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.
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’m part of Jin Wu Koon Liondancing and Chinese New Year is a massive month long celebration in Sydney where the whole city joins in. It also means there a constant and intense schedule of lion dance performances for us that can range from morning till midnight and take us to all regions of Sydney and further.
Its a very physical thing and the long hours and minimal hours of sleep can take its toll – I didn’t go to all of them and I was exhausted! I think what compacts it more is all the time in-between waiting to do each performance – standing around on the street or in front of a restaurant. I find that quite tedious as its not necessarily enough time to really chill out but not short enough to keep your momentum going.
That’s why a few years back I decided to bring my sketchbook with me. Originally I wanted to capture what we do, click here to see. The second time it was to kill time, click here. This year it was a bit of both.
You also can’t carry much around with you – a small handbag or pack is about it, so that restricts what I can carry with me. I also need something that is also going to give me instant results as well.
So I used disposable Japanese felt brush tip pens.
Up on high
JWK have a team who also perform lion dancing on poles – normal lion dance takes some practice and experience, but this – this takes a huge year round commitment and you need something of a fearless character to do it. Below is footage from last year.
Its always hard to draw and capture fast moving objects, especially in this case where its a 360˚ performance. As I’ve seen them perform a few times before I had already worked out the moments I wanted to capture. Still not an easy thing but it helps you block out the temptation or natural tendency to want to capture everything.
Its always a good opportunity to draw the crowds who watch with great anticipation.
For those of you who thought it was a dragon, no it’s not. These next few drawings are of a dragon dance, thanks to the Chinese Youth League.
aaaaanndd if you still can’t tell what that is, here is some footage of them in action.
And when I’m not drawing the “entertainment” I look for inspiration elsewhere.
Lion dancing can have you performing at all sorts of events and venues. This was a wedding held on a restaurant boat. These couple of sketches are us waiting for our water taxi so we could head off to our next performance.
Possibly someone’s dinner – a lobster waiting its fate at a restaurant in a shopping centre.
The aftermath of a late afternoon yum cha. Hanging out at the gym and watching the Legacy Brazilian Ju-Jitsu students practice tumbles and moves.
I ended up finishing off my sketchbook, so I went and bought the cheapest pad and pens I could find.
It was tiny, bigger than a business card. I also bought a thick marker which probably wasn’t the greatest of choices too, but I’m always up for a challenge. I did also buy a thin one to get some balanced detail in.
Some scenes around Chinatown, as we waited for the State MP to rock up.
We also have the largest lion head in the country, again, probably not the best sized notepad for him, hee, hee.
Amazingly my last performance with them this season was at the Art Gallery. Sadly it was just for some sportscar promotional event, so I doubt many would have given a fig about the art around them. But at least it gave me a chance to visit.
I think I broke my record on the number of drawings for Chinese New Year. Question is, how will I approach it next year…
Back in January I went down to Melbourne for a short break to catch up with some friends, and in particular sketching friends.
I chose Melbourne Zoo as a location for a day out having not been there since I was probably 16. Its very different from what I remember, a lot more trees and winding paths. The weather never started out well my whole trip but always ended up better as the day progressed.
There was a bit of rain in the morning threatening to ruin the day for us but then the hot humid sun emerged an hour in which made things like finding a good spot to draw more open. However, I ended up scrambling for little scraps of shade anyway!
As I was travelling I wanted to minimise what materials I took down with me. Even just sketching around Sydney I tend to take more than I need and there’s nothing more frustrating than a suitcase full of stuff that’s not used.
I’ve got a new studio space at home now and have since sorted through all my art supplies. I have so much stuff that has barely been touched, a lot from when I was a kid! So my objective was to use some of this stash.
My selected tools were to be oil pastels, chinagraphs, watercolours with brush, ink and dip pen, and a permanent marker.
It was lovely to use oil pastels then brush over them with watercolours to get that nice texture created from the water’s repulsion.
I’m really happy with this elephant. Considering it was through a window with many vertical bars obscuring the view, but my persistence paid off and frankly, I think having a limited view helped me pull back in terms of not overdoing it, i.e. not adding too much detail. I do love the textures I created and the white space, and I seemed to have captured a bit of personality as well.
I’m not sure why I decided to try out chinagraphs. I had a few that had never been touched – don’t even know where they came from. They have a strong colour and application that you would expect from a piece of charcoal or oil pastel but with more control on smaller drawings. They give you an opportunity to put some detail in and it’s not as messy. The black one has nice deep blacks which sometimes I find a 6B pencil won’t achieve. It’s really soft so using it the way I do wears down to the wood quickly but it does feels more fluid.
This last lot I did was with a black Artline permanent marker. I was using it on water soluble paper so it would dry my pen out half way through a sketch – which I was hoping for as it creates a nice texture and a subtle variation in tone as well.
The great thing about working with a permanent marker AND drawing moving objects is that you cannot think too much or linger too long with your sketch. Its permanency and colour intensity means you can’t hide anything. And if you leave a (fresh) marker too long in one spot it tends to bleed making your lines blurry. So its a great medium to practice expressive drawing.
I didn’t see many animals that day but felt like I got some substantial drawing in. The only thing these drawings don’t show are how many other people you have to content with for a good spot as well as how generous an animal is with their time, or lack of.
Then a week later I went horse riding at Centennial Park, Sydney with my work. It was a lead up to a brainstorming session for a new client that specialises in animal products, particularly horse care. I’d never been horse riding before so it was quite an experience. I take my hat off to anyone who rides horses for a living. As it was a work thing, I didn’t think I’d get much time to sketch, but I at least managed to fit this one in.
How did we get so far into the year already? I’ve had so much on this year with home rennovations and a new job that I never find any down time to post to this blog. However, I feel a bit of a routine returning to my life …even though I should be in bed by now (not use to being back into full time work!!).
Anyway, I did manage to do some sketching over the last month, how? I don’t know.
On impulse I bought tickets to see American industrial metal rock gods Ministry. I do have one of their albums but hadn’t followed them intensely, though from previous experience I know bands like this are really good live. They were puh-lenty awesome, releasing the closet metal head in me, however its music not for the timid or pure of heart.
The venue was the Metro – my favourite live music venue. It’s intimate, the sound is good and doesn’t matter where you stand as everyone can see. Perfect not just for headbanging but for sketching. I took a black Artline 0.8mm pen possibly inspired by their sound and look, and I tried a scribbly drawing technique which is as soon as the pen hits the paper you scribble like mad, a motion similar to tapping your fore-finger really faster – just short jabs across the page and never lifting the pen off. It’s a very free flowing style and creates wonderful texture.
I was told it might have been the farewell tour, I hope not. But glad I managed to see them. I feel its important to include an image of the band here just to validate my drawings of Al Jourgensen (singer) as not a figment of my imagination but that he actually looks like that. A band like this is so much fun to draw – their look is very graphic and physical input on stage is ferociously animated.
Now to go and update my Ministry cd collection…
Sunnyboys and Riptides
About a week later I saw two Australian bands that I have so longed to see since I was a teenager. I was too young to see them in the 80s during their primo years but thankfully they have started to play reunion gigs and I managed to see them at the Enmore Theatre. Admittedly this time round I was having too much fun dancing and singing along so didn’t get any decent sketches done.
That and being compressed in by loud and drunk 50-somethings who obviously got the night off from their kids and were going hell for leather to have a great night, to my amusement some of them were wiped out by 10pm. When the Sunnyboys came on I was further away from the stage I couldn’t pick up much detail so I tried some blind contour drawings and shade only sketches.
I made a promised myself to join my sketch club or urban sketchers group at least once a month. Life just gets busier and busier and I’m afraid my outings with them are becoming less and less. I’ve mentioned before how important they are to me as I use them get out of my comfort zone and experiment with techniques or materials I might not otherwise make time for, or I use them to practice the rudimentary skills of drawing.
Still inspired by my trip to Canberra and seeing the black & white works of Daumier and Degas I kept to my 3B pencil for most of this excursion.
It was around 9am and already the sun was quite intense. As beaches are almost devoid of shade I scrambled to the slither of coolness on the far side of the beach where I was fortunate in that there were some wonderful rock formations to sketch.
With no hurry to leave this baby-sized oasis I decided to allow myself some moments to study it. When I set myself up for these types of sketches I take a few minutes to study what I’m about to draw. I look at it and ask myself what is it that really attract me to this scene that I want to draw it? Even though its cool by anybody’s standards, I’ve singled this out amongst other possibilities to sketch, so what makes it more enticing as a drawing exercise? Is it the shapes, the textures, the heaviness of the rocks, the shadows..? Whatever it is I use that as my objective for my drawing. This will “drive” my sketch and in particular my thoughts as it starts to take shape. It’s even useful when you get a bit lost in all the detail of your subject matter as it helps you re-focus, and I believe you get a more unified drawing as well.
In this case I liked the weather eroded shapes with their rounded edges and the way the shadows heightened their mass. Hopefully this animated gif file below works so you can see the step by step stages.
And here is the finished result.
I also did an inktense pencil version too.
I have two photos of the lead up for this.Then when it was time to meet up with the others fortunately my slither of shade had turned into a whisker, so I had no other choice but to take on the sun. By that stage the number of beach goers had increased considerably so I did a few gestural drawings while I was waiting. Although they were lying around sunbathing they still do move a lot. Because I was up high it was also a great exercise in foreshortening.
Well I hope you enjoyed my trip to the beach. Now to deal with the sunburn…
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.
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.