Cloudhead: four-hour drawing marathon

Pastel on card.
Pastel on card.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of looking up. One day recently I walked past a wall on which someone had graffitied ‘Look up!’ so I did. I’ve thought about it and done it pretty regularly since then. Where I live, you’re likely to see the underbelly of a plane, almost too close for comfort, and near my work there’s a lot of construction going on and fun stuff like a building shaped like a paper bag. I see a lot of people standing around looking up at that. Inside my work, in a museum (my new dream job!), I see more underbellies of planes, old ones this time, spaceships, helicopters. Out the window there are cranes towering over rubble, working on new apartment blocks in the heart of the city. Interesting times.

Ink on mat board.
Ink on mat board.

But mostly when I’m looking up I’m watching clouds. Clouds are amaaazing. Actually clouds in themselves can be hell boring but the sunlight on them can make magic. I’ve been drawing, painting and photographing clouds for a number of years, now that I think about it. I have a bank of cloud images, a backlog I’m slowly trying to turn into artworks. Over sea and dam, city and suburbia and dairy country, Australian clouds, Thai clouds, Cambodian clouds, clouds from planes . . . especially looking forward to doing something with those babies.

Pastel on card.
Pastel on card.

My faves are sunrise/sunset and crazy-arsed storm clouds. That’s why I love Turner and Clarice Beckett – they were out there in the elements, strapping themselves to masts or getting pneumonia from exposure in order to record the beauty of bad weather. Though as romantic as that sounds, I’ll probably stop short of risking my life for my art.

Recently I set myself a four-hour drawing marathon challenge, to help me through my cloud backlog and because my drawing muscles needed a workout. The task was from Robert Kaupelis’ Experimental Drawing, a great art book from 1980 that’s now considered a classic. The task is ‘50 Non-stop Drawings in Four Hours’, which pretty much explains the whole concept.

Pencil and pastel on paper.
Pencil and pastel on paper.

So I set aside an afternoon, got a bunch of different-sized papers together – some were card, some cartridge, watercolour paper, some with ripped edges, some toned with ink or wash beforehand – and a wide array of mediums. Then I went for it, using a handful of photos for reference and basically trying to come to grips with that age-old question: ‘What the hell even is a cloud?’

I managed about 25, and a lot of them are small, gestural and super rough. It was a great exercise, though not many actually look that great or are anywhere near finished drawings. They can’t be, if you’re spending less than five minutes on each. But one I’ve already sent as a postcard, and a few I might work up into a proper drawing, or use as a study for a painting.

Watercolour and pencil on Arches paper.

Thanks for the idea, Bob (who has moved on to the great drawing school in the sky). Think I’ll try another marathon again sometime soon.


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