Sunday, September 21, 2014

Painting my books

'How to Read a Book' (watercolour on paper) - Jodi Wiley

I want to downsize my book collection. Or maybe should I say, I wish I wanted to.

It feels like everyone is decluttering. Loading eReaders with virtual books and pulling the real ones off bookshelves. And let me just say, I completely understand. I have an eReader. It makes sense to buy those one-off reads as digital files. I'm happy to step into the future on this one.

But the books I already have. Well, I'm sorry, but I can't part with them. I've had sessions of decluttering in the past. Successful sessions even! But there are some books I can't let go. Either because of the memory of how I acquired them, the meaning the book has for me, the time in my life that I read it, or the fact that I love the cover. (Yep, judging the books...)

So what to do with the unread books I will probably never read? All those books I've read that I won't ever re-read? And what about the reference books which have been superseded by internet databases (seriously, who has opened a dictionary recently?).

Well, looking at my bookshelf and thinking about the relationship I've had to books and reading in my life, the answer became clear. Make art.

For the next few months I'm going to post a little painting once a week of a selection of books from my bookshelf with a story or a little something about what they mean to me. It's a personal project I've wanted to do for a while; something I have to get out of my system.

I love the physical object of the book and I love a full bookshelf. It makes a room feel warmer. It makes a house a home. So while I'm happy to step into the brave new world of digital reading, I will probably always have one foot in the past.

If you love books, the ones you own and the ones you have read, they become part of your life, part of your story. I love that.

This little selection I've painted above is the ultimate in book-nerdiness. Books on books. Books on reading. Special mention goes to My Ideal Bookshelf which I love. It's full of interviews with writers, artists and cultural figures about books that mean something to them with very cool illustrations of book spines by Jane Mount.

That book on the top of the stack, 'How to Read a Book'. I just love it for its cover and especially its title. I still haven't read it though ;)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sketching for an exhibition

In November the Melbourne Urban Sketchers are having an exhibition. We are doing lots of sketches in the City of Boroondara in preparation for the show.

Between Us Cafe, Maling Road, Canterbury

It's fun, but also changes the nature of the drawing experience. I'm doing rough composition sketches before I start 'the real thing', which is something I would never have done in the past. My pen hesitates before I mark the page, whereas previously I'd just dive in. I'm thinking about subject and line and colour in new ways. I'm thinking about audience. And also, it's just plain weird drawing on fancy watercolour paper instead of in my sketchbook. But I'm getting used to it.

Classic Fruits, Maling Road, Canterbury

It has changed the way I think about urban sketching. In a good way. I feel more intentional about my scene selection, more thoughtful about my composition. I'm learning more because I'm pushing myself. Not all the sketches are working out, of course, but the strike rate is better when I actually think about what I'm going to do before I do it!

Mailbox, Maling Road, Canterbury

There's still more work to do but I'm starting to get really excited about seeing all of our collected work together in a show.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looking up: city rooftops

One of the best things about urban sketching is noticing lots of little details you'd otherwise miss.

Like the way the glass cone of the Melbourne Central complex pokes out behind a building of apartments, which have little balconies along them, hinting at the life within them.

And the way many buildings in Melbourne have names. I love the typography of these building titles. I wonder about the original businesses which once occupied these buildings when they were first built. All long gone now. Replaced by new tenants, with new businesses and new stories.

Sometimes you see trees on top of city rooftops.

There is a whole other life that goes on in the city, high above the bustle. You only have to look up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Drawing history: Argus Building

Open House Melbourne ran on the weekend, an event where doors are flung open to buildings not normally accessible to the public.

There were a few buildings on my wish list but one must-see was the old Argus building on the corner of LaTrobe and Elizabeth streets. It had been derelict for a very long time but last year renovations began to turn it into a private college.

Until the 1950s this building was the site of The Argus, a now defunct daily Melbourne newspaper. My great, great grandfather worked for The Argus as a stereotyper - a job title that sounds odd to the modern ear - but apparently this printing process is where the modern meaning of the word comes from. He was at the paper before it relocated here in 1924. He went to another job when he moved to a country town but it's entirely possible that when he returned to Melbourne, he came back to work at this grand location.

Here is a sectional view of the building which shows how it looked when it operated as a newspaper. I love imagining the buzz of the building at work. The reporters tapping away at typewriters. The artists at work, creating illustrations. I can imagine that the vibrations from the machinery hall could be felt through the building when the paper was going to press. It was all under one roof. How I would love to step back in time and see the building as it was then.

But Sunday was a little bit like that. The Advertisement Hall has been restored to its former glory and you get a real sense of the grandness of the building. There was a queue to get in; an excitement about it, probably helped by a write-up which appeared in The Age that day.

Of course I had to sketch the scene. Pen with watercolour in a new Hand*Book sketchbook, which I'm dedicating solely to urban sketches.

One sketchbook for everything is just not working for me so I've recently started three new sketchbooks for various projects, in addition to the two I currently keep. Call me crazy, but I think it's going to work ;)

I've also been trying to think of a way to create a portfolio of my sketches. I've just uploaded a bunch of recent sketches to my Flickr and I'm planning to keep this updated with my sketchbook work. I haven't used Flickr much in the past but I'm sure it won't take long to get the hang of it.

Speaking of ease, I tend to use Instagram a lot these days to show work in progress and finished work. It's just so quick and easy! But I do intend to try and keep up with this blog a bit more. Promise ;)

Friday, June 20, 2014

A creative day

Last weekend my friend Maria and I went to Montsalvat for a creative day.

It was so good to spend the day on our own creative pursuits and being at Montsalvat is incredibly inspiring. It's an artists' community in Melbourne's north, with studios on its grounds, as well as stunning buildings open to the public, huge green spaces and beautiful, old trees.

While we were there Maria, who is a photographer, took some photos of me sketching. Here are a couple but head over to my studio blog for more about our day and more photos.

Jodi Wiley, sketchbook, Montsalvat {Photo by Maria Colaidis}
Jodi Wiley, sketching Maria's Polaroid {Photo by Maria Colaidis)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Keeping a sketchbook: start with why

I haven't updated this blog in almost two months but that doesn't mean I haven't been drawing. Au contraire. I've been drawing plenty.

I've been participating in Sketchbook Skool - an illuminating experience. The structure of having a new teacher every week allows a voyeuristic peek into many different sketchbooks and exposure to a variety of styles and techniques. I (mostly) did all my homework! And I learned a great deal from each artist.

Sketchbook Skool is about more than technique, although technique is part of it. What I liked is that it's about exploring the process of keeping a sketchbook.

Line drawing of my kitchen (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

For me, I had many lightbulb moments about the why of keeping a sketchbook while also picking up a few new things for my repertoire for the how. Sketchbook Skool was so rewarding that I'm going back for Semester 2!

My kitchen with colour added (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

Some of the things I've been thinking about in my blog hiatus have been these:

  • When life gets busy (as it has recently for me) keep drawing. Prioritise the things that bring joy to your life and make sure you can slot them in, if not every day, then every second day, or whatever you can manage. Don't drop them entirely.
  • Keep chipping away at the things you want to get better at. Reality is, I don't have endless hours to pursue my creative goals (who does?). So by keeping up my sketchbook practice - whether it's a five minute sketch while the kids are playing, or a half hour drawing in the evening - it all adds up, and improvement is inevitable (surely, right?).
  • I'm completely over the tyranny of the perfect page. In the past I have avoided my sketchbook because I knew I didn't have enough time that day to sit down and make a 'perfect page'. I don't care anymore. I'm now using my sketchbook to experiment wildly, do quick sketches, or more elaborate drawings. I have even started making notes in my sketchbook. Crazy, huh?
  • Notice what you notice (I'm sure I'm paraphrasing someone here). But making drawings is only fun when you are drawing something that interests you. I'm learning to notice what I enjoy drawing and to go for that.

For example, yesterday I met with the Melbourne Urban Sketchers. At first I couldn't see much at the meeting point to excite me - I didn't feel like sketching a cityscape. But I took a walk with some other sketchers to the nearby Polly Woodside - an 1885 Tall Ship docked permanently at South Wharf and protected by the National Trust (and which I hadn't seen since I was a kid!).

We walked around the ship several times to find the best perspective. I still wasn't very excited until I realised that I didn't particularly care much for sketching just the ship - but that I was more interested in sketching it in context. That is, telling the story of the location.

Here is this ship, originally launched from Belfast, Ireland in 1885, set amidst contemporary city buildings - an ultra-modern geometric structure in the background, cafe umbrellas in the foreground - how fascinating it's ended up right here.

Once I knew what I wanted to show, I had my 'frame' - I knew what to include and what to leave out - and could maintain my own interest throughout the entire sketch, which took about two hours.

So that's probably the biggest thing I've learned about my sketchbook practice in the last couple of months. In order to draw, and keep drawing, to remain resilient against failed experiments and disappointing pages, I need to know why I'm doing it. And slowly, those answers are coming to me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Drawing High Tea

High Tea in a hotel restaurant is one of the most fun places to sketch on location.

Here's why:

1. The variety of finger food means you get a choice about what to draw. Traditionally there are three layers. The first is sandwiches, the middle layer holds scones and pastries and the top layer displays beautiful, dainty and often colourful sweets. Lots to draw!

2. You're expected to stay for hours. High Tea is to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and no one is going to rush you out of your seat. Granted, we stayed longer than most tables! But no one seemed to mind.

3. Other guests are often enjoying High Tea for their own special occasions so no one is very interested in what you're doing. Apart from the wait-staff, who usually like a little look :)

4. You get to eat the subject. And drawing it first means the delayed gratification makes it all the more delicious!

Thanks to my Mum for this birthday treat...which is fast turning into a yearly tradition of enjoying afternoon tea and sketching together!