Saturday, December 12, 2020


There is so much to draw about South Africa. I thought about the beautiful animals, the art, and the natural beauty that we encountered throughout our trip. One of the things that struck me is how the country grew up since ridding itself of Apartheid. South Africa is still on her journey towards equality. There are still townships that line the edges of freeways, and poor blacks working in rich white neighborhoods guarded by electric fencing, razor wire, and guard dogs. I was concerned since the neighborhood we were staying in seemed safe enough, but then why the heavily guarded fences adorned with razor wire? Our taxi driver in Johannesburg explained that it is a hangover from the apartheid days. In spite of that negative touch, I did get the feeling that South Africa is trying and will one day get to enjoy equality more on a par with other developed nations. Visiting the Apartheid Museum was a moving experience, and why three years later after taking up drawing, I chose to attempt to draw Mandela, The father of South Africa.

The Apartheid museum takes you through a timeline of brutal oppression by Dutch and British colonialists. The timeline begins when you buy your entrance ticket.You are randomly selected to be a black or a white person. I got a “Nie Blankes” ticket — Non-white, and my husband got a “Blankes” ticket. Believe me, there is something very visceral about being labeled and having to walk through a different entrance. It was a very powerful message, that is designed to strike a chord. It certainly did strike a chord. It was an odd feeling getting my ticket, that I can’t quite describe. It was impossible to try to walk in the shoes of a black person during Apartheid days. Whatever I felt must have been how black South Africans must have felt everyday only much, much worse. Imagine seeing the signs that were displayed along my walk way, “Pretoria Suburban Station for Non-Whites”, “Non-Europeans Only”, ad infinitum. And not just marginalized socially, but economically with no reprieve like I would have after a few meters. They certainly would not have been on a holiday. Every aspect of life was marginalized under apartheid. On my right, there were the ID cards or “Bantu Identity Card” which had the photo, and the name of the card holder’s group or tribe. The person’s card who I took a photo of was only 2 years older than me. It struck me again how recent this shameful regime existed. I also remembered and was reminded again of the murder of Stephen Biko. Stephen was beaten to death at 30 years old by state security officers. Black South Africans my age would have lived through it all. Sure, I was aware of it and the sanctions imposed by other countries, but nothing brings it home like seeing the signs, Bantu ID cards, and just how much the regime restricted the lives of blacks. Another heart-rendering story was of Hector Pieterson who got killed in crossfire by police during an upraising in Soweto. The photo of a neighbor carrying his lifeless body is another image that stayed with me. South Africa now commemorates him with a Youth Day which honors young people and brings attention to their needs. This is just one way that South Africa is healing from her recent past.

I remember being in London when the music world celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday at Wembley Stadium in 1988. He had been in prison at that time for 24 years. He finally was released in 1992 and became the President of the country. Against all odds he became educated and fought for his people. He galvanized the world and black people to resist a regime that built a society based on racial segregation. Apartheid affected every aspect of black people’s lives entrenching them into even more poverty. The Ferry Terminal out to Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, has quite an exhibit. I studied the black and white photos and pondered over the looks of black people’s faces as they had to uproot from their homes in urban areas and moved out to “Bantustans”. Another photo shows a woman with her two children, a baby in one arm, and a little girl holding onto her hand during a mass eviction that was part of the Natives (Urban Areas) Act of 1923. The little boy is crying looking straight at the camera. In the background, more people are running, fearful, and shocked. It’s an image that stuck with me. I felt sad and angry, and deep down — guilty — guilty on behalf of my white European ancestors who had bestowed such suffering on to a people based on skin color. 

I felt bad that we had not done more to get out to Robben Island. All the Ferries were fully booked and we were leaving the next day. We also didn’t make it to Soweto. I was in two minds about going to gawp at a township. It is where people live and I felt that we’d be engaging in some kind of voyeurism by going on a tour. I felt ambivalent about the whole thing. Now I wish I had gone especially to see Mandela’s home there. We will be back. No wonder South Africa is a wonderful, and beautiful country. She had a brave, and courageous father. 

Nelson Mandela

Wiki - Nelson Mandela

Links to Photos taken by me at the Robben Island Ferry Terminal:

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Facing the Devil

When I draw my faces, I usually post my progress to facebook, and have people guess who they might be. I recently drew John Oats of Hall and Oats where one guess was Al Pacino. Well the similarity was only with the goatee, but nevertheless, I added Pacino to my growing list of faces to draw. 

Before working on Pacino, I practiced a little more with proportions, and symmetry; particularly with the eyes. My drawing Anatomy book is great, but like a cook book, it makes it look so easy. Getting the face angle, the eyes looking the same way and looking in the same direction is very difficult. Replicating a twinkle in an eye, a dimple in a cheek, or a smirk that all form an expression is even more difficult. 

I was recently introduced to a famous portrait artist by a friend of mine who loves portraits. As much as I admired Lucien Freud, I really thought the artist himself had a very interesting face, so he is now on my list! To paint faces and capture real expressions like Freud did is a dream! 

Aspirations are important. Recently, I watched a youtube tutorial on drawing faces where the artists recommended practicing the features first and if you are a beginner, don’t start with faces. A small part of me deflated because I always try to run before I can walk. Practicing and learning along the way I believe is the only way. I practice features on their own and then build the face. I then refer to my Drawing Anatomy book which as a couple of methods on drawing faces. 

Sure I fall down a lot like I did with drawing Diana Rigg. We have to fail to learn. And I don’t even like the term “fail”. I see those not so good pieces as part of the journey. My work on John Oats led me to Pacino because of one guess. 

It just so happens that one of my favorite movies is “The Devil’s Advocate”... Al Pacino plays the character of the Devil, John Milton. Haha! Miracles of miracles, it just so happened that the Devil’s Advocate was on TV when I started drawing Al Pacino! After many times of watching that movie, I realized that the Pacino’s character’s name was John Milton, the poet who wrote “Paradise Lost” which of course is about the fall of man and the fallen angel Lucifer. The character John Milton is suave, sexy, and sophisticated who refers to God as an “Absentee Landlord”. I couldn’t agree more. I like the old devil.

I always think while I am watching John Milton, that if am going to worship anyone, I am going to worship someone who is sexy, gives me a lavish lifestyle, likes Frank Sinatra, and drinks good wine! What on Earth is evil about that? It’s his time, baby! 

Unlike God, the Devil aspires to create happiness where as God demands we suffer! The devil aspires too as explained in this line from the movie. 

 “ John Milton: Why not? I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist.” 

Well I know I am a humanist so, maybe that’s why I am attracted to the Devil aka as John Milton played by Al Pacino.

Seriously, I am an atheist so I believe in neither Satan nor God, but I do believe that practice makes perfect with drawing. And after all, the devil does not judge and accepts human flaws!

Al Pacino - Graphite pencils 

My photo Reference. 


Wiki has an excellent entry on the movie too. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Covid Dreams

One of the great things I am discovering with drawing is that it is providing another outlet to express my fears and anxiety. While anxiety manifests itself differently in people, mine usually results in insomnia, and then vivid dreams leaving me anxious until I get into starting the day. Since the start of the pandemic, my recurring dream is finding myself in a crowd of unmasked people not being able to find my way home, or find Ken. 

Another dream is that I am returning to work where none of the covid precautions in place are being followed. Nobody is wearing a mask. I am speechless and angry in the dream. I wake up relieved. I don’t see myself as overly neurotic, but I guess we internalize a lot of stress that we aren’t always aware of. I can be mildly amused by some of the craziness in dreams, but not the one I am about to recall.

This dream is far from amusing, and was the most intense yet. I am in another country (it’s not clear where possibly the UK) trying to get home back to my husband. I wake up in dormitory-style accommodation.  I quickly realize that I am in a hospital ward. Some people are laying in bed wearing metal masks, and what seems like long tubes out of them. The people look terrified. I try to comfort one of them; a youngish woman. A nurse instructs me to leave her alone, and to stay away. I ask her what the fuck is going on, and why am I near these people if they have covid... The nurse in a light green uniform tells me I have to stay inside. I said, it is better that we are outside in fresh air away from these people. I tell her to let me the fuck out, but somehow I leave desperately trying to reach one of my brothers to pick me up... 

I awake. All I see in my mind’s eye are the metal masks and tubes. I still feel a frantic urgency to get out. I get up, shower and head out for a much needed run which dispels my waking anxiousness. Few people are around. I pull down my mask, and breathe. 

“Covid Nightmare” charcoal. I drew the eyes staring, big and wide - expressing fear. The lone tear is the pressing want for this to end - she wants to live again. The hair disheveled, long and unkept kind of like the leadership we have had through this. The tube leads to nowhere as we don’t know when this nightmare will end. The jet black mask is nothingness. Death. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Amazing Faces

My continuing journey of drawing has led me down a path of trying to draw portraits. Something that I never would have dreamed of attempting (I was probably right!). However, anything can only get better with practice, right? 

Faces are fascinating, but challenging to draw for a beginner like myself. The instructions in books make it look easy. It feels impossible to replicate that twinkle in an eye or smirk right now. But that will come with practice, and learning from the masters. This old dog her will learn. new tricks. 

At least while I attempt to capture my subject’s twinkle, gaze, or smirk, I get to examine the faces of whom I admire for so much longer, and I learn more about them. 

 I was sadden by the recent passing of Diana Rigg, which inspired me to try to draw her. I sure hope my subjects are very understanding. Especially, Dame Diana Rigg.  

I imagined Dame Rigg growling at me from over my shoulder saying, “not another wrinkle”, and “my nose is not the long, for heaven’s sake!” I do hope she’d be forgiving for a beginner! 

Diana Rigg was incredibly famous as Emma Peel in, “The Avengers” which I vaguely remember as a child. Emma was badass. She knew martial arts and could get herself out of trouble without depending on a man. She was a perfect role model for women and girls at that time. 

Fast forward, 50 years later. I was mesmerized more recently by her performance as Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. She had some brilliant lines and dished them out well. My favorite being in her last scene where she tells Jamie Lannister that, “Tell Cersie. I want her to know that I did it...” Did what? Sorry, no spoilers here. Watch the show! Interestingly, watching the show, was something that Rigg never did even after her appearance. 

The best story I heard regarding her “audition” for the part of Olenna Tyrell was when she told Benioff, “Dames don’t audition for you; you audition for them’” They loved her on the show, and so did we.

All in all, I focussed on the eyes, but still could not quite capture that tinkle in her eyes. However, I feel happy with the shape although I am a little disappointed with the facial proportions. Back to drawing board with that. Onward and upward to continue my journey with amazing faces. 

My photo reference.

Game of Throne fan: Links to some clips, one liners, and other trivia. Avenger fans, more when I draw Emma Peel!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Look of Covid

Well this is how a quick and dirty sketch panned out today. She’s kind of a sorry disheveled looking gal, and after I finished her, I wondered if she was me. She was not meant to be. Just a quick warm up practice for eyes, and hair. When I decided she looked like how I felt, I added her tear. 

I see her has having just woken up from a night of sporadic sleep where waking hours were spent worrying about the state of affairs, as well as shards of metal from the past that still dig deep. She buried them long ago, but they still cause pangs every now and then. 

She gets up and looks in the mirror, and this is what she sees. Her short trim hair is now an unholy mess in need of a cut. Her age is showing.  When did she last put make up on? Ah yes, that was it. It was for a zoom call with friends. She doesn’t bother anymore. 

She’s been out of a job for nine months now, not seen any family, or friends, and her life is confined to Zoom calls for work, and socializing. She knows she is not alone, but that doesn’t help the anxiety caused through uncertainty. 

What seemed like a shut down for a couple of weeks has turned into months with no end in sight. Her friends know they won’t be heading home for Thanksgiving, or Christmas. It was all suppose to be over by then. 

She pursues interests, explores new ones, and escapes to happy places, but is overall anxious about the future.  She is generally happy, but not today. 

The weather is glorious, but she is tired. The endless stream of political turmoil across both sides of the Atlantic weigh heavy on her. She has family and friends on both sides of the pond. Whatever the future holds, she sees no way to plan for it except be cautious. That isn’t her nature. 

This woman explores the world with eyes wide open, but they’ve been shut for her. A world led by arrogant, and ignorant politicians, denying the science of Covid, and its severity, climate change, and strife see to it that she is remaining in place.  

She awakes in dark hours with a sense of foreboding. Trapped by insomnia, her mind escapes hurtling along a highway to nowhere at a zillion miles per hour. The only destination is morning, and a sense of despair. Despair for the future, and not just hers. 

This is Adrenoverse — Today. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Issy’s Rose

At first, I was merely practicing my drawings and following a tutorial on how to draw a rose. This one is of my second attempt. 

I posted my efforts as usual to facebook and instagram. Outside of all the comments I received, the one from my niece stood out the most; “My mum’s favorite flower”... It stopped me in my tracks.

How could I forget? Sadly my sister died at the tender age of forty one. Like my mum, she loved to garden. She adored gardening and was good at it. She had the best front garden on her street. Always. 

Once she even dug out a pond, in the back garden, and got two ducks, Tululah and Gemima. She loved animals. She also had a penchant for penguins, so whenever I see penguins, I always think of her. I had forgotten how much she loved roses though, so I was thankful for her daughter’s (my niece) reminder. Now I will always think of her whenever I see a rose. That is a big thing for me. I love roses more than ever, because I see one more thing in them — my sister, Issy. 

This is for you, Issy. Rest easy, and thanks for the love and memories. 

A Rose for Issy

Monday, October 5, 2020

Drawing Boards...

This drawing wood exercise was probably the most laborious I have done, but the results are pretty amazing using the techniques from Leonardo Pereznieto’s book, “Simple techniques for realistic drawings.”  I have so many wood projects, so I was keen to do this tutorial in the book. I have plenty of photo references from all of the world; drift wood on a South African Beach, old wooden doorways off old churches, and tiny medieval doors in Spanish, and French villages. 

I didn’t have quite the same tools as recommended in the book. The photo below was using a charcoal 2B pencil which is a little softer than the HB pencil Leonardo used. My background was also a graphite background using my 4B softer graphite stick. 

Again, I have a new set of eyes that will allow me to see wood more clearly. I love the almost poetic way Pereznieto describes wood grains, “To help you visualize the grain lines of wood while drawing them, imagine the waves of a liquid. They flow in a similar way and envelop any object...” And it is so true! Next time, watch how water flows over rocks, in a babbling brook. And then follow the line grains on your wooden floor boards. 

My first attempt at drawing wood for real. If you look closely, It’s simply tiny vertical lines close to one another. I look forward to my future projects. 

Meanwhile, check out this flooring! The knots are interesting although my grain work needs practice. The bit that blew me away is where the boards meet. Just a rounding the edges and a highlight made all the difference. 

The next photo is a close-up of my boards. I got pretty lazy by the time I got to the bottom of each board! The far left plank I left as one long plank since that was the best grain. Being left handed, I had to start from the far right board, and work across to the left. 

Next stop, is to get the paper and charcoal pencil that the artist suggests for the other projects. And I may repeat this exercise to refine my grains. For wood and On woods! Sorry, but you should know by now that I love word play. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Lot of Bottle

When the experts say to get certain materials, invest in them. I am so glad that I finally forked out  $25 for the packet of graphite powder. It is water soluble so I can now paint with it. I haven’t got around to gently breaking that to my other half yet, so have not tried it. I’ve already have had to explain away the mysterious dark marks across the floor after he tried to use a clean small towel that I repurposed for toning paper with the powder. I guiltily blamed my weights who had nothing to do with it. I digress. Once I got the hand of using the dry powder to tone my paper for a graphite drawing, I found the difference was striking! No lines or scratches. Just a smooth even grey background. What a difference..! My drawings of glass will especially look better. 

When drawing glass, it is less about the object and more about, light sources, highlights, and shadowing. I had the perfect subject which was my Vintage Absolutely Pure Milk bottle. I used the same techniques I learned for my crystal ball sketches. The proportions are a little off, but I felt happy with the cast shadow and highlights. The embossed lettering is okay, but I need to work on lettering on curved surfaces. Speaking of Milk, drawing my bottle invoked so many memories of getting milk delivered by the milkman and of school. 

The murmur of the milk float signaled the start of the day for most of my life in the UK where I grew up and lived for 36 years. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the opening of the gate, footsteps up the path and the clinking and clanging of glass on the front door step as clean empty bottles were replaced with bottles of milk. In the summer, it was a rush to get the bottles in the fridge before the milk curdled. And in the winter when the grounds were frozen, the rush was to get to the bottles before the birds could peck out the foil tops for a drink, and or, before the milk froze. While milk delivery invokes memories of nostalgia, they also raise bitter feelings that leave a nasty taste in my mouth of being made to drink milk out of the tiny bottles at Primary school. (elementary school in the USA). 

I hated milk unless it was freezing cold or had chocolate in it. I could bear a little bit on my cereal or porridge. During the summer, the milk would be outside the school class rooms long before us kids arrived. During the warmer months, by the time we got to drink the milk, it would be warm and sometimes even off. Most of the kids would drink it anyway, but my stomach would churn, and I would almost dry heave at the smell. If I was quick enough, I could pour strategically position myself near the classroom sink and pour it down the drain before the teacher could spot me. Unfortunately, she spotted me once and thereinafter, she would watch me drink it. To this day, I cannot and will not drink milk straight. Not even out of the fridge. I swear some teachers go into the profession to torture kids; except for art teachers of course... 

Vintage Absolutely Pure Milk Bottle in Graphite

vintage Milk Bottle

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Drawing Django

Remember my blog on Georges Monnot ? Well, he shares something in common with Django Reinhardt. They both share the same graveyard in the little French village of Samois-sur-Seine just outside Fontainebleau. And while Georges isn’t famous like Django, I just wanted to put long forgotten Georges into the spotlight. Now my tribute to Django. 

I have listened and learned more about Django. I won’t tell his life story because many books and movies tell his story better than this blog post ever could. However, a few things do impress me about him.

Django Reinhardt learned to play violin when he was twelve simply by watching the fingers of musicians playing. He also played the banjo and guitar. Even a horrible fire in which he suffered terrible burns to his body including fingers didn’t stop him from playing. Sadly, like Georges, he died way too young at age 43 from a brain hemorrhage. 

I have my husband to thank for getting me into Gypsy Jazz and introducing me to Django. So when he called me at work one day and said that there was a Django festival in Fontainebleau, I immediate said, “Book the tickets, and we’ll worry about flights later!”  

We got our festival tickets, and I was excited and delighted to attended the Django Festival in Fontainebleau just outside Paris. There are Django Festivals held around the world in his honor every year. It felt wonderful to spend four days near his home town of Samois-sur-Seine. Breakfast in the tiny village listening to gypsy jazz bands in the warm sunshine; people chatting, coffee, more coffee, sun, pastries, ice water, tapping feet, all completed the scene of French village life.

The atmosphere at the festival in Fontainebleau was as delightful, and very laid back with amazing impromptu jam sessions that sprung up just about everywhere. People who didn’t know each other were bought together, played together, and united through music. Music does that. It is universal. What a wonderful thing that is. 

In my opinion, Django is a musical genius despite never learning to read music. We will return, and next time I will contribute to Django’s guitar pic collection left on his grave. I will also lay a rose for Django’s nearby neighbor, Georges. 

Meanwhile, I continue my battle with faces. My little sketch tribute to Django. I will try to do him more just as I get better. 

Django Reinhardt - Graphite

Reference photo. My goal is to try this in charcoal which will provide much darker shading...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Crystal Balls

As my new drawing journey continues, I am discovering a whole new world. Artists help me see things I never really paid particular attention to before. It is like having a new set of eyes that now see the shapes of things, how an object absorbs light, reflections, and shadows. It was only just a while ago that I was trying to draw some ancient glass flasks that I saw in the museum of Israel. I just never really captured the effect of glass. A friend recently challenged me to draw a Klein bottle which I will. That will be a whole other blog. 

Before attempting to draw the Klein bottle, I decided that I really must learn how to draw glass. So I returned to YouTube, and after watching various other artists who were all good, I discovered the Artist Leonardo Pereznieto who drew a beautiful crystal ball like magic... He made it look so easy. I watched a couple more of his tutorials on drawing glass and immediately bought his book, “Simply Techniques for Realistic Drawings” which I am more than happy with. Leonardo is an artist who has exhibited his work in various counties throughout Europe; America, and Seoul, South Korea. I recommend his book, and   
YouTube Channel. Now back to my drawing board. 

With my new materials recommended by Leonardo, and after following his step by step instructions, I finally got something to resemble his glass ball on my practice sketch pad. Now I felt comfortable repeating the exercise on my better paper.

I was excited about using my new fine Fabriano paper that Leonardo had recommended in his book. Oh yeah, I am learning a fair bit about paper. Did you know paper have teeth? No, neither did I. I digress.  When I get anything new, I am always excited, but nervous when using something for the first time. It’s kind of like not wanting to dirty a pair of new running shoes.  So what do I do immediately applying my graphic stick broadside to tone the paper? Scratch the paper with the stick!  That is a huge deal to someone who has an anal retentive issue about using things for the first time. Well that was a live and learn moment. I learned not to skirt around spending $14 on a packet of graphite powder, or use my toned paper. Always invest in the right materials for the job. I did like how my new Fabriano paper absorbed the graphite. The rest of my drawing went smoothly. 

So here is my end result. You can see what I mean by the scratching, and line marks resulting in very uneven toning. Although, the photo does make it look slightly worse. 

My crystal ball 

Crystal ball - Leonardo Pereznieto 

Notice the difference in toning of the background as well as his gradations. This is definitely a project I will repeat — with Graphite powder. 

Drawing is often like visiting another town. There is always something you miss, and each time you revisit, you get to know the town just that little bit better. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Georges Monnot and Me

It’s been two years since I met Georges in Samois-sur-Seine two years ago. We had returned again to the northern region of France to see the Django Rheinhardt festival held each year in Fontainebleu. This picturesque village was where Django and Georges lived, and originally where the gypsy jazz guitarist held the festival. Samois is such a beautiful place with a typical little square with cafes, bars and patisseries. A distant church bell chiming on the hour added to the ambiance of village life here.  A gypsy jazz band playing in the square was part of the the festival before it grew so big that they had to move it to Fontainebleu. It was fun to people watch sitting out side in the morning sunshine. Everyone engaged in conversation, coffee, and drink, made me feel happy.  As engaging and interesting to watch the crowds were, there was another man not far away from this bustling little square who captured my eye. 

Georges was someone way too young to belong in a graveyard along with Django also too young. Yet here Georges was in this lonely little grave yard. Those who had his memory are also long gone. I wondered if he enjoyed the village square like I did, enjoying coffee, and gypsy jazz. 

Georges was such a handsome young man who apparently was a deportee, and all that is left of him is a photo, and plaque in this tiny little village on the Seine just outside Fontainebleau. His young face and piercing eyes held me long enough to read that he was a deportee during the second world war, and thus transported to one of the many concentration camps in a cattle truck cramped in with many others. 

What a story this young man if he had lived could have told. Sadly, it is the same story over and over for many... Too many. My sketches are poor and don’t serve this young man justice. I yearn to know more about him, but I probably never will. As I work on his little face, I wonder who he was; was he in love? What about his family? His personality? Was he into gypsy jazz, and danced to Django..? Did he play? Everything about him I want to know, but never will. All I can learn about him is the shading of his features, and how to draw. He is teaching me with his mesmerizing gaze. I hope that maybe he escaped? I hope, but deep down know, that this young man most likely suffered before his untimely death. No matter what, a young man doesn’t belong in a graveyard at 21 years old. That leaves me sad. 

I didn’t draw the surrounding plaque. I want him to be alive and be who he could have been. I would like to tell his story, but this is one story I cannot tell, except my story and my discovery of him. There were too many Georges of World War II. This is my tribute to him and all deportees of France. 

Georges, I will keep drawing you, and one day you will hopefully be immortalized in a charcoal drawing of mine. For now, here you are in Graphite. 

Georges Mennot 1945 age 21 years old. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Around in Circles

My father always used to say, “Why stand up when you can sit down, and why sit down when you can lie down?” I was quick to adopt that line of thinking after trying to draw a circle free hand as suggested by an online tutorial on things to practice. Practice I did, but after filling a sheet of ovals, and scrawls that looked like a two year old let loose with my tools, I eyed my compass set longingly. I eventually relented. First, my journey towards the compass leading me to my final destination of a ball-bearing. 

I persisted a little bit more with my circle drawing. The circle was not perfect, but I rolled with my “spherical” creation and got to work on the shading per a couple of tutorials. The shading turned out a little better than my free-hand circle-drawing. The small drawing on my scratch paper resembled a rather nice tomato which was completely unintended, but that’s okay. I like tomatoes. Usually, still life is drawn with a real life visual or a photo. I chose an image of a fancy expensive ball-bearing. More on ball-bearings later as they have a fascinating history. Bear with me. 

The objective of the sphere-drawing exercise was to get practice with shading objects, and highlights with a realistic shadow. My larger free hand orb, turned into a loaf of squarish bread. It was this result that I applied my father’s rule of thumb about sitting up when one can lie down. 

So why try to draw a circle free hand when I have a tool called a compass that does the job perfectly? I decided to employ the easiest, and most comfortable route that would draw a perfect circle. I relented to the compass beckoning to me and reminding me of what perfect circles it can draw.

I quickly had a perfect circle at the size I wanted rather than what my hand thought I wanted. I could focus on the goal of magically turning my circle into a sphere by practicing what I had been shown in the online tutorials which by the way are fantastic. So yes, while I agree it is good practice to draw shapes free-hand, if I want to produce a perfect sphere, I will employ my compass for the task! 

My first sphere was done using a method of pre-determining the light source and shadow using some geometry by using ellipses to determine the where the light hits the surface, and the light fades to dark, and how long the shadow will be using points on the sphere.. I thought that was fascinating. I used graphite for the first sphere on my small sketch/practice pad, and then turned to charcoal pencils for my larger piece. 

And finally to round things off, my final sphere (ball-bearing) drawn with a compass and charcoal pencils (I used my stick willow charcoal for the background.) I feel reasonable happy with the result although my shadow could probably have been a bit longer. I’ll round off now with a little more about ball-bearings. 

So why a ball bearing? Ball-bearings are quite a simple technology. Their usage dates back to ancient Egyptians who used rollers to move large stones. They used the technology to build the pyramids (sorry Erich Von Däniken fans). The rollers were made of wood. Leonardo di Vinci is credited with inventing the ball bearing in a racer groove designed to reduce friction between two moving surfaces. However, the first patent was awarded almost 300 years later to Philip Vaughan, an Iron master from Carmarthen in 1794. 
I find it fascinating how this ancient technology is still employed in various applications, and improved upon. Nowadays, ball bearing are a bit more complex and the technology expanded to take care of shifting loads and forces. They are made of various metals like stainless steel, chrome, silicon nitride (ceramic), and titanium carbide.

Ball-bearings are virtually everywhere. Where this is a rotational moving part in an appliance, or machinery you will find ball-bearings. Off the wall applications are skate boards, and fidget spinners (remember those?).

Another little interesting factoid is that ball-bearing factories were often the targets of bombing raids by the the British in WWII that would severely hobble the German war industry. That’s how significant ball-bearings are. So, here’s to balls, big, and small, where would we be with out them all?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Drawing Adventures

This week, I have been immersing myself in watching videos about drawing and learning about new media. I took the sound advice of an acquaintance who is an artist and suggested that I try “conte”. I was clueless. So off to YouTube I go. The art work produced by conte is splendid. The artists I watched work like magicians where images of amazing 18th century-like artwork evolves before your eyes. 

Conte also has an interesting history. During the Napoleonic Wars, graphite became scarce due to blockades preventing its import into France. So in 1795, a French man called, Nicolas Jacque Conté developed a drawing medium by combining clay and graphite. 

What is also nice about this medium, natural pigments are used to get the different colors. Some of the pigments are simply oxides of various metals such as iron and titanium. 

My first adventure with this media was obviously to draw something, but first, I watched a beautiful YouTube video of an artist sketching something that quickly morphed into a fresco-cherub. That was far too ambition for my liking. However, I thought why not try...? I wanted to draw something that reminded me of our trip to France and flicked through my online photos from our 2017 trip to Paris. And there she was; a beautiful nymph with hair adorned with leaves blowing in the wind.  

I sketched the tiny face of the nymph that I saw in the art work inside a wonderful restaurant, Le precope in Paris. I was determined to draw something French which would remind me of the wonderful day and evening meal that we shared with friends.  

I practiced first on my smaller pad with just a good old B2 graphite pencil. It didn’t take long. I had to chuckle when she turned into a pixie with her ear in the wrong place and a little on the large side, but she is my first portrait, and she has since grown on me. I like her. 

Watching drawing videos feels a bit like watching cooking shows where the cake comes out perfectly. And it looks so easy! So now, this is what my nymph’s face is suppose to look like. She is also accompanied by a poem: 

“the nympho of the shore with fish makes war in the month when raging winds on the waters make it return to the river and return to the earth the meadow where the flowers bring back the birds” 

I will revisit this Nymph again armed with conte. Now onto what I did manage to draw with conte.

Finally, I decided to sketch something much simpler. Another memory sprang to life when I came across a photo of a leather-bound edition of my favorite novel, Madame Bovary on a stall along the Seine Embankment. I love walking along there and onto Shakespeare and Co. across the street. At €250, I could only have the book as a distant memory. I have the book in a form I created from the photo. Alas, I can’t feel the old leather, and gently turn the aged pages, but I can turn the pages of my sketch pad and relive fabulous memories through the tips of graphite, charcoal, and now conte. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Galilee Man

Meet Galilee  “man” or woman. The museum of Israel were careful not to misgender this ancient hominid from approximately 250,000 ya. 

I felt excited about drawing something so old. I’ve drawn things much older but drawing an ancient human felt special. Alas, after I completed my drawing, I discovered during my research on Galilee man that the fossilized skull was a cast! The actual fossil is housed in the Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, my “ancient” model still provided an opportunity for me to practice my new love affair with charcoal, and recall memories of the amazing rainy afternoon that I spent in the archeological part of the Israel Museum. I knew then that I had to return to drawing, and took photos with drawing the subjects in mind.

Months after my Israel trip, I finally resumed drawing and purchased various new tools for my planned projects. My new collection of tools includes compressed, and willow charcoal. Like all artists, opinions vary on different mediums. Personally, I am favoring willow over compressed charcoal partly, because it is much more forgiving, and easier for smudging. I am still learning about the different affects produced from the varying hardness and softness of the different types of charcoal. 

Back to Galilee Man, after all, the piece really is all about him, or her. I feel like I have something in common with him since he too has been cooped up in a cave for ages. Granted it has not been 250,000 years for me, but it sure feels like it. Galilee man was discovered in 1925 by Francis Turville-Petre and taken from Zuttiyeu Cave. Galilee man belongs to the taxonomy Homo heidelbergensis. H. Heidelbergensis was dispersed throughout Europe, and Eastern and Southern Africa. Fellow H.sapiens, he is our ancestor! I hope the rest of the family like this old fossil’s portrait... He sort of looks like Darth Vada, doesn’t he? 

Photo of Galilee Man cast is mine. Drawing, Charcoal 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

From Milk to Booze

My drawing experience is growing with a main focus on still life right now. I eyed my vintage Coors pot on top of the kitchen cabinets where it had been collecting grease and dust for how long, I would rather not say! Also, I am proud of this bargain that I found in a junk job for what was $100 marked down to $30. I should really treat it more nicely. 

Before I could begin to use the pot as a still life piece, I had to start with a clean piece. After all, I did not want to mess with trying to sketch the accumulated brown grease.. (I must look up more often). 

The pot was a lot more challenging in part because I should have chosen a lighter medium. I did the lid with a medium willow charcoal which is thankfully very forgiving. For the pot, I used 4B graphite. I should have stayed with 2B which was my original intent. I had recently learned that it is a rule of thumb to keep lights mediums and darks together while combining charcoal and graphite. Also not to overlay the two mediums. I though the 4B would go with medium charcoal. Now I see that obviously, 4B is a dark rather than lighter graphite. We live and learn. 

Speaking of learning, I was curious about how Coors came to produce Malt Milk. It turns out that Coors turned to the manufacture of milk during prohibition. The equipment and processes used to manufacture beer is the same for malt milk. Coors stopped manufacturing malted milk in 1957. 

Another surprise while researching the story behind Coors and their Pure Malted Milk, I discovered that my prize was worth even more than originally thought. I found it on Ebay for $498! It deserves a second sitting for another still life. Next time with lighter medium. Perhaps all charcoal or all graphite. I haven’t decided. 

Meanwhile, my work is done, I will conclude it with a beer — absolutely not Coors though... Sorry Coors, but you should have suck to Pure Malted Milk. I like your vintage pots though.