Saturday, November 05, 2011


From time to time, a few grapevine or willow trimmings are collected and made into charcoal.  Its a bit of a hit and miss affair, as there are so many variables involved in the process.  In a nutshell, it involves securing the woody pieces in an airtight container and placing them in the embers of a fire (in my case this is usually the remains of a fire used to burn off old boughs.

The process of heating the wood until it becomes carbon, but without flame actually touching it, produces the familiar carbon pieces that artists draw with. Its likely the original drawing medium going back to pre-historic times.  Of course, the size of the woody pieces, type of wood or vine, heat of the fire, external environmental factors (think wind, rain, etc.. that controls the heat of the fire) and you see the problems that arise in getting a suitable product.

However, the planets were in alignment this time and my batch of grapevine trimmings turned out well.  Dark, soft, smooth to draw with.  This homemade charcoal was what I used for this drawing of a stone lion fountain.  There's still more detail to add with this drawing which is 19 x 22 on a grey/brown Canson paper.

I've been so busy painting these last few months, I forget how much I love drawing.  So it was a pleasure to get my hands dirty with charcoal again.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Marbles and technology

When in doubt, paint marbles.

I've fiddled around in the studio, between paintings, and picked up a brush and the remains of some oils and tried out a marble.  Spheres are one of those things that look deceptively simple but become quite complex.  I refused to add more paint to the left overs on my palette so made do with colours already there.

Spheres are a great loosening up exercise, especially when I don't consider them any more than simple shapes and values.  There's something about the brain that likes to add just too much detail if allowed to steer my brush.

I've tinkered with technology again.  I was updating the book that I created, The Gyotaku Project,  and realized that it can now be created into an e-book for iPod, iPhone and iPad.  As I'd just upgraded my iPod to a 4g it seemed like a good idea to give it a test run.  Having my book on my iPod provides an instant reference piece for anyone I want to show it to.  The images are very crisp and clear as is the text.  The best part is the price.  Just $3.99 to buy it and download the book onto your device.  The only other thing required is iBooks - free from iTunes - to view the book.  It is likely compatible with other e-book readers, but I haven't tried any others at this time.

You can click on The Gyotaku Project in the link on the right side of this blog to preview 15 pages of the book or to purchase it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Help or hindrance. What does your blog do for you?

 Eifuku chimneys - in progress
10 x 10   oil

Have you noticed the bloom fading from the blogosphere over the last year?  Is it me or is there a lack of postings, a lack of interaction, an overall malaise that's taking over?

I know there is a lot more competition with blogs besides just the physical numbers of blogs that have appeared.  There are also the social network sites that turn everything into bite-sized pieces so that communication is done in half sentences, often just a word or abbreviation.  Attention spans and interest levels become fleeting as one thing or another draws our attention then we discard it for something brighter, prettier, more controversial.

I have been blogging since 2006.  That is a lot of posts and a lot of time invested in the action of writing, considering topics, sharing, venting - and painting.  My original purpose behind my blog was to goad myself into action and make myself accountable to produce more art.  And it has done that and I have met many good and creative people along the way.  Now I wonder if that tool is required anymore.

Looking through stats, I see that Illustrated Life is classed as being in the top 75 art blogs.  What does that mean?  It means if you talk enough and post enough for long enough, you attract attention.  Is it the right kind of attention?  Who knows.  Its not led me down the road to fame and riches.  That sliver of the pie I've had to cut out the good old fashioned way in real life networking, marketing and showing art.  Yes, some online contacts have been made, but ultimately they lead into the real world to become effective.


I am not a comment junkie.  I produce art whether anyone reads or comments, its simply what I do.   I occasionally look at statistics but aside from telling me that the world loves my post about gummy bears and that tutorial freebies are the crack cocaine of budding artists, they give me little practical insight into being a better artist.  A better insight into marketing yes. 

I've been thinking back to pre-internet days.  Remember those?  Well, some of you will.  I produced art then, I shared in visual arts circles.  No, not so instantaneous in either sharing or receiving input, but that could be a good thing. 

Pre-internet I wasn't influenced by a thousand painters imitating a thousand painters.  Everything seems so predictable these days. If I see one more slap happy painting of a pear I will vomit. The daily painting movement, while it increased production and practice for many, also increased the number of really horrible paintings too.  Churning out pieces daily doesn't work for everyone, but many seem to want to go in that direction.  A lemming race perhaps?

So I wonder what I want from this blog now and what it does for me as an artist and a person.  Has it become a habit or is it a necessity in the sharing and marketing of my art on a personal and business level?  Do I let the blog slide and rely on my website or keep it going?  What is the relevance of a blog in 2011/12?

Eifuku chimneys They satisfy my need for bubbles, blues and water.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Challenge

8" x 10"

Last month Chris Beck asked if I would like to take part in a Halloween Challenge along with some other artists.  I was thrilled to take part, as I always look forward to the challenges that Chris and Pablo Villicana Lara come up with seasonally, so I spent ages in the dollar store finding props  that might make a worthwhile composition.  I arranged and rearranged pieces until this set up seemed to work for me.  'Unmasked' is 8" x 10" on 200lb paper, using watercolour and a little gouache.

 My new assistant holding "Unmasked" 

Now that you've seen 'Unmasked' and learned a little more about masks, go to the other challenge artists' blogs and see what Halloween goodies they have prepared for you.  Images from all artists are on Chris's and Pablo's blogs and individual artists have their own painting  and links to all other artists. I know you won't be disappointed.

Challenge organizers:

Chris Beck:

Pablo Villicana Lara:

Participating artists:

Janet Belich:

Debbie Cannatella:

R. Garriott:

Jeanette Jobson:

Ron Morrison:

Diahn Ott:

Suzy Pal Powell:

Terry Rafferty:

Kay Smith:

Deb Ward:

Brenda York:

The bird mask and the jack o' lantern seemed to be contrasts.  One cheerful, the other with a more sombre history.  Venetian masks are known worldwide and associated with grand parties and carnivals, but this bird beak one is a little different.  It was associated with the bubonic plague.

Some plague doctors wore a special costume, although graphic sources show that plague doctors wore a variety of garments. The garments were invented by Charles de L'Orme in 1619; they were first used in Paris, but later spread to be used throughout Europe. The protective suit consisted of a heavy fabric overcoat that was waxed, a mask of glassed eye openings and a cone shaped like a beak to hold scented substances.

Some of the scented materials were amber, balm-mint leaves, camphor, cloves, laudanum, myrrh, rose petals, storax. This protected the doctor from miasmatic bad air. A wooden cane pointer was used to help examine the patient without touching

One of the more notorious plague doctors was Nostradamus. Nostradamus' advice was the removal of infected corpses, getting fresh air, drinking clean water, and drinking a juice preparation of "rose hips.  What a novelty, cleanliness and vitamin C!