DRAW IN JANUARY - WEEK FOUR.
It's the last week of January already! There's only a month left of Summer: quick, throw on a bikini and go lie on a beach! Wearing sunscreen. And a hat. And sunglasses. And while you're keeping sun-smart, finish up your DRAW project this week!
Give it your all, blunt your pencils, wear out your markers and fill up your pages with illustrative goodness. When you're done, share your project with pride on Twitter and Instagram - use the hashtag #artolympics and we'll repost your art babies for everyone to see!
For the final DRAW interview, we sat down with illustrator Michael Camilleri at his Northcote house as his family was finishing dinner. Buster the puppy did some high quality finger-gnawing, and Michael's seven year old son, Ruben, showed off some impressive drawing skills of his own (as well as plans to direct and star in a feature film adaptation of the 1929 novel Emil and the Detectives. Did we mention that he's seven?). Obviously, the correct thing to do was to do a dual interview with both Michael and Ruben. Settle in for a good cosy chat about comics, collaboration, humans with animal heads, bonobos and the most endearing plot rundown you've read this year.
THE ART OLYMPICS heads to Northcote to visit the home of illustrator MICHAEL CAMILLERI, whose recent work includes a Remembrance Day picture book with author David Metzenthen titled One Minute's Silence and a collaboration with Melbourne musician Martin Martini, Vienna, 1913. His son, RUBEN, is seven, and a budding artist himself.
9:44 pm, in Michael's living room, surrounded by artwork, picture books, bowls of pasta and underfoot, Buster, the cavoodle puppy.
Art Olympics: So, Michael. Hi. Do you want to do just a quick intro into what you do and how you came to work as an illustrator?
Michael Camilleri: I always drew, and I left school at the end of year 11, and went and did a TAFE course. And then went into the VCA to do painting, dropped out, went back and finished it. So I started out doing painting. And it’s only in the last few years that I’ve gotten into illustration. I kind of came that way through comics. I met some friends who were making comics and they were working in theatre, and I was doing theatre design and a bit of directing as well, and making puppets and things. And then I started making comics with them. Eventually, I met people in publishing, and they liked the comics that I did. After a while, I got a chance to do some illustration. There were a couple of false starts, but it’s taking off now.
AO: Ruben, you were pointing at yourself earlier. Did you want to say something?
AO: You gotta swallow your broccoli first, though.
AO: Otherwise I might not be able to hear what you’re saying, and I’ll have to come back and ask for the broccoli translation.
RC: Well, I first actually started doing this – I can’t really remember, but when I was about five or something, that was when I started to do my first paintings. You can see over there, there’s some of my paintings.
AO: So you started out as a painter first as well? Or were you doing both at the same time?
RC: Yeah. I was sort of going ‘I want to do this here, and I’m going to do that. How about I just do this! I’m working on this one. No, I’m working on this one! Chhhhhh!’ (Scribbles in the air).
AO: So what’s it been like growing up with a dad who’s an artist? Has that made you want to do things more? Do you reckon your style is influenced by what your dad does?
RC: Kind of. I used to always go ‘Aw dad, can you please do a drawing for me? My drawings aren’t good. I want you to draw this.’
AO: Yeah, I remember I used to make my dad draw the eyes in pictures for me, because I found them really hard to draw. So I’d draw the rest of it, and then I’d get my dad to draw the eyes, so it was this weird mishmash where mine was really scribbly, and his was really beautiful. It looked really weird.
MC: But I love the way that you just dive in. You know, I fart around –
Ruben bursts out laughing.
MC: - trying to do something, and you’ve finished one already! You just go – bam! You did that great one today, was it a llama? With a hat, and a t-shirt with a bicycle print on it, and he was holding a drink. Bang! And you’d done it while I was still doing a rough sketch.
AO: Ruben, when you’re drawing, do you use other pictures to figure out how things work, or does it all come from your head?
RC: I used to go and find something and try and copy it, but in the end, I realised that that picture that I’m copying is not my style, and so I can’t do it. It always works out bad. It’s always not my style ‘cause it’s a photo.
AO: So you must have a very good visual memory for things.
RC: Yeah, I just go, ‘I remember Paddington, this is what I think he looks like, da-da-da-da-da.’
AO: Michael, I read your illustrator’s commentary for One Minute’s Silence, and I found that really interesting, because I feel like you very rarely get an insight into the process of an illustrator. And I really liked that you were constantly linking to these source images that you were using. It was really interesting to see the way that you’d taken how light falls in an image, and then added details of your own. Do you generally work from source images?
MC: I do. I find it kind of exhausting, and I always imagine some future in which I just make everything up out of my head. And when I do do drawing out of my head, they’re more fun. But I want to have an experience with a drawing. I want something that’s going to excite me, and usually the surprising details, and the subtleties, and the nuances, they’re things that are very hard to invent. The best way is to have references and then to not be copying the reference, but to be using it, and doing something that’s different enough that you’re inventing. I find it’s pretty sad when you get something where the reference is exactly what you want. But if you need to make some kind of imaginative leap, then that’s usually the best combination.
AO: I feel like you must have a very strong awareness of light, in a way that most people don’t. I feel like I’m very aware of light as a photographer, but if you asked me to do a drawing, I would have a great deal of difficulty figuring out the way light affects a plane, because it’s not a thing I have to construct. It’s a thing that exists and I just take a photograph of it. Do you spend a lot of time doing still life kind of things, or is it an intuitive thing?
MC: I used to do a lot of stuff like that, a lot of just drawing, drawing, drawing all the time. But in recent –
The sound of determined growling from under the table.
MC: In recent times – I’d better get him off the electrical cord.
Laughter. Michael rescues an extension lead from the mouth of Buster the dog.
MC: I’ve also just gotten into reading about the history of tonal drawing, because I guess that’s kind of become my little area, where I’ve become most interested. So just learning about how other people approached it is really useful.
AO: And what’s your relationship to mistakes? Are you incredibly perfectionistic? Do you often have a moment where something goes wrong, and you go ‘Oh, actually that’s great’, or is it more ‘This is ruined, I have to start again’?
MC: Part of the way I draw is kind of messy. And I keep trying to find ways that can embrace that. So One Minute’s Silence and the Martini book was all done with biro and then gouache, to clean up bits that were just too messy. But I like the roughness. Because it makes it alive. And I love illustrators who are like that, like E.H. Shepard, who did all the Winnie the Pooh illustrations, those sort of scribbly illustrations – I love that. You see someone working something out. And then it’s this balancing thing of ‘Oh god, have you just made a complete vomitous mess? Is it unsalvageable?’ and sometimes it is. But some of those methods that are really clean, I find that they’re a bit dead, too.
AO: What about you, Ruben? What about when you make mistakes? Because I feel like your drawing style is very free and very loose. So do you often get halfway through a drawing and be like ‘Nup. I’ve mucked it up’?
RC: Yeah, I do. Like, today even, I started to draw this llama dude, and I found because I did really big eyebrows, I thought ‘That face on that llama looks really like my friend Bruce. I’ll have to start again.’
MC: And the second one was amazing. I liked the first one too. It looked like a person-llama.
AO: Quite a few pieces of your work, Michael, have this tension between human faces and animal faces, which I find really beautiful. Is that a thing that started in your painting, or is it a thing that’s only happened as you’ve moved into illustration?
MC: It started in comics. I did this comic of a woman transforming into a vulture. That was the first one. And I really, really love it. You were saying before that you work in theatre. It reminded me of some rehearsals I was doing once with actors, and we had hip hop dancers in. And we had the actors trying to learn a hip hop dance, and what was so great was that everyone just got over themselves, got out of their own heads and their own egos, and it was just about trying to learn how to do the dance. And in the same way, there’s something fantastic about trying to figure out the anatomy of an animal, and then a person, and then trying to join them together. So you’re in kind of unknown territory. There’s no real right or wrong, because there are no real half-bird, half-people. But at the same time, it’s just about trying to figure it out. You sort of get over yourself a bit. It’s not about being expressive or showing your emotions. It’s just about solving a problem. If that skull’s like that, and that skull’s like that…I love that. Those tasks. That problem solving. It’s great, because you can get up in our own head too much about things and it’s really good to have tasks where you just go ‘I’ve got to figure this out.’ That’s it.
AO: Ruben, I’ve noticed that you have a particular affinity with chimpanzees and monkeys at the moment. Do you know what that’s about? Where did that start, do you reckon?
RC: I used to start off just being really interested in films of gorillas, just looking at them, and I really wanted one as a pet.
AO: That would be a very destructive pet, I think. A bit more effort than Buster, I think.
R: I was thinking, ‘I’m going to go look at monkeys and chimpanzees now.’ Then I went and found this species called bonobos.
AO: Are they the ones with the big butts? Or the noses? It’s always either butts or noses with monkeys. You pick one or the other.
RC: They’re just like chimpanzees, but for some reason, they’re nearly always grey, and the women are the hunters and stuff. I got really interested in them, cos they’re really calm and stuff. I looked at this whole documentary about bonobos and how people went to look for them, and lots of them are dying because of enemies and stuff. I just think ‘Oh, that’s interesting, maybe I could draw this.’ And then I go ‘I like drawing it! Let’s keep drawing it! I want to draw this picture! This is so cool! Maybe let’s have a look at this animal. Oh, that has a big, big nose! Is it this way, or is it this way? No, that is much too big. The fatness is not on the top of it, it’s on the bottom!’ Just the other day, I was looking at this animal book, looking at really interesting pictures that I’d be able to draw, and I found this animal, like gorilla, chimpanzee kind of thing. With this really big sack made out of its skin on its chest. For food or something.
AO: Have you drawn it yet?
RC: No. And I was going ‘I don’t like that. That just seems cartoony and weird.’ Even though it’s a photograph. I just like the normal things.
AO: It’s funny when even real life is too cartoony. Sometimes you look at animals, and you think ‘How did that happen? What happened to make this exist? This is a ridiculous animal.’ It’s like when people first came to Australia, and they were trying to draw kangaroos. And they just couldn’t draw them in a way that looks like how we look at kangaroos. They look a lot more like rats. I went to Tasmania and there’s a museum there where they’ve got a stuffed wombat. They killed it, and they sent it back to England to be stuffed, because there weren’t any taxidermists in Australia. And so it got to England, and the person unpacked it and looked at it, and they’d never seen a wombat before, and they were like ‘Well, it’s got big claws, so it’s probably a predator. And it’s got a really tough bottom so it probably sits up on its hind legs.’ So there’s this hilarious wombat that’s stuffed, kind of going ‘Grr? Grr!’ up on its hind legs, and it’s trying to look tough, and it looks so uncomfortable.
AO: So, Michael, when it came to making One Minute’s Silence, how was your experience of working with a major publisher?
MC: It was an interesting way of working. The editors have power of veto, but they were really good. You have to make a rough of the book, of what you want to do. And then you take it to them, and you talk about it, and there was only one thing that the editors went ‘Nah’ about.
AO: What was that?
MC: There’s a passage in the book that has the Turkish soldiers dreaming of home in the middle of winter. And I had an idea of having the Turkish soldiers in these freezing trenches, and then Turkish mothers flying through the air with hot bowls of soup, bringing them their soup.
AO: They weren’t into it?
MC: They thought it was just too genre-alien. It was too different. It was the only bit of magic realism. They thought it would bring people out of the story. But it was interesting to go ‘These are my ideas, what do you think?’ And then they’ll have their thoughts, and you take it back. But once they’ve approved it, you’re pretty much free to go and do what you said that you’d do. Provided that you pretty much do what you said that you’d do.
AO: You talk a bit on the illustrator’s commentary about the process of using young people in contemporary dress in that setting. I think that’s so wonderful. I think there’s something that happens when you put someone in a uniform that makes them feel older, it makes them feel like they know what they’re doing, and also, as you discuss, it puts time in between you and them. I think that type of modernising is so effect, because it makes you realise that they were just children. So many of them were really literally just children because they lied about their age. How early did that concept come up?
Ruben is waving his hand frantically in the air.
RC: I have something to say.
AO: You hold onto it. Don’t forget it.
MC: It wasn’t really that early. I was going to cast two people, I was going to do it really straight, cast two main people who you would follow through the book, and they’d be Turkish and Aussie. It was only when I kind of settled on the guy who I wanted to play the Aussie, that I thought ‘Oh, maybe we can see it through his eyes. He could be a kind of proxy for the reader. We could have something contemporary in there.’ Because it did feel like it was going to have this uniformed, museum-piece feel. And then it wasn’t much to make that next leap.
AO: Ruben, go. You didn’t forget it, did you?
RC: No. I really wanted to talk about this school friend of mine. Because does this really scrappy style. He actually doesn’t care about it. He’s just going ‘I’m doing this drawing, I’m doing this drawing, it’s messy, who cares, I’m doing this drawing, I’m doing this drawing.’ At school, you have to use pencil if the teacher says to, and Harrison – his name’s Harrison – he’d go ‘I’m not doing a drawing, because I don’t like drawing in pencil, because that’s not my style. It’s gonna wreck it. And I’d have to do too much on the paper, and no-one will know what it is.’ You should actually meet him –
Michael bursts out laughing.
R: - because he’s actually had a really good experience in that kind of stuff. But he doesn’t really actually care how he does it. He just goes ‘This is the picture I wanted because it’s of the thing I wanted it to be of.’ He’ll have this thing that he wants to draw, but for the colour of it, he’ll just go and scribble all over it, and it’s all poking out ends and stuff, and his houses are all sort of weird and this shaped (he holds his hands wonkily) and he doesn’t even care.
A chair scrapes.
AO: Oh, sorry dog! I nearly put my chair on you. Oh, look at his little legs. Bless your little heart. Someone’s a sleepy dog.
MC: Yeah, it’s his bed-time. It’s your bed-time, too, buddy.
RC: But I wanted to show you some art!
AO: Alright, I’m gonna ask a couple more questions to your dad, and then I’ll ask you a couple of quick questions, take some photos, and then you can go to bed.
So, Michael, how did you end up working with Martin Martini?
MC: I met him through a friend of ours called Bernard Caleo, who’s this sort of big man in comics in Melbourne, and he organised these talks about comics at Reading’s bookstore. He got me to do one, and we did one about film montage and comics, and how they might work together, and he got Martin to do one about music and comics. They did this great little thing, where Martin made a song of a Pat Grant comic, and Bernard made a comic of a Beatles song. And I went ‘Ah! That’s a brilliant idea!’ And so when Martin asked me if I wanted to do some cover art for Vienna, I went ‘No, no, no, we’ll do a comic of the album!’
AO: The development of Martin’s character in this, with the kind of –
MC: Yeah, the mushroom man.
AO: How did that come about?
MC: That was the first idea. He’s got this song on the album which has got this thing where Mushroom Man is always looking down, and Bird Girl is always looking up. And I think it referred to the fact that he’s a bit of a foodie, and he hunts for wild mushrooms. But I rang him up one time and said ‘What’s your favourite mushroom? Pick a mushroom.’ And he said the morel. And, was it you, Katherine (Michael’s partner), who said it looks like a diseased penis?
AO: What a metaphor. The man bowed under the weight of his own diseased phallus.
MC: So he’s Mushroom Man. And he meets Bird Girl.
AO: This kind of dinosaur-like character, I find so evocative.
MC: That was Mila Jovovich – because she was skinny, which helped. And there were naked photos of her.
M: And a swan. But for the swan, I got a duck from the Chinese grocers, and strung it up in the studio. That was one of those exercises of trying to blend a human anatomy and a bird anatomy. Because I wanted to show the shape, I didn’t put feathers on it. So it doesn’t look like a bird. But that’s sort of what birds look like without feathers.
AO: They’re not nearly as picturesque. They’re much more grotesque.
So when you were drawing these, was it a matter of listening to the songs over and over and just letting images start to come from that, or did Martin go ‘These are the characters I’m thinking’?
MC: He was totally open. And I just cherry picked. I went ‘Ooh, I like that, ooh, I like that.’ And I’d ask him things. So he told me, for example, he’s got a song on there called ‘Rolls Royce Arms.’ And the song is just sort of a romance song. But he told me that the line ‘Rolls Royce arms’ comes from something he saw about a guy who lives on the streets, who says ‘I’ve got Rolls Royce arms’, because of the amount of heroin he’s put in there. ‘I’ve got nothing, but I’ve got Rolls Royce arms’, because he’s put so much money into his arms. And I just loved that idea, so the second half of the book incorporates that. There are great lines. The best lines are the ones that have images that are really evocative.
AO: I love that this project is just artists responding to artists, all the way through. Because obviously the whole album was created in response to the exhibition at the NGV.
So who are the artists, and it doesn’t have to be illustrative artists, it could be anyone really, who are the artists who are really exciting you right now?
MC: I tend to become obsessed by things, so I’ve become obsessed by picture books lately. And there’s a couple of Russian illustrators who are kind of blowing my mind. There’s Dugin, a husband and wife team. Those guys. And a guy called Vladyslav –
AO: What a great name.
MC: Yeah. Erko, or Yerko, it gets spelled differently. He’s Ukrainian, I think. They’re just amazing, amazing. But really, I’ve just discovering all the great 60s illustrators. People I didn’t know, or people I remember from my childhood. My picture book collection has been growing at this crazy, crazy rate. A big influence on One Minute’s Silence was a Czech illustrator called Peter Sís. He’s pretty amazing. For drawing, I always come back to really old school guys. Like Rembrandt and Gustav Doré, they’re kind of the two for tonal drawing that I keep returning to.
AO: Because part of the monthly process is giving people new exercises to try, is there anything you can think of that is a helpful thing for people to do?
MC: There’s an old trick for tonal drawing. You get a piece of glass, and to put it over something black, like a bit of cardboard, or a bit of wood with some black paper over it. And then to look at the reflection of something in that. So it’s like a mirror, but it drops everything down a tone, and it makes it easier for you to see the relationships of light things and shadow things. It’s a very old technique that the masters used to use.
AO: So, Ruben, what artists excite you? I feel like Buster Keaton is one of them. Tell me about Buster Keaton.
RC: I’m kind of really into funny stuff. I go ‘Oh, what is that film? That was made a long time ago’, and then I go ‘That was funny! I’m gonna investigate that person!’ I also like his stunts and things.
AO: They’re incredible, aren’t they? It’s really interesting, because those films were made so long ago, and humour changes quite a lot. Some things that were funny fifty years ago, we just don’t find funny any more. But the films that he made are still – funny, but just astonishing. You see those stunts, and you think ‘That’s not CGI. That just happened. That house actually fell down around him.’ I think he broke so many bones in his body. There were some stunts in The General, the one with the train, where he just said ‘Keep filming, even if I die.’ And so people were like ‘Okay, crazy Buster!’ It’s amazing he didn’t die.
MC: We heard he broke his back.
RC: It was when the water went ‘Pfff!’ on his back!
AO: Ah, and the water was so forceful, it broke his back?
RC: And he didn’t even know!
MC: He just kept going!
AO: Do you have any other people you’re inspired by who draw? Or painters?
RC: Well, there’s this one person I really like. It’s the dude that makes the Asterix books. And also the dude that makes the Tintin books. Those are two really great classics that I really love.
MC: They’re the favourite for the moment, aren’t they?
AO: And can you think of something that you’d like to get everyone who’s doing the Art Olympics to try to do?
RC: Well, this is something I’m actually interested in. I’d like everybody to make a book. You make up the story, and you make the book. First, you do this rough copy, and you try out all these different ideas, what style of drawing you want. There is still style of funny-ness that I really want to mention, and this is what I think I really want these guys for the Art Olympics to do. I would like them to make this book which has a story about somebody who’s going to this place, something like somebody who’s going to this place to find a gem and they get there after a million years when they’re only supposed to be there in two days, and then it’s too late because someone’s gotten it.
RC: I have this book that I made. It’s about this monkey and he wants to build a banana treehouse. And so he goes to his friend Parrot, and he asks him ‘Would you like to do this? I’m building this, I think you could help.’ Then there’s this last character called Lachlan, and there are like these holdbacks that all three of them have to do. Like, Lachy, he’s the boy, he forgot his magnifying glass, because he thought that there would be a banana called Some Banana, because it’s this American language thing, I got it from Charlotte’s Web. She wrote Some Pig, and what it means is, ‘some’, means ‘awesome’, and I went ‘I’m going to use that word in my book.’ So he thought there might be this banana named ‘Some Banana.’ And then I thought ‘No, the funny bit’s not going to be here’. At the end, they’re all together, and Parrot’s trying to peck a hole in the tree for a log to go through, so people can climb, and then he gets his beak stuck. And I’ve forgotten what the monkey gets up to. Oh, that’s right. James is his name, and he says ‘Oh, the bananas aren’t ripe, we’ll have to open it next year’, and they go ‘Oh, come on dude’ – this is the funny part – ‘Don’t be so down, we’ll get it done. Once we’ve done all the woodwork we have to do, we can water the stuff and do heaps and heaps of gardening stuff, otherwise we won’t get to the end of the story, dude.’
AO: It’s very meta.
RC: And finally, they’ve finished, and it’s like, at the end, ‘PS: They had to make new friends, because the new people who came after all these years didn’t know about the treehouse.’
MC: Alright, buddy, it’s bedtime.
AO: Thanks so much, both of you.
Michael's work can be found at his website.
All photographs by Sarah Walker.
DRAW IN JANUARY - WEEK THREE.
Time flies! We're into week three of January, and everyone's back into the daily grind of work. Don't let it get you down - now's the time to lock in your drawing project and start the sprint to the finish line!
By now, you've had some time to play around with styles, with tools and with content, so take a moment to have a look back over what you've done. What are you proud of? What sparked your interest? What do you keep coming back to? Follow that thread!
You don't have to work on a final piece for January, but it feels pretty good to put more time and effort into a finished illustration than just a daily doodle. The possibilities are endless, too. You might want to create your own frontspiece for your favourite book. Or the perfect birthday card, ready to wow a loved one. Or something to fill that frame you got for Christmas three years ago and have always left empty. Whatever it is, now's the time to lock it in and start drafting. Do some test layout scribbles. Figure out which pencils or pens suit best. Find a beautiful piece of paper, rather than just a sheet from your printer.
While you're thinking about good tools for the job, take a look at this week's interview with Crystal Webb from Melbourne Artists' Supplies, as she talks pencils and war, born-again artists and zentangling - the fad you've probably been doing for years and never known.
THE ART OLYMPICS jumps on a train and goes to visit CRYSTAL WEBB at MELBOURNE ARTISTS' SUPPLIES in Hampton East, Melbourne.
4:22 pm, in the tiny office at the back of the shop, behind the paper displays.
Art Olympics: So if you just want to do a quick intro into who you are and what you do.
Crystal Webb: My name’s Crystal Webb. I am a graphic designer, I guess you could say. That’s what I studied. I never really wanted to be part of a studio, so I decided to come back to retail, but it kind of worked out anyway. So that’s my role here – doing graphic design work as well as admin and retail. But I do collect art supplies.
AO: This is a handy place to work, then.
CW: I have a studio full of stuff! So yes. I’ve worked in art and craft supply retail since 2008.
AO: And what’s the history of Melbourne Artists' Supplies?
CW: Depends how far back you want to go. It’s our 30th birthday this year. So it started in 1985, in a warehouse in Moorabbin, on South Road, before there was a retail store. So Wayne (the owner) and his wife were working out of there. And then they decided to move to just along here (on Nepean Highway), to where Subway is now. So that’s where the original store was, and a few years later they moved to this one, and it’s pretty much been here every since.
AO: And you guys have got a sister store in the city as well?
CW: Yeah. That one was opened in 2000. Different demographic, as well.
AO: What kind of demographic do you get here, as opposed to in the city?
CW: We get more traditional artists, who tend to be older who paint landscapes, seascapes, still life and portraiture. And then I guess you could say abstract artists who tend to be a bit younger. And then in the city, it’s a lot more younger people, more students. It’s pretty different. We sell more of some things in one store, and more of other things in another.
AO: What are older people more likely to use versus younger people?
CW: Here we’re more likely to sell oil paint and watercolours. The city store sells a lot more design items, like Copic markers, and things more relevant to their course. Architectural items as well. And a lot of board. Board and papers! They also do book binding, so they sell a lot of book binding stuff as well.
AO: So you’re an artist yourself. Did you go straight into graphic design, or did you meander around before you found that?
CW: In high school I was one of the art captains –
AO: I forgot you got to be captains of things at high school!
CW: Yeah, by default, because no-one else wanted to take it at my school! But I did studio art and Vis Com, and I did art classes for like seven years outside of school, every Saturday from when I was seven to fourteen. So there was always that background. But I don’t know what happened in Year Twelve – I think the people I was hanging around with kind of influenced me, and I didn’t put any creative preferences down. I ended up with all these science ones. And I like the theory behind biology, but I’ve never been good with numbers. At all. So I actually did six months of Biomed at Swinburne, and I did terribly, so I was like ‘Get me out of here!’ And it was either Communication Design or Industrial Design, and I went with Communication Design. So it worked out! So that’s alright.
AO: I had a similar experience where I was studying Arts/Law, and I thought ‘Oh, maybe I’ll major in Psychology.’ I loved Psychology. And then I got to second year, and they said ‘Great, now you have to study Statistics’, and I remember sitting in the first lecture, and all I wrote down was ‘What am I doing here?’ And I transferred out of the class that day. I was like ‘This is nonsense! This is exactly what I got away from in Year Twelve!’
And so coming back to drawing, what are your biggest selling drawing supplies?
CW: Copic markers are really popular.
AO: Are they those really expensive ones?
CW: Yeah. Double ended alcohol-based markers, primarily used for design work. They’re good for quick sketching. Industrial design, fashion design, interior design, architecture. But it all varies. I’d say that’s the biggest drawing material. But then we’ve got pencils as well. Prismacolors are pretty popular. They’re an American pencil.
AO: I remember being at high school, and my friends who were studying art all had Copic markers, and they’d be like ‘Look, I have ten! Do you know how much that cost? I’m so rich!’ There was this amazing reverence for them, which I really like. I like that basically some alcohol and pigment and plastic can have this almost religious significance.
CW: Yeah, in high school people would have the big packs of them and they’d go missing. The teachers would be like ‘We’re not leaving until everything’s been put back.’
AO: I’m wondering about trends in the art world. I remember a while ago, there was a bunch of movies that came out, like The Hunger Games and the Avengers, and as a result of that, peoples’ interest in archery really skyrocketed. Are there ever things that are happening globally or socially that start to affect your sales and start to create trends?
CW: There is one trend I have noticed with drawing. We’ve had a few customers, I find that they’re older, but they like to do zentangling. Which we may also call telephone doodles.
AO: Ah, right.
CW: But it’s a thing! And they’ve kind of made it A Thing in America, and they’ve coined it!
AO: That is the most hilarious term.
Crystal turns to her computer and starts typing.
AO: Oh, right, it literally is just doodling.
CW: Just doodling. But some people come in, and they’re like ‘Do you have these pens for zentangling?’, or ‘Do you have any books on how to zentangle?’
AO: Aw, that’s lovely!
CW: (Whispering) But there’s not much to it!
AO: I like that one of the first suggestions that’s come up when you’ve Googled that is ‘How to draw.’ And ‘Easy.’ That’s great. I’m always fascinated by that commodification of something that’s really simple, and something that people do anyway, in the margins of books and things.
CW: I just don’t like that they’re making money out of it. Someone’s just taken something that’s existed for ages, and just decided to give it a name, and (pointing at the screen), is that a registered trademark? You know what I mean? So I guess that’s one of the trends that’s kind of popped up. Not so in your face – I find it’s older people who do this. Even though it seems to be targeted any anyone, really.
AO: On the one hand, it’s great, because it’s all ‘You can do it’, it’s quite simple, anyone can do basic patterns. On the other hand, it’s kind of making something that should be really accessible almost exclusive. By saying ‘You need to know the rules.’ Like, you have to click on ‘What is it?’ and ‘Learn more.’
CW: And then there’s ‘Products.’
AO: What are the recommended products?
CW: A fineliner. But there’s boxes of stuff, which is just normal pens.
AO: That’s ridiculous. That kit is fifty dollars.
CW: Yeah, and you get a disc! And some paper! And a pastel stump, by the looks of it. And a sharpener. And dice.
AO: Well, that’s very important.
CW: I haven’t had a proper look at this. This is funny. Oh, and they sell Microns. We sell them. They’re just standard fineliners.
AO: Apparently it’s ‘The pen of choice for our Zentangle Kit.’
CW: They’re bleed-proof, waterproof, archival. Which is why they’re popular. So yeah. There’s not really much to just starting drawing, really. Just pencils, paper, perhaps some pens. Fineliners are good, because then you can do sketch and wash. So you do drawing – and if it’s a Micron or Unipin, they’re waterproof – then you can work on top of it as well and give it colour.
AO: So, do people still buy art supplies as presents? I remember when I was a kid, the Derwent standard set of pencils was the holy grail of presents.
CW: And a lot of people still have that in their head. Which is really funny, cos I still think that’s to do with the war. As ridiculous as that sounds.
AO: What do you mean?
CW: Faber Castell is actually older than Derwent. They’ve been around for over 250 years. And they had Polychromos pencils before Derwent, but because they’re German, and Derwent’s English…
AO: That so interesting!
CW: So we wouldn’t have seen any of the Faber Castell stuff. So I think a lot of Australians have in their heads that Derwent’s the best, because that’s all you knew.
AO: Are Faber Castells better quality pencils?
CW: I personally like them better. Derwents Artists, I find them to be a little bit waxy in comparison. So Faber Castell have Polychromos, so they’re like the equivalent of Derwent Artists, if you want to compare a pencil. It’s got a harder tip and less wax, so it’s good for detail. And there’s also Prismacolor pencils, which are really popular, they’re American – American? I think they’re made in Mexico – they’re really, really soft in comparison. Because they don’t put a wax around the lead itself. If you look at an unsharpened Derwent pencil, it’s normally got this white coating on the top of it, which is the wax, which protects it between the wood and the actual lead itself. Faber Castell is the same, you can see this tiny white ring, but Prismacolor don’t do that, and their formula’s really soft. And the colours are really, really vibrant, but the pencil gets blunt a lot quicker, and it’s not very forgiving. They’re really hard to rub out. Which is good if you want really vibrant colours, but if you’re doing your initial sketch, not the best.
AO: So the idea with this month is getting people who don’t necessarily consider themselves someone who can draw, someone who can illustrate, and being like ‘Just give things a go.’ So if someone came in and said ‘I don’t know how to draw, I’m not even sure what I want to draw’, if someone said ‘Sell me a pencil, a marker and some paper’, what would be the good catch-all products?
CW: Generally with pencils, you want to start off with graphite anyway.
AO: As opposed to?
CW: As opposed to colour. Just because it’s better to learn how to render and tone things properly before you go right into colour, because it’s another step.
AO: This is a naïve question, but what does rendering mean?
CW: When you create a gradient. Give it depth. Colour requires colour theory. And obviously you can just play around, but it really does help to know the colour wheel. So it’s a lot harder if you’ve never really done that before. It’s good to just stick with grey lead and then move on to that. You’d probably want a graphite set. Because you’d want HB, 2B, 4B and 6B. Even 8B. Because it goes up in grades, and you can actually see the difference and learn which ones are darker and which ones do what, and get used to it.
AO: What does the B and H in pencils actually stand for?
CW: B stands for blackness, and H stands for hard. If you remember that, it helps. There’s not really too much to drawing. You can draw with essentially anything. You can draw with a biro. They do fade over time, though. They’re not archival quality. And there’s all sorts of paper, depending on what you’re doing. What you want it to look like. Arches watercolour paper is very popular. It comes in hot press, cold press and rough. Hot press is really smooth and good for illustration, cold press has a slight texture and is the most popular for watercolourists and rough is highly textural, which can create interesting effects. That paper is sized with gelatine, so ink stays well on it and stays vibrant. It doesn’t absorb into the paper as much.
AO: When you’re on the phone, er, zentangling, what do you draw? When you’re doodling?
CW: When I’m doodling? I do lines for some reason. Inevitably. I don’t think, I just do kind of straight lines. I guess it’s good practice in a way. That’s a style of rendering, which is to cross-hatch and do line work. And straight lines are good to practice. I don’t really think about it, but that’s what comes out, most of the time!
AO: Someone told me a while ago that it’s basically impossible to free-draw a perfect circle. And I was like ‘No, it can’t be that hard!’ And I spent about an hour just drawing circles everywhere and being like ‘Nope, nope, nope, nope!’
CW: Yeah, it is. I use Illustrator for that! Cutting out a circle is even worse. Even when you think it’s straight – I’ve done freehand circles in card before, and actually got out sandpaper and fixed it. It still doesn’t get circular!
AO: That sounds like me trying to cut my fringe, and it just getting shorter and shorter while I tried to get it straight. I would just end up with a tiny scrap of paper, going ‘It’s still not circular!’
AO: Who are your favourite artists? Who are the people that are really exciting you at the moment?
CW: When you start to know contemporary artists, the word ‘art’ gets a bit – ‘Ooh, should I even be calling that art, or illustration?’ So I’m more inclined towards illustrative work, and more realistic work. Right now, it’s Jaw Cooper. She’s awesome. She’s from America. I find that her work has got style and it’s got soul and it’s got emotion. Her work keeps me interested, because it’s always different, it’s always different poses and what not.
I used to really love Audrey Kawasaki. But her work, I find – I think the more you follow someone, if they haven’t changed, you get really bored. And her work is really beautiful, but it hasn’t really changed, hasn’t really seemed to develop over the years. It just seems to be the same stuff. Which makes money. The same with Sylvia Ji. You’d know her work, it’s the Mexican Day of the Dead portraits. But that’s all she does.
AO: I’m really fascinated by people who manage to just do the same thing for such a long time. I get so bored by things so quickly. I wonder if Sylvia Ji goes into her studio every day and goes ‘Ugh, I have to paint another Day of the Dead woman so I can pay rent this month.’
CW: And that’s why I’ve kind of stuck to being a graphic designer. I’m happy to do graphic design right now. I have enough art supplies to become a painter and an illustrator and everything. I’ve just collected things, because I’m like ‘Ooh! I’ll use that! One day…’ I just understand that in order to survive that industry, you need to keep pushing yourself.
But at the moment, yeah, Jaw Cooper is keeping me interested.
AO: I’ve been asking everyone to recommend a drawing or illustrative exercise to do. The first one was drawing something upside down, the second was doing a self-portrait caricature with no nose or eyebrows, to see how much you could get it to look like yourself.
CW: There’s something I did in art school. The teacher made us all face our easels, and then he put something in our hand, and was like ‘Draw it, based on what you feel.’ That, I think, is kind of cool. It’s almost like that caricature kind of thing – see how much of it you can get proportional. I still see him, actually. He’s a customer here.
AO: What sort of stuff did you have to draw?
CW: It was always something small. Something like a spiky shell. Something interesting. So that’s a good exercise, I think.
AO: Great. Thanks, Crystal! And thanks for taking the time to chat.
Melbourne Artists' Supplies are located at 34-36 Little LaTrobe St, Melbourne and
916 Nepean Highway, Hampton East.
Photos by Sarah Walker, except where credited.
DRAW IN JANUARY - WEEK TWO.
Welcome, team, to week two of the Art Olympics! By now you should have taken down your Christmas lights, scraped out the leftovers from the fridge, given up on going to the gym and hopefully started to get yourself into the groove of regular drawing. If you haven't, or you've just joined us, fear not! There's no time like the present.
Next week, you'll be settling on a project for the month, so for now, notice what you particularly enjoy drawing. Is it grand imaginary cathedrals loosely based on the view outside your office window? Is it typographic affirmations surrounded by nonsensical squiggles? Is it, like this week's interviewee, sassy self portraits designed to be viewed on iPhone screens? See where you naturally gravitate, and start letting some ideas percolate.
Take this time to try out new drawing materials, too. If you've been using pencils, try a marker. If you've been exclusively working in black and white, try some coloured ink. If you've been drawing on plain white paper, see what happens when you scribble on cardboard.
Now, sit back, relax and enjoy this week's interview, with the excellent and incisive Caragh Brooks.
THE ART OLYMPICS sits down with illustrator, student and digital misanthrope CARAGH BROOKS.
9:17 pm, on two sofas in Caragh's living room in Kew, Melbourne.
Art Olympics: Okay! So if you just want to do a quick intro to who you are and what you do.
Caragh Brooks: I’m Caragh. I like to tell people my name is pronounced ‘Ralph’, because I get a lot of that – ‘Oh, how do you pronounce your name?’ – but it’s Caragh [pronounced ‘Cara.’] I’m an artist. I've been professionally illustrating for seven years, and then last year started the Masters program at RMIT. So I’ve been trying to move from illustration into visual art. It’s an interesting transition.
AO: So what is the difference between illustration and visual art?
CB: I see illustration as a lot more commercial and it’s more like drawing what you’re told to draw, or what the requirement is to draw. Like if it’s an editorial or commission or whatever. Whereas art is more like drawing what you have to say. And I feel like a lot of my work beforehand was more – I got to a point where I couldn’t express what I wanted to say through my drawing, because it was just so aesthetic. It was like ‘This looks nice, and it’s serving a purpose, but it’s not actually saying anything relevant.’ So I feel like that’s the main difference.
AO: And so, technically, what is the difference between the way you used to illustrate and the way you do now? What direction are you moving in?
CB: There’s a huge difference. I used to do really sort of detailed, painstaking gouache paintings. I used markers and stuff before as well, but in a way more controlled way. And it was really meticulous and everything was really perfectionist. And now it’s just like ‘Pff, f**k it!’
It’s haphazard. It still has a really strong aesthetic, it’s just in a completely different way. So what used to be really controlled is now intentionally sloppy. Just trying to let go of the control freak.
AO: I feel like my access to your work has been half the stuff you put on Facebook, like the illustrated status updates, and then seeing things like the drawing you did of Tobias Manderson-Galvin, and looking at those and thinking ‘They look like they’re from totally different people.’ They’re such different styles.
AO: So is the one you did of Toby more indicative of the stuff you used to do?
CB: Absolutely. Now it’s really reductive .I feel like in order to make the work legitimate, you have to be able to do portraits and those sort of more complex styles before you can move into reductive art. So I can actually draw! I just choose to draw poorly.
AO: It’s like going to Picasso exhibitions and seeing these gorgeous, painstaking, Rembrandt-esque landscapes he did, and then him being like ‘Now these people have cubes for everything. So deal with it!’
CB: ‘Now your face is triangles!’
Exactly. And it only works that way. Like, if you were to just do reductive art and you couldn’t do anything else, well, it wouldn’t really be art. Because it’s not a choice then. It’s the limit of your abilities.
AO: In terms of self portraiture, I feel like illustrators have a very different relationship with self portraiture than photographers do. I look at my face, and I think ‘Okay, I know how to light that so that I look less tired,’ so I look flattered. Whereas I feel like when you’re an illustrator, you have a much more indicative relationship with the way you look. When you draw yourself, it’s like ‘Here are the glasses, here is the hat, here’s the hair, here’s the black.’ Have you always drawn yourself, or is this a new thing that’s started happened this year?
CB: No, I actually didn’t draw myself. I’d do it maybe once a year. Rarely. I think with photography it’s different, because it’s actually a photo of you – you want to look nice, or you want to look better in some way. Whereas with drawing yourself, it gives you an opportunity to exaggerate everything. It’s the same with reductive art, it’s really reducing it to things that make you recognisable. So it’s like making yourself into a caricature. And I feel like I already look like a caricature, so it’s really easy to do.
And I’m easy to draw, so it’s easy for me to make things more relatable. Like ‘Oh, that’s clearly Caragh.’
AO: I find that interesting, because if I had to do it for myself, I’d be like ‘…put a camera around her neck, and that’s how we’ll know it’s her?’ I think if you gave me a pen and told me to draw anyone I knew, I’d be like ‘I dunno, they’ve got a head, I suppose.’
CB: Because I used to do a lot of caricatures when I illustrated, it’s having the ability to pick out peoples’ features, to know what makes them look like a caricature. Or what you can exaggerate, or what you can reduce to be as simple as possible but still look like them. Like with the #N000dz project that I did, where it was all of those people, I drew them all intentionally in the most reductive way. None of them have eyebrows, none of them have noses. And they’re the most defining features, really, of people. And so it was really interesting to see how much you could make it look like them without defining features.
AO: Was that just an open call where you got people to send in – was it selfies?
CB: Basically, I did an open call, and there were three rules. You had to be a consenting adult, obviously – hopefully –
AO: Good rule.
CB: Yep, number one! The second one was, as naked as you feel comfortable. And so you were allowed to include props. And the third one was that it had to be a full body shot. So whether they took it themselves in a full-length mirror, or they got someone else to take it, it didn’t really matter. It was good when they had their phones in the shot, just because it made it more now, and it made it more about speaking to technology, and uploading it and all that sort of stuff. But yeah, it was an open call, and it had way more of a response than I thought it would.
AO: How many people submitted?
CB: Over a hundred.
AO: Oh my god!
AO: Did you draw them all?
AO: Oh my god!
CB: I think I didn’t draw maybe, like, two people or three people. And one of them was because the shot didn’t fit the criteria – it was cropped in a really weird way, and I was like ‘I can’t see your body, I can’t draw that.’ And the others were after the cutoff date. I had a set time I was doing it for, and after that, I still do it, but I charge for it now.
AO: What was the gender split with people submitting?
CB: I think it was actually pretty even. I haven’t really thought about it. At first I was like ‘Oh s**t, am I just going to get a bunch of dick pics?’
But it was actually a lot of girls as well. I think because girls are more comfortable sending a photo of themselves to another girl. I think it would have been very different if I was a dude. No-one probably would have wanted to submit. A bunch of gay men maybe. I could get on Grindr and put out a call.
AO: You recently did a live Tinder video, didn’t you? I notice that one of your status update illustrations was about ‘Does anyone ever do it in real life?’ Is video art a thing that you are branching into, or was that just a one-off?
CB: No, that was just a one-off. I did it between March and May last year. Everything I was dealing with, with my subject matter was to do with technology and Gen Y, and all that sort of stuff, and then I specifically went into internet dating, branched off into that for a bit, and was working with drawing really offensive caricatures of people from Tinder. And then the medium was so in opposition to the subject matter – if you’re painting this person from what you’re just instantly dismissing, it’s a really strong juxtaposition, but it wasn’t really effective. So it was like, well, video art is a way to bring that into now. So I presented it on my phone, stuck on a gallery wall.
AO: I was going to ask you about that, because your work is so contemporary, and deals with such contemporary issues, and that kind of strange super connected, super alienated feeling that people get. And I do find it interesting that you work in such a analogue, old-school way, but then take a photo of it, and digitise it.
CB: Upload it.
AO: It’s an interesting movement from one medium and one way of working into another. You’ve also got these figures here, all on their phones. Have you always done sculptures?
CB: No. These are the first ones.
AO: Because these are amazing.
CB: Oh, thanks. No, I’ve never sculpted before. I actually have this real phobia of getting my hands dirty, so I hate working with clay – hands and feet. I can’t walk barefoot anywhere for the same reason. And so I’ve never even touched sculpture, because I was like ‘Nup! Not my thing! Hands dirty! Nup!’ But this is not so bad. It’s not like clay. It’s polymer clay. So it’s basically like plasticine that you bake.
AO: This has got glitter in it, though. That is messy.
CB: Yeah, that was super messy. I didn’t realise – it’s pearlescent, and I didn’t realise til after I started making it. I was like ‘Why the f**k have – oh.’
AO: Coming back to the illustrated status updates, I find them really interesting, because a lot of the text and the content of them is the sort of thing that if I saw someone writing it, I’d be like ‘Shut up.’ But something about having this little jovial caricature of you in them makes them much more palatable.
CB: Only the first maybe five of them were actual status updates. Just because I was thinking ‘I have all these thoughts, what am I going to say?’ And then I was like, well, normally I just bitch about things on Facebook when I have a problem, so I was like, ‘I’ll take these, just to get me going, so I don’t have to do work on getting the idea and the aesthetic all at once. I’ll take this already formed idea, and then draw it and see how that goes.’ And then after that it was like (snaps fingers). Now it’s just natural. If I have an issue, I’ll just draw it, instead of making a status update.
AO: My exposure to you previous was basically a friend going ‘Look at all these pictures!’ And then he showed me a picture of you, and I was like ‘Oh, yes! That’s definitely the same person!’ And then seeing your and Matto's [Matto Lucas - mutual friend and MFA student] relationship on Facebook, which is just you guys being like ‘I hate everything! I made this beautiful thing. I hate everything!’
CB: ‘Everyone sucks! But I love you!’
AO: That is such an expression of the human condition in the late 2010s. ‘I’m so angry! And happy! I have so many feelings that I can’t process all at once!’
CB: I guess that most of the stuff that I’m trying to address is the entitlement, and all the issues where it’s like, ‘I think they’re awful. They’re awful personality traits to have.’ But I also realise that I’m totally complicit in it. As much as I bitch about it, I’m also part of it, which is why I make it biographical. And I think that if you’re bitching about something, it’s so much easier for people to take it if the joke is on you. Like if I was attacking other people all the time, it’d be like, well, ‘F**k off! Who the f**k are you?’ It’s like what you were saying, if you read it as an update, you’d be like ‘F**k off,’ but if you see the image, and the image speaks to the text, or maybe is in complete opposition to it, it does give it an extra depth, where you’re like ‘Oh, now it’s actually kind of funny.’
AO: Something I’m asking everybody is when you’re on the phone, or doodling without thinking about it, what are the things that you end up drawing?
CB: Often I draw asterisks, for some reason. And then I branch out, and I’ll draw faces, I think a lot of people draw eyes and stuff like that. I haven’t – I hate being on the phone, so it’s been a long time.
AO: What do you find the hardest thing to draw?
CB: I guess it’d be obscure things. Because I draw people all the time, so people are always the easiest. Probably backgrounds. I never draw backgrounds, just because I feel like it f**ks up the drawing. Or it just takes attention away. And there’s been times where I’ve done it and it’s worked, but it’s really rare. And especially with what I do, because it’s so focussed and it’s so instant, it takes me like five minutes to draw, and you read it in five seconds and dismiss it, having a background would totally detract from being able to absorb it that quickly.
AO: Totally. I think that there’s something that feels weird about doing really reductive, naïve art, and then going ‘But I’ve got to put heaps of work into it! It took me forever!’ That said, do you know the webcomic Hyperbole and a Half?
CB: Yeah, yeah.
AO: I find interviews with Allie Brosh, who draws it, interesting, because she’s like ‘It takes me such a long time to draw those pictures, and make them look really shit, but also work.’ She’ll draw the same frame 15 times in a row, and be like ‘No! It doesn’t look right!’ I hadn’t expected that, because of course they look like they were drawn in three seconds by an eight year old.
CB: That is interesting, because I – this sounds weird – ‘I don’t make mistakes’ – I do, but I just own them. I never redraw anything, I just – if there’s a f**k-up, it stays there. There are some things where there’s a double line, but I’m like ‘Whatever, it’s done now!’
AO: It’s interesting, given that talked about how perfectionistic your work was previously.
CB: It was a rough transition. There’s still a part of me that’s like ‘Fix it!’
AO: Did you just wake up one day and think ‘I hate the direction my career is going?’ Or was it a slow progression?
CB: It got to the point where I was like, ‘I can’t live off this. And I can’t viably make money from this.’ And because people aren’t really willing to pay a whole lot for art if you’re nobody, so it got to the point where I was doing these really painstaking illustrations, and I was so poor – I still am – but, I was so poor that I’d be like, I got an offer for a commission, I have to give them a price, what’s the most I can ask without the risk of them saying no? So it had to still be really cheap because I needed the money. I’d take anything, at the time. And I’d get, say, two hundred dollars for something that would take me twenty hours to paint, and it was like ‘This isn’t worth it.’ And when you take into account the price of materials, you’re not just paying for the hours, you’re paying for the skill. So it wasn’t really viable. And then I actually joined the Masters because I wanted to get better at what I was doing, and get more connections, and thought that maybe I’d get to learn more about that sort of world that was foreign to me in a lot of ways. And then my main advisor was like ‘You should just let go. You have a lot to say, and this is holding you back. Being perfectionist about it and trying to control everything is holding you back.’
AO: Who are some other artists that inspire you?
CB: My main influence, and it seems kind of topical right now, but he’s been my favourite artist, or one of them, for years, is David Shrigley. And I think that’s probably obvious to a lot of people who’ve seen my work. Most of my friends who went to that exhibition were like ‘That so reminds me of your work!’ I love Shrigley. I have so many of his books in my room. I got my brother a birthday card from the NGV that was Shrigley, and it’s two guys wrestling, one pushing the other down, and it’s like ‘Admit that you love me!’ It’s so good.
Other than that, I really love Joan Cornella. He does these really subversive, really beautifully painted, almost 50s style advertising sort of illustrations, but they’re so f**ked up. The subject matter is so f**ked. They’re amazing. He’s worth looking up.
My tattoos are Heinz Edelmann. He’s one of my favourite illustrators. He’s a 60s illustrator. Germany.
AO: Rad. And finally, do you have a drawing exercise to give people to try out this week?
CB: I was thinking everyone should try drawing a cartoon or caricature self portrait, but without drawing their nose or eyebrows. See how much they can get it to look like them and what other features they have to accentuate to gain a likeness. I think it’s helpful because it makes you observant of other important things like form, proportion, face shape, etc.
AO: Excellent. Thanks heaps Caragh!
Caragh’s work is online at www.caraghbrooks.com, and you can follow her on Instagram @caraghbrooks.
She will be exhibited as part of Midsumma: ‘Something Between Walking and Sleeping’.
Jan 23-31, Dark Horse Experiment Gallery (110 Franklin St, Melbourne). Opening on Jan 23 6-8 pm.
She will also be exhibiting in a solo show at Off The Kerb gallery in Collingwood in August. Exact dates to come.
Photo of Caragh by Sarah Walker.
draw in january - WEEK ONE.
Happy New Year and welcome to the first challenge of the Art Olympics! Now's the time to cross out all your boring New Year's Resolutions, and chalk up a better one: Make More Art! January is upon us, and the theme for the month is 'DRAW.' This means all types of illustration - pencil, pen, brush, tablet - it's up to you!
By the end of the month, you'll have completed your very own drawing to frame/laminate/put on the fridge, but for now, just take some time to rediscover how good it feels to just doodle. Draw while on the phone. Draw on the train. Draw your dog. Draw what's outside your window. Draw your reflection in the kettle. Draw whatever takes your fancy! Make a visit to your nearest art supply shop, and treat yourself to a new pen or pencil. Break it in. Give it a workout.
Try to draw something every day this week. Draw fast, without judging. Try out different lines, strokes and squiggles. Now is the time for experimentation.
For some excellent encouragement and sage advice, make a cup of tea and settle down with this week's interview with the exceptional George Rose.
THE ART OLYMPICS sits down with illustrator, typographer and generally rad lady GEORGE ROSE.
2:32 pm, under a train bridge next to Merri Creek in Westgarth, Melbourne.
Art Olympics: So George. Can you explain what you do, art wise?
George Rose: I do a lot of things, art wise. I do a lot of illustration, I do murals, I do digital illustration as well as hand-drawn stuff and a lot of print work. A lot of type-based drawing. A lot of painting. I also do sculpture and ceramics, but that’s not really relevant.
AO: You do everything!
GR: I do a lot of other things as well, but I’ll just mention the relevant ones!
AO: I feel like the question ‘Have you always done this?’ is an interesting one with illustration, because kids always draw –
GR: Yeah! Yeah, kids do draw, and it’s beaten out of them at some stage, and it just depends on who’s strong enough to get through that beating.
AO: So, do you come from an artistic family?
GR: No! Not at all! No-one in my family is artistic, they’re just supportive. My mum especially would just sort of be like ‘Here are all of the pens and pencils and paper, do the things!’ and I’d draw things, and then they’d write stories for them, or I’d tell them what to write. So we’ve got all these books at home of these old, terrible stories! I don’t even know what they’re about! Mostly mermaids, probably. And trucks.
AO: Monster truck mermaids. I feel like that could be a great franchise!
GR: And then throughout school, I would always, you know, be drawing, and when I’d get home, I’d have all the art things that my heart desired. So it was nice that I had supportive parents. Not artistic parents. But supportive parents.
AO: And did you train?
GR: I am a trained graphic designer. My background is in design, but I was never really a designer. Even my teachers at school were like (whispering) ‘You’re not really a designer. You don’t belong here.’ I had a lot of leftover subjects, and they said ‘Why don’t you go to art school and do a year there?’ And I went there and I was told that I wasn’t an artist! So it was like, you’re not a designer, you’re not an artist. And I was like ‘F*ck you guys! What am I then? What am I?’ I think because I had that background in design, I started to think like a designer. There’s a huge difference in the way that you think. I guess your training always really affects the way that you process information. I’m actually really glad that I did design, because I’m a lot more practical than most of the artists that I know.
AO: And so, when you sit down to create something new, what’s your go-to visual thinking method? Do you have a sketchbook that you carry around?
GR: I do. I’m not a creature of habit. – I always have a diary with me, and I always write down stuff in it, but then I have a million different notebooks, and periodically I’ll be like ‘I have to have my notebook with me!' I always have pens, so I can always draw on something. But sometimes it takes me forcing myself to sit down and actually get into a certain headspace. So I’ll often do a lot of research on styles or content. Lots of photo references, just to essentially saturate my brain with visual information before I actually sit down and do anything. Quite often I find I work backwards as well, so if I’m doing a mural, I’ll consider things like the space, the client, or what I want to achieve. And then I work backwards. I go ‘Well, these are the colours I want to use, this is the subject matter that I think I want to do, what’s going to work with that?’ And I start sketching it out rough, and then it’s just rounds of revisions and tightening it up and changing what I want to change. Or sometimes I go ‘That’s terrible! I want to start it all again!’
AO: I find that really interesting. I feel like I hear writers talking all the time about having to make a physical space and time for creation. I think we talk about writer’s block much more often than we talk about musician’s block or illustrator’s block. And I think there’s this weird idea that people who draw are always sketching on trains and never having to sit down to create a space for creation.
GR: Which is funny. Maybe it depends on the people you hang around, because it is a thing in art as well. The blank page, or the blank canvas. I don’t really suffer from that kind of anxiety, being like ‘Oh, it’s blank! Oh no! What am I going to do! I’m going to touch it and destroy it!’ I think because of working on the street, and doing murals, things that are actually going to be transient anyway and destroyed. Ephemeral kind of stuff. When you go into something knowing it’s going to be destroyed eventually, it’s not that much of a big deal. I think some people get a bit scared or worried about actually putting pen to paper and starting. Because starting is always the hardest point. I don’t think it matters what you do, whether it’s writing or music or art. I think the starting - just sitting down and starting something is hard. Once you’ve got on a roll, it’s easier.
AO: Do you have themes or characters or ways of using lines that keep popping up in your work?
GR: Yeah, there’s a particular type of linework that I like doing, which is very pattern- and repetition-based. I like certain shapes. I’ll go through shape phases.
AO: What’s your current shape phase?
GR: Well, I’ve been in circles for a while, but I think I’m going to migrate into diamonds soon.
GR: Using them as a base idea. Should we wait for the train?
A train goes past overhead.
GR: It depends if it’s a job for a client or if it’s a job for myself. If I’m doing a commercial job, then you’ve really got to take into consideration style trends. So circles are quite big now – and that works fine, cos I like circles, so I’m happy with doing that!
AO: I see so many websites where the whole layout is circles with text in them.
GR: Yep. So that’s been in for a while. But I reckon it’s going to go out soon.
AO: What other trends are there, at the moment?
GR: That wishy-washy kind of sketchy thing, that very feminine thing is in. It was originally just black and white but now people are starting to add little hints of colour. Geometrics. Patterns are in. It used to be – maybe seven to ten years ago – very Illustrator and vector-based. But now it’s kind of gone back to really trying to use pen and pencil. That kind of sketchy, more handmade kind of feel. But it kind of comes in waves.
AO: When you’re doodling on the phone, what are your current go-to things to draw? I know my dad and I always draw eyes. One of my friends draws people with curly hair and wizard noses. So what do you draw when you’re not thinking about it?
GR: I used to draw eyes in high school. I used to draw hands and feet a lot. Nowadays, I think I do a lot of type stuff, a lot of lettering. It was birds for a while. I’m kind of slowly going out of birds, because that became a Thing. Everyone likes birds, and so everyone made fun of me for liking birds as well, and I was like ‘Fine, I’ll do something else!’
AO: I feel like Portlandia has kind of ruined birds. You know that ‘put a bird on it’ thing? I feel like that has become very present in the cultural lexicon.
GR: The best thing about my tattoo is that I got it in Portland.
GR: And then I got back and everyone was like ‘Put a bird on it!’ and I was like ‘Yes, I put a bird on it in Portland! I’ll own it! I’ll wear this!'
AO: In terms of tools, what are your favoured pencils and brushes and pens?
GR: I am such a stationery nerd.
AO: So am I. They just discontinued my favourite mechanical pencil, and I’m really not coping.
GR: Gasps. What was it?
AO: A Bic Quantech. It just feels really nice to hold. It just feels like you’re getting sh*t done.
GR: I really like Unipin. The fineliners. They’re the felt pens that I like.
AO: You've got a Uni 0.5 fineliner there.
GR: They are the bomb diggity. They are my favourite.
AO: I remember being at high school, and the girls who were serious about art always had fineliners. That’s how you knew they were serious artists.
If someone who’s never really had much experience drawing since they were five, if they were to go to an art store or a newsagent, and get one pencil and one pen, what should they get?
GR: Well first of all, I can recommend a paper. I use a thing called Bristol Board. It’s my favourite paper. I use it to do all my sketches on, because it’s the right thickness, it’s the right feeling – the texture of the actual paper is right. Lines erase really well if you’re going to draw on it with pencil, and it takes pen amazingly and it doesn’t bleed. Everything about it at the moment is just satisfactory.
And then, it really depends. If you were going to get a ball-tip pen, then Bic fineliners are good. The ballpoints. The yellow ones. They draw really well – I know a lot of artists who use them to draw with. Pencils? It sort of depends on what you want to do. It really depends on how it feels. A lot of my stuff is based on, you know, how it feels in my hand. I’ll be like, ‘I like the feel of that, I like the weight of it, I like the way it moves’. Even just a Pacer, you can get different types of lead to put into it. You can get the heavier stuff, like a 5B, and then you can get an HB. That way you have options. So that’s probably a good idea. And then if you get a felt-tip pen, probably a 0.3 Uniball. That’s a good, solid, standard size, that you can Do Things With.
AO: And for someone who’s like ‘I don’t know what to draw, I don’t know what I want to draw’, what are some good types of things to start drawing? I think if you just say ‘Oh, just draw whatever you want’, sometimes people are like ‘But, I don’t know what I want.’
GR: It’s the worst. Never tell anyone to draw whatever they want!
AO: Maybe a better question is: where’s a good place to go for inspiration when you have no idea what you want to draw?
GR: I work with the boys at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre up in Canberra, and the funny thing is, I just assumed that everyone would be good at content generation. Coming up with ideas. And so, what I did was I got thirty or forty books, and I printed off about two hundred pages worth of images, I trawled the internet. I got all these images, I got all these books, I put them all in front of them, and I was like ‘Look at these things, and find out what you like out of them.’ And even then, they were like, ‘I don’t know what to draw. I don’t know.’ For me, I need to have visual stimulation, and so I just go and I look at everything. So things like Pinterest is really good. People could look at Flickr. Any sort of place that has lots of images is a really good starting point. But, if you’re not good at content generation, then it’s almost useless to go and look at all these things. It does the opposite effect as well. It can –
AO: Kind of swamp you.
GR: Yeah. You can just get quite stifled, and get really overwhelmed, and like ‘Oh, all these images! I could do anything! I don’t know!’
So even before you start looking for anything, I would recommend just narrowing it down into something. You could draw anything, but just choose one thing. Just be like ‘Okay, well, trees. How about I start with trees? And then I’ll do something else.’ Or ‘I’ll do a portrait of a person. A face.’ Choose one thing, and then start. Google image search is even good. And you just start there, and then you follow the rabbit warren of the internet down, and you go ‘Oh, that image is cool’, and then you click on it and find out more images from there.
A train goes past overhead.
AO: Of illustrative artists, who are the people who, off the top of your head, totally blow your mind? And whose work you look at and go ‘F*ck off. How do you do that?’
GR: One of the first people than came to mind is actually one of my friends, Indigo O’Rourke, and she’s f*cking amazing. She just uses these Bic biros, and she goes through, I don’t even know how many, hundreds and hundreds, and she does these huge drawings, and they’re beautiful, and they’re insane. They’re crazy. She’s someone that, you just look at her work, and you go, ‘I don’t – I just can’t – what? How do you?’ She’s also just a generally awesome person. She just locks herself in her room and spends hours and hours just doing these things. She’s great.
Who else? I really like Miso. She’s a Melbourne artist. She does really beautiful stuff. The way she got started was, she based herself off Swoon, who’s an artist from the States, and who does a lot of paste ups – these really beautiful, hand-drawn kind of things. A lot of women and a lot of older women. Really interesting things. And Miso kind of started doing that, but here. She does really beautiful combinations of lots of sparse negative space, paired with these intricate detailed drawings. She’s really nice. I like her stuff. They’re two really good examples.
AO: And finally, do you have a good drawing exercise to give to people, as a way to get started?
GR: I think I know one that would be good. A good way to do stuff is to draw something upside down.
AO: As in, you are upside down, or you draw the thing upside down?
GR: You can do it upside down as well, that would be hilarious! But if you have an image, turn it upside down and draw it upside down. Because when you look at something, you’re always actually throwing your own perceptions on whatever you’re looking at. So when I look at your face, I’m like ‘That’s where eyes are, that’s where a nose is, and that’s where a mouth is.’ And so you draw it where you think it is. But if you look at it upside down, they just turn into different shapes. Drawing stuff upside down changes the way you think about it. And at the end, you flip them both. To see, like ‘Oh man!’ It’s really bizarre. And quite often you get quite beautiful results. They’re not the same. But it’s interesting.
AO: Awesome. Thank you very much, George Rose!
George's work can be found online at goodgeorgerose.com.
Photos of George by Sarah Walker.