Archive for February, 2019

Experimentation: unbalanced – 3

At the beginning of the year (3-Jan-2019) I introduced an experimentation brief to get beyond words on unbalance (etc!), to research and actually do something:

* explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like
* illustrate off-balance most days and document for 30 days.

That post showed results for days 1 to 9.
14-Jan-2019 had days up to 16.

Research on other artists’ works were seen:
Additional images are pinned at

I won’t get to the intended 30 days, but have a few scattered days as yet unrecorded.

Day 17
In the Anatomy for Life Drawing class (16-Feb-2019), David Briggs introduced a few useful phone apps.

Essential Skeleton and Essential Anatomy seem to be aimed at students of general anatomy. They let you explore a highly-detailed anatomical model, panning around, zooming in, highlighting specific areas… The anatomy version allows you to show layers of different systems – arteries, nerves, muscles etc.

Skelly is a posable art model. You can bend and twist the model, select the lighting source, with a choice of skeleton or robo (simplified forms) views. A first attempt at posing:

Skelly output

and using some distortion filters in gimp to add more movement:

Day 18
More Skelly.

Day 19
The last couple of months have been difficult – on so many different fronts that it seemed no aspect of life wasn’t difficult. Does that make it a great time or a dreadful time to be thinking about un-balance?

A thought of juggling all those stessors… then add a unicycle… while drowning… and the sharks moving in. Somewhere in that bellringing appeared, holding a bell at the point of balance. I captured it all in small and quick sketches.

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How does juggling on a unicycle actually look?

Then add in the water, and uncaught balls bouncing away.

Augmented photo

I wanted to get the essence of those forms, and traced again and again.

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A few other oddments:
Dr Christopher Allen giving a lecture on Greek figure sculpture at AGNSW – balance / equilibrium absolutely central in all sculpture. I think this was in the context of the purely practical – a sculpture can’t (shouldn’t?) fall over.

Destination Sydney: Re-imagined at Mosman Art Gallery (and other venues)

Senegal Friend (1974)
Michael Johnson

Look at that orange muscling the yellow.

The gallery put on an event Reflections on my Father: Anna Johnson & Andrew Klippel in conversation with Annette Larkin. Lots of interest and to think about, with a couple of points possibly relevant here.
Being an artist: Take a position. Investigate that.
Matthew Johnson’s work: A tension between geometric rigidity and gestural freedom.

Hélène Cixous: reading some of her work in preparation for the Creative Research program. Phrases stick. “immobilized in the trembling equilibrium of a deadlock.” “Don’t move, you might fall.” “… a material upheaval when every structure is for a moment thrown off balance and an ephemeral wildness sweeps order away…” “She doesn’t ‘speak’, she throws her trembling body forward, she lets go of herself, she flies…” “… infinitely dynamized by an incessant process of exchange from one subject to another.” I seem to be cherry picking and quoting out of context (all the above from The Laugh of the Medusa”). But it feels relevant.

Gillian Lowndes

Gillian Lowndes
Cup on Base
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The balance investigation really began three years ago in an earlier workshop with Ruth Hadlow (26-Feb-2016). I’ve been revisiting some of Gillian Lowndes work on-line and in a monograph by Amanda Fielding. An image from that is below.

Collage with cup (1986)
Gillian Lowndes

I tried a very quick collage in my workbook, but felt constrained by the space I’d given myself and the scale of the papers I chose (An aside: based on their texture and colour – some natural dyeing done with Claire 4-Apr-2015 and watercolour experiments from a class with Brenda Tye at AGNSW, unblogged but I think 2014. I love the way resonance and a sense of connection and familiarity builds up with materials.)

So what’s next
I may have made a few traps for myself.

The intention is to be clear about the start point and see where it takes me, but my start point is getting more and more muddled.

I want to work intuitively, not overthink, perhaps learn to trust myself, but based on the collage above among other things, it could be better to take just a moment to collect myself – try to improve, not just blindly repeat.

* is it the teetering moment, the collapse, the boundary between? Create a pile each day, (try to) push it over. Record. Then think about it.
* Try to notice the feeling in myself or something in the environment that fits in the scope of the exploration (say a crane swinging above workers; or mine memory). Notice, record, reflect.
* I’ve experimented with a couple of writing exercises, trying to teeter and collapse.

I’m going to use this in my initial project proposal, and assume that Ruth’s input (and that of the group) will entirely change it 🙂

Workshop: David Briggs – Anatomy for Life Drawing

The first large chunk of this post was drafted a month ago, before all sorts of events in family and work. It feels distant and strange now, as I try to pick up and regroup. Still, no point throwing things away, so my chatty intro remains…

This week-long class was part of summer school at the National Art School. It was absorbing – both the focus on the work which was intense, and also soaking up every skerrick, every shred of strength of mind and body. At the end of each day I knew I had learnt, but pretty much all I felt was exhausted.

A little scene-setting. NAS is housed in what was once the Darlinghurst Goal, a complex of buildings built in the 1800s using huge blocks of sandstone cut using convict labour. Two years ago I went to the second week of summer school, attempting Welded Sculptures with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017). Week 2 was small and quiet then. The welding area was in a newish block, tucked into a corner. I went back and forward, focused on the class, not the place.

NAS ex-chapel

The drawing class was in the centre of the complex, in the old goal chapel. It’s a barrel-shaped building, with the drawing studio a large room taking up the top two thirds.

There were lunchtime talks in the Cell Block theatre, once the women’s wing of the goal. Another talk and exhibition was in the NAS Gallery, the old “A” wing completed in 1841. I borrowed from the library, formerly I believe the goal hospital.

With all that, by my calculations the site has been used for education, particularly art education, for longer than as a prison. Although the site was pegged out in 1821, delays in work meant the first prisoners were marched in in 1841. Over time other goals were built, prisoners moved, the goal closed in 1914 and the site became an internment camp during World War I. So about 80 years confining people. In 1921 the buildings were converted into the East Sydney Technical College, and in 1922 the Department of Art was moved in. The specifics of institution and courses have changed over time, but it’s getting close to 100 years of expanding and enriching people.

My view of the world

While conscious of a sense of history and of all the other activities of summer school. my major focus for the week was this little slice of the world. We moved around a bit, but basically this was it.

chapel ceiling

The roof, and ceiling, of the studio is a cone ending in a cupola and the many high windows create an even light, but unfortunately are fixed closed reducing air flow.

The even light would have been a problem if wanting to explore shadows and shading in our drawings. We didn’t. We focused on the first minute, then two minutes, of a drawing. Get the overall shape, claim the space on your page. Look to get particular information – a flat shape, alignments, proportion, line of action. Use an alternate three dimensional view – a series of masses, related, overlapping. Find lines; rehearse; keep light; adjust. Research the shape. Explain as an arrangement of the masses of the body – head, ribcage, pelvis.

Over the week David gradually introduced more signposts to help us. Using a skeleton David showed the structure of the body, then pointed to the indications of those bones on the body of the live model. The thoracic arch was an early, easy example. Use those signposts to explain, to check, to adjust, your drawing. For instance the position of heel bone and ankle bone gives you more information about the direction of the leg, where weight is held.

By the end of the week I had over 150 different full body poses sketched to varying levels of detail, plus sketches of hands, feet, eyes, face… All were graphite, lightly drawn on white cartridge paper. Hard to photograph and quite boring. While trying to improve contrast I got some wilder results. Here are a few pages.

One afternoon we had two models. The main purpose was to let us break into two groups and get close for some detail drawings, but we also had a few poses with the two working together. So much fun!

Click for a larger view

The final image above shows three attempts at a single pose. On the far left, my very stiff and awkward first attempt. To its right, David’s demonstration – so much more movement and grace! Next my second attempt, which shows some improvement and scope for so much more. The figure on the right doesn’t seem impressed.

I certainly improved over the week. The big thing would be regular practice to consolidate and improve further, but I can’t see a way to fit that in at the moment. Working from a photo in a book or on the internet isn’t the same. There’s the size in the eyes, but I think binocular vision – a single three dimensional image – is critical.

Vale “Nancy”

Betty Nolan 6 December 1923 – 24 January 2019

My mother-in-law Betty recently died. Betty was a quiet and unassuming woman who described herself as a “home body”. Her focus was always her family, pets and home. Betty’s taste was simple, elegant, quiet. She never liked a fuss, a crowd, or to be the centre of attention.

Growing up in the depression years in a working class inner-city suburb of Sydney, Betty won educational scholarships but had to leave school early to earn her living. Learning advanced secretarial skills and with a gift for organisation, Betty worked in a series of small business around the city. She would replace chaos with order and efficiency, then move on to the next challenge.

The Grace Hotel
Photo: Edward Howard

During World War II Betty was assigned to work in the Sydney headquarters of the U.S. armed forces. It was there in the Grace Building in late 1945 that Betty met her future husband, visiting as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army. It was five years before they could marry, Ken earning a medical degree during that time, Betty continuing to work. Ken died in 1971 aged 49, a result in part of illness related to his war service and of a punishing schedule as a GP. Their two boys were just 12 and 14.

Betty was a welcoming, kind and thoughtful mother-in-law to me. She always offered help. She never interfered. Betty was a loving and much loved nana to my two boys.

Entirely by chance, on her last day both Betty’s sons visited her in the nursing home where she had lived for almost nine years. Betty was happy, lucid, interested and involved in the conversation. Just an hour or two after the boys left Betty was found, apparently having drifted off in a nap. Betty endured some hard times over recent years, always with grace, humility and concern for others. Her death in this way seemed like a gift, everything that she would have wished for.

Last week in what is now the Grace Hotel we had a quiet memorial gathering – Betty’s two sons, her two grandsons, me and my mother. We shared stories about the life of this loving, resilient, generous woman. We ate strawberries with cream and icing sugar (a favourite my boys remembered). There were white daises, there was laughter, and there were a few tears shed when we played “Danny Boy”.

It may seem strange to introduce this personal note in a blog focused on art and making. In fact, under the pseudonym “Nancy”, Betty has appeared more times in this blog than any other individual. It’s not a good story. The last decade of Betty’s life was not of her choosing, and I have been angry about her situation for so long now.

Betty (“Nancy”)

This is one view of Betty, ink pen and wash, based on an old photo, in a 2012 sketchbook. The photo was taken at a happy time in her life, and in it she looks beautiful. You can see a copy of the photo at the top of this post, at Betty’s memorial gathering.

A month later I did a pencil sketch while visiting her (the face on the left). A very ordinary drawing of a woman resigned to her fate.

My final project for the OCA Textiles 1: A Creative Approach course was “Aged Care”. My view of Betty’s situation:
Trapped and in pain, bound by merciless platitudes and good intentions.

There was a lot of material leading to that. Below I’ve copied in the set of links to the process.

Part five: A piece of your own

Quick links to theme work prior to Part five:

Project 10: A design project

Sketchbook during time period of Part Five: Sketchbook 6

It’s six years since that project was done. I continued to visit each Sunday afternoon, bringing little stories of the doings and foibles of myself, family and friends. Betty would laugh at the little sillinesses I recounted, and remember snippets long after I forgot. We’d talk about TV shows, the weather, sometimes current affairs. I learnt never to ask how she was, never to wish her happy birthday, never to stay when her supper came because she didn’t want me to see her struggling to eat (no solids – her dentures were too painful to use). The worst hour of my week gradually got shorter as her strength failed, or would be abandoned if there was another bout of gastro. Betty didn’t want to show her pain. I looked forward to her release for her sake, and I was so happy at the gift of her final day. I just didn’t anticipate the void of her loss in my own life.


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Calendar of Posts

February 2019

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