I know it’s February 2017, but I insist that I’m not late with #inktober2016, I’m simply still going!

The Moleskine sketchbook I bought for it arrived late. No matter, I thought, I’ll soon catch up. Then I lost a couple more days testing inks and means of application on the unfamiliar paper. Too many days to do it justice, I thought, I gave up and put it aside. Rolling forward a few weeks I forgot all about it.

Then, after following James Gurney for years, admiring his facility with brush and pen, the thought occurred from nowhere that his study of calligraphy and signwriting were significant influences on his painting. That, I thought, is how one can include some, or all, or reference to, the sign in the sketch with a clunky brush – not just practice but a particular kind of practice.

I began. With pen and brush and ink. Lots of ink.

I’m still going.

And yes, the impact of just a couple of hands (Foundational and brush Italic) and only four months practice has had a significant impact on my sketching too.

Staedtler Lumograph black


Staedtler have made a new version of their trusty Lumograph pencils, that are as good as the old ones, but solve an enormous problem. The very thing that makes graphite beautiful – that silvery lustre – loses it’s subtlety when photographed. Great in a gallery, not great online. These days, when one is far more likely to share one’s work via social media, than a social occasion – that’s a problem.

I use graphite a lot, but end up with little to show on Instagram because I am not going to share something that looks nothing like the work in front of me.

In the photo above – comparing four grades of the Black pencils against the same in the original Lumographs – it’s easy to see the dulling in the middle tones of the graphite – the 4b and 6b look pretty much the same. In the real they’re as close to matching as I could make them, in a reasonable amount of time on ordinary cartridge paper.  Now, I am certain that special paper and a pro photographer with fancy lights could make it come out looking right, but who has that on hand for capturing a sketch to put on Twitter?


And with just four grades – 2B thru 8B – one can do a passable rendition of a 10 step Munsell scale and photograph that too. I’m impressed.

lumograph_black_pointsI can hear someone our there muttering that the same value range with a matte finish can be had with charcoal. True, but it isn’t going to offer up a super long point via an electric sharpener (or helical crank or a KUM long point) and be tough enough to scribble and shade with abandon. I think we’re talking graphite tough with charcoal benefits.

Long point sharpeners

Long point sharpeners

I love to work with graphite and chew through a lot of pencils in doing so. Seriously, I buy them by the box… I am also very fussy about the point,  they have to be long and sharp, but I don’t want to waste time with knife and sandpaper because I would rather be drawing. Achieving that holy grail of getting reliable, fast and long has seen a great many frustrations and waste along the way.

The current line up includes three solutions for my three situations.

Long point pencils

The KUM Long Point sharpener is cheap and portable. Not the cheapest pencil sharpener if compared with those on offer at the supermarket, but the cheapest way to get a long point. It lives in my sketch kit for touchups on the go. I usually carry four pencils pre-sharpened, protected with some sort of cover (currently the Faber Castell 2001 eraser caps because they are pretty much the only thing available here). With the KUM along to keep them going, I can draw for hours.

My studio sharpener was, for many years, one of the old Staedtler Mars Rotary 501-20s. I wore it out. Giving up on it and throwing it away was difficult, made even more so, when I realised that I wasn’t going to be getting another from the stationery store. The new model is OK, but does not deliver quite as sharp a point my old one did. It is still the studio workhorse. Maybe I’m doing something wrong? I love that the plastic claws don’t scratch up the pencil body as many crank sharpeners do.

The past few months have seen me confined to a small room in the house (because my studio is unheated, my version of asthma is triggered by cold air and I’ve been ill). Undeterred, I got help to make room for an easel, improved the lighting as much as I could and figured what media is compatible with a small space and a dodgy set of breathing anatomy. Graphite, of course. Unfortunately there is no right-hand desk edge to which to clamp the Staedtler so thoughts of, maybe, buying a second one evaporated. That’s how the electric Ledah arrived in my life. Look at that point!

Life drawing. With a difference…

Dr Sketchy

Dr Sketchy

A friend mentioned this ages ago. I promptly forgot about until it popped up out of the grey matter, as it does, for no good reason other than needing a blog post in order to procrastinate on the painting I’m supposed to be getting on with. (I will, I will. In a minute…) Thus, I am not speaking first hand (yet…)

Created by New Yorker Molly Crabapple Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School is a life drawing session with a distinctly burlesque flavour. Molly draws saucy Victoriana for magazines and used to work as a life model during art school. She thought they were boring and decided to take a stab at the medium. Thus, Dr Sketchy’s was born. Molly has been running Dr Sketchy’s in New York since 2005.

How different?

In normal life classes, silent students sit in a silent room and draw a bored, oft-uninteresting model. In Dr. Sketchy’s we’ve got scandalous performers as models. We’ve got ridiculous art contests (best incorporation of a woodland animal? Best imagined costume?), comedic skits good music and flashy prizes. We’ve got a selection of posh beverages – alcoholic and not – available to buy. At Dr Sketchy’s we don’t care if you picked up a pad yesterday or 50 years ago. Come to drink or to draw. We’re happy to have you.

Clearly popular, as a quick Google will attest, Dr Sketchy has spread as far as San Francisco, London, Phoenix, Melbourne, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Scotland, Tokyo, Austin and even, Perth.


Dr Sketchy’s takes place once a month on a Wednesday at The Burlesque Lounge which is upstairs at 267 William Street, Northbridge (the old Ginger’s Garage). The next one:

When: 7pm, Wednesday 26th August Model: Clara Cupcakes Cost: $15 on the door

Sounds like fun, Amanda

New life drawing group

A quick note for the locals… There’s a brand new Monday afternoon life drawing session at the Opera Studio in Midland. The next session is on the 20th April and weekly thereafter. 2pm until 5pm, be there at 1.30pm to set up The cost is $12 for the three hour session.

You’ll need to bring all your own equipment but there are easels available should you want to save a bit of lugging. If you’re a messy drawer a drop sheet would be a good idea! Tea and coffee provided. As there’s some building activity in the vicinity, which may clog parking, it might be best to park over the road at the shopping centre until something is sorted out.

To get there: go through the Town Hall / Crossways lights heading east on Great Eastern Hwy. The Australian Opera Studio is on the left on the corner of Cale St. The entry is on Cale St. It’s the red building on the left..

View Larger Map

Please come along and support us. We need numbers so that this can become a regular session and also kick off further drawing activities at the Opera Studio cultural centre. There’s the possibility of a second group on another day, portrait drawing sessions, workshops and a gallery space.

Life drawing. Lately…

Life drawing

Been meaning to do this for a while – show a couple of recent drawings and compare them with some from a year or more ago. Also want to talk a bit about why I still think life drawing is important. Drawing from life is, for me, an exercise in getting better at drawing. Accuracy isn’t everything of course – expressiveness matters too – but in this case I believe correct comes before creative.

Back at the cliff face I can always adapt or abandon when the absolute doesn’t suit my purposes. It’s about having that choice. The improvement filters through to all my drawing but the figure is good exercise because the human eye is so attuned to the human body that we can see inaccuracies immediately. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean we know how to fix them…

Getting a drawing right and knowing how to patch it up when it’s not, are skills that are learned like any other: from study and practice. Sorry, there’s no other way. On the study side I’ve paid a lot of attention to both anatomy and perspective, considering them the basic tools. These I gathered from classes, video and books, all of which have their place. Video and books suit me better than classes because I can go back over the material as often as I need to in order to retain what I’m learning. Or go back to when practice has me seeing better and asking different questions – things I probably glossed over as too difficult or too subtle on earlier readings.

The practice side of the equation is simply a matter of turning up and trying my best. I’ll admit that just getting there is hard to do, especially in the midst of winter. It’s amazing how small the gathering is when it’s cold or rainy. Noticeable that it’s always the same faces then, week after week…

Equally difficult is staying the course of the evening. Those last poses are tough when my feet are sore from standing, my lower back aches (don’t know why with that one) and I’m tired from the concentration. Even then, however, I’ll resist the urge to grab a chair because I know I really need to be able to step back from the easel to be able to see what I’m doing. Strangely enough, my best drawing is usually that last one. Even if I am physically a bit miserable my brain seems to have warmed up. Or maybe my left brain is so tuned into the discomfort, my right brain can get at the task without interruption!

Still got a way to go, of course, but that’s why I’ll be there on Wednesday night. If you’re up for it we meet at the old Mechanics Hall in Guildford, chipping in $10 to pay the model and the wine. We start at 6.30pm. See you there.



Charcoal City – day 3

Charcoal City

Here are a few pics of the scene so far. Looking good and with just two days to go likely to finish on time too. Thank goodness.

The walls we’re covering here are over 3m (9ft) high…

The toughest part of a collaborative project is keeping one’s temper amongst a large group of tired and cranky artists crammed into a small space – day after day after day… That is what one really learns in a project like this: how to choose partners for future shows!!!

Charcoal City




More life drawing…

A sucker for punishment I am. Last week saw me tackling two life drawing sessions at different venues in the one day – and that after a drawing class in the morning. All up I drew for nine hours. Many drawings later, here are just a couple.

In charcoal…

Life drawings with charcoal on brown paper


And graphite…

 Life drawing with graphite on cartridge paper


And yes, I can see a difference. I’m more comfortable and the drawings are getting better. I can’t say whether it’s the persistent practice or the anatomy study that’s making it happen. Whatever. I’ll keep up with both.


Oh dear, no model…

Life Drawing at the Midland Art Group was looking a bit unpromising last night. We usually start at around 7pm but the model was late and it was a smaller turnout too. Probably due to school holidays and the particularly horrible ‘flu that’s going around. Not to worry, it just meant there would be plenty of room – some weeks it’s so busy we work two deep with some artists with sketchbooks and drawing boards sitting in front of those standing with easels. Waiting, waiting. Anyway, come 7.10pm and still no model. Ben, who runs the group is on the phone and finally makes contact only to find that she too has taken ill. Oh no. He was looking really worried. You see around Perth there’s another life group somewhere, run by someone called Gary. Now I don’t know who Gary is, but rumour has it that in that group a no show model has Gary taking on the role himself. Ben is on the phone, armed with a list of numbers trying very, very hard to find another model. “Motivated” would be a good description…

Persistence paid off when a he managed to contact a girl, via a referral, who just happened to be at the video store, a mere three minutes away… A sigh of relief from a very grateful group of artists, led by an even more grateful co-ordinator.

Meanwhile, everyone else had been sitting around sipping wine and coffee, relaxing and actually enjoying getting to know one another rather than sweating over hot charcoal as we usually do. Life drawing is serious work for most of us. Does one ever get good enough to have fun rather than just tense concentration? It’s exhausting work.