Monday, January 31, 2011

Mountain Zebra National Park

About five years ago, we took ourselves off to the Mountain Zebra National Park, outside Cradock, where we spent a couple of nights in one of their comfortable cabins. There are stunning views to be had, and one morning I took my watercolours and set to work trying to capture the view.

This was not the first picture I did, but was probably one of the nicest, after I had been "at it" for some time, and had started to hone my skills. Normally, one tends to draw the scene first in pencil or pen, and colour it later, but this time I attempted to paint directly what I saw. Here, a limited palette and some line spontaneity seem to be the key elements.

This was the same koppie, done earlier using a far wider range of colours. I rather enjoy the semi-abstract, almost Kandinsky-like quality achieved.

Here I think I got some nice rich hues going, especially in the sky.

This is a view of a 22-ton dolerite boulder visible from our chalet, with the mountains behind it. We went up to it on one of our walks and it is massive - several times the height of a man. It apparently was dislodged from a nearby hilltop in 1974, rolling about 250m to its current resting place.

Dolerite boulders abound in the Mountain Zebra National Park, and here I homed in on some of the patterns they create. (By the way, the wildlife, especially the zebras, is also superb.)

I rather enjoy the colours I got going here, with the moon setting above the flanks of a mountain.

From Cradock we travelled north to a farm near Steynsburg where my wife Robyn had spent many a happy holiday with her grandparents while growing up. This is Loskrans, one of the many superb faces to that part of the Suurberg range.

Another view of some of the Karoo mountains, again painted in situ.

As dusk settled, so my palette became darker.

Also done on that trip, but this time looking south, not north, I first sketched this koppie, then later watercoloured it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blue Bend

There is a tranquil spot at the mouth of the Nahoon River in East London which we sometimes visit. Blue Bend is what it used to be called in my youth, but today, with rampant development, much of its charm has been lost. But get onto the rocks on the Beacon Bay side of the mouth, and you get lovely views up the river towards the Dassie Trail, across it to Nahoon Beach and Reef, and then down the river and out to sea. It was here I did a few sketches one scorching day a few summers ago.

There is a bit of bleeding on the left due to the type of drawing book, which doesn't lend itself to scanning unless one removes pages. But I think the charm of the place is still evident in this drawing of a man standing, and others lying or playing on a spit of sand on the Nahoon side of the river.

This is probably my favourite drawing of the series. These were all people hanging around on the edge of the river. You can see a guy with a large tractor-tyre tube, another in a speedo, and some with towels draped over shoulders, while out at sea a ship charges forth.

In the same area, on the muddy banks at Nahoon River mouth, a group boys play, while a woman stands pensively.

This was done from the top of a sand dune east of Bonza Bay near German Bay, looking back towards Nahoon Reef, and beyond that to the East London harbour in the Buffalo River Mouth.

Boy on the beach. I can't recall which of my sons this is, but it may just be Douglas, then aged about 12.

Back on that placid stretch of water at Nahoon Mouth, a canoeist takes a paddle. We enjoyed crossing the narrow river and heading upstream 100 metres or so, then letting the fast-receding tidal water take us downstream.

Foreshortening. This is Doug again, and his foot looks overly large because it is so much closer.

This is my nephew, Stuart Bentley, before he put on a huge growth spurt.

Another of those drawings I do without looking down at the page. This time it's my son, Luke, again done five or six years ago.

At the time Stuart and his mom, my late brother's widow Hazel, lived in a house in Ridgeview Crescent, Beacon Bay, which had a stunning view down onto the Nahoon River, as shown here. In the distance can be seen the bridge linking Beacon Bay with the rest of East London. But there was a time, in 1970, when that bridge collapsed - or rather it's predecessor, the Jack Batting Bridge, did. It was all due to the floods of August, that year, when 855mm of rain - that's nearly a metre! - fell in five days. Nahoon Valley, on the right of this picture, was submerged. The rain had stopped when we got out of school (Clifton Park, now Hudson Park) and reached the bridge. A cop told us we could cross at our own risk. An entire support had subsided about three metres, which meant the road took a huge angular dip, before rising again. We walked across as the flood waters surged in a brown torrent just underneath us. Nearby, the roofs of all the houses along the river were all that remained visible. Among those damaged was that of Mossie Kemp, the estate agent, which was just alongside the bridge. Army engineers then built what they called a Bailey Bridge, which was probably something used in making crossings for tanks. I think it was one lane only, which meant long delays both ways for a few years until the current, new bridge was completed around 1972.

And so to water of another kind. This is fairly cryptic, but is in fact my brother-in-law Gus Weyer surveying the Madonna and Child waterfall on the Hogsback.

We had a major Bentley family gathering on the Hog in 2006 to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. That's the feisty matriarch in the middle of the picture. She was still game for a good few walks through the forest - which she repeated when we last visited in 2010. On the right seems to be my lovely wife Robyn (I do both of them little justice), while above is my niece, Lara.

But all holidays must come to an end. In fact, these are sketches I did from my bedroom window of a guy with a pick-axe preparing a section of sidewalk for the laying of brick paving at a house across the road.

And then there was just moi. It must have been a tricky time, judging by the hare-in-the-headlights expression.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Time, I'm afraid, for a little more self-advertising. About six years ago, thanks to the Internet, I was able to do a lot of reading on salient parts of our history, while other more recent events I obviously have experienced in my lifetime. Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to put these into a short novel which schoolchildren, in particular, might find enlightening. I called it "Conversations - A South African Discourse", and self-published a few dozen, which didn't exactly race off the shelves. Anyway, while working on a drawing for the front cover, I experimented with the idea of two faces in close contact. The book is about one-on-one conversations between people about their particular plight, so I needed to capture this sense of intense discussion. These are the images I came up with.

This was close to what I finally used, but I needed to make the confrontation between two faces more direct.

Here I went a bit off the topic, but rather enjoy this somewhat phallic figure.

Here, again, too many faces, though a rather interesting image all the same.

There has been a lot of pain in our collective past, and this seems to capture that, but it did not fully fit the bill.

This looks a trifle too much like two ugly old mlungu men kissing.

On the left, I thought of incorporating the faces of people within a map of our country's borders, while on the right I allowed that ever-lurking female nude to escape from my brain onto the paper.

This is starting to get where I was intending to go, with the two faces locked not in a kiss, but in a discussion.

This, then, was the final product. I like to think it essentially portrays a black and a white face locked in conversation. Also, the two eyes can be seen as coming from one face, symbolising our unity in diversity.

This was how I used it on the cover. Not brilliant, but I rather enjoyed putting the thing together.

The back cover. Now I sit back and wait for the national education department to place an order for millions of copies and I make a fortune. Sadly, I think this would be a little too politically incorrect for them, though they'd be surprised at the words I put into the mouths of some of their comrades.

Finally, another nude, which was the last image I came up with in that drawing book, and it had nothing to do with the topic I was working on. Aish!

More staffers

This is probably the last batch of drawings I have of staff members on the Herald, where I work as a sub-editor. They were done about five years ago.

This guy I only remember as Vusi. He arrived, along with another African journalist called Cliff Mkhize, soon after Jethro Goko, a Zimbabwean, took over the editor's chair around 2005. Neither lasted too long, with Cliff happy to be able to return to KZN and his family after securing a post on a Durban paper.

Only my note telling me this is veteran photographer Ivor Markman convinces me this is indeed him. Because this guy is too thin-faced to be Ivor, which is the fault of no one else but me. I'm not sure, either, who the other faces belong to.

Another mystery man. Who on earth is this bearded oke?

Even these two do not ring bells.

I can't place this wonky character either.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Changing of the guard

Is there no easy way of talking about the first decade of this century? I mean the Sixties, Seventies, etc, make such sense. But what were those first 10 years - the Zeros? Anyway, as the Zeros neared their end, the ugliness of politics in SA really started to emerge. Gone was Nelson Mandela and the gentleman-like qualities he brought to the ANC. In his place, first Thabo Mbeki, then Jacob Zuma. Nuff said.

This doodle, probably again done with my left hand, perhaps sums up the way I felt about the state of the nation, notwithstanding that progress was being made to get us ready for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. There was just too much crime, corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, and so. And, as a sub-editor on the Herald in PE, it was my job to reflect this mess.

In December, 2007, we watched in awe as a white woman called on her "comrades" to behave as the votes were counted at the ANC's Polokwane congress, and Zuma replaced Mbeki as leader of the party.

But Thabo stuck around a little longer, which enabled him to keep on appeasing the merciless dictator, Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe. This picture I cut out of the Sunday Times sometime in 2008. It certainly tells the story.

I made a habit of printing out the first takes on the wire service of major events, and this was another one. In September, 2008, Mbeki stepped down as president, and we were left with a man with a huge question mark over him. We had lost a wimp and gained what? Time will tell.

This doodle from the period seems, again, to capture the none-too-pleasant mood.

Wise-fools, I see, is the name of the music group who performed at the opening of this show. The drawing looks like a molar with nice long roots.

I was laying out pages galore during the Zeros. Here I added a head to my work, as outlined on a flat plan of the day's Herald.

These drawings are done on a page from a news diary. It should be possible, from the news events, to work out when this was.

The Sunday Times's LifeStyle magazine wins award aplenty for its layout, and with good reason. Anyway, one was lying around when I felt the doodle urge coming on.

Finally, a bit of respite in smooth, gently flowing lines.

Then a blast from the late 1980s. Former colleague Peter Dickson gave me this photocopy of a letter to the Herald editor around 1989.