travel


My goodness, I had a marvellous and educational time at The IMC 2017. I’m still processing everything I learned – it was a very intensive week. But here is an overview, with the pieces I worked on.

Pieces. The intention of The IMC is that you work on one large piece over the week. As you will see, mine was more of a personal evolution, but not for that reason a failure or loss at all. I had many epiphanies.

(Note: The prompt I worked to was for Seanan McGuire’s Beneath The Sugar Sky, in which there is a rhubarb soda sea, so I also used a lot more pink than I usually would!)

So: At the beginning of the week, when we were still all at the thumbnail stages, I was being heavily influenced by all the fabulous painters around me. Without consciously considering it, I felt I ought to be very painterly.

01painterly-ideals

I’m not a painter. I learned to thumbnail much more boldly, and came to terms with doing that tonally, but in terms of how I was going to execute the idea, I managed to get myself pretty worked up. Although I still rather like the skull above.

Then we had two lectures close together: Irene Gallo’s presentation on colour in art, which featured many illustrations that were much more graphic in style; and Daniel Dos Santos’s lecture, in which I realised that while I resent the fact that his work looks like magic to me, and want to paint well enough to see the point where it comes together, I do not in fact want to paint like him or even paint all that much at all. Just enough to incorporate the lessons into my own style.

So I went back to my desk, scrapped my plans and went back to the extreme basics: Silhouettes. Having cut those out, I played around with the scrap paper, using it as a stencil and adding in details. I found I didn’t mind doing that. That’s just cheating on silhouettes.

And it turned out the reference photos I’d taken when I thought I’d be painting did feed into the shapes and angles of the silhouettes. One of my IMC realisations was that preparations are seldom wasted (lots of my epiphanies on the trip were obvious, and some I could have parroted before).

02recallibration

I’d decided by this time that what I wanted to get out of The IMC was learning how to be at it: learning how to learn. How to get everything I want from a lesson, drag it back to my lair and process it into my own work.

So, next I just added a bit more detail to that silhouette and began building it up in gouache, remembering the little textures I love in medieval paintings and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations.

Now, I was surrounded by painters, but one of the wonders of that is getting to see how people actually think a painting onto the canvas. Getting to watch John Jude Palencar paint and think, “Oh wait, it looks like a painting when he’s finished, but the process looks to me like cross-hatching and wash. I know that. I can think that way.”

It was also good being able to go up to illustrators with a sheaf of pen-and-ink drawings and have them draw over them on tracing paper, and getting to see and hear how they would have solved the same problems.

03Painting

Another realisation was how much tidier having to comply with work health & safety regulations keeps a workspace. I didn’t spill anything.

I was feeling more confident with the gouache now, but I was worried about losing the liveliness in sketches. So for the next piece I did the thumbnail sketch, took reference photos (which I won’t show, as I haven’t the permission of the models, but they look like the world’s most awkward ballroom dancing lesson).

Then I sat down and drew the picture without looking at the reference. Then I used the photos to go back in and adjust details and accuracy. It certainly helped.

04Dance

And I used up the leftover paint drawing in other people’s sketchbooks.

05Scraps

Here’s a drawing of reference photoshoots happening.06Poses

So! On ot the finished pieces:

Here is a digital composition of the silhouettesSilhouettes cover

(The painted silhouettes on their own for comparison)Silhouettes---pink

A little Cake Queen, painted largely without reference, but with obvious Andrew Hem influences on approaching planes of colour.

Cake Queen

An even tinier pen-and-ink version of the lady.

Cake-Queen---ink

Seanan’s Cora swimming. I like the tiny skull so much (you may notice a pattern here).

Cora Swimming

And the final gouache painting of the walking figures.

WalkingFigures

In the end, they were all vignette drawings, but someone who knows me said “Next you’ll learn to draw backgrounds, and then you’ll be a real illustrator.” He got a multipurpose background in his sketchbook.

Another point Irene made was about the elements fantasy illustrators should be able to handle, like horses, and others which it is good to show you can do, like group scenes. That’s why I ended up painting the three walking figures, to check that I could! And since I rather enjoyed it, I started looking for more crowds to draw: Here are the survivors of the IMC at about 2am on the last evening.

07last-night

A few lessons that resonated for me (there were many more – these are the ones which were still echoing around my head this week):

  • Preparation pays off.
  • Thumbnail using tones.
  • Take good, well-lit, detailed reference photos.
  • Keep caps on bottles.
  • Gradients! Use them compositionally.
  • Go to galleries and look at just one thing: a colour, fabric, use of highlights, etc.
  • Watch how ink lines end, and use lines to echo shapes in other parts of the drawing.
  • Whatever you’re doing (in composition, colour, etc), commit and then push it further. This came up a few times over the trip: exaggerating scale, doubling down on ‘errors’ instead of taming them.
  • Skulls and wigs and gauntlets are things people just own and bring to workshops with them.
  • Always do more than you need to, professionally. Get up earlier, or paint images twice, or…
  • The cheerfulness and generosity of real (apparent) confidence.
  • When watching a demonstration, copy it rigorously, then go back and try doing it your own way. I’ve always skipped the middle step, but it turns out I learn more by watching and emulating before getting creative.

… I just pulled out my notes and got distracted by all the wonderful information, but I will leave this list as it is.

But more: It was amazing to be surrounded by professional, excellent artists, all learning and critiquing, helping, posing, advising, sharing advice on brushes and paints, but never doubting the worth and ability of what was on display.

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LGAL Fairl Dark

Next week, I’m leaving Northampton for Minneapolis. I’ll be attending a workshop given by Nico Delort at Light Grey Art Lab – and some of my work will also be on display at the gallery!

The opening night details are on Light Grey’s Facebook page: Fairly Dark Opening Reception.

Part One: USA

Part Two: Dartmoor

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

And so: Iceland.

The Light Grey Art Labs residency was wonderful: small, active (very physically active!), interested, entertaining. And Iceland was… I couldn’t process it at first.

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I spent my day before the residency looking around the Culture House and worrying about whether I would be able to work out how to process the lava fields I’d seen that morning on the way from the airport.

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Because Iceland is, above all, an exceptionally new country. It is horrifyingly young, geologically and in terms of its civilisation. Journey to the Centre of the Earth makes sense here. We all got the theme for Jurassic Park stuck in our heads. Parts seemed like a recently terraformed planet, the rocks are raw and rough and new, steam pours out of the ground.

Iceland 2016 - bubbling mud

They didn’t get people until 800AD (give or take a few hermits), and didn’t use wheeled vehicles before the late 19th century.

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We looked at sulfurous pits of boiling mud and climbed down lava tubes studded with ice and alive with spectral mists.

Iceland 2016 - Lava tube

Iceland 2016 - Lava tube

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There were geysers, and everywhere people made little piles of stones.

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Iceland 2016 - cairns

Brown stones on clifftops, white stones in niches and arranged in little standing spirals below basalt cliffs.

Iceland 2016 - rocks

(This evidence of people marking, decorating, understanding, playing was one of my favourite things).

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Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

The lakes steamed. We scrambled over crevasses and into ravines.

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Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

We marvelled at the pleated fans of basalt columns, drew volcanic plains and details of moss. Climbed. Watched. Took photos. Thought.

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Page 25 Detail - Jarred

It was wonderful travelling with other artists. Learning from each other over wine in our cabin on Blueberry Hill.

Iceland 2016 - workshop

Iceland 2016 - workshop sketches

We all approached work and landscape differently, but it was grand to be with people who understood spending half an hour recording the texture of a rock.

Iceland 2016 - rock

Or marvelling at light, or pointing out the rare welcome smoothness of a glacial stone after the raw sharpness of all the others.

Iceland 2016 - looking at rocks

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We fell in love with moss.

Iceland 2016 - moss

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Iceland 2016 - River

 

It wasn’t like a fairytale.

Iceland 2016 - white water

Fairytales feel older than Iceland does.

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It has fairytales, of course, but we had to learn to look at the land differently. And you start to understand where fairytales come from.

Page 27 Detail - horse

Growing up in Euro-centric Australia, you know there’s ancient and continuous human history but don’t really see it. We’re not taught to see it. We see European history, barely over 2 centuries of it, and then we go to Europe and envy them their castles and forts and standing stones.

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Then to go to Iceland, and see their European history is longer than ours, but not by that much, relatively.

Iceland 2016 - farm

Iceland 2016 - Reykjavik

And before that? There’s no weight of human story.

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I hadn’t realised that I was aware of that, until I came home.

Page 29 Detail - Puffins

But Iceland was exceptionally beautiful, full of curious microcosms and great raw new-birthed slabs and extrusions of uneroded mountain.

Iceland 2016 - rocks

Ash-soft plains.

Iceland 2016 - plain with artist

New-cut gorges.

Iceland 2016 - waterfall

Horizon-capping glaciers.

Iceland 2016 - Glacier

Sheep and puffins.

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Then I was back in Reykjavik for one more day: museums and movies.

Iceland 2016 - costumes

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Then on to Oslo.

Part One: USA

Part Three: Iceland!

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

I was on a round-the-world ticket so I guess that is why I had to sleep in Helsinki airport between NYC and Heathrow.

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Once landed, I picked up my hire car and drove directly to Dartmoor – unexpectedly passing Stonehenge in the evening sunlight. I spent the whole week in one town and it was of course wonderful, because it’s the sort of town where even the local scandals feel like the start of a Midsomer Murders episode, and it is full of many friends who are busy writing and painting and making things.

Page13Detail-Sheep

I was there a few days earlier than originally planned, but Terri soon found me hanging over this gate, drawing sheep.

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I spent my first few nights at Greenbank B&B, a 10 minute walk out of town, and I highly recommend it. They had poultry and a bad-tempered parrot and dogs and a great big Aga stove and lent me Cold Comfort Farm.

Some notes on Cold Comfort Farm.

Cold-Comfort-Farm

I went back to visit several times after moving on.

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And this was the road along the back fence.

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When drawing English plants, Liberty prints suddenly make a lot more sense.

 

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Sheep-shearing at Greenbank.

Page 14 Detail - sheep

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And one night, on sunset, I walked up the top of Maldon Hill barefoot in the cold golden light, which was chilly but felt important, especially as I was thinking about Picnic at Hanging Rock for academic reasons at the time.
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Here is Terri’s beloved Tilly, being mystical in the woods.

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For Ruth’s birthday, we went to a ’70s space disco in a Devon field.


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After Greenbank, I moved in with the lovely Elizabeth-Jane, harpist and dealer in sugar-mice.

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Her house was full of music and books, and one evening we went down to the woods where Alex was living and owls hooted overhead.

Also, I finally visited Chagfarm!

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Page 18 Detail - Chagfarm

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At the farm I drew goats and pigs (for reference), and one evening I drove out over the moors and drew the Dartmoor sheep and ponies.

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Showing my sitters their portraits.

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You have to drive carefully over the moor – the sheep and ponies are unruffled by traffic.

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I did leave Chagford once to go to Moretonhampstead and see the Widdershins exhibition with Virginia (whose hand and art are shown here).

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One of the many things I love is that you can just go… walking out over the fields and the moor: up behind the studios with Terri and Tilly, over the common with Alan and Virginia after tea, wandering over to Todd’s for maps, traipsing out by moonlight with Elizabeth-Jane in search of standing stones which look deceptively like sheep.

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One last sketch of goats and parking inspectors, then off to Heathrow again. The last song to play on the radio as I reached the airport was, suitably, “Jerusalem.”

Then, off to Reykjavik.

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Next: Iceland!

Part Two: Dartmoor

Part Three: Iceland

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

So: Once upon a time it was almost winter in Brisbane, as you can tell by… the shawl on the left hand page, I guess. Then I flew north. I am reliably informed that was the only cold week Brisbane had this winter.

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At the airport I drew various hi-vis dramas out on the tarmac. This is one of my favourite things to draw.

Page 08 Detail - Airport

On the aeroplane, I drew Cinderella-Die Hard mashups but that is for another post.

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In LA, I stayed with Katharine (aka The Fictator: a lot of you don’t know her but you should) and in a surprise to absolutely no-one we talked about books and stories and old movies. She was the best person to stay with in LA because she actively loves its geology, geography, history and likes driving. She took me to very odd museums, such as the cumulatively bewildering Museum of Jurassic Technology which feels like it was created by the protagonists of Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and had Borges in the bookstore.

We also went to the Last Bookstore.

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California is full of palm trees. Someone should have warned me. I got Josh Ritter’s California stuck in my head.

 

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NEW YORK! I like New York. I like the New York in which my friends live. Ellen and Delia sent me to the theatre (Something Rotten and Fun Home, the latter with Eliza and Karen), took me to the theatre (Shuffle Along) and to Klezmer concerts. I accidentally wandered into a theatre reading.

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I ate pastry with editors and lunches with art directors and found my pictures at the Society of Illustrators! (Thanks Irene, Miriam and Christine!IMG_0104
Genevieve took me to the Museum of the Moving Image and (almost as importantly) a grilled cheese cafe. We both promptly downloaded Ginger Rogers and the Mystery of the Scarlet Cloak.IMG_0079

 

Then a final evening of wine and chocolate among the New York rooftops before I caught the train to Massachusetts to stay with Kelly and Gavin.


Page 11 Detail - roof

We had a lot of pool parties in Massachusetts. And writing, of course! It was a pretty productive week: workshopping novels and reading manuscripts and finishing illustrations off for Small Beer Press. I also met Cassie’s Scottish Fold, Maggie, a beautiful creature who regarded me with deep suspicion. And of course the writing barn which is even prettier than this article makes out.

 

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This were some of my notes from a workshop with Holly.

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Then: Readercon! It was my first Readercon, and I had a grand time, catching up with and meeting many very excellent people and lying around talking about theatre and Sayers, Broadway and Dunnett. If I try to list everyone I will (a) sound like I’m namedropping and (b) forget people.

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I moderated two panels, was on a third and gave a reading from my Masters novella-in-progress.

And the next day, I left for England.

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Next: Dartmoor

This July, I am off to Iceland for a week-long art residency run by Light Grey Art Lab.  Depending on uni timetables and money, I may do some other travel on each side (since a round-the-world ticket is cheaper than just getting to Iceland and home again), but that is yet to be decided.

I’ll be part of Team Mist, which is made of the following illustrators, artists, game designers, animators, graphic designers, Google Doodle creators, concept artists, graphic novelists, textile sculptors and production designers.

 

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Note: If you’d like to see more detail, just click on an image. You should go through to its Flickr page where you can look at a larger version of it.

The previous parts of the report are at:

And from there, back to New York. I caught a lift with Andrea back to Secaucus Junction, a train to Penn Station quite late in the evening and found a hotel – the Bellclaire, which was quite pleasant.

The next day, I set out for the Museum of Natural History.

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It makes for wonderful people watching. Everyone gets so excited about dinosaurs, the children flock to Lonesome George, and people get lost in the anthropological collections.

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I got lost in Central Park and rode the carousel (of course) before going to the Society of Illustrators’ Sketch Night.

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I am not used to drawing people standing still anymore, and digressed into making notes on the composition of the Leo and Diane Dillon exhibition.

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Then it all wound up too quickly. I spent the next few nights visiting Ellen and Delia, with whom I went to see the musical of The Fortress of Solitude, visited Michael Kaluta’s studio (and then got distracted discussing early aviation and obscure films), and went to see several delightful editors at the Tor/Forge offices in the Flatiron building, where I was loaded up with many extraordinarily beautiful books (which have just arrived by post).

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And then after viewing Ellen and Delia’s art collection it was, alas, time to sketch people in high-vis at airports again.

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There are still some assorted notes and scribbles to put up, but that is the end of the trip.

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