Okay – I’ll humbly confess that I am VERY late with my Sketchbook Skool homework. Months in fact. But I have been really looking forward to this break over Christmas so I could have the luxury of sitting in bed with my coffee and my ipad, going over the videos again and gradually putting the suggestions into practice. This drawing of my mum’s collection of pewter sealife was my homework for Andrea Joseph – an artist who I find absolutely amazing (you can check out Andrea’s blog here). Andrea is particularly known for her work in biro, and she achieves mind boggling results with that standard piece of office equipment.

Andrea’s challenge was to look around at our collections, including those that wouldn’t generally rate a mention. Buttons, worry dolls, pens – anything that seems to gather in a group. In our house this could mean almost anything! Then we needed to start drawing them using biros, tracing around the shapes to get started if we liked. Andrea assured us that the pattern would build itself, and we didn’t need to over think it.

Sketching mum's collections in biro - a Sketchbook Skool assignment

Watching the videos at my mum’s beachside home, I started to think about her collections rather than my own. I thought of the pieces of wooden fruit that are still scattered throughout the house in their wooden bowls, with the gleaming smoothness of the pears, the heavy bunches of grapes attached to each other by wire, the Thai papayas, the Australian apples with the core poking out. A lifetime of collecting wooden morsels that started, I believe, when we were expats in Bangkok back in the 70s (yes, showing my age, but I was only a mini me at the time!). For the first time I realised that she had put together the most perfect set of models for artists to draw, with the way the light reflects off the shapes. They would be fantastic to practice shading in pencils (note to myself to bring them to the next art group we have). But, alas, not quite the thing to start a first biro drawing with.

So then I thought of mum’s collection of paper serviettes. We always joked about how many she had, but she couldn’t resist the colours and patterns, with something for every occasion. Two years after mum passed away, we are still using her serviettes for “happy hour” at Queenscliff. I think she’d like that. When looking through the drawers I even found serviettes with painted bowls of pears that looked just like her own wooden fruit! Once again, they didn’t seem quite the right collection to draw in biro, but I snaffled a few to use in collages for mixed media pieces – which I also think mum would like 🙂

Sketching mum's collections in biro - a Sketchbook Skool assignment
Sketching mum's collections in biro - a Sketchbook Skool assignment

Onwards – and this time to the key bowl near the front door, where I had an “aha” moment. There was the pewter seahorse that looks after the keys. Not far away were pewter shells galore, ready to pose for me. Mum’s collection had presented itself ready for some biro magic.

Speaking of biros, I must have had almost every other type of art material with me, but not a biro. But I think it was meant to be – I found some of mum’s old black and blue biros. I almost feel like she left them out for me to use.

And thus was born this pic. It isn’t a patch on Andrea’s drawings. It isn’t really “my thing”. I’m probably not going to draw with biros much in the future. I’m really too impatient, and in the end I couldn’t resist the call of colour pencil to finish it off. And my hands sighed with relief when the pencils started to slide smoothly across the paper, rather than trying to drag a stubborn pen around!

But for all those misgivings, I’m really glad I tried this challenge – not just because it made me try a new technique, but because for a few hours it brought me closer to my mum, and now I have recorded something that was special to her. Drawing her pewter seaside collection made me think of her, and the things she loved, and I felt that as I drew we chatted about them. That was a really nice experience.

What else did I learn from this exercise?

  • There are biros … and then there are biros … they are not all created equal!
  • You CAN shade with biros – in fact a soft biro is not incredibly unlike a pencil to draw with.
  • A dried up biro is really hard work to use …
  • Colour pencil works beautifully with biros
  • You really CAN create art with just paper and biro!
  • Little collections have a story of their own
  • I like to work quick – my days of spending 10 hours on a picture are well and truly over …
  • I used to be a perfectionist. Clearly, I no longer am!
  • My admiration for Andrea’s skills has only grown – and I immediately ordered a copy of Andrea’s book!