A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking I am a hoarder if they were to take a peek into my cluttered little studio. My desk, which sits between windows, is strewn with an odd assortment of art materials and found objects. My map drawers, where I store finished paintings, sit along the only other long wall. It doubles as a handy, if somewhat high, bench to store my drawing pads, boxes of paint and half-finished sketches. Rolls of canvas and folio cases lean lopsided in the corners of the room. Wherever I find images and objects that may be useful – photographs, images torn from magazines, postcards, old calendars, advertising material, sketches, feathers, interesting sticks, stones and seed pods – these are collected for reference material. Natural history books migrate back and forth between our main bookshelves and my studio. A discarded honeyeater’s nest, blown out of a tree at season’s end, and a sunbird’s nest (a practise run by an inexperienced pair of young birds) sit beside my paints and containers of brushes.
I usually start with a little sketch or a few hastily scribbled words if I am in the middle of something else. Ideas come unexpectedly at the oddest of times so jottings are made on sketchbooks, serviettes, Post-it notes, or on the corner of a page in one of my sons’ schoolbooks. If I don’t write them down or sketch something (even a stick figure), the ideas melt away and are lost. These starting points evolve into more complex drawings and larger compositions. Often I need to push and pull at an idea for a while before it coalesces into something which works well.
And occasionally things go much more smoothly. This is how Barney came to be…
Barney began life as little more than a doodle on scrap paper.
He became a sketch. I made him more animated, with his ears and legs extended, his trunk curled in excitement.
Watercolour breathed life into him.
A bit of ink gave him more solidity, the small details, and finished the illustration.
I work only in traditional media – I love the translucent quality of watercolours, the immediacy of pen and ink, and the vibrant colour and depth that comes with both the new generation acrylics or oils. Although each medium brings its own unique and interesting effects, acrylic is the medium I tend to favour when it comes to my illustrations because it gives me the ability to build the paint surface gradually with many thin layers in similar fashion to the way I like to use oils on a larger canvas. Storyboards are pencil or ink sketches that are either laid out on the floor or taped to the walls so I can refer to them easily as I paint. They are set out in a book’s page order which helps me to see how the story flows visually and whether changes should be made to an image. I try to resist the urge to throw away any drawings or paintings that do not quite work out – instead, I cut off the offending bits, then throw the rest into my ‘keeper’ pile to reflect on at a later date. These compositions always manage to impart new understandings of things, sending me in different artistic directions.
Copyright © 2017 Naomi Mairou