Garden of Mindfulness: Sketchbook

The Garden

I have always been interested in wildlife and organic gardening. Until 2018 we had three allotments. But due to travel and illness we were unable to keep it up to the draconian regime imposed by a new allotment committee. The allotment changed from a quiet organic haven shared with bees, butterflies and lizards to a round-upped desert and no-go area for anyone not interested in show-case vegetables.

So our garden is now both vegetable plot and wildlife garden shared with birds, squirrels and also rats. Sitting watching butterflies, feeling environmentally useful when a beehive appeared in the willow tree and mindfully musing about life is restful. Getting up early and listening to the dawn. Noticing unseen beauty in the flickering yellow light through the willow branches, and the light on a plastic dome like a distant sunset.

But so many decisions and power can also be a constant source of constant worry and stress. The rats in particular were a recurrent concern in my sketchbook ‘Everyday Edges’ diary for April. Replacing our open-bottomed compost bin, stopping feeding all the other wildlife and encouraging all the local cats – possibly coupled with re-opening of more enticing restaurants down the road after Covid restrictions – led to a miraculous disappearance. Luckily before the fledglings and hedgehogs really increased. But why am I worried about rats? What about all the squirrels that no longer seem to be regulating their reproduction on their diet of sunflower seeds and fatballs meant tor the birds? And now the fledglings and hedgehogs are a constant source of worry – is the three legged hedgehog still OK? Is it scratching more than normal? Does it have a few flees, or blow fly? Will it fall in the pond like the one from last year? Or even push one of the other hedgehogs into the pond? Can the baby robin eat the dry mealworms, or can soak them in time for it to eat before the cat comes? Do we want to encourage kestrels and foxes, even if they eat the young blackbirds? Am I becoming allergic to the high pollen levels announced daily on the weather forecasts?

This final project was prompted by a mental need for a project in a relaxed environment to go beyond photographic work and focus on improving my range of drawing and painting skills in both rapid and more considered images, and to help me think through how I record ‘stream on consciousness’ thoughts and responses to what is going on around me and how I can vary my style accordingly. It brings together:

  • an animation building on photographs and animation for my moving image personal development course.
  • a sketchbook of new sketches from May 2021 produced in response to Assignment 2 of a personal development course on Illustration Sketchbooks, and on-line concertina sketchbook courses of Karen Stamper.
  • experimentation with digital processing of scanned solar plates and monoprint images

The project here is only the beginning of a body of long term experimentation. I envisage eventually a small quirky tongue-in-cheek sketchbook/print-based publication looking at some of the contradictions between visions, realities of life in the garden, alluding also to underlying philosophical questions about living and our suburban role in looking after the planet. And a moving image video charting my attempts to incorporate meditation into my daily life against the backdrop of bio-diverse dramas and carnage in my chaotic and overgrown wildlife garden.

Garden alive: Video diary and moving image

Linked to my sketchbook work I will also keep regular video recordings, on photographs and animation in 2019 for my moving image personal development course. The movie on the left is a soundless work was inspired by Stanley Brakhage. But I took many photographs throughout a summer day that would contribute to a longer and more considered narrative with sounds, inspired also by Maya Deren. This would contrast light, shadows and ‘movement in the undergrowth’ with shots of cute hedgehogs alongside corpses and devouring kestrels.

Sketchbook Diary 1 May-June 2021

This first Sketchbook Diary was produced in May-June 2021 for Assignment 2 of Illustration Sketchbooks personal development module. The sketchbook is a place for creative experimental drawing from observation and working with mistakes and the ‘accidental’ as the basis for producing imaginative work, and starting to explore narrative.

This experimental approach is very much part of my creative process, and I enjoy working with materials and accidents – I started doing this with the OCA Watercolour and Drawing courses. But this is a lifelong process of discovery and exploration that I very much enjoy. In the exercises I experimented with new techniques and media – avoiding replicating similar exercises and media I had tried before. I describe the techniques, challenges and what I like in each sections below.

My main challenge has always been moving from images to more extended narratives. This requires replicating characters that emerged from accidents in a more deliberate way that creates a credible continuity. I need to develop my basic drawing much more to be able to retain the often ambiguous and partial resolution of accidents that leave the filling in to the viewer, while creating sequences of images that tell a story. I am looking forward to thinking much more about different forms of narrative – in Assignment 4 of the Sketchbook course. But also my animation as I finish the Visual Research module, and as I progress with SYP.

Limited Line

This project aims to simplify the image, and let the viewer’s brain fill in missing detail. This allows for description of objects, scenes and figures without the need to capture them in minute detail.

The first two drawings continued to work with the hedgehog garden ornament from the still life. But I got the task mixed up with ‘taking a line for a walk’ and blind contour, mixing the three techniques. But I think the result is quite interesting, certainly enjoyable. But I need to go back to this exercise to subtract lines and try to reduce objects to their bare essentials. Something I plan to focus on with people on location in Assignment 3.

Investigating Processes

This set of exercises experimented with different media – exploring different ways in which they can be used and combined.

1 Collage

The first set of processes I experimented with were different types of collage and cut-out images.

The first series started by just cutting out images dealing with wildlife gardening from Scotsdales promotional material and National Trust, adding pages to make a very wider spread to juxtapose the glossy visions and advertising. This was useful in developing some possible themes, for my own information and could be further developed in Photoshop, but not particularly interesting in themselves.

The second multi-page spread was more visually interesting. I started by distressing the paper through screwing it up in water and leaving it to dray. Interestingly the stiffer glossy cover pages disintegrated almost completely, leaving a quite intriguing set of shapes that I could further work with on my iPad – and also the completely accidental ‘Spanish Lady’ that emerged from a completely unrelated image shape. The much cheaper, less vibrant middle pages gave a more antique feel to the garden background and text. The resulting collage image could be enhanced somewhat through adjusting lighting, and interesting effects were also achieved through differential focus, or altering a panorama on my iPhone. But these needed more experience and planning. The final image (the first image on the right) was processed and selectively coloured in Silver FX from Lightroom. I was aiming to make the image more ‘vintage’ and melancholy feel of a captive woman dreaming of escape.

The third set of cutout collages combined some photographs of the yellow Flag Irises that had come into flower – always my start of summer – together with some unsuccessful attempts at drawing the irises with highlighter pen and paintings with swordliner and Acryla gouache. This produced some quite interesting ‘jungle’ images with irises turning into birds. I experimented with cutting into pages I did not like and pasting them elsewhere like children’s pop-up books. These particular examples do not really work, but an idea I could explore more.

Iris: Highlighters, Oil Pastel and Ink

This series continued to work with the irises.

The first drawing experimented more with highlighter markers, the types of mark they make, and how the different colours mix. I like the energy and vibrance of this image.

The second set used oil pastel as coloured paints, layering and scraping out, and adding some lines in Quink ink with a bamboo pen. The diving bird is my favourite of this set, collaged from Iris leaves and a triangle for the head.

The third set used oil pastel as a resist overlaid with Quink ink and drawn over in Indian ink with a reed pen. Collaging the bird from another image on top. I like the textures and quality of line, though the image itself is a bit insipid. I think the dark, rather deathlike SilverFX image is more interesting as an effect that I could try with a different image. Adding a rough frame makes it seem like a Japanese card.

PVA, tissue paper and Ink

This series of images were broadly based on garden themes, but making drawings based on marks left by the materials.

I started by collaging some scrumpled tissue paper in rough leaf-like shapes, then pasting over with a mix of PVA and dilute Quink ink (the brown colour when dried) into which I brushed, drew or dripped in black Indian ink, and scraped out with credit card or pen, refining and following some of the lines and shapes. A bit challenge was that the final images do npt resemble the images I drew because of colour shifts in the ink, and unpredictable settling out of incised marks. The most controllable element were the lines in the crumpled tissue paper and the last lines with Indian ink.

I also produced ghost images (for example the last two) through printing onto tissue paper from the original leaf images, and pasting these onto new pages where ink also seeped through from the pages on the back, or around the bottom of pages as puddles were formed.

I then processed some of the final images in SilverFX from Lightroom to selectively colour and increase detail and constrast. I really like the contrasting textures and ways in which the different types of ink have interacted. I think the vignettes, frames and selective colour of the SFX processing also offer a way to improve the images. Though possibly they could have been cleaned up a bit in Photoshop first.

I enjoyed the process of building on images as they evolved from the materials. I think with a bit more practice, more interesting underlying concepts and more developed observational drawing skills at the back of my mind I could produce some quite powerful images.

Artgraph and Posca Pen

Artgraph and Posca pens were completely new to me, inspired by the concertina sketchbook work of Karen Stamper. They can be combined with other markmaking eg with the collage, PVA and qQuiknk techniques in 2.2.3. But here I wanted to explore the full drawing and mark-making potential of black, grey and white Artgraph square blocks, then just touching up some of the whites with Posca Pen lines.

These drawings were sketched from life across a multi-page spread. I experimented first with dry blocks, varying the angles of edges and points making lines and dragging into shapes. I then tried adding water, painting into some of the shapes and also wetting the arttgraph blocks to draw very dense lines. The orange colour had leached through the paper from the Quink ink on the back. I think this adds quite a bit of accidental interest that I could control if I want through processing in SilverFX and selective colouring.

I need a lot more practice, but I think the medium has a lot of potential for very varied mark-making. It is possible to do quite figurative drawing as in the tree trunk, textured shapes as it some of the leaves and Japenese sumi-e ink styles and shapes. They also give a think mark over tape.

Blind Contour

Blind contour is one of my favourite techniques, used before for Life Drawing. It involves drawing following outlines of an object or scene but without looking at the paper. In order to maintain continuity and not get lost, it is often useful to try and draw with one continuous line as far as possible. It often produces some interesting imagery that could not be produced when drawing in a more ‘strategic’ manner. It is very good for developing subconscious hand-eye coordination and confidence in just drawing without worrying too much.

The images on the right were drawn ‘semi-blind’, in that I mostly used one line, linking up objects as I went. But I did look at the paper a couple of times when I got stuck. I find the shapes very interesting – my garden frames look more like drum kits. I like the crowded jumble of the second image. And the shape of the chairs in the final image could be developed into an interesting abstract linocut.

Alternative drawing materials

I have experimented a lot with different materials like tea bags, coffee, treacle, glue, grease, raspberries etc in the past for earlier drawing, painting, book design and moving image modules and this is very much part of my experimentation practise already. Most of the ink/paint alternatives available in the garden I knew already would not work very well. So for this project I decided to focus on the drawing implements exploring the ways they could be cut, used as points or dragged flat vertically or horizontally for shapes, at different speeds and degree of firmness, and different amounts of water to produce different types of marks and images using coloured inks and watercolour.

Iris leaves: (gallery 1) Iris leaves cut flat or sword shape with yellow and blue tube watercolour paint, varying the angle of the point and the side, pressure sometimes flattening completely and different amount of water to vary the saturation and tone. Make energetic expressive sumie-style marks.

Rosemary leaves (gallery 2) rosemary leaves with coloured inks produce much less controllable feathery lines, thicker lines through dragging or pen drawing with the stem.

sticks (gallery 3): uses a thick apple tree twig with quite dilute coloured ink

feathers (gallery 4) thick and thin bird feathers with coloured ink and/or watercolour. The shaft of the feather makes an interesting varied line and stems when dragged on its side. The feather itself can be manipulated to make different types of leaf shape. Feathers also hold a lot of water to make very interesting watercolour marks and textures as in the iris shape.

The coloured images themselves were not particularly successful. The colours do not work, and I need a lot more practise making shapes and lines that balance accidents with a bit more interest. But when processed with selective colour, grain. texturing and framing in Silver FX to enhance the texturing and marks, they become quite effective Japanese-style bird pictures or abstracts. Much of what is enhanced is very accidental as for example the interesting eye in Galler 3 rosemary brush, and the really effective abstract of the last image.

Drawing with Objects

Some artists like Christoph Niemann, Saul Stenberg and Cindy Jerriman incorporate objects into their work. This involves considering the physical properties of the objects: their structure, design, how they are used, their permanence, impermanence, whether they are keepsakes or throwaway, how they can be moved and manipulated, viewed from different angles, piling them up and pulling them apart.

I started by taking a walk in the garden and collecting items as I went, then collaging them in my sketchbook over several pages – the first page of rose petals and ivy, and the last one of vine with convolvulus were the most interesting. I explored these in SilverFX, but they are much too ‘floral’ for my taste. Though I like the delicacy of colourised convolvulus flower in the black and white image.

The dandelion ‘He and She’ image and the sword feathers are inspired by Christoph Nieman’s leaf cutouts. I converted these to grainy film noir silhouettes in SFX. I find He and She quite interesting in the contrasting stereotypical shapes and textures. I particularly like the dynamic drama of the feather silhouettes – like a Japanese abstract.

This is an approach I would like to expolre further.

Assignment 2: Happy Accidents

This Assignment asks me to select and reframe elements from the previous exercises as the basis for new imaginative interpretation of objects.

1) Pareidolia characters

I reworked some of the pareidolia photos (see the images below) as characters in my sketchbook.

2) Producing Backgrounds

I then selected and produced backgrounds from earlier work and/or some of the pareidolia.

3) Narrative images

I then combined these on my iPad into composite narrative images, further manipulating in SFX where appropriate. I worked on 3 sets:

  1. The Tubbies based on the flower pot people (top right)
  2. ‘The Garden’ bringing together the collage garden and the tiger-type image from the tree creature series (bottom right)
  3. ‘We Are Watching You’ based on the tree creatures (mid right)
1: The Tubbies

The flower tubs in my garden have really expressive faces with the pants sticking up like hair. The versions in my sketchbook were too static, though useful as a basis for exploring different possibilities. I developed the images below directly from photographs in Procreate on my iPad.

I quite like these images and would like to develop them further with a proper narrative at some point.

2: The Garden

The idea for these images was to try and juxtapose the romantic vision of contemplation in the garden, with the fears and anger and horror of a lot that is going on in the news – Covid in so many countries across the globe, war in Yemen, Ethiopia etc etc. But it turned into something of a fantasy image – I quite like it as such. But need to think through a lot more what I am trying to say. Probably needs Photoshop.

Original images for the composite.

Composite images with alternative crops on my iPad.

Composite images with alternative crops on my iPad.

3: We Are Watching You

These are my favourite images – the garden alive with creatures that I imagine. My brain is pareidolia gone mad. I see faces and images in anything. Some of these could be developed into narratives. Particularly the woman and the strange pig in the last image.

Composite images with alternative crops on my iPad.

Original tree and wood ‘creature’ photographs

Below is the multipage spread with the photographs overlaid with gouache and PVA.

Below are images worked into and further developed with pencil to make faces and creatures either from the photographs, or the marks left by the gouache and PVA.

Pareidolia characters : Shed

Pareidola are faces and creatures seen in inanimate everyday objects. I see them everywhere – the wood on the ide of the bath, the folds in the curtains. They are often enhanced by converting photographs to black and white.

The series on the right are some of the ones I found less obvious in the mechanical lines of the garden shed. I did not develop these in Assignment 2, but the pencil drawings could form the basis for cartoon characters.

The two other series I developed of flower tubs and wood logs and tree bark in the garden are developed below.

Printmaking: Monoprint and solar plate

‘Bringing the garden into the sketchbook’.

Using plants as masks for monoprint. Made the sap and colours part of the image.

Placing plants and garden implements on top of solar plates, both iu the sun and on am exposure unit.

Layering in Photoshop and/or processing in Silver FX.