Watercolor sketch on the roadAs I write I realize this is the 12th time we have done this road trip across Australia but…the last time was 28 years ago. It is an unexpectedly interesting experience sitting in the car hour after hour. Of course our conversation touches on all sorts of topics. Commenting on how this or that is different. Our conversation moves in and out of the trivial stuff of travel, on how much our petrol consumption is, or we hazard a bet on what the coffee in the next small town is likely to be like. Other times as the road stretches out before us our talk turns to  times past and to review some period in our lives while also noticing the wildlife of emus, hawks, kestrels, kangaroos and Pelicans. Rain clouds build on the horizon and wind buffets the car.  Or we act like two old people and complain at other drivers who appear fatigued or lost. We  observe the health of the land, new industries and old industries gone.  In some parts of the country the land looks sicker in other the land looks healthier. Wind and Solar farms are noticeable additions to the view. The miles tick on and conversation wanders …

This sketch is done in watercolor, graphic tint pencils, watercolor pencil, and Pitt pen in a Hahnemühle “Draft and Sketch” book which is made up of 140gsm natural white paper. It is not really made for watercolor and wet media but seems to be handling it OK.

This is my first contribution towards #WorldWatercolorMonth

World Watercolour Month will run during July. The aim is share and inspire people to paint with watercolor or gouache in the process also highlighting the importance of art and creativity. Anyone can join, create something with Watercolour,aquarelles gouache Simply tag any art that uses watercolors (or gouache) with #WorldWatercolorMonth.

Full details are on the official site www.worldwatercolor.com

It’s a long road ahead

In between the chaos of packing clothes, art gear, food, camping stuffs, checking if things work, replacing things that don’t…. And all that pre trip activity, I have been playing at school projects. Just like my school projects when I was a child they are a bit dodgy but they do get the information across.

We are going to drive across Australia and since announcing our trip plans over on Pintangle.com I have had a few emails indicating that many people outside Australia don’t really have a sense of how big the place is. So I went looking for maps of Australia overlapping USA and Europe. I tried to find one that was open source so I was legally able to share it. But I could not find one so I decided to start my travel journal and sketch out a pair.

Map of Australia overlapping USA

The first image is a map of Australia that overlaps USA. The red line is the route we will take across the country, starting in Canberra and driving to Fremantle just south of Perth.

Map of Australia overlapping Europe

Here is a map of Australia overlapping Europe. As readers can see this little tootle down the road is actually quite a road trip.

If you want to confirm my maps just google “map of Australia overlapping USA” or “Map of Australia overlapping Europe”.

Anyway as we travel I plan to keep in touch here, perhaps share some sketches from my travel journal, photos and stuff. I am going to try a few different things in my travel journal – so it should be fun and perhaps it might spark a few ideas for your next travel journal too.

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Slowing down to look

This is a heads up on thought provoking article about how we Slowing down in a Museum from The New York Times. Make a cuppa and read the article as the key point Stephanie Rosenbloom makes is to slow down and spend time with a painting. I am suggesting you slow down, read the article and think about how we encounter artworks in a gallery.  Stephanie Rosenbloom suggests that 20 minutes in front of painting will reveal more meaning to the viewer than racing to see the top 10 pieces in a collection. I agree with her.

Much of contemporary life has become about collecting experiences and catching a selfie in front of not only famous works of art but in front of famous icons such as the Sydney harbour bridge or the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, on the Great Wall of China etc. I have nothing against selfies as such, but I do wonder what does this experience mean? What is actually happening when people dash here and there, seeing this and that? What is this fetish with collecting experiences? The activity becomes similar to someone collecting stamps.

The process puzzles me. In the case of viewing a painting if people treat the gallery experience as if they are scanning text on a computer screen the quick fleeting impression they gather will be only be partial at best and shallow at worst.

Stephanie Rosenbloom article in The New York Times opens with an image of everyone taking photos of the Mona Lisa. The last time I stood in that room I know I spent my time watching people (because I could not really see the painting) and I felt many did not quite know why the painting was so famous. In the hall next door there are 4 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci that people just walk past. There is even a seat in front of them that you can sit and contemplate the works but tired tourists sit with their back to paintings, facing the door to the room that holds the Mona Lisa usually waiting for their spouse or fellow tour companions to exit that room after seeing the Mona Lisa. Who am I to tell someone to turn around and see the Leonardo da Vinci behind them but I was left wondering what people took away from their day at the Louvre.

Cycladic figure page spread

Cycladic figure sketched at the Louvre

I will happily plonk myself down in front of any of the works in the major galleries of the world as usually if something is in their collection it is worthy of being thought about. Even if I know little about the history or context of the work usually something will reveal itself if I just pay attention and actually look with my brain engaged.

I  pull out my sketchbook and take a note of the key elements in famous painting or no so famous. The note itself may not be very important, but what is important is the slowing down to make it, the slowing down to look. I like seeing the brush strokes and seeing how the painting was made or something about the composition might catch my eye so I sketch it out.

This is important in those big block buster exhibitions where people scoot through the rooms quickly. I use a sketchbook to pace myself because if I am in a crowd that is moving at certain pace, I find I will move with the flow too. It’s like I can easily become part of heard and whisked through the exhibit. So I pull out my sketchbook, stop and stubbornly take notes! I will note the colour scheme as it is an interesting combination and before I know it I have spent a good few minutes in front the painting and I have learnt something. This ‘something’ is a discovery I have made. It is not a snippet passed on by a guide which is useful to place a piece in context, but it something I have discovered and as such will texture my mental life and become something I reflect upon.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journalIf I want to slow down even further I will often sketch an object. This is particularly the case in a museum, as doing so makes me slow down and look at what I am seeing. As I draw I notice all sorts of little things about an object and quite simply I get much more out of the experience of seeing one thing well than twenty things quickly. I find this is really important when travelling as often my senses are on overload and slowing down allows me to focus on key elements of the experience.

OK here is my confession. I have just said that often it appears to me that people in galleries are collecting experiences like they collect stamps yet I love books like 1001 paintings you must see before you die, or 1001 books you must read before you die. What is that contradiction about? I think some of it is that I like to secretly disagree with what is recommended. I am worse with lists of books to read than paintings to see, as I am a real sucker for a good list! In the case of book lists I love being exposed to things I may have not sought out. So there is my contradiction, I like lists but insist on slowing down and not following the crowd.

What are your thoughts? How do you approach a gallery visit?

Thanks to Danny Gregory for the link to the thought provoking  article.

100 miles for fish and chips…

So Sharon woke up this morning and says:
“I want to feel the wind in my hair, and walk along the shore.”
I looked at her. “It’s minus 2 Centigrade.” I protested. “And the lake is a bit manky”

“But I want to feel the sand beneath my feet…”
I reminded her that we do in fact live 160km [that’s about 100 miles in the old money] inland.

“…and have fish and chips for lunch. F r e s h fish and chips.”
Ah, now THAT was the right thing to say. The best fish and chips on this side of Australia is in Bateman’s Bay, on the New South Wales coast. And it would be warmer on the coast.

What followed was a small flurry of activity – Sharon packing drawing gear and me, my camera and a few kilos of lenses. The car didn’t bend too much when we finally got it loaded.

Should be about a two hour drive with a quick shimmy down the mountain, a sharp right over the bridge and left onto the beach.

Two hours later, after traversing two patches of dirt road, and three sets of 40kph road works – devoid of any actual road workers – we were at a complete standstill halfway down Clyde Mountain. For an hour.

It seems that the truck driver who was trying to get home quick before he had an accident, ran out of road before he ran out of corner. He was fine, but his semi-trailer needed to have the round wheel bits vertical, and on the bottom, not horizontal and on the side.

Truck accident

Truck accident

And so to Bateman’s Bay. The last time we ate at the Boathouse, there was a friendly manta ray swimming beneath the jetty. This time we had a pair of pelicans. It took some time to be served, so Sharon went ahead to find a table – and perhaps a little time to sketch.






Pelican – compact travel version

At length, I found that Sharon held a prime spot on the waters edge – first sitting in one place, then when someone moved, so did Sharon, until like a well crafted chess game she had reached the prime spot she now occupied.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

I asked how the sketch went and Sharon looked a bit sheepish. “They moved.” she said simply, and shrugged. Clearly that explained everything.

The view across the bay was stunning

Bateman's Bay

Bateman’s Bay

When we emerged from the cafe the road was closed – it seems that a car rally was on its way and the inflatable finish line was being erected across the road.

We didn’t hang around, but headed off further down the coast to Broulee where the beach sand is fine and the familiar dire warnings against swimming filled the entire billboard – beware of rips, swift currents, sudden drops in the ground, sudden shallow bits, rough surf (I’ve never seen gentle surf), and if you survive the water, there’s always the manta rays, sharks, jellyfish – to add a little excitement to any paddle. We like to remind visitors that ‘Pandora’ – the planet of David Cameron’s epic movie Avatar – is where Australians go for rest and relaxation…

Beach safety sign

Beach safety sign

As for the beach itself there’s no vehicles, no camping, no horses and no fires. Ah a truly welcoming place. it was quite busy – so you could almost see from one family group to the next, and so on to the horizon. The sky was clear, and the sun surprisingly warm. I remembered a lighting trick from photographer Karl Taylor – and arranged the sun to highlight Sharon’s hair and used the flash to provide fill light for her face – I was quite pleased with the result – despite the lack of wind 🙂



The light through the seaweed was quite magic



It being Winter, and close to the shortest day we decided to pack up and head home before we’d have to do the Clyde Mountain drive in the dark. We remembered the rally cars that would be coming the opposite direction, and as the last of the light disappeared we headed into Braidwood. The bakery supplied much needed bread and delicious country-baked cakes called lamingtons – a sponge coated in chocolate and coconut – very yummy 🙂

And thence to home. Yep – just a quick run down to get some fish and chips and a good time was had by all… unless you’re a truck driver. 🙂