Who likes storage containers?! I’m not talking about any Scandinavian interlocking eco-friendly pantry organisers. I’m talking about the big mac of storage containers, like so…
You know you are an artist when an industrial site gets you excited. So on a cool winter’s day I met up with the Sydney Sketch Group in St Peter’s, an inner city suburb that is round the corner from Sydney International Airport, hence the storage facilities nearby.
This particular area is pretty much boxed in by highways or main roads but our club organiser found these little lanes behind a pub that gave us some great views, and room to set up comfortably without inhaling petrol fumes!
My work had moved office location, and the final destination wasn’t ready yet. So we were temporarily located to the end of George St, which is the more touristy part of town. It’s a hop, step and jump to the Harbour Bridge, the Rocks and Sydney Opera House, plus several museums and galleries.
To make the most of our short time in this part of town, I went out a few times to sketch.
Chinese New Year came a lot earlier this year as it follows the lunar cycle rather than a set calendar date. I missed most of our lion dance performances this season so only did Friday and the weekend but that was exhausting enough! Usually I feel this tired after doing 2 weeks worth, not three days – I must be getting old.
I’ve written (plus sketched) in more detail in previous posts about what lion dancing is so if you would like to check them out please click on these links 2014, 2016.
Lion dancing is always on the move – not just the performances themselves. We cover so much of Sydney and constantly broken up into teams that at anytime we could be sent off in different directions. So everything we need is carted around with us.
It can also make parking an issue. This sketch was done at the Marigold restaurant in Chinatown. It’s four levels up with a very small ground level and basement carpark. Despite the number of years we have been booked here they still never leave car spaces for us. There is this constant ritual of having to negotiate space so we can unpack.
When we do shopping centres some at least allow us to use their loading docks.
Raise a glass
During this period large Chinese restauarants offer banquet deals – you book a table and they serve you a set menu with a lion dance included. Its such a celebrated event that in some restaurants its become more of a spectacle. When the lion dance starts it gives everyone the licence to go mad.
Traditionally what happens is a table will offer the lion a red packet of money. The lion will come over to their table and collect it in its mouth. Many people place their red packet on a cup of tea or a glass of wine or beer with the intention that the lion also shares a drink with them, like spreading good cheer amongst the table.
Some like to take it to another level and cheekily stack the red packet on a tower of wine glasses, beer bottles, saucers, cups, bowls or teapots. The idea is that the lion “swallows” the entire tower and when its finished pulls away to reveal a different combination of cups and so on. Occasionally they are a little too high, or the lion head is a little too drunk (can happen) that it all comes crashing down. Thankfully the atmosphere is so lively and jubilant even the managers aren’t upset with the mess and damage. Though not so pleasant when the lion reverses into a chandelier or expensive light fitting.
At the Marigold there is a low stage at one end where we set up the drummer and cymbal players. We also pop colourful paper confetti that makes the kids go crazy. They flock to the stage and collect it handfuls. Basically once they’re on the stage they don’t leave and jump and dance around.
A couple of little girls watched me draw, almost sitting right on top of me. As I was doing this sketch below, I hadn’t drawn the faces in yet as the drummer and cymbal players swapped with new people halfway through my drawing. They were completely different sizes or stood differently so it threw me a little. One of the girls asked me to finish the face of the cymbal player [left hand side] which was completely blank. I just drew in his glasses and left it, but she wasn’t satisfied so she took my pencil and drew in the eyeballs for me. They were so good I decided to leave them in – she drew with the book upside down too you know!
Chinese New Year is all about family, and we are seeing a young generation of lion dancers taking shape with my friend’s kids.
It’s amazing how fanatical people get over the lion, especially the Chinese. I suppose because I am a part of it I have a different perspective. There is no other way to describe it than they just go apeshit for lion. I apologise for my language but you watch mature well respected or at least mild mannered adults go manic over a lion, like Beatlemania or Beliebers. So when there is more than one in a room its a lion frenzy.
Later that night we performed at Sze Yup Temple in Glebe, one of the oldest Chinese temples in Sydney and still visited frequently by the Chinese community. During this period it is incredibly busy and on the eve of the New Year it’s standing room only. The dragon dance performed by another group had already finished. This temple has a very small forecourt and dragon dances need some decent floorspace so I don’t know how they managed.
Even before we started the crowds already encircled us, they crept closer and closer like sharks around prey. Not only was it tight on the ground the air above was thick with burning incense or joss sticks both in and outside the temple.
One worker who was dressed more like a hazchem cleaner would push his way out of the temple every ten minutes with a bucket loaded with lit joss sticks and candles because they were overwhelming the small urns inside. Only inches from your head were handfuls of lit joss sticks clutched in people’s hands as they pushed past to make their prayers. That’s why I drew this picture, it reminded me of a torch relay but one that stings your eyes from all the ashes.
Your typical day
The next day I was out and about covering a whole lot of Sydney. That’s probably the most exhausting part to this side of lion dancing – the amount of travelling that happens from morning to midnight.
The only time I get to chill is when the others perform the lion dance poles – heartstopping, dramatic, highly skilled and disciplined moves. Admittedly I have drawn them jump before so gesturally I already know the most dynamic moments to draw. So even if I can only capture a fraction of it, I can, to some degree, fill in the rest of the sketch based on what I know and have drawn before.
Happy New Year folks, hope its a great one!
One of my all-time favourite bands from the UK came to Sydney in December. The Stone Roses were only ever an alternative (i.e. not mainstream/Top 40) band in Australia. Although they have fans here, their impact was not to the extent of say Oasis or the Cure. In the UK however, they were on the cover of every single music and urban lifestyle mag around. Everyone was dressing and walking like them and several bands even imitated their sound. They were also known for not doing the typical touring regime, but put on stand alone stadium sized concerts. I have only seen them perform once before at Wembley Arena and that was in 1995! It was close to their demise, but have since reunited in the last couple of years.
I was a bit reluctant to buy tickets when it was first announced as the venue was the Sydney Opera House. Not that its a bad venue, on the contrary, I’ve seen many performances there and enjoyed it. However, they have been classical concerts or at least “sit-down” affairs.
The Roses were known for crossing indie music with dance, whichever way you look at it, the music they play is upbeat and poppy. From all my years of seeing live music, one thing I was certain of is that in Australia when people see bands, irrespective of what type of music it is, if you give them a venue with seats they will sit down, like there’s some magnetic attraction between their arses and their seats. They will not raise from it unless everybody else does or its the last song, i.e. the big hit/the only song they know/the song that they’ve been waiting for. Which sucks because they also don’t like it if you want to get up and obstruct their view. I find it infuriating, don’t they know part of seeing a live band is also audience participation? How do they think an atmosphere is created?
So, I had succumbed to the belief that this was going to be a sit down affair and decided if this was the case then I’d at least get some drawing in. Not a great consolation considering the price of the ticket – a very expensive life drawing session indeed!
As usual, I got there early, sat down and started drawing the stage and roadies doing sound checks. I was at a good vantage point to be able to get some details. However, only moments into the bands intro music starting up, everyone was on their feet. And nobody sat down at all!! What I attribute this to is that the majority of the crowd were Brits – either living here or holidaying. I’ve seen bands in the UK and watched concerts filmed there on tv and know that this embracing of the moment is typical. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in the nosebleed seats EVERYONE gets up and dances and sings along. If you think I’m being unfair to Aussies – that night the only ones sitting down were two behind me who were Australian (because I knew one of them) and the following night’s concert I was next to an Aussie couple who stood up BUT spent the first 20 minutes of the concert texting and reading their smartphones!! His girlfriend spent most of the second half sitting down as well. I think our relaxed attitude is sometimes too relaxed.
Although we were in a prestigious and refined venue where I have seen the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform Profkiev and Mozart. At this moment in time it was like being in a crowded pub on a Saturday night. Or in the stand at a England vs Germany football game. I’ve never seen (or felt) spilt beer on the Concert Hall floor before. Guys next to me were standing on the chairs swaying back and forth becoming a thorn in the sides of security and the people in front of them. I went by myself but I was singing and dancing with everyone around me. It was one of the best shows, nay best experiences, I’ve been a part of in a very long time.
It was so good, I went back the next night and it was more of the same. Its moments like this where you wish you could bottle it or Command Save and repeat all over again. I was surprised that I managed to get any sketches in at all. My legs were aching and I was covered in sweat and beer but I would do it again anytime of the year in a heartbeat.
All sketches were done with a black Artline pen and waterbrush pen.
I received free tickets to the Asia Cup (Soccer/Football tournament, like a mini world cup but only encompasses countries from the Asiatic region). I couldn’t get tickets for the Sydney game, and as I do like watching South Korea play too I opted to head up to Brisbane to watch them play the Aussies. Both teams are very strong in this region and in this particular tournament both had won their group matches so far…
It was only an overnight weekender and took one of my nephews with me. We had plenty of time to do and see other stuff around Brisbane but the heat was exceptionally intense. I don’t think it was even in the early 30s (Celsius) but god damn it was hot! The air was so thick and humid and the sun was just relentless. It didn’t let up, even after the sun had gone down the air was heavy and warm.
So one distraction for me anyway was my sketchbook. I don’t like drawing when I’m travelling with others who don’t, but we were so lethargic because of the heat we didn’t get up to too much. Anyway, hope you like. And hope Aussies make their way to the finals! Fingers crossed!
The night at the game was almost overtaken with swarms(?) of moths EVERYWHERE. It was like some 1960s horror movie, “Invasion of the Moths”. They moved as frantically as all the press and media did on the sidelines. Sadly the home team lost, which was quite frustrating, but we’re still in contention once we hit the knock out stages.
Although we had a few hours to kill in the city before heading home, it was so damn hot to be walking around we decided to head to the airport. We had so much time I killed it by drawing this plane heading to Melbourne. While we were sitting there the South Korean team sat near us. I wish I had the guts to ask them to sign my book, but their captain, who sat closest, looked like he was dealing with a cold. And after seeing some Korean fans sheepishly approach them for an autograph – that was painful enough to watch it unfold.
I spent a week in August with my sketching friends down in Melbourne. A few had other objectives that week other than sketching, but for me that was my main focus. After a very personal ordeal, I needed to get back on track and remember what it is like to sketch out and about again. There was also a touring exhibition at the gallery that I wanted to see as well, so that was another incentive to get out of town for a bit.
There’s not much I want to detail about the trip. I wasn’t aiming to achieve any artistic breakthrough this time round so I stuck with my regular mediums and just enjoyed the opportunity. So hope you like.
First full day in Melbourne and it was pretty cold, even the local produce workers were complaining about the weather. Luckily there were a few benches, undercover, situated midway between the aisles that made it easy to set up for a few hours.
The Old Treasury
We met up with a couple of local Urban Sketchers at The Old Treasury building. Although Melbourne is known for its buildings (old and new) I’m not a huge fan of drawing buildings as I don’t always feels they capture the “soul” of the place. It was a weekday so not much was happening outdoors, so I decided to draw the fountain as it had the most “life” in it.
A technique which I have started to employ (when I remember) is applying water to the paper first then throw on the colour. This is to get a cool blurry blended feel which adds dimension to any finished picture.
To warm ourselves up we went for coffee and chocolate. The interior had a nice rococo influenced style so sketched a bit of that. For some reason I folded by paper into three panels. I don’t know why, it was irrelevant in the end. I think it was because we had such small tables but lots of plates and cups I didn’t think I would have had the space to lay out an entire sheet.
The Rest of Melbourne
At the National Gallery of Victoria they had an exhibition of Bushido artifacts. Always never enough time, I focussed on the armour that was on display. And only had time for one katana. I did plan on doing an “eraser/graphite pencil” technique for this, but I couldn’t find my eraser so just attacked it with my 4B pencil. I ended up finding it in my pocket!!! but I had already gotten into it, so will save that technique for another time.
I’m not sure if this happens around the world, but in Australia, for those of us that live in the city, every Easter the Royal Agricultural Show comes to town. It was originally established in the late 1800s as a way to bring attention and promote the state’s agricultural produce and industry. And it still does to some extent but they have thrown in fun fair rides, foods, amusements and so on too. But its usual tag is when the country comes to the city.
As a child it was all about the sample bags, or as they are now called, showbags – overpriced bags of small packs of confectionery or cheap ‘made in China’ toys that for some reason are irresistibly a good bargain. But now as an adult, and part-time artist, it provides a refreshing variety of things to draw.
One great thing about going to the Easter Show, what it is commonly called, is that it is all about interaction and getting up close with the animals. Although many are in pens you can still stand close enough to get some good details unlike the zoo. I wish I had more time to get to all the animal pavilions but I was pooped by the afternoon. All the sketches were drawn with a blue biro pen.
The Farmyard Nursery was great. Some of the animals were penned but they had a lot of baby goats and sheep walking around. A lot better since I was a kid. Speaking of kids, I had one little kid who I think found sanctity underneath me from some excited children.
Another highlight was drawing the woodchopping. Not the easiest to do but very compelling and addictive. Partly because each woodchopping heat would last only minutes and their movements aren’t as repetitive as I hoped, so it took some time to observe the movements and body stances.
But they have such wonderful and dynamic movement when they swing and aim their axes, not just with the arms but the legs and back. I made two visits to the woodchopping arena that day. I think if I go to the show next year I either buy a 2-day pass and spend one entire day just drawing them.
A week after the first lot of drawings, the lion dancing performances intensified but I still fitted in some sketches in between all the rushing around. If you would like a larger view of the sketch, just click on the image
This is a shop entrance that sells Chinese ornaments and decorative hangings. If you think the doorway is jam packed you should see the inside.
Usually around 3pm we get to have something to eat, usually…
This is a pole jumping performance, where the lion jumps, runs, swings, bounds, cavorts ;P across a series of 4-10ft poles with very little cushioning below. As you can see in the tree it was a bit windy that day, not great conditions for jumping.
While waiting for our next orders, I sat on the footpath opposite Market City (a shopping centre) and started to sketch the old features of the building. I didnt get far as I bumped into an old family friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
Our next performance I tried to capture the firecrackers going off behind the lion, but it just looks like a christmas tree. Ha, ha!The school also does dragon dances, which I dont have the muscle for (you have to hold it up with a pole, run and move it from side to side). This was drawn at our gym where everything was stored for the new year.
Again waiting for the lion dance to start. This was out at Flemington in front of the local bbq shop. A queue started to form which wasn’t there when I first started.
Back in Chinatown for another peformance. The Sydney mayor and other politicians were doing the rounds with us, but I think the crowds were more excited by seeing about five lions together. It looks like a paparazzi moment.
Getting one of the vehicles ready to head out for a performance.There is an art (or science) to packing a vehicle full of lion dance equipment.
One of the last venues on my schedule was the Randwick racecourse for a corporate function. Unfortunately we couldn’t wait around outside where the horses were, but hidden away from the approaching guests until we had to perform. I would have much rather drawn them than a boring race track.
December flew by and I had a small collection of drawings I did over that time, plus some from the last few days. Collectively they’re all a little random but it ends another sketchbook at last. Only took me a whole year and eight days.
My dad’s long drawn out stay at RPA to have a kidney procedure.