The Art of My Sabbatical

What would I do, if I could do anything for three months and get paid?

This year, I got the chance to find out.

Automatticians like me have amazing benefits, including a three-month sabbatical after five years of employment. So for all of February, March, and April this year, I had the gift of time away from work. To travel, pursue my hobbies, spend time with my family, and relax.

I maximised my time off, doing a lot of diverse activities, but a big focus for me was artmaking. On my sabbatical, I completed projects already in flight, experimented with new mediums, and worked towards finding my unique creative style.

I completed long-term projects

I finally finished my cross-stitch project—the flags of the countries of my kids’ nationalities. That’s three flags each, six in total.

This project took about a year to complete, and I was stitching every night in front of the TV, backstage at the theatre, and anywhere else I could find time. Once they were done, I framed them and they are now hanging in each kid’s room. I hope it’s the kind of memento they keep for a lifetime.

Two frames with three cross-stitched flags each: USA, Ireland, and Australia.
Cross-stitched flags

Another long-term piece I completed was an oil painting of Joshua Tree National Park. I don’t love this work, as all I can see are the issues with composition, texture, and colour. But at least it’s done!

Joshua Tree oil painting

I made a piece of furniture

It’s been a theme in my life to take on projects only because I wanted something specific that I couldn’t buy. In this case, I wanted a dressing table that would match my other bedroom furniture, and could fit in a certain space. Failing to find something in a store that fit these specifications, my dad convinced me that we could build one together.

I guess, we could!

Dressing table

I spent time with non-digital mediums

Most of my art over the last 10 years or so has been digital, so during my sabbatical I wanted to turn my focus back to non-digital art. I needed to face the demons of artistic insecurity planted by my high school art teacher, and prove to myself that I am capable of creating visual art.

Inspired by my growing stockpile of art supplies, I decided to learn more about watercolour. So I did a bunch of tutorials and step-by-step guided books, to copy projects and get a feel for the medium.

Watercolour tutorials

I rediscovered block printing

I’m an admirer of the medium of block (or lino) printing, but haven’t actually carved a block or created a print since high school.

Inspired by the native Australian birds that surround our home, I created an illustration of a rainbow lorikeet and banksia. I then carved this into a rubber block and made prints on greeting cards.

Carving the rubber block
The resulting print

I painted and collaged

Moving on from tutorials and experimentation, I applied these learnings to my own comic style. I created collages from watercolour and ink washes on paper, tweaking and adding lettering digitally after scanning.

Watercolour and ink collages

I sketched my travels

The best place I travelled to on my sabbatical was Japan. On our two-week trip, we spent a lot of time in art and stationery supply stores, and I filled my suitcase with all the amazing materials I found.

I then used these materials to sketch some of the scenes we came across. I’ve kept a sketchbook in the past, but with the addition of watercolour, the artworks really come alive.

Japan sketchbook

I learned new digital art techniques

I didn’t completely neglect digital art. Leveraging my Skillshare membership, I learned new tips and techniques to get more out of the Procreate app on my iPad.

I learned how to paint my cat, and how to render a wallaby I spotted on a trip to Hamilton Island in stained glass style. I also learned how to create a “fauxsaic” (a digital mosaic), which is up the top of this post.

Digital painting of my cat, Misty
Digital stained glass wallaby (and joey)

I did lots of other things, too

My sabbatical was incredible, full of art, yes, but also packed with travel, music, friends, family, reading, photo organisation, exercise, and relaxation. I captured the highlights in the 1SE app, which allows you to capture and stitch together a second of video every day. It’s a great way to look back on how I spent my time:

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