Kiwi for ‘hiking’) around the mountains and valleys a couple of years earlier and was very good at it. There was a valley that I wanted to tramp and I convinced my wife to go with me. It would be a four day trip, walk up to a mountain hut at the snow line, stay a day or two and then walk out again. I didn’t factor that at the beginning of the trail we would have to cross a river. No bridge meant wading but the water was deep, all the way up to our armpits. I made two trips, each time carrying a backpack above my head. This river is basically melted snow so we were freezing when we started the actual walk. It was obvious after a few hours that we wouldn’t make it to the hut so we decided to pitch the tent on the banks of the river. We did so about an hour before sundown. After setting up camp, I checked in my bag and found, to my and my wife’s horror, that I had forgotten to pack the matches. I had to explain this to her as she tried to work out how we were going to cook our food, the kind that needs rehydrating.
I then remembered I had a compass and this had a magnifying glass on it. I got a piece of toilet paper and aimed the magnifying glass at the sun and the paper caught fire. Yes!! It will all be ok. The paper soon burnt up so I quickly found twigs and branches and set up a fire pyramid, put toilet paper under it, got the magnifying glass out again and watched, in horror again, as the sun sunk below the horizon.
My name was mud!!
We spent the coldest night ever, eating chocolate, nuts and lollies. The next day we met a school group and I begged them for some matches, blatantly lying that ours had got wet!!
Who’d camp with me!!
This photo was taken moments before I realised our predicament. Strangley enough, almost nineteen years later, my wife is still my wife and still goes camping with me. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness!!