On notebooks: Questions and declarations

My notebooks are full of little questions I rarely go back to — and if I do, it always seems such an effort to worm my way back into the original excitement of the idea in order to answer them. I could just be drawing something new.

2020-03-29-question

I’m learning, gradually, to phrase the questions as answers, even if only tentative ones.  To catch ideas as a sketch or the most fragile of outlines. To just paint the thing and see if, as usual, that solves the conundrum.

2020-03-29-KJenningsPaint

It’s a small way of staying in motion.

Cats

Cats are great fun as decorative elements, but often difficult to catch on paper.

2020-02-24-Saffy

Saffy, a descended ceiling-cat

When I visit friends with cats, I spend a lot of time chasing their cats around trying to draw them.

This is further complicated by cats who gradually vanish between the sofa cushions while they are being sketched.

2020-02-21-KJennings-Reginald

From Cassandra Clare’s December 2019 newsletter

It’s fun to glance back occasionally and see them over time — both changes in the cats and in my pursuit of an explanation of how Scottish Folds work.

Here’s Reginald (and Maggie) in 2017.

2020-02-24-Reginald-&-Maggie

And some bonus lions from the Melbourne Zoo the same year (“lion-coloured” is one of my favourite colour descriptions):

2020-02-26-lions

The Madding Crowd

Sketching makes me like people more.

2020-02-22-IMC

I liked these people anyway

People in crowds become individuals. (This does relate to yesterday’s post: Sketch Notes).

2020-02-22-PortenFete

Why NOT dance with an inflatable unicorn?

The first time I went to the British Museum, I tried to see the Rosetta Stone. It was easy, crowding forward, to resent everyone else who was in the way. So many people. It can’t mean to them what it does to me.

2020-02-22-Rosetta-Stone

Some access issues

But when I retreated and got out my sketchbook, suddenly each person was an individual, to whom the stone meant something that made it worth seeing, and I was drawing a picture of people loving it.

And sometimes I’m drawing individuals I love, and realise they are a crowd, a whole.

2020-02-22-Readercon

Readercon 2017, tag yourself

This is one of the reasons I like to sketch during O-Week (Orientation Week). It makes me more benevolent in general, which is always nice when I’m about to start teaching again.

2020-02-22-2019Fairyfloss

Fairy floss!

Everyone comes into focus, busy in their own way. There’s a degree of headshaking around the annual toga party, but look at them! All those teenagers in bedsheets.

2020-02-22-2019TogaParty

The phones, the wings, the Hercules, the occasional serious cosplayers. Body language is 75% funnier in an inexpertly constructed toga and rugby shorts.

2020-02-22-2020TogaParty

Sketch notes

2020-02-21-KJennings-Goat

Sketching through a manuscript last night.

I don’t have a good mental template for goats.

Pigs are also tricky. Their legs are so stiff. I need to spend more time sitting on a fence drawing them.

2020-02-21-KJenningsPigwiggen

One of the many  excellent reasons to sketch from life is that your mind and hand start to learn the basic lines that make up an animal or person or a movement — the top picture suggest I’ve spent more time drawing people interacting with clothes than drawing goats at all — and what makes a shadow mean things, and where the drama is in tiny far-off airport workers.

2020-02-21-KJenningsAirport

I love sketching people in hi-vis.

It’s the same with writing. Taking notes out and about is a good way to get an appreciation of the range of habits and rhythms of interactions, and Angela Slatter has occasionally given me homework in the form of sitting under a tree for an hour and describing the leaves without using the word “green” (but more vehemently).

2020-02-21-KJenningsRain

I don’t have a picture of the tree-description page, but here are some rainy-day notes.

Even if I never go back to refer to these, even if I’m inventing worlds, the act of noticing gets the world into your fingertips, in all its textures and varieties, and it’s there when you need it.

Of course, it doesn’t just give a template. Sketching reminds me when to deviate from a template. Those are the details and textures that bring a picture or a world to life.

How do people actually interact with plinths?

2020-02-21-KJenningsPlinths

And it’s suprising how often the person holding out their arms and twirling in a cafe is not, as might be the obvious conclusion, a little girl, but a man demonstrating the move to his daughter, who is holding a stuffed tiger and regarding him with doubt.

 

The Ministry of Silly Walks

 

KJennings-Walk1

Still a bit wobbly at this point, but look ma, no walking stick!

Some thoughts about walking:

 

  • I’ve just subscribed to Rob Walker’s Art of Noticing newsletter, which today recommended Elastic City‘s book Prompts for Participatory Walks. Since it sounded relevant for several projects, I ordered a copy and unduly complicated the procedure, leading to an exchange of emails in which I was at least able to clarify for the pleased but startled Elastic City the probable reason for a sudden surge in orders.
  • Years ago I was sketching in San Francisco and a man stopped to chat and ended up taking me on a short walking tour of various Painted Ladies and other significant buildings. He usually specialised in tours of the San Francisco watershed (ThinkWalks). And Katharine and Matt and I loudly discussed spurious histories in the hopes of misleading other tourists.
KJennings-San Francisco-2012-Page24

2012?!

  • The Elastic City project reminds me in turn of Joël Henry‘s collaboration with Lonely Planet, the charming The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel. I enjoyed this for the stories it suggested as much as the ideas: I wanted to read about people finding each other in unlikely ways, or someone earnestly sightseeing through Melbourne on a penny-farthing. The book seems to be out of print, although there are some ideas on the Latourex site and the Lonely Planet travel blog: 7 ways to experiment with travel.
KJennings-Walk2

Teenage magpie hiding under a beehive, in the rain

  • I’m also reading a book Terri Windling recommended to me, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the City She lent it to me in Dartmoor, when I was going out (being taken out) walking on the moors or through fields nearly every day, and it was both affirming (I adore Dartmoor and love walking there, but so many books about Walking™ are about the wild, and I also quite like cities) and set up a bit of cognitive dissonance (being very much not in a city at the time).
KJennings-Walk3

It’s always “caterpillar grass” to me

KJennings-Walk4

He gave up. There’s still just an alley of mown grass through the middle of this backyard forest.

  • I’ve been thinking about this because I’m just getting back to walking regularly after being laid-up. My doctor wants me to go swimming but I’m staunchly resisting, even if it means walking in rainstorms and crouching down to watch earthworms, and trailing home wringing wet.
KJennings-Walk5

No-one else was using the swing.

  • I’ve been keeping an observation journal for a project, and while I’ve been walking the same suburban circuit, it really is marvellous how many new things there are to notice each day. How quickly the teenage magpies grow up (they’re twitchy New Adults now, unsupervised, and look like they put their whites through the laundry with their dark clothes). What the spiders are doing. How the tiny soccer players follow their teenage coach like ducklings and gather around to take off his hat and play with his hair when he kneels down to talk to them. How some thoughts and memories get stored on a walk, and I only rediscover them when I revisit that ibis-tree, those bent reeds with their cross-hatched ripples. I don’t take a phone or notebook with me, but I list the things I remember when I get home.
  • And the students are returning to campus, which means all sorts of interactions to see and overhear while strolling through the Great Court, people stalking corellas with their phones, societies recruiting on Market Day…
KJennings-Walk6

Obviously I had my sketchbook with me at this point.

  • I like ambling, not bounding up mountains. I like games without scoring. I like walking without having to take a survival kit. I like pocket-sized adventures.

 

Tiny Birds

KJennings-TinyBirds-2020

Some tiny birds from the margins and interstices of my notebook/journal. I quite like the faint shadow on the owl (top right).

They aren’t illustrative of anything in particular except, perhaps, horror vacui (what else are dragons for?).

The brown birds were, however, suggested by some sketches I did in the Qld Museum on Saturday, while I watched children being towed away from fascinated contemplation of fossils to look at snakes, and being blindsided by the actual height of a bush stone curlew.

KJennings-MuseumSketches2020

Materials:

(NB: some of those are affiliate links which means I might get a very small commission if you buy something after clicking through, but I do encourage you to buy/order from local art stores if you have them!)

The Grand Tour Part Three: ICELAND!

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.

Page 20

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.

Page 21

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.

Page 22

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

Page 22 Detail - mist

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

Page 23

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).

Page 23 Detail - Rocks

Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

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

Page 24

IMG_0529

Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

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

Page 25

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

Page 26

We fell in love with moss.

Iceland 2016 - moss

Page 26 Detail - Notes

Iceland 2016 - River

 

It wasn’t like a fairytale.

Iceland 2016 - white water

Fairytales feel older than Iceland does.

Page 27

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.

Page 28

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.

Page 28 Detail - Birds

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.

Page 29

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

Iceland 2016 - costumes

Page 30

Then on to Oslo.