What else would the word ‘knot’ conjure up for me but Celtic knotwork!
I’ve loved it since I was a child. The intricacy and puzzlement about how they were created, the repetition and symmetry are all things that please my arty heart.
From Early Celtic art of the Iron Age (La Tene), to Anglo-Saxon and Viking ornamentation and sculpture, to the wonderful illuminated manuscripts of the early Medieval period, to the present day, knotwork has a fascination that seems to speak to the human psyche in some way.
It’s been many long years since I had a go at learning how to draw knotwork. I seem to remember I found it easier than I did today! Perhaps my younger brain was able to deal with the intricacies. However, once I found a method I could follow I found it easier, though not without mistakes.
I dug out my copy of “Celtic Knotwork Designs” by Sheila Sturrock, and re-created these few, simple patterns.
Not perfect. Not finished. Wibbly, wobbly grids and lines mean they are imperfect, but perfectly imperfect and somehow feel more an expression of my inner being. I may continue exploring knotwork now I’ve opened the door on it once again.
My sketchbooks have been the focus of my attention during the waning days of 2020 and the start of 2021. I’ve done pages of zentangle-type patterns, borders and ‘fragments. I’ve been trying out monograms, and I’ve been drawing in more of my signature style, as above.
This page shows some experiment with colour and texture in the sketchbook. I used fineliner pens for the textures and Pitt Artist Brush Pens, both ‘neat’ and with a waterbrush.
I had to work hard with myself to do this. I didn’t want to mess up the drawing, which I quite like, with colour and so on. But then I told myself I can always re-draw it, along with losing the elements I’m not keen on. I really like the bird-like design at the top of this coloured image.
The others were drawings done for the sheer joy and comfort of drawing. All intuitive, though I did pay attention to a reference photo of a meso-American pot for the face in the right-hand drawing.
All drawings were done with an 05 Unipin pen in my A4 Artway Enviro sketchbook. The 05 pen nib has become worn, and usually I’d bin it, but I’m working with it and seeing how I can vary the width and intensity of line. I’m trying to allow myself to embrace the perfectly imperfect quality of the line and the character it brings to my drawings. I find that I like it, which surprises me. Now, all I need to do is to work to replicate this digitally; maybe not a perfect replication but something that is similar enough.
I have three sketchbooks on the go at the moment.
The A4 and A5 Enviros are for drawings and designs, as above. Fairly polished and starting points for further work. I can try different things out – such as colour and texture – knowing that I can either scan the drawings in before I try these experiments out, or I can always re-draw the design, altering the parts I’m not happy with.
The third is an A4 SeaWhite all-media sketchbook. Although I have done some drawings in there, it’s been repurposed into a zentangle/pattern experimentation and record book. I use colour and shading with the drawings as they are purely for reference and the pleasure of drawing them. Not surprisingly, many of the pages are aesthetically pleasing in the way that needlework or cross-stitch samplers are. You can look at the page again and again and still find designs or sections of designs that surprise you.
The past few days I’ve needed to find an activity that comforts me. I find this time of year emotionally difficult as I’m triggered by Christmas and New Year and all the hoo-haa around it. The short days and lack of sunshine doesn’t help much. My daylight therapy lamp helps somewhat, but it isn’t as good as working at my desk or taking a walk bathed in winter sunlight. I also find myself bone-weary a lot. Mind you, not sleeping properly at night isn’t helping me either.
As an introvert, I tend to retreat into a world of my own at these times, or to immerse myself in other worlds through films and books. And of course art. I limit my social media activity to the absolute necessary. This way, the societal pressures I feel fade away, and before long the world is back to the way it is for the vast majority of the year.
This year, my main haven of peace and contentment has been in my sketchbooks. I’ve found particular comfort and delight indulging myself in zentangle patterns. The patterns are familiar, but working on them to create unique variations that are my own has been something new and different for me. As has allowing myself to draw them in my own way.
As well as comforting me, I’ve discovered that I find it hard to be uniquely me in my artistic expression. Accepting that the way I draw something is just fine as long as I’m happy with it. The videos from the Zentangle family have been incredibly useful in helping me see this, as well as making me determined to change it too. Not just with zentangle type stuff, but with my art in general. Also, I realised that I do this for other people, but never for myself. Time to change that, methinks!
I’m still in ‘comfort art’ mode for the next couple of days. I’m still not ‘right’ emotionally, and I’d like to be before I turn my attention to the example coloured templates for Entangled Starry Skies and sketches for the cover of the next colouring book.
The previous and latest version of the monogram dangle design. The variation is the background paper colour as well as a drop shadow for the design.
I had a lot of fun as well as some frustration when I found it difficult to do what I wanted to do, though I got there in the end, I think.
I certainly have a few more tools in my digital art toolbox.
Autodesk Sketchbook Pro really makes it easy to create art like this. Though this may have been simpler for more accomplished, learned digital artists, for me it was a bit of a process. However, I have managed to create something I could only dream about doing in traditional media, I think.
The skills required are, in my opinion, equally as demanding, whether working digitally or traditionally. Don’t forget, this started out as pen and ink line art on paper – very traditional! I just made use of digital tools to develop it into something that definitely has a medieval feel to it but in a modern medium. Indeed, all the lines/patterns were re-drawn digitally using a pen and the screen as ‘paper’ to arrive at these final versions. I did make use of the color-fill tools to colour these ones in, but the addition of textures makes them less digitally perfect and more ‘perfectly imperfect’.
This certainly has inspired me to create a whole series of such monograms over the coming days, weeks or months. Goodness alone knows what I can do with the digital versions as having them printed wouldn’t result in any sparkle where there’s sparkle. However, I do have an idea about foiling my line art, as well as working with metallic inks once more. Indeed, I had a deliver of Encres A Decorer by Herbin yesterday and dug out my glass pen to use with them. So some experimentation with those is likely (as well as digging out my dip pens and nibs too). I think I have some calligraphy ‘parchment’ or ‘vellum’ paper lurking somewhere in my stash as well.
Finally, I think I’m getting comfortable with my style of hand lettering. It sure ain’t perfect. It’s sure ain’t as slick as that of others. But it’s mine, not theirs.
Of course, some of the ideas/tools/techniques I’ve used here I can make use of in my more usual style of art. For today, I want to work on a design for the Angela Porter’s Coloring Book Fans facebook page to help celebrate the changing over of the calendars at midnight on New Year’s Eve as it turns into New Year’s Day. A liminal point of time between one thing and another. A boundary between the old year and the new.
So, finish my toffee nut latte mocha morning drink I will, then it’s to some hand lettering and drawing, while keeping warm and dry on a chilly, rainy and windy day.
I woke up early today and thought I’d organise my ideas about basic hand lettering into a reference sheet, and this is what I’ve come up with.
The foundation of hand lettering, to my mind at least, is to practice, practice, practice drawing your basic letter shapes, both upper and lower case. Bullet journaling can be a good way to practice hand lettering and to try out variations in letter forms and styles. My current bullet journal is very functional and minimal, but I do use different letter styles in the headings for each day and collections and so on. Mind you, I could do with a lot more practice.
Notice is said your basic letter shapes, not my basic letter shapes The reason I say this is that the more I’ve struggled with my hand lettering and it not looking like other peoples, the more I’ve come to realise that it’s MY hand lettering, my style, that I need to work on.
Yes, I draw inspiration from other people’s work, but at the end of the day I’d like my hand lettering to be mind, with my ‘stamp’ on it, my uniqueness, my quirkiness, my imperfections.
I struggled with this idea in the early years of my artistic journey, and now I’ve realised I’m having the same struggle with my hand lettering.
Hand lettering is exactly that – done by hand, not by machine. If I want perfect letters, then I can use fonts on the computer. What I can’t have is perfect hand lettering as in perfect like a computer font.
What I need to work on accepting is that my hand lettering is good enough, it’s human, it’s an expression of myself.
I spent a lot of time and effort in my teenage years to change my handwriting. I realised it looked a lot like my mothers. I didn’t want to be anything like my mother, even down to my handwriting, which actually is more like fast hand lettering as I really do draw each letter. I gave up joined-up cursive writing at this time too. My handwriting isn’t entirely print, some letters do get joined up.
I came up with my own style of writing that I like, mostly. It’s usually teeny-tiny too, so writing BIG is a problem for me.
Hand lettering is, for me, an extension of my own style of printing/drawing my letters.
This doesn’t sit all that well with me at this moment, but it feels more authentic to me.
I want to use my own letter shapes as the basis for my own hand lettering, along with all the imperfections that my bring. After all, it’s all the little imperfections in my drawings that make them uniquely mine, that make them human. Even when I draw digitally I make sure that there are imperfections in my work – the slightly wobbly lines, the imperfect circles and shapes and so on.
I am working on having the same kind of attitude towards hand lettering and stop thinking that mine has to be perfect like computer fonts, that it is just another way of artistic expression and perfectly imperfect.
Notice that I say this is about me and my attitude towards myself and my hand lettering. I’m not criticising anyone who has different opinions. I just know I can be incredibly hard on and brutally critical of myself.
It’s so easy in this day and age with so much available on social media that you compare yourself to others and judge yourself as seriously inferior or a failure. As my inner critic already believes that I am a failure and useless at anything I do and tells me this, it can be a lot harder for me to believe that what I create is good enough. I believe that about my drawings, I don’t believe that about my hand lettering, yet.
What I’d like to achieve is hand lettering that stands out as being ‘Angela Porter’ and for me to be comfortable with my hand lettering, not worrying that it’s nowhere near even good enough.
My latest design. It took nearly 2 days work to complete, though I may add some metallic highlights here.
I used Inktense pencils and blocks with water brushes, Uniball Unipin pens and Daler-Rowney Aquafine smooth watercolour paper.
Black line definitely keeps my need for that high contrast work happy, but the ability to add layers of colour or create gradations in colour with the Inktense also keeps me happy. Together, they work for me.
I did start off the central area with shapes of colour, but then I started to draw in the designs around the edge and then add colour. Both ways work for me for sure. Also, there’s a kind of randomness to the colour and some over-spill outside the lines, and that is something I’m learning to live with and like.
Just like me. Just like us all. We are all perfectly imperfect and that is OK. In fact, it’s more than ok, it’s just perfect and I think we should all embrace it. The imperfections are what contribute to our uniqueness, our individuality as much as anything else (perhaps even more). Society sends a message we all need to be perfect as people with perfect lives and perfect homes and perfect bodies and perfect smiles, hair and so on.
The reality is, however, that we aren’t.
We are all imperfect. Life is imperfect. Nature is imperfect.
But all is perfectly imperfect.
And that is good. It is. At any moment in our lives we are all doing the best we can. Sometimes things work out perfectly. Sometimes they go wrong. The balance of it all is that it is all perfectly imperfect.
My artwork is perfectly imperfect. I do my best with digital art, but I’m not really happy with what I do often. I learn each time I do some, and move forward, improving. The same is true when I use traditional media.
The same is true of life. Of my life. Of all our lives, our perfectly imperfect lives from which we can learn and grow as people.
This morning, I’ve drawn the two mandalas above. I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Microsoft Surface Book to do this.
I’m gradually exploring the features of Sketchbook Pro, and the more I use it, the more I like it, though making the transition from paper to digital drawing isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. This is mainly because I find it hard to work at a detail level that doesn’t require a magnifying glass to see the detail or to add colour – particularly important when I’m doing work for colouring books.
This is partly because of the ability to zoom in so much on the artwork, and partly due to the screen size on my Surface Book being a little smaller than A4.
I have considered getting a Surface Studio, but that’s on hold until I’m sure I really want to go down the digital drawing route. Having such a big screen is an alluring prospect, being able to work on the paper size at it’s actual size…but I’m still thinking about it. Maybe when I find out my tax bill for the previous financial year I’ll make my mind up.
Now, these aren’t the first mandalas I’ve drawn using Sketchbook Pro. In the past three or four days I’ve some some small ones (approx 3″x3″) to print out, colour and mount on blank greeting cards to be sold to raise money for Mia Chambers, Rainbow Warrior Princess to get her to America for experimental cancer treatment not available in the UK.
What I’ve always found tedious as well as a tad challenging mathematically, is setting out the angles and so on for a symmetrical mandala. Sketchbook pro makes that easy for sure, as well as saving on the time in creating symmetry.
I’m still struggling with the idea that I may be ‘cheating’ by doing this. However, I can logically accept that the tools available in Sketchbook Pro allow me to focus on my creativity far more. Also, the ability to zoom in means I can add details and so on I couldn’t do easily when working on paper.
I have used mandala templates I’ve drawn on paper and scanned in Sketchbook pro to draw mandalas, as well as using sketched out designs so I can neaten up the sketch and add details (it saves erasing pencil lines and the mess and wrinkled paper and smudged in that can result). I don’t really need to mention how easy it is to undo mistakes.
Certainly, the symmetry option makes creating these mandalas a lot quicker, and because I don’t strive for total perfection in the hand-drawn lines or added patterns, then even though the mandalas are drawn in a digital environment, they still have that feeling of being drawn by hand, which makes me happy – they’re still ‘perfectly imperfect’!
Of course, I’ve not really got to grips with colouring the designs in Sketchbook Pro, so printing them out and adding colour using a chosen medium is still my favoured way of working. Also, I can add things like metallic highlights and sparkly gems to the mandalas, plenty of which appears on the cards I’ve made as well as the mandalas I’ve framed in order to raise money for little Mia.