painting by memory

We found ourselves in an odd situation the other day. We went to see a major travelling exhibition, Shakespeare to Winehouse, which has come to Australia from the National Portrait Gallery, London. We knew that there was no photography allowed, but I was taken aback when the security guard asked me to put my pencil away as there was no drawing allowed in the exhibition either.*

Apart from being very annoyed I was at rather a loss because sketching is my favourite way of recording exhibitions. After going through the exhibition we beat a quick retreat to the coffee shop where I furiously wrote notes on the paintings/ photographs that caught my attention. Did I mention that you couldn’t even take notes in pencil in the gallery?

However, after we got back home, it dawned on me that I could at least try and paint some of the works from memory – it’s hard to keep a determined artist down.

This is a first for me and I can’t say that I had prepared myself for the experience. Nevertheless I managed two acrylic studies, neither of which give a terribly accurate rendering of their sources, but it was fun. (And yes, I do know that I can download all the paintings online. It was just more fun doing it this way).

Drawn from memory: partially completed, Richard Avedon, 1960, photograph of WH Auden in New York (NPG P614) – acrylic paint on collaged cardboard
Drawn from memory: Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829, unfinished portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (NPG 7032)

If you are interested in 15 minutes of relaxing video you can watch me paint this study by following this link.

  • I have confirmed with the lending institution that both photography and sketching are allowed in their gallery. It just seems that our local host organisation has gotten all draconian. I don’t know why as so far they haven’t gotten around to replying to my complaint email. I will update this if and when I hear from them.
  • Shortly after posting this blog I heard from the local gallery to say that the restrictions were, in part, to do with copyright issues for living artists. Also that high visitor numbers in their relatively smaller rooms made photography and sketching a problem with obstruction (my words). They are at least holding out a ray of hope for the sketchers. Apparently, they are monitoring visitor numbers to identify quieter periods when sketching might be allowed.
  • The full text of both replies can be found on my Instagram account @leonieandrewsart.
Detail of Wellington’s head.

Are your colour/color pencils lightfast?

This is not a question that I thought I would be asking, except that I recently read an article talking about the low lightfastness rating of many of my favourite Prismacolor pencils. Given how important I think lightfastness is for watercolours it’s somewhat strange that I haven’t considered this as an issue before.

All my Prismacolors

I had a hunt through my pencil box for my Prismacolors and checked them against the lightfastness chart that the company has released. I discovered that just over half of the colours that I own are in the top two lightfastness ratings categories. Phew! Those pencils I can continue to use without worry. The rest are in the bottom three categories. That means I wouldn’t use them for any work that I would be likely to sell, but I can use them on casual projects or for general ‘colouring in’ activities.

What I am confident to use long term.

Presently I am using my pencils to make colour interpretations of photographs of statues taken by the German artist Aglaia Konrad, in her book Schaubuch: Skulptur. (Yep, weird, but so me). As this is an exercise for me and all the drawings are in a sketchbook I will continue with using the lower rates colours, but I won’t replace them.

My colour pencil interpretation of an Aglaia Konrad photo of sculpture fragments in her book Schaubuch: Skulptur

As an aside, when I dived into the depths of the world of colour pencils (I don’t recommend it, it was terrifyingly obsessed), I found out that 4 of my pencils weren’t included on the lightfastness list. It turns out that they are considered ‘rare’ (sadly not rare enough to get me on Antiques Roadshow, or upgrade my lifestyle). They are discontinued colours from a previous incarnation of the company and were made in the late 1980’s. These colours were later discontinued when the company changed hands.

In the end my other half decided to get serious and order a set of lightfast Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 pencils. I have swatched them out below and I am pleasantly surprised by some of the colours this set of 20 includes.

A brief encounter

I am at the end of a very brief encounter with Ikara-Flinders Range National Park and I would desperately love to be giving it more attention.

The southern end of Wilpena Pound with a headcovering of cloud.

We have just spent the second of two full days staying at Wilpena Pound. Tomorrow we leave. The weather has been vile. Cold, rainy and blowing a gale. But, but, but … it’s breathtaking.

The view from Razorback Lookout with a rainbow between showers (PS that funny line in the photo is one of the wires around the lookout).

We have sketched from our car, all of the first day and some of our second day. But my biggest frustration with this experience is finding my own voice because I seem to be painting other people’s paintings.

Australians will have some familiarity with the work of watercolourist Albert Namatjira and possibly with photographer Harold Casneaux, whose image ‘Spirit of Endurance‘, was made only a short distance from where we are staying.

So when I start painting I see Namatjira’s work floating in front of me. It’s a challenge to paint with that over your head. However, the more I  thought about it I realised that I should learn from those artists, before I worry about my own style.

Late afternoon light on Wilpena Pound.

Obviously I just need to get on with it.

Wilpena Pound from Bunyeroo Gorge drive.