Monday, 30 January 2012

The temperature dips

Sunday night the wind got up - to the extent that the through draught in the flat kept slamming the doors.  It turns out the overnight temperature dropped to 16 degrees, which meant it was easy to sleep.  And today, Monday, the temperature only reached 31.8 degrees.  This made it pleasantly warm rather than stiflingly hot.

I've spent the day working on my drawing homework.  It has taken a while to get this going.  The first ideas were good in my head, but disappointing when drawn.  However, one drawing that started rather uninspired, looked a lot better when I tore the paper around the work and stuck it back together in a long, irregular shape.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Maurice and Jim go home

On Friday evening, Maurice, Jim and I went out for a celebratory meal together.  This was our last meal together. It has been an absolute delight having Maurice to stay.  He stayed with us most of the time but because of his cricket weekend and a passion for architecture, spent a few nights in Perth city centre, either to be close to the cricket ground, or enjoying the art deco architecture of the Criterion hotel, and former St John Ambulance headquarters which is now the youth hostel.

This time, I tried barramundi for dinner, on Maurice's recommendation.  When I tasted it, it was very like the fish that London east enders call Rock.  This can be called rock salmon, rock eel, huss or dogfish.  Many people don't like it but it's what our family were brought up on - rock and chips (not cod and chips for us!)  So when I tasted it, I thought it was the same fish.  On going home, I looked up rock salmon and barramundi on line.  But they are not the same fish, much to my surprise.  Barramundi are from the Latidae family, whereas Rock Salmon is a shark from the Squalus family (which is part of an endangered specis!).  We had a lovely meal together.

The following morning, Saturday, Jim and Maurice packed, weighed the suitcases carefully, and then we took a taxi to Perth International airport.  While queueing at the bag drop, I overheard a conversation at the next counter.  An elderly french lady had her bag 3kg overweight.  She had 3 planes to catch to go home to France, (changing Singapore, Heathrow, to Nice) and the overweight charge was going to be $55 per kilo overweight, for each flight!!!  The lady's daughter persuaded some reduction in charges, so that "only" $165 was charged for the 3kg overweight!  So, this means I will need to ensure I don't have too much stuff to take home at the end of my exchange year.  Jim has taken home a lot of my materials from the first semester, but I'm going to need to be ruthless in throwing away my work and worn-out clothes and trainers at the end of my second semester.  Anything that can be photographed will be stored on memory stick, and the A1 drawings unfortunately consigned to the bin.  23k is not a lot to bring back to the UK as luggage.  I also need to find out how much it costs to book an extra suitcase, and whether this makes it cheaper than being charged overweight luggage at the bag drop.

I waved off Jim and Maurice at the customs gate with regret.  I'm on my own now for a month.  As I left the airport to go back to the flat, the temperature reached 41.2 degrees.  Deep joy!  I'd rather have the  10 degrees that Jim and Maurice are returning to in London.

Friday Drawing Class No 4

Having had such a wonderful class last week, I struggled again this week.  Whereas last week we were doing observational drawing from a life model, I felt this time we progressed to interpretational drawing from a life model.  I can cope quite well with the exercises on how to make an interesting line, but I find it incredibly difficult to apply the exercises to drawing a real thing.  But this is part of my learning style, so I don't get upset about finding it difficult or not grasping the concept at first - I know that I will assimilate some of the information - it just takes me some time to do it.

Today we were drawing the whole of the life model - we had the wonderful Victoria again.  She is a fantastic model, and I am in awe of her ability to hold some difficult poses for up to 45 minutes.

I found it difficult to fit the whole of the image onto one page.  I have spent several years working in sketchbooks, where imagery can be much more interesting if only a section is drawn, so I kept forgetting to scale it appropriately.  And I did not have any glue with me to stick another bit of paper on when I needed extra space! 

Single line to describe a life model from the rear (the wonderful Victoria)

Single line to draw Victoria leaning forward

Life study using two imaginative lines
(yes, it really is only 2 lines, drawn from top to bottom)

Victoria kneeling, drawn using imaginative lines

In the afternoon, we moved to tonal studies.  We had exercises about how to convey the essence of the pose - which I attempted but did not really grasp the concept.  Victoria was told to stand in a static upright pose, where her weight fell through her body to her feet.  We had to draw her in a style that emphasised the weight. I tried drawing delicately at the top, and heavily at the feet using line and tonal variation, and it just did not work.  Michael tried to explain to me, then demonstrated what he meant by covering the drawing with a dense coat of charcoal over the whole drawing, lighter at the top, and denser at the bottom, obliterating most of the detail.  I'm still not sure about this effect giving the effect of weight.  I might have tried a heavy coat of charcoal moving from light to heavy on the background, but I don't quite get covering the whole drawing with charcoal, to give the effect of weight.  To me it gives the effect of hiding and obscuring the image, giving a feeling of concealment, not weight.  I'll reflect on it further.

As you can see, in the afternoon, none of the images came together particularly well.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Fremantle Prison Tunnel Tour

I'm really enjoying having Maurice here to visit us while I'm on student exchange.  Maurice and I both enjoy tourist activities, and do various tours with enthusiasm and gusto, whereas Jim only tolerates them. 

Yesterday Maurice and I went on the Tunnels Tour at Fremantle Prison.  We travelled down by ferry.  This took about 75 minutes and gave us the chance to see all the expensive properties along the Swan River frontage.  When we got to Fremantle, you get a different view of the harbour - the sheer size of the cranes and dockside equipment. 

We arrived at the prison about 1pm, and the heat was overwhelming.  I think the temperature reached 42 degrees in Perth, although it seemed a little better in Fremantle because of the sea breeze. 

Fremantle prison gates

Maurice and I got kitted up for the Tunnels Tour.  We had paper overalls, and rubber wellingtons (just what you want in the heat!).  We were given a hard hat and headlamp.  And as a government requirement, a lifejacket.  We started by descending 3 vertical ladders.  We were clipped on with a harness.  I looked down, and thought, "oh good, climbing down, not up.  We'll probably come out at a lower level".  The chamber at the top of the shaft was oppressively hot and I was relieved to get down to the ambient temperature of 27 degrees at the bottom.  Sweat was pouring off me. 

The tour goes down the tunnels dug underneath the prison by the inmates, which provided a water source to supply Fremantle.  Basically, the boreholes were drying up, underlying salt water was starting to rise into the borehole supply, and even worse, local cesspits were starting to filter through the rock and contaminate with typhoid and dysentry.  So the authorities decided to tunnel into the higher lying land around the prison, in order to capture the rainwater filtering through from high ground. 

The tunnel environment would have been dreadful for manual mining.  The limestone is a comparatively recent, therefore soft, rock which formed a lot of dust when dug out with a pickaxe.  The whaleoil lamps gave inadequate light with a rancid smell.  Ventilation was poor.  The prisoners were high security, violent people.  Some parts of the tunnels were only about a metre high so you had to walk bent over.  The guide switched off the tour lights and it was absolutely pitch black in there.  Not an environment I'd want to be in, even with clean air and good ventilation, which was more than the prisoners experienced.  The prisoners worked in shackles at all times and usually worked barefoot on rough hewn floors and often in contaminated water. 

We moved on to the slightly deeper end of the tunnels where small boats were provided which took two people at a time.  Maurice and I followed the tour guide, paddling along the tunnels which demonstrated the extent of them.  The water was about 3 feet deep, and we were told "if you fall in, just stand up.  You won't drown".  The water was clean and could be drunk with no health hazard, as it is rain water that continues to filter in from the surrounding limestone.  We turned several corners, and it was easier to grab the wooden pillars either side to turn the corner, than to paddle around a sharp bend. 

We returned to the starting point of the boat tour, and I discovered that we now had to climb up the 3 vertical ladders.  By this stage I was hot, sweaty and tired.  I clambered up the ladder with a sense of triumph mixed with dismay as I realised how the temperature escalated as we ascended.  We had some photos taken at the top, but my camera flash failed, so I need to wait until Maurice emails his pictures to me, before I upload them.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Two Day Trips

On Monday Maurice, Jim and I went for a trip into Perth.  I started the day with a trip to dentist to finish off fitting a crown, then met Jim and Maurice at the train station. 

We started with a trip across the river on a ferry.  This was the first ferry trip I've had since arriving in Perth.  We went for a lovely lunch in a riverside cafe, which I ate very carefully, having just been to the dentist.  The ferry cost me the same as a bus journey - so was only 85c to cross from Perth city side, to the south side, then because we returned in less than 2 hours, I was only charged 60c for the return journey! How's that for good value?

Jim and Maurice, with Perth city skyline,
and ferry to take us back to Swan Bells jetty in background

We followed a walking tour around Perth, the Boom and Bust Trail, which involved looking at various styles of architecture, mostly Victorian, built in boom years.  We ended up at the Supreme Court where the usher invited us to have a look at the main criminal courtroom.  This is a listed building with lovely wood panelling and a freestanding British Coat of Arms over the judge's seat.  Because it is a listed building they are not allowed to remove the British coat of arms in order to replace it with the Australian insignia.  I was able to sit in the chairs of the Judge, witness, and defendant to understand the different viewpoints that the various parties have.  The dock, where the accused sits, is very exposed.  I would not like to spend any time sitting there myself! 

The usher was a very interesting woman - she enjoyed listening to articulate debate from certain barristers and had the utmost respect for their reasoning and ability to articulate key points succinctly and clearly.  She said sometimes sex offenders cases were so disturbing that she had to mentally switch off, and sat in her seat, doing a puzzle, in order for it not to upset her.

Then yesterday, Maurice and I went on a day trip inland to Wave Rock.  This was a long day on a coach, but we both enjoyed it.  We stopped in York, which is a heritage town, very much in Victorian style. 
York Town Hall
York High Street

Original vitreous enamel sign

We went on to the town of Hyden, where there is a granite outcrop, significant to the indigeneous population. This has the western name of Wave Rock and Hippo's Yawn. Hippo's Yawn is a cave formed under a granite rock, which definitely looks like a hippo yawning. This is where aboriginal women would come to give birth, and compared to the arid surroundings, you could understand that it was shaded and safe, and therefore suitable for the purpose. The cave had been formed by water draining over the edge of the rock, and eating away at the underside until a large recess had been formed.
Hippo's yawn cave

Me, feeling the 38 degree heat, at Hippo's Yawn
Maurice, inspecting the ceiling

This shows the scale of the cave

Wave Rock is a bit further along this granite outcrop.  It is formed the same way, by water draining over the edge, eroding the underside.  We walked along the bottom of the formation, up the side and across the top.  In the 1950s a reservoir was built alongside the rock, to supply the local town with water.  Unfortunately the water was gathered by building an eyesore of a concrete wall along the top of the wave.  This drained the water to the side of the rock, rather than over the edge.  It was a truly hideous wall that would never be allowed today,by either the heritage lobby or indigeneous community, although I could see that if you were desperately short of water it was an effective solution in the 1950s.  Nowadays, I would think the water would be allowed to drain over the edge of the rock, but gathered at the bottom by some sort of underground drain, and pumped into the reservoir.

Maurice at the bottom of Wave Rock

Side view of wave rock
Note the hideous concrete wall at the top. 
A fine example of environmental vandalism.

Maurice was particularly taken with the geology of the rock and compared it in part to the Yorkshire grikes, and limestone pavements.  Some of the crevices, or gnammas, were natural, but the smaller ones were created by the indigeneous people using fire, to create natural water pools to gather rainwater.  Both Maurice and I thought it would make a marvellous place for geography field trips, where you could learn in detail about the geology and natural features of the area.

Vegetation grows in small gnammas created by the indigeneous population

Large vegetation in bigger gnammas. 
These have crevices that go down a very long way.

Vegetation in naturally forming gnammas. 
Bigger trees because the crevices in the rock go down a long way.

Specialised lichen growing on granite

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Life class homework

I had to crack on today, to get my homework done promptly, so that Maurice and I could go out and about next week, being tourists for the last week of his holiday. 

My life model (Jim) went to running club this morning, to meet with other runners and participate in a handicap race.  He had a good run, despite the heat and humidity.  He arrived home at about 11am, where I was champing at the bit, to get on with my drawing.  The plan was for him to lie on the bed, in a comfortable position, so I could draw his feet from several different angles.  The homework specification was to draw 4 A2 versions of one motif (in my case, Jim's feet) with emphasis on different aspects within each drawing. 

Jim lay down on his side, so I could see his legs from behind, below and the front, depending on where I sat in relation to the bed.  In no time, he had fallen asleep (which was my plan) so keeping his feet still was quite easy.  Except that every so often he would twitch and shake his left foot.  We used to have a Jack Russell dog, Daisy, who would twitch her feet and whimper when asleep, and we used to think she was chasing rabbits, or running around.  Jim appeared to be still running his handicap race in his dreams - either that, or he was chasing rabbits too! 

Charcoal on paper with wash and spots.
I have been considering the different cultural attitudes to life drawing.  I understand some people are embarrassed or offended by looking at naked bodies, particularly breasts and genitalia.  However, in some asian countries, I believe it is the height of rudeness to show the soles of your feet deliberately.  I wonder whether the image I have drawn above would be seen by such communities, as soft porn, or whether it would be ok, because Jim was not showing the soles of his feet in order to cause offence.  I will ask Michael or one of the asian students to explore this more.
Oil pastel overlaid on charcoal outlines. 
I sometimes work one image over another. 
The outlines need to be knocked back a bit to make it work more effectively.

I was very pleased with my results - I used charcoal, oil pastel, ink and oil bar, and crumpled paper and charcoal.  I particularly like the oil pastel - it is not especially appealing to use, but I'm starting to understand how to work it.  The oil pastel needs to be rubbed harder than charcoal to smudge it, but you can get dense black areas quite easily, and good directional effects with clarity or blurring depending on how hard you rub. The oil bar is even less appealing to use.  You need to peel off the hard skin, and draw with a very sticky media, which you flood over with wash, resulting in lovely textured lines, that are no longer sticky.  The oil bar gets on your fingers, and takes about 3 washes with soap to remove.  Yuk, but it gives a very distinctive effect.

Charcoal on crumpled paper
 I should have used compressed charcoal for this one on crumpled paper, but I forgot it was in my rucksack.  I went out on Saturday and bought this especially, in order to have another black medium at my disposal, for working on large paper.  This gives me charcoal, compressed charcoal, ink, and oil pastel.  I don't like using fine line marker on large scale work, although I love them for small scale work, as they run out of fluid too quickly, particularly in the heat here.  I don't like thick markers at all for drawing because they are so textureless, although they are very useful in screenprint preparation as they give a very black mark.

Oil pastel with ink wash.  Makes me think of  Gaugin.
Very difficult to draw with clear oil pastel and get the dimensions accurate. 
But quite an interesting effect.  Worth more practice.
Jim woke up after 3 sketches, and sat  up on the bed reading, which was how I ended up drawing the 4th piece from a different pose.  I am glad to have got this done, because I wanted to do more life drawing for my homework (rather than a still life motif).  Jim goes back to the UK for a month next Saturday, so I won't have my own personal life model to work from for next week's homework which is a pity.  If I get time this week, I will work in my sketchbook, drawing Jim's hands.  He has arthritis and his hands are quite knarled so would make interesting shapes to draw, with lots of potential for creating 3D effects by different use of media.  I could play about with this for quite some time, but need to realise this before next Friday.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Life class

Today I had a wonderful class.  I had never participated in a life class before and was a little apprehensive.  We had two excellent models, one was a small slight oriental girl, the other a more rounded, buxom redhead. 

Our initial instructions from our tutor Michael, were to walk round the model, and to look closely from all sides, to familiarise ourselves with the detail of what we could see.  This takes a bit of nerve, because looking in detail at a nude, particularly when they can look back, is not what we are brought up to do.  As usual I was completely absorbed in what I was doing, so my awareness of what other class members did, is limited, but I have an impression that more of the mature women had a good close look, than the younger class members.  Michael explained several times that a life class challenges people for a variety of reasons, many of which are cultural, and you need to develop an acceptance of what the human body looks like, and to draw what you see.  The way in which our acceptance of the human body and looking at it in detail, in public, can affect us, is clearly shown when we draw - sometimes class members focus on the stool the model sits, on or details like the hair.  I certainly felt apprehensive before the class.   This is where careful listening to the instructions and a preparedness to work in a new manner that makes you feel uncomfortable, is an advantage.  And when I followed the instructions, looking really closely, I saw all sorts of things I would normally miss!  It will be interesting to find out how I feel about drawing life studies next week, if it is a male model.  Will it make me feel more/less uncomfortable?

First ever life drawing, using ink and oil pastel

I worked mostly in charcoal, but used some ink, black and white oil pastel, and white pastel. I drew 3 sketches of the oriental girl - her backside, her foot and her arm/hand. I found it useful that I have looked extensively at the legs of cyclists and runners, while being a supporter at triathlons. I am very familiar with the differences in leg musculature as people who are primarily runners have a very large calf muscle, and cyclists have a slim calf that shows clear definition between the two main muscles. I have a basic knowledge of leg anatomy which helps when you know where the tendons attach for different muscles. And although the model's calf did not have clear definition, there were small indications of the muscles which I would have missed, had I not been looking closely.
Leg, drawn with charcoal

Arm in charcoal, on crumpled paper

In the afternoon, Michael encouraged us to develop an interesting background on the ground paper.  I've been doing this for some time in my textile work, but had forgotton about it for this drawing class.  So, when Michael gave us a lump of beeswax, I made some random rubbed/rolled marks on my paper and washed over it with varying dilutions of Quink ink.  This made me feel much more comfortable than working on bright white paper, although I was told to focus on the drawing rather than the background.

Michael gave feedback during the day to all students.  I really need to write it down at the time, because I am so absorbed in what I am doing, that otherwise I forget.  He's given me the same feedback a couple of times - so I need to take it on board. 

- When drawing something that has a totally straight line, draw it with a ruler eg metal frames, fabric that is under tension with the model's weight.  Using a ruler is allowed! 

- If you get a line wrong, and it bothers you, rub it out.  Using a rubber/eraser is allowed!

- Sometimes the effect you want, needs to be drawn heavily, then rubbed back.  You can draw and rub back as many times as you like to get the effect you need, particularly when using charcoal.

- Get the pressure/weight to show by flat lines under the foot.  People who stand a lot do not have round heels.

- Don't put too much emphasis on the background.  Make it more subtle.

Victoria's wonderful round bottom

Victoria leaning back, holding fabric to support herself. 
I should have put in some of the stool she was sitting on.
Victoria leaning forward

Leaning forward with weight supported by fabric loop.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Tourism and reflections on my work

Over the last couple of days, Maurice and I have been on the tourist trail.  Yesterday we went to Fremantle on the bus and train, to go to Fremantle Prison.  I had already done the basic "Doing Time" tour, but it was sufficiently interesting to repeat it with Maurice.  This tour gives an overview of how the prison operated, the differences between convicts (people transported from Britain, typically for crimes of poverty) and prisoners (people from Australia, typically violent crimes against others); reasons for the prison's closure, a visit to the hanging chamber.  I'd quite like to do the Tunnels tour, but maybe later in Maurice's holiday.  Fremantle was fairly quiet on Tuesday - the markets only operate on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so the Prison tour was very popular. 

Today Maurice, Jim and I rode to the pool for our swim.  The hour's bike ride to and fro, plus the half hour swim make me feel virtuous.  I'm getting noticeably stronger in the pool - after 12 swims since Christmas I'm swimming 1000m, with some 300m non-stop parts.  This is nothing compared to what I have done in the past, but my arm muscles now feel quite firm, and I'm planning to increase the overall distance to 1600m over the next couple of months, and get up to 800m non-stop. 

Maurice and I went to Perth Art Gallery in the afternoon, to look at the Brutalist architecture of the building.  I think it looks horrible from the outside, but inside, the space works amazingly well.  This shape of architecture (based on hexagons) is very successful at displaying art to good effect.  It is a far more effective art gallery than any I have been to in London, simply because the angled walls of Brutalism mean you can step back a lot further and see the art from a distance.  Sidney Nolan's 7 paintings of one panarama of the outback (each measuring about 3m x 2m) looks absolutely fantastic when seen from 10m distance.

I feel as if I have made a massive leap in understanding my work and what I want it to be, and the philosophy behind.  I want to work with furnishing fabrics for their domestic interior qualities, and their transient nature.  I am not working with deep and meaningful concepts, but things that are light and fun.  Nothing in my work is precious - I've used the phrase many times about my textile work "It's practical, not precious - Use it, Wear it out and Throw it out".  This started when I was making baby quilts when friends or family were expecting a child.  Baby quilts only get used for about a year, so please don't put it in a drawer to avoid spoiling it - it was made with love, for a child, to celebrate life.  Use it, wear it out, throw it out.  The biggest compliment you can pay my work is to wear it out.  Then practical materialism means it can be replaced. 

I've been thinking about why we make art objects - and I don't really get it. This is why I chose to study Contemporary Applied Art.  I don't want to do art, for art's sake.  I want to create things that are visually appealing, but that have a use and purpose.  I want something that will wear out and NEED to be replaced.  So domestic fabrics fit the bill.  Particularly natural fabrics which degrade.  I'm also interested in the concept of the zeitgeist, recording the significant moment (or insignificant moment) and creating fabrics of our time, which will then degrade by light or wear and tear, and be lost to history.  Practical not precious.  Not planned obsolescence but legitimate wear and tear/turnover.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Perth Mint

Today Maurice and I went to Perth Mint.  This gave a bit of history about gold prospecting in Western Australia and told of some of the biggest nuggets found.  The first really large nuggets were melted down for their gold value, but the second biggest ever found, was found in the late 20th century by a man with a metal detector.  He had the sense to realise that its novelty value was greater than the gold itself and auctioned it.  It sold for approximately twice its metal value, for c$1,000,000 to the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas where it is now on display in the entrance hall.

We watched a gold pour, which was fascinating.  The gold is heated up until liquid, and is in fact heated to a higher temperature than this, because it cools so quickly.  The furnace worker removes the crucible of liquid gold with crucible tongs, places it on a surface beside the ingot mould, lifts the crucible with the pouring tongs, and pours it into the mould.  Instantly the gold starts changing colour as it rapidly cools.  Quite quickly he plunged the ingot mould into water where it briefly, (but only briefly) boiled, then removed it, tapped it upside down and showed us a lovely sparkly solid gold ingot.   The cooling process only took about 2 minutes from pouring gold, to solid ingot.  Amazing. 

We had the opportunity to lift a gold bar in the vault, and it was unbelievably heavy.  There was also a display of ingots from various national mints, and they varied from bars the size of your little finger that were only a quarter inch thick, to the Perth Mint size of c 7"x2.5"x1.5". 

Another interesting fact was about the protective equipment.  The furnace worker wore a light woollen t-shirt (naturally fire resistant and breathable) with helmet and face visor.  He also had an apron and gloves made with woollen backing, kevlar inner and aluminium front layer.  The kevlar was strong to repel accidental spills and the aluminium reflected heat. 

The word Mint, is derived from an anglo-saxon word Mynnt. This means to strike, which is part of the metal working process.

The tour only lasted an hour, but gave a lot of food for thought.  Time well spent.

On our way back, Maurice and I had a look at St Mary's cathedral.  This was a wonderful stone cathedral.  Astonishingly two large sections of wall had been removed and replaced with modern plate glass window sections, which gave an amazing illumination inside the building.  In England the heritage lobby would have prevented this being done, but here, I am surprised to say, it enhanced the cathedral amazingly.  There was a combination of Victorian decoration and detail, alongside modern plate glass decoration at the alter, all giving a light, airy environment for worship.  Not at all like the formality of dim cathedrals in England.  It was a true eye-opener of how imaginative modern architecture can be successfully integrated into old buildings.  Had I not seen it myself, I would have been very derogatory about the potential success of such a plan, but it worked very well.

Time for reflection improves my Drawing homework

Yesterday, Sunday, the temperature reached 33 degrees, and was very humid because of the cloud cover.  I was hot and bothered all day.  I spent the whole day in the flat, trying to keep cool, and get myself motivated to do the last part of my homework.  The first hour or so was successful as I finished a complex piece of artwork, with dramatic contrast between the black and white areas.  I had an idea for a second complex piece, but as the morning wore on, and it became increasingly humid, I could not get into the creative flowing mindset that I needed to work up this idea.  I became hot, scratchy and irritable. 

First stage of drawing still life of items on bedside cabinet

Multi-layered drawing, a couple of hours later.

Jim told me that the cricket match at the WACA had ended before the end of the third day, as the Indian batting had collapsed.  We hoped Maurice had seen enough of the game to make it worthwhile.

Fortunately, the temperature reduced overnight, and we are forecast to reach only 29 degrees today, hopefully less humid, with a clear sky. 

However I woke up this morning, having slept well because it was comparatively cool, and came to a realisation about why I had struggled to portray the filmy qualities of the organza fabric in Friday's drawing class.  My artwork for the last year has focussed on getting the right blackness in imagery for it to translate well into a screenprint.  The advice received at Herts last year was to avoid careful shading, which is what I had been doing up until then. Screenprints only work in black/white images - tonal values just don't work.  Screenprints can portray texture marvellously, but only if it is a detailed patterned texture.  In order to get the filmy effect of organza, charcoal needed to be thoroughly rubbed back, as the tutor demonstrated on my work, and this is what I was very reluctant (and completely ineffective) at doing!  It sounds so basic, but the soft tonal variation of organza is what I had failed to grasp.  I did not want to work it so that it became a tonal exercise, by rubbing back hard to give soft effects.  And I did not draw and rub back, then step back several paces to evaluate whether I had acheived the filmy effect, and go back to accentuate the harder folds with further charcoal lines, which was what Michael had told us to do, several times.  I was trying to get the effect with one movement, and minimal rubbing back - which does not work.

So, in order to get the most from the class, I need to forget about producing stuff that will work as a screenprint, and work with a wider variety of styles in order to learn about "drawing", rather than screenprint preparation.

Sometimes my conclusions sound so basic.  But when I am struggling, I know that if I keep working and analysing, I will get a positive outcome.  So although I still struggle at times, I don't get upset about it any more.  The struggle is just an aspect of my learning style ... not comfortable, but part of the learning process.

A wide, shallow drawing of still life.  5 shots to get the whole width.  This was an A1 piece of paper cut in half lengthways, and stuck together to make a very wide piece.  I think this is my best so far.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Meeting Maurice in Perth on Saturday

Maurice is spending a couple of days in an hotel in Perth close to the cricket ground.  He has a ticket to see Australia play India on Sunday, so has been anxiously watching the cricket scores as India collapsed in the first innings, then Australia scored copiously. 

While I was doing my drawing homework in our hot flat in Salter Point, Maurice was making himself at home in Perth.  He spent the day roaming around town, using the free CBD buses, as they are air-conditioned, while he familiarised himself with the area.  He is making the most of his air-conditioned room before he returns to us after the weekend.  I know I find it hot here, and I've been acclimatising for 6 months.  I find it oppressively hot once the temperature reaches mid 30s, and we are now starting to get several consecutive days at this heat. Maurice, having come from the British winter, must find it incredibly wearing.

Jim, Maurice and I met for dinner in the evening and had a yummy meal together. We were looking for a restaurant that did a steak for Jim, and as soon as Maurice found one that served barramundi as well, we were seated. Maurice always tries new food, and was keen to try an Australia specific fish.  Barramundi is an aboriginal word meaning large scaled river fish.  It is found around the coast of the northern half of Australia.  It is a freshwater fish that migrates to coastal areas to spawn.  It is also hermaphrodite - starting life as a male, then changing to female after about 5 years.  Maurice thoroughly enjoyed his meal.  So did we.

We had a lot of discussion about cricket.  I have made up a question for the quiz programme "Call My Bluff", where players are given 3 options for a word definition, and have to choose the correct one. The other two are fictious and complete baloney.

The word is wacca.

Whacker - The name for a cricket stroke.  Usually played by an opening batsman, often a big, macho, Australian. This is a stroke played with verve and gusto, with confidence that it will go beyond the boundary, into the crowd, and score 6.  English cricket commentators would refer to "The opening batsman has played a whacker", similar to how they would described play with the bowler playing a yorker.

Wacca - the colloquial name for an immigrant Australian who has Irish and English ancestry.  The Irish community who moved from Ireland to Liverpool, who had a surname commencing with Mc (eg McGarrell, McCartney) were known in England by the affectionate term "Macca".  On their subsequent migration to Western Australia, this nickname has corrupted to Wacca, to indicate their progression, indeed elevation, to Western Australian identity. 

WACA - the unimaginative name for the stadium where the Western Australian Cricket Association play, currently hosting the Australia/India game.

Which do you think is the correct answer?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

It's Friday, so it's Drawing Class

I'm finding Drawing class really hard work. 

I can get on quite well with the imaginative drawing techniques, where we are using different media and style to create a class drawing.  Michael wants us to free up and make different marks.  Each class member made a different mark on a collaborative piece, and the tutor observed that everyone was very "polite" about how they made their mark in relation to everyone else. No mark was made with frenzy, or scribbled over anything else.  So on the second piece, I went first, and crumpled the sheet of paper and made a lovely textured mark with charcoal.  Other people, threw the charcoal, stood in broken charcoal, made footprints etc and general made a much more energetic piece.  The last person to contribute tore a section out of the paper.  This was much more what was required.  This exercise went well.

However, then we were asked to draw a still life of various fabrics and string draped or tied around a metal engineering frame.  I found this incredible difficult. I selected a section of frame with dense red fabric, and white polyester organza.   My drawing style is free and not particlarly accurate.   Michael wanted me to feel the different structures made from the organza - how soft and voluminous some knots were, and how hard and tight others were.  My first drawing attempt was not accurate enough and I found it difficult to portray the puff of some knots compared to the tightness of others.  Part of my issue is that I know the materiality of polyester organza - it is not a very pleasant fabric.  Hard and strong, although translucent.   I have used it with transfer dye and it colours very well, and I've also burned it and folded and heat pressed it.  It is a hard fabric with permanent crease qualities.   I found it difficult to carry out free mark making exercises, then be told to draw soft folds in fabric accurately. 

I struggle to understand the application of the exercises to what we were doing. I quite often struggle like this at the beginning of the class, so this is part of my learning style, although this knowledge does not make it any more comfortable.   I don't understand the purpose of what we were doing.   In the first class we were told: be accepting of what you are; be distinctive; let the drawing experience affect you and respond to it; forget concept - focus on the experience of what you are going; your biggest hurdle is your eye and judgement; experience physicality and rawness.  Yet now I feel what is wanted is a tight accurate drawing.

We were also told that none of us had done enough homework after the first class - no set of work looked as if it had taken 6 hours.  While my work on display may not have looked as if it took 6 hours, I certainly spent 6 hours working - I thought about it, wrote and reflected about it.  Michael observed that we had done various mark making exercises in the first class, but when we went home we all returned to familiar drawing techniques.  Which most of us had.  But this comes back to what I wrote earlier - we have done interesting exercises, but none of us appear to know how to apply them to something. 

Coming back to the concept of honouring and respecting the materials, and politeness.  Michael was keen for us to honour and respect the materials.  I think many people have a strong association between honour and respect, and politeness.  Whereas I think what Michael means by honouring and respecting the materials is that we need to understand the materiality - to have used them sufficiently in a variety of styles to understand what they do or won't do.  So with charcoal what mark does it  make when held like a pen, or on its side; when rolled; stood on; lightly touched, scrubbed until it breaks; blended; rubbed with sponge, towelling, paper stump, varied touch within one movement etc.  And all these things don't fit with most people's concept of honouring the material.  Likewise crumpling a sheet of heavy A1 paper until it feels like tissue, does not fit with most people's concept of respecting the material, until you realise this is a quality of the medium that gives a particular effect.   I can honour the medium of the paper, but I have a particular aversion from the A paper sizes (a hangover from too much time spent working with A4 office paper).  So I'm quite often tearing it to make a different size and shape, but this is not what most people identify as honouring the medium.  Maybe more explanation of the terminology would have helped.

I was absolutely spent by the time I got home at 5.30.  I was mentally exhausted and my legs ached because of standing all day, and the heat (35.9 degrees!).  I showered and made tea.  At 8pm Jim noticed me curled up asleep in the chair, so sent me to bed where I slept for 10 hours.  Who says an art degree is an easy option?!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Swan Bells

Today Maurice and I decided to be tourists.  We took ourselves to Perth on the 31 bus, and went to the Swan Bells.  This is a modern bell tower, based on the shape of sails, that houses 18 bells that originated from St Martins in in the Fields, London. 

Swan Bells, with copper sails and modern glass bell tower

St Martins was being damaged by poorly hung bells, and a deal was struck to send the old bells to Australia, in return for sending iron ore to London to cast new bells.  This co-incided with the Swan Bell tower project which was a Millennium architectural project.  We found out some facts about St Martins, as well as the Swan Bells.  I have worked in London for 30 years, and am familiar with St Martins, but did not know that it is the parish church for Buckingham Palace; that it used to be in an area with fields (!) and that the fields it referred to were Covent Garden. I knew that Covent Garden, was originally called Convent Garden because the convent in central London was supplied by its own garden. St Martin was a saint who worked with the poor and homeless and St Martins church continues to work extensively with homeless people, and I have eaten in the restaurant in the crypt, where the profits are used to fund their work.

The Swan Bells tour gave good information about various aspects of bell ringing and time.  It explained how ringing the changes  was done by changing the position of bell No 1,  then bell No 2 etc.  It had a video display of the casting of the new bells for St Martins, where the pouring of molten metal into the bell mould was shown, from the foundry at Whitechapel.  I used to work in Whitechapel, and was not aware of the location of the foundry.  There are meant to be only 2 bell foundries left in the UK - Whitechapel and Loughborough.
A carillion of bells on the viewing platform

The top of one of the inside of the copper sails from the viewing platform

It also had a good explanation of how the concept of the hour was invented.  This was originally an ancient egyptian concept, where they divided the time from sunrise to sunset into 12 units, year round.  This meant the hour was a variable length of time, depending on the time of year.  Our word "hour" comes from the Latin, Horus, and is also the root of the word horologist, which is a watchmaker.

Swan Bells is right on the riverfront in front of Perth city centre.  There is a lovely open space between the Central Business District, and the waterfront, and the tourism assistant explained that the white lines painted on the greensward indicated the location of a new office block that was about to be built on this lovely open space.  This seemed a great pity to Maurice as it would detract from the spacious feel of the waterfront, and the ability of people to view the Swan Bells from a distance to fully admire its design.
Perth CBD from Swan Bells viewing platform.
You can just see the white lines in the left corner, where the proposed development will be.

Glass bell tower showing internal structure

It was a very hot day today. According to the weather forecast, it reached 36degrees. Maurice and I were disciplined and drank plenty of fluids all day.  When we got back to the flat, where Jim had been doing the housework all day long, I made scones as I had promised.  I did regret not making them before Maurice and I went out, because although the scones were lovely, the oven did make a hot room, even hotter. 

Jim and Maurice plan to go for a bike ride tomorrow morning and have decided to leave about 5.30 or 6am, and be back by 8am to avoid the worst of the heat.  Because we had had a busy day, we each collapsed into bed about 9pm so the boys would be fit for their bike ride.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Maurice's second day in Perth

Jim and I went off for our swim first thing this morning.  We left Maurice sleeping peacefully, as he had had a very long day out and about yesterday, after his long flight.  Our swimming is going well - I'm starting to feel a bit fitter, and more able to swim longer distances with less rest.  This time I did 900m in 25 minutes, whereas before it was taking 30-35 minutes.  The 50m pool is lovely - I could get used to this.  Unfortunately we don't have many 50m pools back in the UK.

On our return to the flat, Maurice and Jim went off to do the domestic shopping.  Maurice has been inspecting grocery prices and agrees with me that most of them seem expensive to us.  We discussed whether higher food prices here led to fewer people being obese than in the UK.  We both think obesity is more apparent in the UK, where food prices are lower, and the population seems to consume more processed rubbish.  However, the Perth area has high rates of pay, because mining is fuelling the economy, so food prices may be proportionate in comparison to the UK.  Maurice particularly noted that more fresh veg is sold here, and most of it is not sold in prepacked plastic containers, as we do in the UK.  Perhaps the Aussies just eat a better diet.  Maybe the UK could learn something here! 

I spent the morning working on my Drawing homework.  I've struggled with this, trying to work out how to use the techniques used in class.  I read my notes from the first class and decided to go with my feeling that I want to work with banksia leaves, and work up a scatter pattern, as preparation for a series of textile designs.  I worked freely in charcoal, and was quite content with the texture, irregularity and flow of the design.  The spacing was not quite right, but quite acceptable for a try-out.   Now I only need to do one more A1 drawing prior to class, and I'm happy that I'm on track. 

Maurice and I took the bus to Curtin University and had a walk around the campus.  Maurice said touring the textile workshop made my blog make more sense, once he had actually seen how the repeat printer works, and the space and layout of the workshop.  We walked the full length of the campus and then had a look around the library. 
Speakers Corner - where international students practice their language skills

Maurice sitting where people wanting conversations in Arabic  or Bengali position themselves
Maurice at Curtin, in his shorts on 11 January. 
How many other English people are wearing shorts today?!

We then took the 30 bus from Curtin, and rang Jim so he could jump on the same bus as it went through Salter Point, on its way to Perth.  Maurice took us out for a celebratory meal to the Brass Monkey, where they served meals that included kangeroo.  Kangeroo is a lean meat with a low fat content, which Maurice tried.  Jim and I conservatively stuck with steak, which was wonderful.  It was a treat to be taken out to dinner, and not to need to cook.

I think both Maurice and I enjoy different aspects of holiday catering.  I enjoy having friends to eat with us, as I pick different food, where it is worth buying it for two.  For example, when Maurice is here, I choose smoked mackerel for salad, as both Maurice and I enjoy it, whereas it is not worth buying it when Jim and I are together, as he does not eat it. (Jim had yesterday's left-over ham with his salad).  Maurice lives by himself, and when away, enjoys not having to do everything himself.  So when I made sandwiches for lunch, he luxuriated in the simple pleasure of someone else choosing what we were going to eat, and preparing it.

We took the 30 bus back to Salter Point and fell into bed at 9pm, as the boys were to be up at 5am to go to running club.

Simple pleasures.  A good life.