not to discipline the yarn but to coax it
not to tell the story but to ask it
This is my advice to you.

(Reprinted with permission from Claudia McGill)


One of my preliminary study pieces for the Opening Stitches project. Opening stitches for this piece were provided by Alexis Yeadon and Susan Weisser.


Another fine line

I love serendipity – I’ve just started reading the catalogue that accompanies the Chuck Close exhibition I saw last week and there in the introductory essay is Close being quoted on crosshatching. The comment is in response to Close’s early study of Albrecht Dürer’s prints that are held in Yale University’s fine print collection.

“In those Dürer prints I saw that the artist had done what was easiest for him. He glued a piece of paper to a woodblock and drew with a pen. The easiest way to draw tonal gradations with a pen is to make a crosshatch stroke. The hardest thing for a printer who must follow the artist’s drawing to do is cut a crosshatch, because you have to go in and cut out the little spaces in between. If Dürer had to cut his own block, he would have made only one crosshatch drawing and then said, “Hey, wait a minute, what am I doing? I have made something so difficult” He would have immediately abandoned crosshatching. But because other people cut the block he could go ahead and draw whatever he wanted, and it became their problem.”

This makes me think that further variations of the water tank drawing could involve using techniques that could be printed in various formats. By looking at the water tank over the course of the day I have realised that I can use the shadows cast onto the tank can help me define it’s shape, without resorting to cross-hatching. Here is the second drawing, which I did a few days ago using my Lamy Safari pen.

Water tank with old chairs, pen and ink, 12 December 2014

Water tank with old chairs, pen and ink, 12 December 2014


The deliciousness of blind drawing

While I sat listening to a talk at the Drill Hall Gallery on Friday, it struck me that I have been moving further away from making ‘blind drawings’, which is something I really enjoy. So out came the pen and I got stuck into it. I had forgotten how I love making the lines.

Person at the Drill Hall Gallery, pen and ink 3 October 2014

Person at the Drill Hall Gallery, pen and ink 3 October 2014

Then I made some further lines.


Second person at the Drill Hall Gallery, pen and ink, 3 October 2014

After the talk was over I had a chance to take in the exhibitions. In one of the galleries Helen Fuller was showing her ceramics. When asked, at the talk,  about their ‘functionality’ she noted that at her place they were excellent receptacles for dead spiders and dust! The pots were engaging and their textured surfaces and simple colouration which worked quite strongly to enhance the thin walls – she only works the clay by pinching and coiling. The arrangement of groups of pots on plinths was also fertile material for drawing.

Helen Fuller pots, numbers 1-3, pen and ink, Drill Hall Gallery, 3 October 2014

Helen Fuller pots, numbers 1-3, pen and ink, Drill Hall Gallery, 3 October 2014

In her artist’s statement Helen quoted John Cage,

It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.

Thinking through the brush, Old Masters – Australia’s Great Bark Artists

Given it was a dull and foggy day with no prospect of seeing the sun before midday, we decided to go to head for the warm interior of the National Museum of Australia (NMA) to see their current major exhibition, Old Masters, Australia’s Great Bark Artists. Holding the largest collection of bark paintings in the country (and I’m assuming probably the world) the Museum has access to some truly great masterworks. If possible, I’d urge you to see the works in person, however if that’s not possible you can explore a large number of these works online, through the link above. Caution: The NMA website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Painting on bark seems to have become the forgotten form of Aboriginal art, at least to the Australian public in general. The works in this exhibition are all by male artists from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Some were collected in the mid 20th century and some of the artists represented, like John Muwurndjul, are still actively painting today. The works are all painted in ochres, clay and charcoal on sheets of bark from a stringybark tree, Eucalyptus tetrodonta.

One of the features of paintings from this region is the rrark, the fine cross-hatching that is an integral part of many works. The quality of the fine, fine rrark just stunned me. Some lines are just 1 mm thick and are consistently painted across the large  barks in steady lines. I only learned at the show that the brushes used to make the fine lines are made from human hair.

Narritjin's Brush, 1970's, a gift to the National Gallery of Australia, 1986 from Professor Howard Morphy.

Narritjin’s Brush, 1970’s, a gift to the National Gallery of Australia, from Professor Howard Morphy in 1986.

One brush used by Narritjin Maymuru is included in the show. The brush, called a marwat, is only about 10cms long and is used for the cross hatching at the final stages of the bark painting. Just in case you can’t read my pencil notes the explanatory note said:

‘See this marwat, it is very clever.’… Narritjin explained to Morphy that he ‘thought with’ or ‘through’ his marwat brush.


When I came home I couldn’t resist having a go at cross-hatching for myself. While I started with watercolour I quickly ran into trouble with getting sufficient opacity in my whites. So I just used my acrylic paint markers instead. I also tried some different colours, such as blue and clear red to see how they might work. I hasten to add that while I am interested in exploring how this technique ‘works’ I am not attempting to appropriate specific patterns that are the cultural property of the artists in the show.

A page of cross-hatching inspired by the work in the Old Masters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.

A page of cross-hatching inspired by the work in the Old Masters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.

There is so much that any artist could learn from in this show. The array of compositional devices that the artist’s use would be a lesson for most of us. The striking portrayal of a kangaroo being stalked by a hunter through the bush, Hunter and Kangaroo, 1974, by Bob Balirrblairr Dirdi, I found particularly impressive – the painting  is the first image in this set. My partner also commented that these works demonstrate just how high the levels of invention can be taken when starting from such a limited range of materials.

This is another one of the amazing shows that the NMA has mounted that seem to be completely under-rated by the viewing public. I understand from the staff at the museum that visitor numbers are lower than hoped for. Much as I love the bold and bright acrylics and wildly expressive brushwork of contemporary Aboriginal art, this exhibition amply demonstrated to me the ability of these artists and the true quality of their art.