Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “ink”

‘The Hare and the Elephant’ fable: illustration of a passage

“As he passed, all the villagers exclaimed: “Look at his paws! And those ears! That’s the biggest hare we’ve ever
seen!”
When he heard this, the hare turned to his friend, saying, “We can go home now! That’s settled! I’m huge and you’re tiny!”

The hare and the elephant fable

This is a passage I illustrated from the fable, ‘The Hare and the Elephant’. During the first class of an introductory illustration course at the Ottawa School of Art, our instructor had asked each student to select and illustrate a passage from this fable. All of the illustrations – some more elaborate or imaginative than others – were then collected and scanned into a single keepsake digital book, which was given to us as a souvenir at the end of the course.

My drawing was sketched and colored by hand using india ink and a quill pen initially and then watercolor paint.

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Fashion sketches to pass the time during a thunderstorm

I hate thunderstorms. Especially the severe ones we seem to get all too often in the Ottawa Valley during the hot, humid summer months. As a year-round runner, thunderstorms are pretty much the only type of bad weather — other than the occasional, bad ice storm — that I will strictly avoid running in unless caught in a pop-up thunderstorm while a run is already in progress. It just isn’t safe to be outdoors.

When a severe thunderstorm portends, I don’t resort to hiding under the bed or whimpering like a Golden or Labrador Retriever (or even Goldendoodle, as I found last summer) is known to do, but I usually start pacing the room, going from window to window, repeatedly checking the status of the clouds in the sky like an amateur climatologist on a mission — searching for those ominous funnel clouds.

This past Friday night, a particularly intense thunderstorm rolled into the Ottawa-Gatineau region complete with tornado warnings. Sadly, an 18-year boy, out cycling through Vincent Massey Park when the storm hit, was struck by lightning and died.

I was supposed to head out by bike, myself, to Mooney’s Bay (next door to the park) that night for a dragon boat practice. I was initially torn between my desire to honor my commitment to the team and my desire to avoid danger or harm. In the end, my rational self prevailed and I opted to text our captain and recuse myself from the night’s practice citing concerns about the various severe weather warnings issued, including a tornado warning. (Practice ended up being cancelled anyway as boats are grounded or called to shore at the first sign of lightning.)

While sending the text, I could hear the distant rumbling of thunder in the heavy, sickly grey-yellow sky and see and hear the furious rustling of leaves through the swaying trees in my neighborhood as the wind picked up force. A prelude to a tympanic tempest. Within minutes, the rain began. It was torrential, rendering all observation indiscernible through my second-story observation deck. I had definitely made the right call in not venturing out to dragon boat practice.

Deciding it was probably equally unwise to continue monitoring the fury of Nature unleashed from behind glass, I turned to a drawing project as a means of distracting myself, while keeping the flashlights nearby (as well as my purse, keys, and bike helmet in case I had to make a dash for the basement!).

For me, drawing is an activity — much like photography, writing, and painting — that usually becomes all-engrossing. I knew this would be the perfect way to weather the storm. And so, I dug out my art supplies, pulled out my often-referred-to copy of the Style Book and selected two fashion photos to interpret as ink drawings.

[Below: Ink, colored conté, and watercolor crayons interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1941 featuring a woman in a tailored, wool, checked pantsuit feeding a majestic-looking swan by a pond. (Location not stated.) This image immediately reminded me of Coco Chanel and her ‘disruptive’ fashion line of ‘manly’ women’s clothing at a time when trousers were not de rigeur for ladies. (Katharine Hepburn is another woman who sported a pantsuit in an iconic photo shot in 1938, also featured in the Style Book.) BTW, for a couple of great Coco Chanel movies, check out Coco Avant Chanel and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.]

[Below: Ink drawing, wash, and colored conte interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1950 of a couple enjoying a care-free day out sailing on the bay. (Location unknown.) The couple is said to be wearing sailor-style trousers: hers – white & blue, his – crisp white. I would totally wear something like her outfit today. It’s so chic! Even her hair – kind of Greek goddess meets fräulein.]

Lifedrawing class: Les demoiselles d’Avignon reinterpreted

Below are a selection of sketches from my first lifedrawing class, which I took last fall. Really interesting course. Great teacher. Learned a lot of new techniques. Highly recommend this kind of course for learning how to draw and observe. We began with charcoal, followed by conté (+/- washes), and ended the course with pen & (India) ink (+/- washes). For the last class, it was just a creative free-for-all, where you could use whatever media you wanted in whatever combinations you wanted. I felt like a little kid let loose in a finger-painting class!.. 🙂

Of the techniques we learned, I especially liked the concept of negative space to keep the artist objective and the drawing honest. Now, I just have to master cylinder shading, which can totally screw up the three-dimensional effect you’re trying to achieve if you get the shading direction of the imaginary cylinder wrong. Believe me, I know.

Anyway, here are the sketches. I added just a touch of color via Photoshop to create a bit more drama. I tried to imagine a story around each pose or group of poses. The last one is a bit macabre, because I remember how scary-skinny this model was with very prominent ribs and clavicles (or collar bones) showing.

Oh yeah, these sketches were all timed drawings, so we didn’t have the luxury of lingering forever on details. We were instructed to focus on the essential elements in order to achieve a basic rendering of the figure before us.

Little artistic expressions of Canadiana

A few painting experiments and one pen & ink drawing, all with the common thread of Canada…

Below: This is my second attempt at painting with a palette knife — an instrument, which surprisingly resembles a slim, tapered spatula for serving pie or cake, or mixing dermatologicals in a pharmacy dispensary. It was so much fun, too! I loved the heavy application of layer upon layer of color to create depth and texture for the water. (You will go through a lot of paint, though!) The inspiration for this painting was a photo (not taken by me) that I found on the Weathernetwork of our famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Canada geese flying over an Ottawa waterway. [Acrylic on canvas; Creative Painting class, 2010]

Below: Another painting experiment from my Creative Painting class (2010), where I used a sponge to apply acrylic paint to a canvas to create the effect of a wooly, classic Hudson’s Bay Company blanket.

Below: Bucolic wintry scene painted from my imagination of a waning afternoon of cross-country skiing (classic style). [Acrylic on canvas using brush; Creative Painting class, 2010.]

Below: This is a more recent fashion sketch of a model (Coco Rocha, a Canadian) wearing a Roland Mouret Spring 2012 outfit that was featured as an advertisement for The Bay in the Globe & Mail on March 3rd, 2012. I loved the color and structure of the outfit and the matching, intricate purse, as well as the overall drama of the pose. [Direct from the pages of my sketchbook: pen & ink drawing, followed by wash and colorization with colored conté.]

Dreaming of a May long weekend on the lake…

After a rough week of nearly exclusive left brain use of sifting through and synthesizing a ton of scientific data and summarizing it all into a cohesive, pithy report, it was time for a creative catharsis. I decided to take out my Style Book and choose another photo from its endless supply of vintage fashion photos…

I chose a black & white photo of a woman wearing a one-piece beach outfit — a striped jumpsuit accessorized with a belt — napping (or at least pretending to nap) contentedly in a motorboat on an unnamed waterway, dated 1955. The picture was interesting to me for a couple of reasons: 1) the angle of the body movement (esp that the figure was angled away from the foreground) could be a challenge to interpret correctly compared to previous drawings from this book that I had selected (I still haven’t mastered perspective and foreshortening), and 2) the black & white nature of the photograph would require me to imagine a color scheme, should I choose to add color (which I almost always do).

So, I decided to experiment a bit more with mixed media…

I chose to initially hand-draw the illustration (below) in pen & ink, followed by a wash. I then took out my black conté crayon and added some more shading. (I have to be careful since I have a penchant for shading and can sometimes overdo it.) This was followed by another wash to some of the conté-shaded areas. I thought I was done: I had achieved a nice sepia-like vintage fashion illustration.

Apparently, I wasn’t, because I next had the idea of playing around with some subtle color through the use of PhotoShop. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not a minimalist by nature.) It was just going to be the water, but then I thought, I can’t not add color to the model’s outfit if this is to be a fashion photo. Plus, I thought without a little color added to her skin, one might mistakenly interpret the tableau as a potential crime scene: was the woman napping peacefully or was she a murder victim set adrift on an abandoned boat? Or, maybe the illustration was to represent a more modern version of The Lady of Shalott?..

I therefore colorized to my heart’s content and even drew in some stars and rope (via a Photoshop paintbrush) to add a touch of whimsy and reinforce the nautical theme. Admittedly, the lake is a bit more on the green side than I had initially intended, but if you know the Muskoka region at all, it’s heavily forested, so the waterway could quite reasonably be a reflection of the various species of trees along the shoreline with a few rays of sunlight peaking through the stratocumulus clouds onto our blissfully unaware sunbather (who probably needs to re-apply her sunscreen!)

Poetry in Motion: Byron meets Van Gogh along the canal…

With apologies to both Lord Byron (& the Romantic poets) and Van Gogh… BTW, can’t wait till the Van Gogh exhibit comes to the National Gallery of Canada next month! 🙂

[Below: Runner takes flight over canal – this is a mixed media illustration initially drawn with pen & ink, colored with watercolor crayons & wash, and then scanned into Photoshop to darken the lighting of the image and add some wispy white clouds to create a more dream-like ethereal feel.]

Polka dots and flowers – it must be spring…

I recently picked up this great hard-cover fashion retrospective book (Style Book by Elizabeth Walker) that showcases all these fantastic vintage photos. (The Sartorialist is another great blog for admiring street fashion – modern and vintage.) I kept noticing it in Chapters every time I would visit – which is often – and couldn’t help but pick it up each time I was in and leaf through its pages to admire my favourite photos. I finally decided to purchase it when I realized how much fun it would be to interpret some of these photos through any combination of ink, conté, charcoal, watercolor crayons, acrylic paints, or colored markers. Since I am a big fan of fashion of the 20s and 30s, it is of no surprise to me that I gravitated to all the black and white photos of that era first. I also love polka dots, especially white ones set against a navy blue background. I can remember a favourite white polka-dot and stretchy navy blue sleeveless dress that I bought back in the mid nineties from Club Monaco while I was an undergrad in Halifax. It was my ‘femme fatale’, confidence-booster dress – I can remember how it totally turned the heads of these guys I used to play basketball with when I wore it out one night… Despite the film being barely out of the 80s – my least favourite fashion period – I still love the polka-dot outfit Julia Roberts wore to the polo match in Pretty Woman. In fact, I should confess that I actually bought a similarly awesome, 3/4 length, A-line, sleeveless white polka-dot on brown background Ralph Lauren dress last spring, which I wore with a pair of strappy brown platform sandals to a meet-and-greet event; just need the white gloves and a cool hat (like the ones you find at Ogilvy’s in downtown Montreal – which I always used to try on whenever I was out shopping along St. Catherine Street) or fascinator, and I’d totally rock my inner Pretty Woman at a polo match or derby! 😉

So, the sketch below is an (India) ink drawing with a bit of white conté for the polka dots and highlights. The “Paris 1934” text is done in watercolor crayons. I also used a brush and water to add some shading. Can I just say how much I LOVE working with India ink and especially painting with it? It’s wonderful for creating texture. Anyway, the photo for this drawing was shot in 1934 and features a model wearing a polka-dot evening gown by the French designer, Jeanne Lanvin. The fluted or ruffled white collar accessory seems to pay homage to that famous of French mimes, Pierrot, and adds a nice touch of whimsy to this otherwise formal pose. Is it me, or does it almost seem like there should be a chatte noire added to the scene below, à la famous Théophile Steinlen painting (La Tournée du Chat Noir avec Rudolphe Salis)?.. Maybe not. Would probably be distracting. (I’m more of a dog-person anyway, of the non-purse variety though.)

This next sketch is also done in India ink 🙂 along with some watercolor crayons, colored conte, and a wash. It’s an interpretation of a really cool 60s photo taken in London of a model wearing what looks like an equestrian or London bobby-inspired hat in shape, whose wattage is amped up by an oversized flower power appliqué in very cool polka-dot motif. (Was this the birth of the modern-day fascinator craze?) The model looks like she could be playing a spy in an Austin Powers movie, perhaps crashing the annual garden party at Buckingham palace… Anyway, I thought the hat was really cool – I’m a total hat person and I love flowers (as long as someone else with a green thumb tends them) – and it reminded me of some of the bright flower motif stuff I would wear in high school. I was always into patterns and bright colors, but prefered to experiment more on paper (hello, Fashion Plates anyone? – best toy ever!.. OK, I think I need to go call my mom now and have her ship my old Fashion Plates set up to me…) than in the halls of high school or university classes, though I was known to pair bright pink tights with a red mini-skirt or loud flower-print skirt on occasion. I won’t get into the litany of bad fashion trends I attempted in the 80s – that will just trigger my PTSD… (Hammer pants, star earrings, neon, and Madonna – ’nuff said!..)

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