Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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An Artist’s Quandary

Tell me… do you keep ALL your sketchbooks?

I mean, every single one you’ve ever used? Or just the ones with good stuff or important things you want to follow-up on?

It seems to be a accepted thing that we SHOULD keep them, but how realistic is that?

If you’ve kept yours, do you actually use or refer to them? How are they of value to you 10, 20, 50 years on?

Historically I was keeping most of mine, just because I hated throwing out anything I spent time on – it wasn’t an issue to carry them when we moved (considering my family had 19 bookcases full of books and collectibles, a couple more boxes made no difference!) Most of them weren’t even full. I had some going back to grade school. And lots of random bits of paper with doodles on them that I saved as I thought they were particularly good.

But I had to cull substantially when I sold my house and downsized in 2017. I just kept the pages/drawings that I thought were either good or an idea I wanted to keep. It was sometimes hard, but a lot of what is in a sketchbook was just filler that served no purpose other than to kill time or practise.

I also have a paper fetish so buy new ones just because they are on sale, or I want to try a different paper finish or weight or size. That’s not even all of it on that shelf, the bigger pads are stored elsewhere. This was early this year – that’s all gone, except for a small selection of my preferred sizes that I was able to fit into my luggage.

Bottom shelf, all brand new – there are 37 different items there!

Now, because I am moving to another country with as few things as I possibly can, I’ve gone through everything and scanned work that I want to keep a record of and some process/planning sketches from finished projects and trashed the originals.

Planning sketches for a project 2019

At least with modern technology I can scan or photograph anything I want to – which is making the whole process of destroying my “babies” tolerable even if I still feel bad about it.

It was hard but, sigh, I can’t carry a ton of stuff around that NEVER gets referred to. And really… unless it is a current sketchbook that I am actively working in, it doesn’t get looked at unless I am going through the process of culling.

I don’t think I have EVER actually filled up or used up an entire sketchbook or artist’s pad in my life. I’m close on two currently… one I’m working in and keeping. The other is going to get tossed – I’ve photographed or scanned the parts I want to keep out of it.

These are/were the 2020/21 in use sketchbooks

All this made me wonder… do artists REALLY keep ALL their sketchbooks?


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Latest work – “Under Threat”

The latest assignment in our Drawing 4 class was a group project for a site specific work. Our professor put us into groups. She specifically chose to put certain people together so it wasn’t random at all. We had to go find a location at the school where we would put up our work, and then design something.

We all had to do rough ideas separately, then pool them and choose what we wanted to do. We had actually all enthusiastically decided on one idea but the professor was a flat “no” on it. Her reason was that we were all excellent drawers and that idea was not going to showcase anything about our abilities.

So we went with Plan B. Which was a sketch of a coral reef. It actually worked out really well as we divided up the creatures between us and worked on them separately.

This is the write-up posted by the installation:

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Valentina did the Sea Turtle, Puffer Fish, Giant Clam, Clown Fish and the schools of small fish; Zoe did the Angel Fish, Manta Ray, Dolphin, and two large reef fish; I did the Reef Shark, Eel, Anemones, all the corals and rocks, and the small reef dwellers (Blue Ringed Octopus, Blue Shell Crab, Snail, Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Sea Cucumber, and Starfish.) I also made the seaweed on the sides and the large fern coral that weren’t drawn, and added the pearl to the clam. We made a mobile out of the small fish to hang up as well.

We are VERY happy with how it all came together. And we choose a great spot in an alcove where it is highly visible to people – right across from the main Tim Horton’s!  I keep finding people taking photos of it and with it when I stop for my morning coffee, which is cool!

This photo was right after we finished installing everything.

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We mounted all the larger items with 3M picture hangers (the velcro ones) and used glue dots to attach others on top of already mounted drawings. They are holding up pretty well. Some of the smaller fish were put up with painter’s tape – hopefully they all hold on. We are leaving them up as long as possible but they have to come down by April 18th which is the last day of term.

Two days after we installed it my starfish was gone… probably got swept up by the custodians. He was on the bottom sort of hanging partially over the baseboard.

This I took after the starfish disappeared… someone stuck a quarter behind the big blue reef fish… hilarious! I left it there.

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Here are some of my work in progress shots. We all worked at home and together in class as well.

The amount of time spent on this project was massive.  The eel alone took me around 13 hours. Everything I did was sketched out, then drawn with micron pens and then coloured with watercolour paints. Then, cut out and mounted on heavier paper or cardboard so it wouldn’t curl when we mounted them.

The items I made that weren’t drawn – the seaweed and the large fern coral, took a bit of time as well. I made the seaweed out of sheer ribbon, wire and Modpodge. The fern coral was plastic fern (I stripped three picks I bought at Dollarama) mounted on corrugated cardboard semi-circles I cut out, in three layers. It looks pretty authentic and added some needed volume to the reef.

I basically volunteered to do the coral… not sure why I thought it would be “easy.” I know better now.

Here are detail shots of my specific pieces in the final display…

All three of us are completely thrilled with how it turned out. We did have other ideas that we were going to incorporate but as we started the installation we scrapped them. Originally we were planning to mount blue cellophane across the front of the alcove to give the impression of underwater viewing…. but that would have muted the colours a lot. And once we saw it all up we decided we did not need to add it.


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Works in Progress

I suddenly realized this week that it is ALREADY mid-November. What the heck happened to October?? It is time to start sending off overseas Christmas cards and presents and I haven’t even started thinking about that!

I’ve been busy, and if you take into consideration how fast time seems to move as you get older, I’m almost living in the future! LOL

School is going great. There are only four weeks left of this semester which bums me out. I really enjoy the whole process.  But my next term starts on January 7th, so won’t be long till I’m going again!  I officially transferred into the Fine Arts – Advanced program this week so another two years here, then I’ll be off to Ireland (I hope!) to finish the BFA.

This semester I have had a chance to do some painting as well as design and drawing, photography and installation art. So it has been fun, and challenging at times.

For one class we had to do a Guerrilla Art Installation somewhere in the college, without permission. As this class would do this every term I’m sure the powers that be are complicit, but the professor made it out to be all black ops! LOL We could do anything we wanted, anywhere we wanted, in any media we wanted – we just couldn’t do it in stairwells for safety reasons nor deface or damage property.

I expropriated a locker and created this display – read the artist’s statement to see what I was illustrating…

For another project in the same class we had to illustrate levels of meaning. This is my completed assignment. I call it “End of Days”, micron pen and watercolour, 9×12″.

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This is the Artist’s Statement for this one:

My work entitled “End of Days” uses the imagery of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as foretold in the Bible, Book of Revelation 6:1-8. The White Rider is Pestilence, the Red Rider is War, the Black Rider is Famine, and the Pale Rider is Death. In the Bible they are triggered by The Lamb of God opening the first four of the seven seals on the scroll held in God’s right hand.

The Horsemen are a metaphor for the end of humanity, or God’s Punishment, depending upon your point of view. They each represent one aspect of humankind’s mass destruction – disease, war, famine and death – any one of them can trigger the others, causing a cascade effect. Pestilence shoots arrows poisoned with disease, War causes humanity to kill each other, Famine starves those who aren’t killed by disease and war, and Death ultimately takes them all.

I added images of recent history that could be leading us towards the end, in my opinion: nuclear weapons, mass destruction of conventional weaponry and a few individuals in positions of power who have contributed to bringing us to this precipice.

In Drawing class we have been working on the basics (I started mid-year so my second semester is actually semester one of the program): perspective, texture, shadow, etc.

In Design class we’ve been doing a lot of things in Illustrator – using forms and grids, etc.  This image is the final submission for Project 2 called Exploring Point & Line. We had to cut out a bunch of circles and lines, the lay them down to express certain terms and relationships (like balance, contrast, chaos, etc.), photograph them (needed 25 different ones minimum), then edit in Illustrator, lay them out in the prescribed grid, correct white and black balances, print, mount on board with a cover… I got 100%.

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The final project in Design is creating an animated GIF using cutout drawings… ack! I’ll definitely be posting that when it is done!

In the Painting section we’ve been doing studies outside of the ground in the woods, then working on a painting based on those using colour theory to create earth tones, etc.

I’m still working on the main painting from that exercise, so this is a work in progress shot. It is done in acrylics but I am thinning them out quite a bit and building up the colour in washes. It is on a board, not canvas.

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Photography has been extremely challenging for me – issues with my vision make it really difficult to read and see the camera display and controls and I also have difficulty holding the DSLR (there is a reason I love my little point and shoot!) So when I get a good shot to meet the assignment I am really happy. This is one from the project using window light for portraits.

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In photos Pod (short for Prince of Darkness) usually appears as a black void, so I was really pleased with how the sunlight illuminated him – and he was a very good model!

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I know I keep saying it, but I am loving being in school and learning, and creating while I learn.