Monday, December 28, 2015

How singing in a choir has helped my painting.

I have had these thoughts floating around in my head for a few months and now that I am back to putting in some sustained hours in the studio, I think they are clear enough to me to communicate to you.

Indulge me here...  I know greater minds than mine have theorised about art and music, but my focus is smaller and more specific, - ie. choir singing and MY painting.

For a non-musically-trained person like me (great music lover though) exploring another art form from the inside (choir member) has made me aware of various parallels.

Being part of a group of singers and surrounded by a rich sound has made me question, -

"What is it that really makes this work"?  and
"What can I learn from it"?

The obvious components of the composition of a choir, - the bass line, the tenors, the altos and on top of it all the sopranos, have a natural and perceptible parallel in the aspects of a painting.

Bass - darker tones and rhythm
Tenor - the composition itself, the geometry, the subject, the guts of the story
Altos - supporting mid-tones, texture?
Soprano - brightest colour? melody? highlights?

It goes without saying that all these things are important and that they have to come together.

This is just a simplistic starting point however. Harmony in a painting (if that is what you are aiming for) is a balancing act, and you work the contrasts that are available to you to make it interesting. Dark against light, textured against smooth, thick paint against washes, and how the colour contrasts work, -  repetition of a key colour maybe.

All this is fairly obvious to a painter and pretty instinctive after a while, although it doesn't hurt get a bit analytical occasionally. So where does the choir come in?

It is interesting how a lot of the same terms can relate to both art forms. Certain moments capture your ear and while I don't understand this in a technical musical sense I can see a wider analogy in painting. The main thing I have learned and the new thing for me is about where the breaths come in singing and how important this is. To me, in painting form it is what I would call "linking the darks".
Your painting is a lot stronger if you can somehow do this.

Brisbane City, William Street

I have chosen this recent painting to illustrate my point as it is the most urban of my current subjects and the furtherest from the cliché images of art/music, (the least "pastoral").

Often when taking progress shots I view the image tonally and I can see where a sustained and linked dark area can be spoiled by gaps. (audible breaths in the wrong place)  If an area needs to be dark for strength and balance then make it all dark without pussy-footing around. The strong dark "L" shape here is a case in point. The walking figures can then provide both lighter AND darker action over the top.

Brunswick Street Brisbane

This is a much more complex painting of Fortitude Valley, still a work in progress. You can get much more into the middle of this one.

In the two choirs that I am privileged enough to sing with, I have a position right in the middle of the front row. From there I can hear everyone. I love this spot where all the parts converge. I can hear the inevitable problematic moments too.

Music happens in real time and then it is a remembered experience that if you could go back you could improve, and that can replay in your head for days afterwards. The act of painting plays out in real time too and the act of looking can also do so, depending on the viewer. The finished painting is a static thing that occupies space and although slow looking can be rewarding, ie. living with an artwork, I think it is more important to give the impression of the act and the real time it took, by leaving the drips, the under-painting, the history of the process. The music analogy becomes very contorted here.

Another point that has occurred to me is the difference between something laboured and something bravura, - the confidence of the virtuosic "effortless" appearance (or illusion) . This is something we love in painting, the confident brush-stroke compared to the tentative one. It can come not from just skill but from confidence.

One more point, - For the serious visual artist, overcoming one's natural reclusive tendencies and joining a group of non-artists can give you a new perspective when your normal routine resumes!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Urban Sketching and the Dilemma for the Studio Painter

I find myself in a rather enjoyable state of mild perplexity. This happens to me after weeks of isolation in the studio getting deeper and deeper into my work, hopefully gaining a bit more mastery over my materials, reading, thinking and going yet deeper.

What is it I am saying in my Brisbane paintings?
What is it I am trying to say?
Can it be better?
Can it or even should it be articulated in words?

A superficial celebration of the the quaintness of the surrounding worker's cottages and "Old Queensland" houses will not cut it. The artist has to provide a more immersive quality of experience. Otherwise it is unconvincing.

I am in the fortunate position of having a local following, and the response to my recent quick sketches done outside, has astounded me. The best outcome for an artist like me is an unexpected response. One's audience can be very discerning.  Never underestimate them.

I guess I am talking about different approaches to my urban subject matter. This is where time becomes a factor. As my regular readers will know, I am a big advocate for the Urban Sketching approach, something I have always done without its being named as such. My dilemma arises from trying to reconcile the two disparate approaches of a sustained studio practice and the enormous value of a spontaneous sketch approach. Obviously one can spend more time in the studio, one can build up layers in washes and impasto, one can allow the painting more time to stew in its own juices so that risks can be taken and changes made.

The sketch approach has a directness, an honesty, and for the discerning it can capture an essence of a place or event that the more laboured studio paintings often lose.
You lose the looseness.

I want to do both, in fact I crave one, after time spent on the other, and I want to combine them more meaningfully.

When I say time is a factor, it is not only time spent on an actual work (which could be weeks or months) but also it takes time to develop the skills and confidence to do the quick sketch with some degree of success.
Q. "How long did that take"?
A. " 40 years, give or take"

In my next show (June 2016) I am planning to do things differently.

Jacaranda Season Brisbane

Alongside my more "finished" pieces such as the one above, I am going to show some of my quick urban sketches.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds as in the time honoured  "preliminary sketch" and "finished work" , because to be perfectly honest, sometimes the sketch was done after! As if I didn't quite capture something and had to go back in. Or else I was getting annoyed with the painting and wanted some fun with the subject.

Jacaranda Season Brisbane, Urban Sketch

The sketch above is a case in point. The sketch really is a separate thing in its own right, nothing preliminary about it and it was done about a week after the painting was finished (if I can trust my own Instagraming.)

And will the exhibition work like that? I'm not sure at this stage.

I know making artwork is not all about money, but I have to make a living from my artwork so that has to be a consideration for me. I do whatever works. I can't sell drawings stuck in my beautiful hardbound Moleskine, so I have started carrying sheets of paper instead. They can be displayed without framing (200gsm) blue-tacked up. Most galleries are OK with that. There are other advantages to this. You can do 2 or 3 wet ink things without worrying about the dryness needed for sketchbook page-turning.

The two approaches do feed each other.

Paddington Brisbane Street scene

The one above is a bit of combination. It is on paper not canvas. It was done in the studio but much more quickly than my usual canvas pieces. It is a bit smaller also.
I can take more time in the studio creating the accidental mark, provoking it even, letting things dry before coming back for another layer even if it is watercolour. In the outside sketching I can work just with tone or colour and not be so reliant on line, or alternatively, enjoy the freedom of a twig or bamboo pen and all the splotchiness that involves. (Think linear like a Brett Whitely drunk self -portrait or window view).

As a serious artist I am trying to put it all together. - Do something that really is an interpretation of a place, filtered through my own sensibilities, that distils the essence of both approaches. I guess one's modus operandi has to continue to evolve. The formulaic is the death of creativity.

I guess the answer to my initial dilemma is - continue to show up, keep on producing, paint and draw your way out (and blog, - this has been therapeutic!)

After all you have to have an immersive experience to be able to share it!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Singapore Urban Sketching Symposium 2015

We would have to be living on another planet not to know that there is a contemporary obsession with taking photos. Others before me have noted that people these days use photo-taking as a substitute for memory. I would go further than this to say that people these days use photo-taking as a substitute for actually really LOOKING.

Not so the Urban Sketchers!

The act of sketching is a seductive one and I have been well and truly seduced. Having been an artist all my life like my mother before me, I have used many media and done heaps of sketching en plein air. ( In 2010 I had a book published called Drawing Brisbane. ) But nothing compares with the global phenomenon of Urban Sketching which I have only discovered in the last twelve months or so. By sketching while sitting or standing in one spot outside so much more can be seen. My inner voice is continually saying, "Gee if I hadn't been drawing I wouldn't have noticed that."

As I have written in earlier blogs, it suits me in many ways. I have never been much of a joiner (although this is changing) and have beavered away in my solitary studio and been happy to do so, so NOTHING prepared me for the wow factor of the Urban Sketching Symposium in Singapore.

I knew no-one when I went and I believed that I was the only person from my city. (There was one other who I didn't meet until the last day). There was also one other from my state of Queensland (almost 2,000km away) who I got to hang out with thankfully because I was a bit overwhelmed. I had seen the sketches of various people on-line and in books and been intrigued. It was through following Kiah Kiean that I found out about the symposium.

I had a big solo show here in Brisbane in March and this symposium idea seemed a great reward for all my head down work. So off I went...

In was an unseasonably cold winter here in Brisbane and the heat of Singapore felt like our summer so I felt right at home.
The first wow moment came when I heard Elizabeth Alley speak. She told an anecdote about how she felt she had "found her people" and it was a goose-pimple moment because I looked around and half the people in the room had sketch books out and were already at it!

I will post most of the sketches I did over the three days, some of which were in workshop situations and some on sketch crawls. Seeing the long line of sketchers on the shady side of the street during a sketchcrawl was gob-smacking. The line just went on and on and on. The purple lanyards we all wore were a great link at other times out and about in the city.

This was my first morning, just getting my bearings, met no-one yet. Arab Street Singapore.
There was a table of Australians just around the corner! I could hardly contain my excitement when I almost stumbled over Liz Steele (recognised from her on-line photo)  sitting cross-legged on the footpath sketching with a group of the tutors.

These two were done at the Gardens by the Sea on my first afternoon before the symposium began.

I went to James Richard's workshop about capturing people in crowded places and did these last two there. I now understand about the standing eye-line but I sat for both of my efforts! I will give it a try one of these days.   I get the concept and it is a very valuable  one!

I did another excellent workshop with Melanie Reim and attempted a more calligraphic line. This is a direction that I think has possibilities for me. A lifetime of life drawing every week is a real asset here. It is also a question of drawing with confidence. One mark can say it all, less is more, like Hokusai.

I use such a lot of colour in my usual acrylic work (Brisbane is very colourful and absolutely everything grows here) that it surprises me to see how little I used in Singapore, maybe because I deliberately chose workshops that were very different from my usual working methods. I did a great workshop with Gail Wong but my sketch is a bit too lame to post here!

It is few weeks now since I got back but I have been wanting to crystallize my thoughts before writing anything and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I have become a real advocate for this way of working and being part of the whole global community of artists working in this way is such a thrill.

I have done a couple of other projects since I have been back. Will post soon.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Commissions and more urban sketches.

I been working pretty solidly finishing commissioned paintings and finding a bit of time to work en plein air sketching to brush up my skills before heading off to the symposium in Singapore. (More about this in the future)

Robyn Bauer  Commissioned painting of Ipswich

This one is of Ipswich. The brief was to include the old and the new, and I spent a morning driving around getting a feel for the place. I knew Ipswich had some gorgeous old Queenslanders and when I spied a view of the water reservoirs and the bright yellow and blue shop I knew I had my subject. There are layers and layers of paint, not obvious in the photograph. Acrylic on canvas.

Robyn Bauer  Commissioned painting of Suncorp Stadium and Hale Street Brisbane

This painting shows Suncorp Stadium on the left and some of the Hale Street houses on the right. A strong composition based on angles, and while at first I was hesitant to include so much of the road I think the heightened colour makes the shapes interesting in themselves, and roads are so much a part of our lives these days. It can't all be just picturesque cottages! My son actually said to me the other day that when he was stuck in traffic driving in Hale Street, he thought "I'm in Mum's painting"!

As I mentioned last blog post I am working on a Brisbane River Project amongst other things. I am saving some of the drawings but in the meantime can post some recent urban sketches.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane River

 Like many Brisbanites I drove out to see the US warship "George Washington" which was moored at the mouth of the river for three days. It is a huge nuclear powered aircraft-carrier with 38 planes on the deck. We couldn't get too close to it as is apparent from the drawing. This was done at Pinkenba.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane River

As a total contrast, this boat (although US Mississippi style) is a bit more fetchingly festive. It is the Kookaburra Queen II drawn from Eagle Street Pier.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of cemetery 

This was done on a second trip to the South Brisbane Cemetery at Dutton Park. The little white bridges are private jetties.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of cemetery

 This was a very quick last minute one at the cemetery. The two pylons on the right are the edge of the Eleanor Schonell Bridge. I was itching to draw the angel (not a lot of sculpture in this cemetery compared to the one at Toowong) but still wanted a hint of the presence of the river.

Finally another river one showing the Story Bridge from Eagle Street Pier Coffee Club.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Brisbane River Project and some meditations on Urban Sketching

Today I have decided to officially start my Brisbane River Project. I have been preparing mentally and with drawings for the past few months. None of the drawings I have done so far are to be included. I have purchased some new paper - Canson Montval Aquarelle 200gsm 24x32cm, so a little larger than A4. Drawings will be A4 with a small border. 100 sheets in gorgeously generous block.

My first outing was to drive to Pinkenba at the mouth of the river with all my drawing paraphernalia. The giraffe-like cranes really call out for an ink drawing. Unfortunately the weather defeated me. Rain steadily grew heavier and visibility was very poor. I was already resigned to working from the car but even that proved impossible. Pity. But all that driving in the rain gave me plenty of thinking time and I can visualize the sketches I have in mind as well as of course being open to visual stimuli on each spot.

All will be done en plein air. There is an immediacy and truthfulness to this kind of working. Plus it is fun.

My working titles are also fun to ponder at the same time. Barcarolle comes to mind, - this is a song sung by Venetian gondoliers. My work can be seen in the nature of a visual song, with lots of separate verses, then joined up for display. There is also a big factor of Natural History recording going on. This river, this time, this place, this person's response and interpretation.

Driving back along Kingsford Smith Drive I was excited by the possibilities the riverbank provides. I stopped at Portside for a coffee. Again the rain meant poor visibility and no pelicans around but I will return there.

In the meantime here are a couple of preliminary sketches I have done featuring the river this week.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane River

 This one is of the HMAS Diamantina which is in the Maritime Museum. I sat on the Goodwill Bridge and looked down. Done with various ink pens and wash. Finished en plein air.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane cemetery

This view of the river is from the South Brisbane Cemetery Dutton Park. Yes the crow was really there momentarily and he was making a racket! The sky was very white with rainy mist and as usual it was the life around me of trees, plants, birds that became my true motif. Cemeteries are noisy with bird life and this one right on the river especially so.

I have also crystallized a few thoughts on urban sketching. I liken it to the slow food movement. One must slow down completely to sit and draw using eye, brain, hand. It can become a kind of meditation like the Zen of looking. The great advantage of living in 2015 is that one can combine this age-old technique with the advantages of the internet, blogging, instagram and the excitement and immediacy of instant posting to the world!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ink stained fingers - Media experiments with my urban sketches.

This week I went out sketching four days to two different locations. For those following my work closely it will already have become apparent that I am concentrating on the Brisbane River. I have done nine from the riverbank so far. I am going to start numbering them Brisbane River 1 etc.

It is winter in Brisbane at the moment and although the temperature range is 7 - 22 degrees C it does feel a bit uncomfortable giving up the comforts of the studio to be subject to the vagaries of the elements. I am realising I had my little studio routines all worked out and now that I am working so much en plein air I am made uncomfortably aware of how many cups of tea I must have been making in the studio not to mention loo visits etc. Also because I have done so much life drawing I must have developed a 25 minute habit of working then a five minute break ( to suit the model posing)! I am tending to do this outside as well.   It is really a question of being more organised with a coffee break, loo break before setting up.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane River

I have so many different materials I decided to go back to this buff paper and use black and white charcoals. The result looks a bit too neat for my current sensibilities. I would like to go back to the same spot and do a quicker messy ink drawing. The view is from the Newstead House lawn looking over where Breakfast Creek joins the Brisbane River.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Breakfast Creek Hotel

 This is just a little further to the left of the last image. The famous Breakfast Creek Hotel from the other side of the creek. I have a little set of watercolours but dislike adding colour piecemeal like this, too much like colouring-in. I did throw some salt on the wet patches as it dried (fish shop nearby) but would like a lot more of the accidental effect than is happening here.

I caught the bus into the City and walked down to the City Botanic Gardens. It really is the most awesome spot for sketching, with the river, boats moored and the bank on the other side. I used a bit of coloured oil pastel (old fashioned cray pas) on the yellow, blue, orange bits and on the white masts. The plan was that this would act like a wax resist with the ink wash, but it wasn't too successful with the masts so I went over them with, wait for it...  Bic Whiteout! This is now a staple in my kit.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Brisbane River

My fourth sketch for the week and I think the most successful, having learned from some of the earlier frustrations. The white of the boat ropes is white ink over the ink wash. I have to wave the book around to dry it before this can be applied. The view is very close to the previous one, from the Botanic Gardens looking toward Kangaroo Point over the Brisbane River.

People have been pretty much ignoring me as I sit and work. Only one man asked if he could have a look and an old lady said I was wearing too much red!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Urban Sketching Brisbane River and other Urban Landscapes

I have really been getting into the swing of sketching en plein air. I am finding it really suits my temperament to get out amongst it. I also enjoy experimenting with different media. At the moment I am particularly enjoying Black Ink applied with various tools, most recently with some bamboo twigs I found on one of my walks. I have also variously used a dip pen, brushes, and an ordinary felt tip pen.

Here are the results.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Paddington Brisbane

This is view down the street from where I live. Given Terrace Paddington looking towards Brisbane city.

Robyn Bauer Urban Sketch of Paddington Brisbane

It was rainy on this particular day so this is the exact view from my back deck over the rooftops. The church is Sacred Heart Rosalie and that is Toowong Tower in the centre.

This was the following day , rainy again. Although this shows part of the studio window and deck railings outside.
As you can see I am using different strengths of ink, some quite watery. The paper is only 135 gsm but after it dries if I put a heavy book on it it flattens out enough. I really like a flat paper look, not keen on the bobbles of watercolour paper. It looks too mechanical and contrived for me.

I did this one of the Museum on the group Urban Sketchers day. Again it was raining so we mostly worked inside. Lots of parents with kids around as it was a Saturday. I enjoyed the interaction with people watching me work. I could tell with a lot of the kids that they had never seen an artist actually working like that.

Robyn Bauer Urban sketch of Ipswich

This is a drawing I did while working on a commission painting of Ipswich.

This sketch was to accompany another commission. I was up on the overpass near Suncorp Stadium looking over Hale Street.

Another Urban Sketchers Group day. We were in Captain Burke Park under the Story Bridge. All Hallows School is on the left. That is Robert, one of the group working on the seat at right.

Another local scene. I was sitting in Princess Street Paddington just near Given Terrace, outside Ray White real estate office, looking up to St Bridget's church.

Looking down Ellena Street from Latrobe Terrace Paddington.

Looking across the Brisbane River towards Fig Tree Pocket from just near the Centenary Bridge.

This last one was just done this morning. I drove over to West End and sat looking across the river toward Coronation Drive. The trees are all mangroves with the little aerial roots coming out of the mud.