There’s a drawer in Lyn Raymer’s light-filled studio at the rear of her historic mining-era home that bears witness to her drawing technique. It holds masses of eraser remnants, cut down so tiny they can barely be held but by the smallest of fingers, along with pencils similarly worn almost to the point of no return.
“I put them in here for my grandchildren,” smiles Lyn, who specialises in reductive charcoal and conte drawings, as she pulls opens the treasure trove. “They think it’s wonderful.”
On display all around the room are examples of Lyn’s striking black-and-white compositions, most created by first rubbing charcoal to completely cover the background of her paper, before she slowly starts to reveal her narrative by rubbing out sections of the shade.
“The eraser is my white chalk,” she explains. “I use it to chase the light, then I get back into it with darker conte. I keep reapplying light and dark. Sometimes I make quick freehand arcs because that gives such energy at the start and end of the lines you draw. And when you cut through with an eraser, it smudges and takes some black with it, creating movement on the surface of the paper.”
Light and dark. Energy and movement. All key elements to conveying her message. “An artist must have a story to tell – and they must tell it well.”
Lyn grew up in Warrnambool and Gippsland and studied fine arts at RMIT and Monash University in the 1970s. She taught art at the Chinese International School in Hong Kong after moving there with husband Graham and ended up staying 22 years, managing her own studio in Fo Tan and her gallery in HK Central. She also conducted workshops there and in Dubai and it was during this time that drawing, particularly figurative art, emerged as her preferred mode of expression.
“I was having to draw to show my students the pose, the gesture – and then the love of it was on.”
Memories of her past – both positive and negative – feature heavily in some of Lyn’s recent work.
Her Sha Tin series, based on the constantly changing shape of crowds, has its roots in train trips to Melbourne with her grandmother as a little girl. “I love crowds,” says Lyn. “While we sat at Spencer Street Station waiting to go home, my grandmother would encourage me to people watch. ‘What do you think they’re doing? Where do you think they’re going?’ It was her way of keeping me amused but it stuck. In Hong Kong, I had the added bonus of looking down on crowds of people, and watching the movement of those shapes was extraordinary. It really appeals to me – watching the energy of the crowd which, if you’re in amongst it, can be quite comforting or quite terrifying.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a childhood nightmare, spawned another series, titled H.M.A.S Story Book, featuring various representations of a menacing naval mine. “My grandfather had a hidden book I was never allowed near because it gave me nightmares. But I would seek it out and worry through those pages until I found the image (of a mine) I most feared: one that would then fall as a shadow in my sleep. Last year, when I saw those Pixar-coloured virus shapes floating across the television screen, they reminded me of that book. So I did a series of drawings to try and exorcise my demons.”
Works from both these series have received accolades from art critics. Lyn has been a finalist in more than a dozen major art awards over the past five years, including four during the lockdown year of 2020 (the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, the Gosford Art Prize, the Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize, and the Lyn McCrea Memorial Drawing Prize). She held a solo exhibition at the Stockroom Gallery in Kyneton in 2019 and her work has appeared in various static and travelling exhibitions in Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai.
Art books and magazines abound in Lyn’s home, providing insight and invoking admiration of the techniques employed by other creative souls. “I have lots of art books from all over the world. “I look through them at the method and draw inspiration from them,” she says. “Every artist is interested in the methods and techniques. You have your own ideas, which come from the head or the heart or the gut. But there are many ways of expressing that and a lot of mediums to explore. I look at Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke, who I was fortunate enough to meet in Dubai, and look closely at his large charcoal drawings, extraordinary etched lines and sanded surfaces and I’m absolutely blown away. Then there’s Godwin Bradbeer, who burnishes the paper with silver spoons to get black silver oxide into his work. I would never attempt to use their techniques but their drawings have inspired me.”
Lyn draws “from the gesture to the squint”, meaning she starts each piece by working out the broad composition before focusing on more general gestures then honing in on the fine details. But she is careful not to become too caught up in detail, having learnt a valuable lesson during a life-drawing masterclass featuring an elderly male model many years ago.
“My drawing started to boast a far too keen observation of every fold and wrinkle on the model,” she recalls. “The artist, with his back to the model, spoke quietly to me and said, ‘give him dignity’. I was missing something because I’d allowed my ego to get in the way. It was a pivotal moment and a lesson learned – reflecting on your work is a moment of self-reflection and that’s something I now pass onto students. You don’t get the essence and the beauty and the truth if you let your ego get in the way.”
After two decades in Asia, the Raymers landed back in Australia and six years ago chose Bendigo as their new home, having tired of high-rises and big cities. “Bendigo is totally lovely, though when you are local, you often don’t see what’s around you,” says Lyn. “It’s completely open, you don’t have to go far here to see a good horizon line and that’s very relaxing. It has very blue skies, proximity to the city, a growing art community, beautiful buildings and such history.”
Lyn hasn’t stopped drawing since arriving in her new surroundings, and is now keen to share her skills with budding local artists.
“I’ve been practising art in my own corner of Bendigo for several years but I need to get out and meet people,” she says. “I have a good deal of artistic and teaching knowledge so I hope to start teaching drawing here.
“The last five years has been very productive but it’s come at a cost, as I haven’t swapped ideas with other people. It’s time for me to once again enjoy the company of those who want to draw and to that end, I plan to offer drawing sessions to a small number of students, a couple of days a week. I’m ready and I’m excited.”
For more information, visit lynraymerartist.com