Thursday, December 16, 2010

Out of the attic: Leafy seadragon

My scanner hates me and is in open rebellion. Until I figure out what to do about it, I'm going to post some pictures from the dim and murky past. This one isn't actually all that old - it's the one I used for the blog wallpaper.

Leafy seadragons are one of my favourite things in the whole world. They are just so utterly improbable. This picture was done on the back of an old calendar, using technical pens and watercolours.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A wood elf

Another tiny picture - this time using pencil with watercolour. My mission to learn to draw people properly is going to start with a whole lot of not-quite human people. For one thing, I adore fantasy and science fiction, and for another, it provides a marvellous excuse for any anatomical errors. People's waists aren't that tiny! Why is her arm, like, the widest part of her? And her eyes are totally wrong! Aha, but she's an elf - she's meant to look like that! Well, that's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Prickly pears

Lately I've been working on a number of really tiny pictures. I feel freer to experiment that way, because it silences that little voice in my head that starts freaking out any time I waste good paper on messing about. This isn't good paper, just scraps, so I can use it for any strange idea that comes my way. At the moment I'm experimenting with mixed media - ink and watercolour, pencil and watercolour, ink and whatever else I can get to stick to the paper. Outlines everywhere; I'm trying to find almost a comic-book style of doing things. First this one. It's safe, it's a plant.

I used watercolours, insoluble ink and salt on Schoeller's Hammer paper (which is the smoothest anti-bleed surface out there, but which is sadly being discontinued). The size is pretty much what you see on the screen. The wonderfully vulgar yellowish colour of some of the leaves is Green Gold, the last colour I bought and my latest obsession.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sun halo!

So I wanted rain - and I got it, and more! Yesterday evening there was a semi-decent storm that had me running around outside trying to take pictures of lightning. That didn't work but I got this double rainbow. No, I'm not going to say it!

Then, this morning...

A friend of my husband's called him to tell him to look outside. The radio station that my mother was listening to was getting calls from all sorts of mad people saying that the world was ending and the aliens were coming. It was even on the national TV news this evening. It was a sun halo, and I've never seen one before in my life. Neither, it seems, had anyone else around here. We don't usually get the very high cirrus clouds filled with ice crystals that are needed for this to happen. In this case, it was caused by a storm system over Botswana. Has anyone else out there seen one?

I was trying to protect the camera as if it were my eyes. Only later did I think that I should have just snapped away madly without looking. Hooray for strange weather!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Waiting for the rain

It's not really spring any more - but to me it's not quite summer until it rains. And not the miserable attempts at rain we've been having on and off for the last few weeks: a few grumbles of thunder, a few drops, and nothing more. I want proper rain. To demonstrate what I mean by proper rain - and by way of encouragement, since my rain dances haven't been working - I thought I'd post some photos from a couple of years ago, in our old house, when our garden flooded.

You know it's real rain when you're worried about your fish escaping.

I simply had to make paper boats.

My lovely Katala, who is fascinated by water of all kinds.

So here's to rain, the kind with more than 27 drops. It had better come soon, because I'm feeling dry, dusty and irritable.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cymbidium hybrid

This orchid gave me an inordinate amount of trouble to paint. The pencil drawing was easy. I ignored everything you're supposed to do and put the focal point directly, exactly in the middle of the picture, and cackled with glee. I was very happy with the drawing. Then I went away for a week on an archaeological dig (pictures forthcoming one day when the findings are published), and when I came back I had to start painting.

First I stared at it for a couple of days, afraid to mess up my beautiful pencil drawing. Then my cat saved me by planting a couple of muddy paw prints on it. It couldn't possibly get worse, so I got going. I painted and painted, but I never reached that meditative zone you find yourself in when things are going well. By the time I was about halfway through, all the flowers got pollinated and promptly died, the culprit being a slug that had stowed away on the plant when it was brought indoors. So I worked partly from bad printouts of bad photos I'd taken of the flowers before going away, and mostly from memory.

I consoled myself with something C. S. Lewis wrote (just don't ask me where; I think he was talking about certain kinds of Biblical textual criticism) that one can labour over a piece of writing, and the end result can appear spontaneous (or vice versa). I told myself that being in a bad state of mind while painting doesn't necessarily mean that the painting will be bad.

I'm not sure about that any more, though. Eventually I finished the picture and thought it wasn't so bad. Then I took it in to the exhibition I painted it for, and it just didn't measure up to the other entries, even to my own second entry that I hadn't sweated over nearly as much. So maybe feeling good while painting does matter after all. Next time I don't feel like working on a painting, I'll use this experience as an excuse to procrastinate... just a little.

I like the last view - leaves with dead and/or eaten bits are so much more fun than perfect ones.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Art Cake's Tale, or how Cake Wrecks saved my life (well, at least my reputation)

"Hey, Lesley," said the owner of the lovely local gallery, "do you bake?"

"Bake!" I thought, "... ."

I do indeed bake. I like baking. I bake really tasty things. However, when it's the owner of an art gallery asking, it's not generally the taste that's going to matter.

"Um.... yes! I bake!" said I in the perky, enthusiastic tone I try to use whenever business looks like coming my way. "Good," he said, or something to that effect, "because one of the people who was going to bake an art cake for the self-portrait exhibition has pulled out, so can you make one for the opening next Saturday?"

A number of questions entered my mind at that point. The first and most important was, what is an art cake?

"What is an art cake?" I asked. I received no definitive answer. Apparently an art cake is a cake made by an artist, and an artist makes any kind of cake she wants to make. And calls it an art cake. The art cakes were to be sold along with the self-portraits, and any left over would be eaten by the ravening hordes that would be thronging the gallery for the opening.

"Of course!" I said, perkily. "That sounds like fun - I'll bring it along on Saturday." It was a deal, and now I had to make an art cake.

It did indeed sound like fun. I had a week to decide what I was going to do, teach myself how to do it, and produce a cake that would impress All Who Saw It. My entire future (all right, the next few weeks, maybe) would depend on this cake. I hit the Internet.

I spent days and days reading up on what the collective wisdom of the human race has to say about cake decorating. I saw lovely blogs about cupcakes, recipe collections, professional cake decorators' sites. But the one blog that I kept coming back to, the one whose entire content I read in one giant archive binge, the one that taught me the most about what to do, and even more about what never, ever, ever to do... was Cake Wrecks.

Go there. Read it. Laugh. Cry.

Then come back here. Everything I needed to know about icing (frosting, if you live in America), I learned from Cake Wrecks. So Jen (and John, and the other Jen, and whoever else is responsible for this marvel of educational hilarity), I dedicate my Art Cake to you. These are the things I learned:

1) I will never understand the mania for those horrible, inedible-looking sheet cakes. I don't think they're so big over here - at least I've never had the misfortune to come across one. Where I live, if you want to take a cake to the office for someone's birthday, you buy it from the tuisnywerheid. Literally meaning home industry, this word refers to the glorious business model of hiring people to bake cakes, koeksisters and other delicious goods at home and selling them in a little deli-type shop. These cakes are iced, if at all, with regard to taste rather than appearance and tend to involve things like chocolate icing with caramel, or vanilla icing with granadilla (passion fruit) curd. Yum, yum. So. No sheet cakes.

2) I also decided early on that I would not be attempting a tiered cake. They can be gorgeous, but on the other hand this can happen, particularly in a warm climate and particularly when the cake has been constructed by a newbie like me. So I made a basic, round cake. I crumb coated it with lemon curd, just because I like lemon, and I did this to it:

I like polka dots on cakes.


If you're going to have brown icing on your cake, for all our sakes make sure it isn't lumpy! The baby blue polka dots help too, I think.


Pink and orange together make Jen happy. Sorry, Jen, that I didn't get a better angle of that bit! I'm not sure why it got left out.

5) As for the icing - it's fondant, Jen, but not as you know it. What you call fondant, we call "plastic icing" and appropriately so. Instead I used a combination of two recipes in my mom's old cake decorating books, coming up with something that is almost pure sugar with just a touch of bicarb and gum tragacanth to give it shape. It's really good and tastes nothing like polymerised organic molecules. I tend to eat it as candy.

It took me about two days solid to make the cake and the icing and put it all together. Then I took it to the opening. They liked it! It sold, twice over! Which is more than twice as much as I can say for my self-portrait...

So thank you, Jen and the other Cake Wrecks people. I know you know that your site provides much-needed levity for the depressed and downtrodden, but now you know it's educational as well. Oh, and guys? Go check out Jen's other site as well. I'm starting to feel the urge to steampunk-ify things...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Akhenaten's daughters play Barbie

Now that the Barbie exhibition is safely under way, I can show you the picture I did for it.

I'm rather pleased with myself about this one, because for anyone who knows the background of the Amarna period in Egyptian history there's all kinds of subtext about body image and realism versus idealism in the portrayal of the human form... and for anyone who doesn't, there's always True Art is Incomprehensible.

One day, when you've returned from tvtropes, I'll tell you where I've been. Also what happened when I tried to bake an art cake. But you already know those stories, because I'm still writing for posterity.

Hey! If you're out there, leave me a comment, will you?

Monday, August 16, 2010


Another group exhibition!

My painting's a rather interesting take on the theme. Hint: It involves ancient Egypt, and standards of realism in portraying the human form. If you're in the area, be there on Saturday!

P.S. I'll tell you the baking story soon...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Not really what I look like

Every now and then I take part in a group exhibition at Trent Art. It's exposure, it's fun, and it pushes me in new directions. For example, a few months ago I heard something about a self-portrait exhibition. "Self-portrait exhibition!" I thought, "... ."

The truth is, the one thing in the world I have always had a mental block about, the thing I'm completely certain I simply cannot draw, is people. But I'm just starting out, and I need to take any opportunity to get my work out there. Besides, it's fun trying to do things I can't. So I enter the self-portrait exhibition. My self-portrait ends up looking like this.

It doesn't look exactly like me, but it's faintly recognisable. And in fact, despite the uneven nose, asymmetrical eyes and my strange attempt at an enigmatic expression (blame that one on me-as-model, not me-as-artist), I still think it's a pretty cool picture. The hand isn't half bad:

And I added some nice details around the edge of the canvas.

I was much more comfortable with that part. The plants are photocopies of working sketches for various journal article illustrations I've done in the past, and the birds were done quickly in ink specially for this project and cut out to look like the others.

My art teacher used to say that you need to do 100 portraits before you can do portraits. I now have 97 to go. The three I've done in my life are:

The one of Jada Pinkett Smith I did for practice in art class (Beautiful though-I-do-say-so-myself, mainly because I managed to avoid the whole tricky question of eyes altogether. Her sunglasses are awesome, though).

This one.

And the one I'm doing for an ex-colleague, at the university job I just quit to be an artist. I took it to her and she's not quite happy with it. I'm still a bit crushed at that, because I'm really bad at dealing with criticism, and portraits are really emotional. I'm terrified that she's insulted that I've painted her wrong, and I'm gathering up the courage to go to her and start fixing it up. If I can get it to a point that we're both happy with, I'll post it here.

But now, let's get back to the self-portrait exhibition. I took my picture in to the gallery about a week before it was due to open. The owner was very nice about it (hung it in a nice place, too!) and as I was walking out the door he said, "Hey, Lesley, do you bake?"

"Bake!" I thought, "... ."


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Petrea volubilis

I started this picture years ago when I was a teenager, and didn't finish it until this year when I decided to do the art thing full time. I'm very happy with the way the veins on the leaves have come out, and the difference between the older leaves and the pale new ones. It's unusual to do a botanical artwork on this kind of rough paper; I like the effect, though. I don't know why I scanned this before signing it - it is signed now, and it was bought... by my mother, who claims that she really wanted it and was not just sorry for me. I even think I believe her.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The End

People never read new blogs. I'm writing this today, knowing that anyone reading it will be at the end of a long archive binge in the far future, after I've figured out how to be a blogger and my art's got a lot better than it is now. Or at least I hope it has.

Has it?

And did my archives keep you up all night?

And did I become famous?

I hope you enjoyed it, and that you'll keep checking in to see my newer posts.
Bye for now... this is just like time travel! See you in the future.