Monday, 29 May 2017

Setting the Right Tone

Yet again a long time between drinks.

A lot has been going on, most of which I won't blog about. Private matters that are not entirely down to me to disclose. Suffice it to say things have been hectic and quite stressful. I have, however, managed to keep drawing and painting throughout. Nothing of huge consequence, more to keep me sane than anything else.

I did get a week off (it was that or go under. I've never got to that point before so that was quite confronting), and went to my brother's farm at Murrumbateman. Took a stack of drawing pads, and also my paints, some canvases and a travel easel. I would have loved to have taken my big wooden easel I made, but it came down to that or clothes for the week, and common sense won out. Barely, but hey...

Some painting did get done, although nothing I am willing to show yet, as they are just underpaintings, and for non-figurative abstracts at that, so not terribly exciting to see at this early stage. There was a lot of drawing, quite a bit of Zentangle in the evenings when we all sat down to watch television - I am one of those people who cannot just sit. If I do you can bet I'm coming down with something. Otherwise, no, I have to be doing something. 

It was great to get away on my own, to pootle into Canberra on the odd day to see friends, to hang around the farm, go for walks down to the sheep or out to the cows. Betsy had a calf while I was there. I missed the birth by about an hour. That's what I get for not being vigilant. Nellie, because it's an N year for naming. Unbelievably fluffy, even for a Belted Galloway calf, which are normal fluffy when they're young. A-Spot is due soon, but no movement on that front yet.

By the time I got back I was on a bit more of an even keel, and better able to be the support the family needs. Funnily enough (or not so funnily), as things have improved here, I have found it harder to cope. Not with everything that needs to be done, but with everything else. My presence online has become fleeting, because feeling like you have a huge weight on your chest because of some horrible piece of world news, or because someone has sent you an email or a message that needs a reply, it sort of takes any joy out of the whole exercise. I'm also not keen on socialising as I am finding that very difficult. I was never the most social of animals as it was. Parties are my idea of personal hell, social lunches are stressful, etc., (I love seeing friends, but I worry all the time about what to say and then beat myself up afterwards about what I did say. So... fun. Not) and right now it's much worse. So I've been keeping myself to myself socially, while making sure all the medical appointments are met and school meetings are done and everything else that is required.

I know I've missed birthdays and news and other people's lives, and I'm sorry. I'm especially sorry about missing a friend's 40th. I had a drawing planned and it's only half happened because yet another crisis hit while I was working on it. It will get done. It will just be very, very late.

So what the hell am I doing on the blog today? This will make you laugh, albeit wryly. After things going well for a while and me consequently freaking out, yesterday we spiralled back down into one of the deeper levels of hell. So here I am today, writing on a blog. I know, it's crazy. Yet, it is what it is.

Where's the art in this? Are you asking that? Is anyone even out there?

My eldest is in the final year of high school and has a number of major works for subjects, including art. She wants to do a series of portraits in graphite on paper, but wants to do something a bit special. I am introducing her to the wonderful world of coloured paper and graphite with white chalk. Add a bit of drama, do something most other high school students won't even have an inkling of. Old technique, but technique doesn't seem to be something taught anymore. What do I mean anymore? It wasn't taught when I was at high school, too, too long ago. Luckily I learnt later, and I'm getting my child onto it a darn sight earlier than I did.

I grabbed about half an hour on the weekend to sit in my work room (while everyone else was asleep) and do a quick pencil sketch in a grey sketchbook. The colour is a little warmer than I'd like. There are flecks of red fibres through the paper that just kick the temperature in the wrong direction, but as this was for demonstration purposes I wasn't too bothered (it is not one of my favourite books). It was supposed to be Evangeline Lily as Tauriel from The Hobbit, but the jaw and mouth aren't right. Some days a likeness just doesn't happen, but that wasn't the point of the exercise, so again I wasn't too bothered (well, I was a bit, but I put up with it).

Tonal Study 1, Megan Hitchens, graphite on grey paper, 2017

The colour isn't quite accurate, but you get the idea.

Once everyone was up and about and breakfasted, the eldest and I sat down together and I took to the drawing with a white chalk pencil while we talked about using the paper for your midtones, how very old and very young subjects should always be on cool colours while those in between are fine on warm and cool, and why that is (it's to do with body temperature. Draw a child on a warm paper and they look older than they should), what to do with darker mids (light application of graphite) and lighter mids (light application of chalk).

After a couple of minutes (the conversation took longer than the chalk did), we ended up with this:

Tonal Study 2, Megan Hitchens, graphite, white chalk on grey paper, 2017

The paper colour is pretty much right in this one. Same camera, same room, same desk, just later in the morning. Amazing the difference a few hours can make. And amazing the difference the chalk makes too. That really is the only difference between the two - this one has highlights in white chalk.

The offspring was suitably interested and now has a pile of coloured papers from my stash and one of my chalk pencils. I tend to use actual chalk sticks, but starting out with the pencil is probably a little more familiar.

By the way, the pencil used is a Blackwing. I love my Blackwing so much. I have a stack of pencils from 4H to 6B, but I tend to use the ultra hard ones for fine sharp lines and otherwise just go with the Blackwing. I can get line variations that match everything from an HB to a 6B with the one pencil, and it is heavenly to draw with. So all that tonal variation you can see in the graphite is the one pencil.

And finally, because I can never leave well enough alone, and because I love trois crayons (although technically this isn't because it's graphite rather than black chalk), I went back into my work room for a couple of minutes and whipped out the sanguine.

Tonal study 3, Megan Hitchens, graphite, white chalk, sanguine chalk on grey paper, 2017

The hair really benefitted, but the face not so much. I'll try to do her again, because the lack of likeness is bothering me after all. And I'll do it on warmer paper. It will be interesting to compare the effect.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Getting in a Bind

Not art, but art related. I have actually been getting some drawing done, but not nearly enough, so I embarked upon a clever plan to completely distract myself (I'm very good at those. I can stay off track for days).

Despite not drawing enough, I tend to run out of sketch books, particularly small ones. Large sketch pads I have a surfeit of, but small ones get used up quickly. And finding replacements can be tough. I am very particular. They're the wrong shape, or not small enough, or too small. I like hard covers - well, they are hideously expensive. So I have decided to solve the problem myself. I'm making them.

There are about eight at the moment all cut and folded, sorted into signatures, with sewing holes sawn. I made a make-shift book press some time ago and the books have been gradually put through it, sitting for a week or so to flatten the folds.

I was making do with my old tapestry frame and my woodwork table as a sewing frame, but frankly, this was a pain and it meant I had to do all my sewing in the garage, which with the hot weather hasn't been really viable.

As of yesterday I have this:

My sewing frame. Joint effort. I love it even if it is just MDF

It's a proper sewing frame. Not a deluxe wood one, with wooden threaded screws, etc. They are very hard to come by, often broken, and often quite pricey when one does turn up. It's only MDF and threaded rod with some hexagonal nuts and wing nuts, but it will do the job.

I had seen ones similar to this on the internet, so I went through my supplies to see what I had. That's why it's MDF. The rods were for another project about which I have changed my mind (more to come on that), same with the nuts. The wing nuts were the only supplies bought specially for this.

The whole thing was going to be assembled in an afternoon, but then I made the disappointing discovery that the drill bit I needed wouldn't fit in my little hand drill. The flange was about 1mm too thick. So I took the whole thing up to my father-in-law, who is an excellent carpenter with lots of equipment. I had intended to get advice and ask to use his equipment, but he got really interested in it all, and I get uncomfortable asking to use his tools, because I know how I feel about people using mine (even though mine are really crappy and I don't look after them well enough at all).

We ended up talking through the whole thing, me drawing plans and putting measurements on them, and then I left it with him.

The hot weather has delayed this. Working in a garage in the heat and humidity is not a good idea. But finally it has cooled down. Father got a piece of scrap MDF out of his supplies to make the top bar (I'd forgotten to take mine up, but it was thicker so this has worked out nicely). And he cut the slot with the router - I'd have had to hand drill holes and then used a handsaw. I could have done it, but it would have taken ages. It's because of the slot that I was happy with MDF rather than real timber as it's fairly soft. Plus, I had it to hand, so no extra expense.

Father brought all the pieces back yesterday and I assembled them, and then I spent yesterday afternoon making keys for the cords. Again, they're just out of MDF scraps I had lying around.

The keys. I am quite pleased with these.
I thought they might not be strong enough, but so far so good.

This afternoon I spent a pleasant few hours in the dining room, sewing in comfort. Hooray!

This afternoon's efforts.

Next up is a lying press. I have the blocks all made, and my father-in-law sanded them and got them all the same length and height for me. You buy timber from Bunnings (there was my mistake in the first place) and the planks are all supposed to be the same, yet there is a difference of about 2mm from one plank to the next. And I don't own a plane, which I should, so Father to the rescue again.

The press is on the French design rather than the English, so I am looking for a veneer press screw. Once I track one down, I'll send the blocks back up to Father to get the needed holes drilled and then, with backing boards and finishing plates I can do every aspect of the covers and spines.

Distraction done and starting to get drawing ideas again.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Hard Endings

I first found Terry Pratchett about 1985, when I was 17. I picked up a copy of Strata from a newsagent because I thought it sounded interesting, and then had to hunt down Dark Side of the Sun (the newsagent near my work carried all sorts of books, including Tanith Lee. Not what one would expect). A year later I found The Colour of Magic and fell headlong into the world of the Disc.

The first two books were, by Mr Pratchett's own admission, an opportunity to tell lots of jokes, the story mainly serving as a platform for said jokes. But then it switched. From Equal Rites onwards the story was the focus and the jokes served it. Served it so well, but still served rather than ruled.

I have loved those stories. I would wait (sometimes not very patiently) for the next one to come out, and would disappear into the new book until it was read. My kids have grown up with Mum periodically doing everything while reading. Amazing how much of dinner can be prepared one-handed.

Each book was deeper than the one before, and in the meantime others would come along. The Johnny Maxwell books (Only You Can Save Mankind And If Not You Who Else, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb), The Unadulterated Cat (never was a truer book written about catkind), Truckers, Diggers, Wings. Good Omens with Neil Gaiman. And just recently the Long Earth Books with Stephen Baxter. But always there was the Disc, and Great A'Tuin and the Elephants. I have a copy of Where's My Cow? which I read to my youngest when he was younger, so by the time he was old enough last year to start entering the Discworld on his own he was well acquainted with Sam Vimes, and Lord Vetenari ("Please, don't let me detain you") and Foul Old Ron.

From 2000 the stories became darker, well before his 2007 diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's, and ,in my opinion at least, the darkness made them even better. Most, but not all, of my favourites date from this time on.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr Pratchett several times over the years and always found a generous man willing to talk to fans and play in games (see? It pays to be a con nerd) and to share his love of language and observing people. The last time I met him (many years ago now), he remembered me, which still fills me with wonder to this day.

And the books kept coming, and the Disc was part of my life.

And then, about eighteen months ago (so long?), Terry Pratchett died. He had so many stories still to tell, at least 20 years' worth. We were robbed, but not so much as his family were, for whom the loss must have been devestating.

I got a special edition of the final novel, the Shepherd's Crown, in a slip case. I got it out once, to look at it and then put it back on the shelf. When the paperback came out I got a copy of that, but it has only been in the last few days that I have screwed up the will to read it, and could at first only read it in small doses. Once that was done, there would be no more.

Paul Kidby, cover of The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett, 2015, Doubleday
There had been a few unfavourable reviews "you can tell he was going downhill", "the weakest novel", "lacking", etc. Gods, people can be shits. When Mr Pratchett wrote, he wrote in pieces and then put it together, and then polished, and then wrote extra links, and then went back and reworked parts, and then added new notes, and then wrote some more. And finally was forced to give a book to the publisher even though he felt there was still more to do. And admittedly, there are a couple of passages in the Shepherd's Crown where there was a little bit of polish missing. But other than that, there is no difference in quality, and certainly not in the story-telling. Tiffany Aching is one of my favourite characters, and Granny Weatherwax another. And he did not disappoint me with either of them.

I have to admit, I cried a lot in this book. At the beginning, because I was starting the last book, and then near the beginning because it was deeply moving. Then at several places in the book because it too was moving. On the train this afternoon, coming home from a day in Sydney, the woman beside me must have thought I was a nut because I was in floods. The end of the book was beautiful and sad and uplifting. And then it was the end of the book. And truth be told I took off my glasses, put my head in my hands and tried very hard not to sob. That was it. Done. The end of it all. And a good end. A good one to bow out on. But he was made to bow out. And when you look at the shits in this world who go on and on and on, it is wrong and unfair that people like Terry Pratchett are gone. Douglas Adams too. The week Adams died, some stupid security guy saved George W. Bush from choking on a peanut. Could we not have swapped that?

I had one longstanding gripe with the Discworld books, and that was the covers. A friend of mine was commissioned to do some book covers some time ago, so I know how it works. The artist is given a brief and has to do their best to interpret it. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they have read the book, but usually not. I never liked Josh Kirby's covers. They were sexist and overloaded. Granny particularly pissed me off. In Wyrd Sisters, Granny was very well described. She was not a haggard old crone with a hooked nose and crooked back, and there was not a wart to be seen. Yet, how did Kirby draw her? You guessed it. Complete witch stereotype. What was the publisher thinking? Since Paul Kidby took over, the covers have been much more satisfying. Folklore of the Discworld has a much better version of Granny adorning its cover. Kidby clearly read and loved the books and the amount of collaberation he did with Pratchett speaks volumes about how the author felt regarding the new interpretations.

Josh Kirby, cover of Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, 2008, Gollancz books. Had he actually read the description of Granny? I can't believe so
Paul Kidby, Granny Weatherwax from Maskerade:Patron of the Opera by Terry Pratchett, 2012. While the clothes are atypical (there are reasons for that. Read the book), this is otherwise Granny through and through. A man who knows the Discworld characters. Granny would bridle if I added "intimately", and Nanny would leer.
I think The Art of Discworld is the one thing I am now missing. Don't know how that happened. Time to pick it up.

There are drawings of Great A'Tuin upstairs somewhere, done over the years. But I shan't share them. They were drawn by me, for me, not as fan art. And anyway, Mr Kidby has done the definitive paintings of the Star Turtle, so that's that.

I wish I could say thank you to Mr Pratchett for thirty two years of wonderful stories. I really wish I could say thank you to him for many many more. As usual, Tiffany Aching helps to take the pain away. Time to go back to the beginning.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

An Apple A Day

As I said in my last post, which was, I admit, a bit miserable, I have enrolled in a taster course in Natural History and Scientific Illustration. Seeing what I think about it. It's online, so not as onerous as it could be or perhaps should be. But a lot is expected of us and it is really sorting out those who are seriously interested and those who thought it would be a fun way to "learn to draw" (god help them).

I missed one homework assignment due to home stuff, but fortunately it was one of the voluntary extras. I am working on finishing it, but the submission date is been and gone.

The first few weeks were: playing with pencils, how to keep a field journal and basic observational drawing. I should have done some gesture drawings this week. I'll get round to them. Thank the gods there are no marks associated with that bit. I will get round to them.

Anyway, I've decided to share a couple of things I have done and actually submitted, because I rather like them. They are a bit amateurish, but I'm getting there. Time to practice is essential, and a bit thin on the ground.

We were asked to do an observational drawing of several objects from nature. I chose the apple blossoms from my garden. I love my heritage apples, but I don't take anywhere near enough care of them. They didn't get pruned again this winter gone. And the time to net them was a couple of days ago. If I do them NOW I may be apple to avoid fruit fly. Maybe.

They were all in bloom when the assignment came up so I got out and cut off blossoms from the four of them. Okay, so Granny Smiths are not heritage apples, but the other three are. Being a bear of small brain, and a somewhat turbulent one at the moment, I didn't think to put them in water, so the drawings became a race against time. And looking at them now, I realise I got them mixed up. The Calville Blanche d'Hiver is actually the Tydeman's Early (my variety is a russet, with a lovely honey flavour). The Peasgood Nonsuch is actually the Calville Blanche d'Hiver. And the Tydeman's Early is really the Peasgood (the flowers died before I got to them). So I got them completely mixed up. But on the bright side, my drawings were good enough that I could work out exactly which was which.
Apple Blossoms, Megan Hitchens, graphite on white paper, 2016
As to the apples themselves, once found how could I NOT grow an apple called Peasgood Nonsuch? Plus, it's delicious. The Tydeman's is a cider apple that you can eat as is, and if you know anything about Caravaggio then you have seen a Calville Blanche d'Hiver. He painted them a few times. I'd been on the look out for it for some time, and then had the opportunity to buy a tree. Quite a bumpy apple, but lovely flavour.

This past week we had to start keeping a field journal. It's different drawing out in the "wild". The wind comes up, it rains, the sun comes out, or goes behind a cloud. Insects hover and buzz and love the white page. Where has my brush gone? A familiar refrain but now I am looking for it in unfamiliar places. We had to pick our best page and post it. I got it onto the site a day late, but I'm glad I waited for this last one to be finished, as it is my best one.
Japanese Black Pine, Megan Hitchens, graphite, water colour pencils and white ink on Bristol Board, 2016
We had to do sketches and then indicate colour, rather than colour the whole thing. And include field notes. No idea if I am on the right track. I do know that I have labelled the male strobili as anthers. I'll get there.

Anyway, that's what I have been up to, in amongst the chaos.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

On The Futility of Always Going Last

I saw an interview with Margaret Olley about twenty years ago. She was talking about her life as an artist, and what she said struck me then and has stayed with me every since. "If you are a woman and you want to be an artist, don't marry and don't have children".

I have had several male artist friends tell me in scoffing tones that this is not true, "not now", that Olley was talking about her experiences from another time. But by hell, it is true. You can be a woman and an artist (or a farmer, or whatever) but it is a LOT harder if you have a spouse and/or kids.

Part of this is my fault. I fall for the conditioned feelings of guilt and martyrdom that are ingrained in most women. We must put everyone else first, to do otherwise is somehow selfish and wrong. And everyone else's desires and careers are somehow intrinsically more important. Anything goes wrong in the home or needs extra attention, I'm the one who has to deal with it. Which is fair enough, given I don't have a wage coming in and I work from home. Except I see female friends who are working for a wage still being the ones to deal with all the home-front stuff, having to take time off or juggle doctor's appointments and school issues and what have you. Never their male partners. And we don't push back, or at least not very hard, because that is somehow wrong, or ungrateful, or something. I fight against this, but the feelings are strong, the conditioning deep. There are times when I really hate this society.

There has been a lot of crap going on here, just day to day, I have children crap. I also started doing some courses to see if I could keep everything going and consider going back to finish the PhD. I have somehow (and sporadically) kept drawing and painting throughout, although the blogging has pretty much gone (something had to, and it's the least vital). Recently I enrolled in an online taster course in Natural History and Scientific Illustration, just as everything here went into light-speed overdrive and became absolutely crazy. At a time when I have also started questioning a whole lot of things (not least of which is "just what am I doing?"). Everyone has needed me, all the time. And everyone's needs have been genuine. But it's been all at once. A bit like buses. You wait ages with nothing and then three turn up at once. Well, that's how it has worked out, only I wish it was just three.

By the time I get through my day, and get everyone else through their days, and hold the fort and do all the normal house duties crap that never bloody stops, and finally get a little time for myself, I am too wasted, emotionally and physically, to even think about the drawings I need to do for my course. The requirements aren't onerous, but at the moment they are too much. I'm getting my homework in, but today it was a day late. And it's because everything else comes first.

It's not just me. I am, by no means saying it is. And a lot of women have it a whole LOT harder than I do. I'm just really sick of it at the moment. No, I'm sick of it for good. I am really, really tired of it. And not just for me, for all us.

I have a friend who is a goat farmer. She is a strong, independent woman who knows her own mind and pursues her own goals. She's also a teacher and a mentor to others. I admire her greatly. Lives on her own. Why? Because when she tries living with a man, his wants come before her needs. She ended up throwing the last guy out because he really thought his wants were more important. It wasn't stated or asserted or anything, it was just demonstrated on a daily basis with the way he lived and with the way he expected her to live. She was to be there for him. Not the other way round, not even as a two-way street (apparently he talked a good two-way street). Her life was to be built around him. On her own farm. Which she owned. So she threw him out.

I'm not advocating we all start throwing out our partners. But I think I really need to start saying "this is what I need", "this is what I am doing". It's done often enough the other way, with no assertions or demands for a fair go, just as the way life works. Men do what they want, women fit in. Because there seems little concept in the world of taking turns when it comes to married women, and particularly married women with children.

And here's the really stupid thing. I am in two minds about letting this post stand. I feel like I am being unfair, having a moan, being stupid. But I'm not. My art is important. It may not pay at the moment, but if it always comes second, or even third (which is more usual), then it will NEVER pay. And I will go my grave thinking, "Shit, how did I let this happen?" And it is not the fault of my kids. They need me right now, both of them, and I can't desert them. And good parents do put their kids first and sacrifice to get them through and keep them going. But not all the time. Not everything. And it's not selfish when you say "what I am doing is important too". Or to say, "I'm sorry, but you need to step up this time". To not always put what you want or need last after everyone else. Or to spend so much energy keeping everyone else afloat that you don't notice you are the one sinking.

Every time you don't say "No" or "me" or "my time", it makes it harder to say it the next time, and the next. If you have young women in your life, be they daughters, granddaughters, nieces, friends, whatever, tell them their wishes for their life, their desires for career, their pursuits, are just as important as their brothers' or fathers' or cousins' or friends' or partner's desires and wishes. They have just as much right as the men in the world and don't have to step back or follow quietly because "he already has a job" or "he wants to study" or whatever it is that is being put forward. Just as much right and her pursuits are just as important. Make sure they know and support them in their decisions and desires.

But Margaret Olley was right. If you want to be an artist, and you are a woman, don't get married and don't have kids.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Show Yourself Out, Goat...

You sucked.*

I'll try to not make this post a bit of a whinge. Although I won't succeed, because it is, by nature, a bit of a whinge. But what it is meant to be is a bit of self-berating to get myself back on track.

2015, the Year of the Goat, sucked. It didn't suck as badly for me as it did for others, but it wasn't good.

Two exhibitions, neither of which sold a thing (admittedly one was very small, but still...). Lots of family stuff that needed my full attention, and seemed to never end. Lots of other stuff that you don't need to hear (I'm burdening you enough already). Ill. My god, ill. Every little thing going and quite a few big things too. Pneumonia is not fun, may I add.

The bloody Black Dog made his presence more than felt. I have a deep desire to chain him on the porch, but the damned thing keeps slipping his lead, getting inside and howling like the hellhound that he is. Or just sitting there, in the dark, a demon from the depths. And the wretched creature whispers. All the time.

I made a terrible mistake that hurts someone else, and it runs round and round my head. All the scenarios, all the opportunities at which point I could have chosen to do some small thing differently and avoided catastrophe. But didn't. In the end I became immobilised. Unable to do my family history, unable to paint or draw, or blog, feeling unworthy of anything that brings joy or peace or satisfaction. I have to accept that mistakes get made and constantly beating myself for every single one, and shredding myself for this one, won't change a thing. Won't help anyone. So, hard as it is, I have to let it go and make what paltry amends I can and just get on with things. Even if I don't deserve it. Because everyone else doesn't deserve to live with me like this.

And the children had a rough year. I fought for them, as any mother does, and things have improved a lot for my son, but my daughter continues to struggle. We'll sort something out, find a solution, keep it all going. Can I say I hate the one-size-fits-some education system? Her school is very supportive, but the curriculum is crap, and BOSTES needs... I don't know what it needs, but it needs it. Deliberately disadvantaging kids with reading difficulties because the head "doesn't believe" in the solution is beyond words. Well into the range of tearing fury. What would happen if she didn't believe in reading glasses? Or hearing aids? Or braille?

And the spouse has had a hard time at work this year. Lots of pressure, long hours. He hasn't been home much, and when he is, he's still caught up in it all. So, from a selfish point of view, I have had to manage the kids pretty much on my own. Which is mean to say, but hey, that's the way it has had to be. I probably haven't supported him as much as I should, but he's gotten whatever I have had left.

So maybe I should be proud that I got two exhibitions in last year (even if one was small). Because guess what I jettisoned first, in all the crap that was the Year of the Goat. It seems ever thus.

Margaret Olley said if you are female and want to be an artist, don't get married and don't have children. There are many days, and a lot of them fell in 2015, when I know she was right.

I had a long talk to my daughter yesterday afternoon, about her and what she is going through, about her future and what she wants. She is so incredibly gifted, in so many areas, but just lately her artistic streak has come roaring to the fore. She is astounding. If we can sort out Years 11 and 12, or TAFE, or something, get her through this, she is going to do some astonishing things.

It is a great comfort to me to say to her what I was never told. That if she loves something and goes for it, she will find a way to make a living from it, and be much happier in the long run. There will be no sense of disappointment from her parents if she isn't "earning" (since when is money the mark of a person's worth or ability?), or "achieving" (which always has such a narrow definition, anyway). We are there for her no matter what. And whatever she wants to do, we will help her work out how to do it, should she want that help. There are always ways.

At the end of a very long discussion, do you know what my beautiful girl did? She turned and said, "What about you, Mum? What do you want?"

I have to admit, I was a bit low because of all the school stuff yesterday (calls from support workers, while trying to help find solutions, can turn one's day on its head. Still, better to know), so my answers, while stating what I wanted, were filled with reasons why not. And my girl told me what I needed to do, gave me a plan of action, just as I had been devising action plans for her. And told me how much she believes in me and reminded me that I always say to the kids "It's never too late" ("unless," she clarified, "you've just been given six weeks to live or something. Then you'd have to say it's too late." She's quite direct). And she gave me a list of things to not focus on.

And at about three this morning, for the first time in a long time, I woke with an idea, instead of waking with worries. I've spent time this morning thinking about it, doing some preliminary sketches. Actually feeling like I can create something. Of course, after such a hiatus I am rusty, so the next few days will largely be warm up exercises, and doing other stuff like grounds and things, just to make sure I am back in the game and not drifting off again.

This year is the Year of the Monkey. More than that, it's the Year of the Fire Monkey. So maybe it will be ragingly better. That or it will burn everything to the ground. Fingers crossed for the former.

For the record, I always thought I was a Monkey (Earth Monkey to be precise). I now find out I am actually at the tail end of the Sheep (or Goat, either way a fibre animal. Go figure), and a Fire Sheep to boot. So maybe this is the year that this dag end of a Sheep finally gets back on track.

I was looking for an image for this blog, and I wasn't satisfied with my own drawings of monkeys or goats. They just didn't fit the bill for one reason or another. And the Black Dog gets enough of a look-in, so no drawings of that, thank you. In the end I googled Durer, because I like his monkey and goat drawings (actually, let's just change that to "I love Albrecht Durer"). I found this and it made me laugh. Perfect. Every drawing of the Virgin and Child should have a monkey in it. Go, Albrecht.+

The Virgin and Child with Monkey, Albrecht Durer, 1498, engraving, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA
*The title and first sentence is courtesy of Robert Brown. He pretty much summed up 2015.
+Mark Calderwood, what's the symbolism of monkeys in this context?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Back In Black

And even longer between buses.

Finally I am back in the saddle again. Each winter I say "Wow, I have never been so sick" and each winter I seem to top the winter before.

And every time I have a hiatus with my art production I end up gripped by an irrational fear - that I have lost the ability to create. Which isn't true. Sure, skills get rusty if you don't use them. It takes a little bit to get back in the swing of things. But the ability is still there. It just needs a push. And pushing something that's rusty needs a bit more effort than if it is running smoothly.

So I tell my brain that the fear is irrational and I push myself.

This time the push came in the form of drawing on black.

Back in May I started a drawing of my favourite guitarist, Josh Goering. But then the coughing and the shakes and the headaches and the wildly swinging temperatures started. Which makes it a little difficult to draw.

As you may have realised by now, I am rather entranced by the trois crayons technique - three colours of chalk on paper, namely white, black and sanguine. You can get a staggering array of colours with just those three, depending on the colour of the paper you use. A ground closest to a vellum tone gives the best range, but changing what you're working on produces interesting effects. And then there are temperature shifts. Working on blue or cool grey, as opposed to reds, yellows and warm greys. There seems to be endless choices to explore.

And what better way to explore than on black? I was excited when I started back in May, which is just as well, because having something exciting to plunge back in with made overcoming irrational fears a little easier. It took surprisingly little to get it finished. It's not perfect. The likeness isn't as close as I would like. It's more like Pirate Jesus or Blackbeard playing the guitar than Josh, but the technique stands up well on the dark paper. Although photographing it has been a nightmare. I ended up in three different lights, with a tripod, and lots of deletions and muttering. And then there is the endless fiddling in the photo software to try to get the photo to look like the original drawing.

At any rate, here's what I ended up with. Two versions, because of different lighting. I like each but for different reasons.

Josh Goering 2, Megan Hitchens, 2015, trois crayons on black paper
Josh Goering, Megan Hitchens, 2015 trois crayons on black paper

The lower light one hasn't as much clarity and the colours are more subdued, but I do like it. The colours in the lighter one are more accurate, but the paper looks grey rather than black. C'est la vie.

Not to stop there. I like Zentangle, and I love the official supplies. The paper is particularly beautiful - Italian, 100% cotton, luscious. They have black paper too, which is exactly the same, but died black. The dye has a curious effect. It makes the paper velvety to the touch. A little more challenging to use, but so lovely. I do use it for Zentangle, but I also use it for basic drawing.

Being ill meant I missed a few birthdays for people. Often I just send a Boynton card (who doesn't love Sally Boynton? The woman is a genius), but I also like to do a drawing when I can. Which really didn't happen at all. So I have decided that at the beginning of each year I will draw a couple of images, scan them and then send them for all the birthdays that year. Well, that's the plan, but as I have said before, the best laid plans of mice and Megans. We'll see what happens.

That said, I drew a birthday image, or three actually, which I can use for the remainder of this year. For those I have missed, sorry, you'll get a copy of this in the next few days, hopefully. For those with it coming up, sorry, I've spoilt the surprise.

These are drawn on the black Zentangle paper, in white pencil, white gel pen and soap stone. So a rather different technique to the drawings above.

Balloon Flowers, Megan Hitchens, 2015, white pencil, white gel pen, soap stone on black 100% cotton paper

I love balloon flowers. They are traditionally blue. Watching them open never gets dull. My aunt gave me a plant years ago (it has since died, as has she, I'm sorry to say, although she was in her mid 90s when she went. Amazing woman. I'll have to tell you about her some time). I drew these listening to Abney Park's cover of "O Holy Night" (I firmly believe in Christmas in July), and for some reason got an image of glowing balloon flowers blooming in dark alleys of Victorian London. Don't ask why. I have no idea. They peel open, the light intensifies and then softens to a gentle glow. Given the dark mire of the modern world, how many of us are trying to bloom in the dark?

It is meant as encouragement.

Anyway, that's me and probably the product of all the high temperatures. I'm sure my brain has been a bit more cooked than usual.