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.
One afternoon I felt like doing some drawing. I do a bit on a regular basis but they are always project-based and at different stages requiring thought and patience. So after some “serious” art I wanted to splash out and have some expressive fun. A few months ago I came across a link to the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab flickr site, which displays amazing photos mostly taken by Sam Droege. Apart from being phenomenal images, I immediately thought they would be great reference material to draw from – so much wonderful linework, texture, shapes, detail, etc.
So I highly recommend a visit to this site and even if you aren’t interested in drawing them they are well worth viewing.
Big outing out with the Sydney Sketch Club on Saturday and the venue was Cockatoo Island which has become a bit of a happy hunting ground for me in terms of successful art exploration (see my first visit here). I think it’s primarily due to it being this huge industrial site where you can use any materials, spread out and not worry about making a mess. Plus… there are all the rockin’ cranes and machinery left behind. I also had a few new art supplies (thanks to some friends)so I was hoping to test them out as well.
The first one was drawn with a permanent white Sharpie, and I drew on the back of a breakfast cereal pack. I’m not use to drawing on tonal backgrounds so kept forgetting to NOT colour in the dark areas but instead to use the tone of the card to represent that.
The sketch below I wetted the paper before applying the watercolour background so the colours would blend in more and not have so many hard edges. Then once it dried I got out my trusty dip pen and drew in the crane with indian ink. I’ve drawn in this “jaggedy” free-flowing style before but for some reason it was really different this time. I think I applied more restraint to my linework – trying not to make it too busy and overwork it. For instance, normally I would finish the rest of that wheel you see in the bottom left hand corner, but instinctively I stopped myself from doing it. I was so happy with this, which doesn’t happen all the time. In my brain what makes a good piece of art is when you can keep looking at it and get lost in it, always finding something interesting or aesthetically pleasing to study.
How do I choose what to use and in what style? A lot of the times it’s inspired by the subject matter. It can still be quite fuzzy in my head but you just have to go with your gut feeling. But… sometimes it just doesn’t happen. And that can be a gut feeling too. It’s not that the below drawing would have been bad or wrong if I continued to finish it, but as I started to ink in the line it didn’t feel like it was gelling together with the background. It felt like I was trying to merge two completely pictures together, so I decided to scrap it.
This one was drawn again on a cereal pack but with one of those kids multi-coloured pencils. I love this medium, it’s so exciting, but probably not best on a coloured background. Only some of the colours are showing through.
This next one was using those Japanese disposable felt pens where the nibs are shaped like brushes. This drawing was just a filler till we had to meet up at lunchtime. It didn’t take me as long as I thought. They look like prototypes for Daleks.
After lunch I explored another part of the island and I took a break from drawing cranes. These towers had a large brick pattern across it so I thought I’d play around with that.
This next one I absolutely love. I know its in my style, but I can’t believe I did this. Again I wetted the paper first then threw on watercolour and I love those areas where it has bled and gone fuzzy. But the greatest achievement in my opinion is that I have made a very complicated subject matter look like a complete unit. As if all my lines are connected and complement each other. There’s balance, interest, movement and unity. So it was worth sitting through this despite all the freakin’ ants biting me as I sat on the ground, and the gale force wind that was brewing up towards the end.
Hopefully this breakthrough will transfer into my other drawings and at other locations, and it’s not something that only seems to happen in what I feel is like a spiritual ground for me.
The first Urban Sketchers Australia outing for the year was a day trip to Newcastle. Over two hours by train from Sydney – the three things I always associate with this city are – surfing beaches, mining and the rugby league team, Newcastle Knights.
I had never been there before (I know, shameful) so I decided to stay overnight. If there was anything we missed, I had a chance to see it the next day. But the weather was so sunny hot, I ended leaving Sunday around noon – everywhere I wanted to draw had no shaded areas to sit under. The sun was relentless, it was just too damn hard. But I got a bit done and I’m happy that I came away with some interesting paintings.
So enjoy, and Happy 2014!
I pencilled in the structure with an Inktense pencil
Then threw lots of watercolour in for the background.
To give contrast to the very loose splashy areas I selected areas for a more detailed execution. To tie the whole picture together I kept my palette to four or five colours.
The above images were photos I took of the different stages on location, and after cleaning them up in photoshop they look different from the finished art scan, so apologies for that. I finished off the scene with a dip pen and indian ink, but held back on the linework so it wouldn’t take over the entire piece.
I shaped the scene with a few inktense pencils. To spread the colour instead of using water I used watercolours instead.
I wasn’t sure how to finish this. I wished I had brought along my bottles of coloured ink but they can collectively weigh a bit. I’m not sure if I am a fan of landscape drawing as I really wanted to put lots of details in the rocks and cut-away hills, but it wouldn’t have helped me create a true perspective/depth of field drawing. If that makes sense.
Newcastle, Queens Wharf
Later that afternoon we sat along the wharf, mostly longing to be sitting amongst the cranes and industrial buildings on the other side. But it was pleasant enough where we were.
After a calf-burning hike up “The Hill” – I think naming it such was stating the obvious. The Cathedral had some interesting angles, sadly to capture them would mean sitting in full concentrated sunlight. My only option was across the road in a slither of shade. It was a very blocky cathedral and I didnt want it to look heavy and grounded, but make it lift up towards the sky. I thought the only way to achieve this was to not draw in the walls and all the various points and spiers, but keep it very loose and free.I added details only in the areas that jumped out at me and that gave the building character.
And the finished piece below – I thought about inking in linework but I only had indian ink and it would have been too overpowering.
Back to the Beach
I headed back to the beach on Sunday because I love all the rock formations. Again, it was too painfully hot to sit out under the sun to get any closer. So I found a little refuge in the shade of a street lamp! Lucky it was a big street lamp.
I used inktense pencils and a waterbrush pen only, and kept layering it. Lucky it was good drying weather, so I didn’t have to wait that long inbetween washes.
I wasn’t particularly happy with the result because I couldn’t get the texture and shapes of the worn down rocks (which is what I love). I think I was positioned to far to capture it the way I wanted to.
If you would like to see the work of my fellow sketchers from this weekend, please visit USK Australia.
On the weekend was National Tree Day. Lots of local councils organised tree planting events and a friend of mine is a member of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society (WCPS). They are a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting a rarity – native bushland in inner Sydney. It would be like finding a natural woodland in Notting Hill or the Bronx. Sadly it is threatened into having a freeway extended right through the middle of it, and that is the WCPS’s fight.
They held an event called “Inspired by Wolli” and my friend asked me if I would like to participate. They had musicians, photographers, poets, etc joining in. Initially I was asked to run drawing workshops but I felt that was out of my comfort zone. Plus the event was only a few hours long so it would have been too formal a structure.
I ended up sketching in 2 different locations and we had extra material if people wanted to join me. And I was there to assist if necessary. It’s amazing how adults were very reluctant to participate but kids needed no encouragement at all. Where did we go wrong growing up? When did we become so intimidated by a blank piece of paper?
So my skills weren’t needed except to hand out paper and crayons. That gave me some time to sketch for myself and join my fellow Sydney Sketch Club (SSC) members who came out for the day. I did the below as a warm up before everyone arrived.
Then one of the organisers brought some scrap cardboard and I used it with a charcoal pencil. I was very impressed by the results. Honestly, this drawing was dictated by the coarseness of the fluted card, and by its length and the qualities of the pencil. It was very easy going and now I aim to do a bit more cardboard sketches.
I did my usual colour inks one and I tried to bring in other colours than just typical “tree” colours.
I caught up with the SSC. It’s been awhile since I last joined them. Apart from our inspired organiser, Jenn, I didnt know a single soul. I drew this clump of trees near me (see left – that’s not me by the way) as they reminded me of a bunch of celery. I love the texture and how they are huddled together. I wanted to created some depth even amongst all that woody thickness, so decided to draw the foreground trees in a different colour. I didnt particularly like the Winsor & Newton greens. They were too dark or “rich” in intensity. Not very in sync with Australian natural colours. So I mixed my sunny green* with some cadmium yellow* and created a more Aussie sap green.
Initially I didnt think there was any depth but looking at it now it does. I think its also become one of my favourite drawings, the best I’ve done in awhile.
Below are a mix of sketches I did on previous visits or from photos I took. I couldn’t be bothered sorting through them.
Anyway, enjoy and go hug a tree!
*These are the names I have given to the W&N inks as their real names were totally misleading as to what colour they really were.
I went to one of my favourite sketching spots with a friend on the weekend, Camperdown Cemetery. It was established in the mid 1800s and I would say the last time it was used was a century later. The main kind of activity it sees now are dog walkers, people on lunch breaks, history buffs and anyone that wants to take a short cut to the other side of Newtown. The trees are the constant companions of those who rest here and have free reign to grow as they please. It is almost too perfect a scene the way they entwine with each other, and it makes it a setting so desperate in need to be drawn.
Whenever I get out my inks I try to attempt something a little different. This time I decided to use a colour (green) for the shadows and another (yellow) for the highlights.
The weather was very changeable that day. It was mostly bright and sunny warm, but the clouds rolled over and it started to shower. It seemed like it was sticking around for a while, so we took refuge at Berkelouw bookstore. There was a cafe upstairs and we found a sofa and sat and sketched for a bit. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we got our drinks the sun came out.
We agreed to give the cemetery another shot. It was breezy but the sun was out, although going down for the afternoon. I bought some Japanese brushes (for the first time) and found them really good to use. They were a lot more fluid in movement, especially when making “sharp turns” with it. So I will give them a spin more often.
I finally found time to head out to an Urban Sketchers Australia meet up. I couldn’t stay the entire day so I went in earlier to get a head start.
After spending some time considering how to approach drawing architecture (see Brick by Brick post) I really wanted to implement what I learnt. It wasn’t so much about getting it technically correct, but how to capture the “personality” of buildings and create more direction or composition on the page.
What everyone loves about these Victorian buildings are the intricate details and ornate flourishes. As a sketcher they can be overwhelming. Even when you attempt to keep a lot of that detail out or decide to only focus on a smaller section, it’s hard not to get lured in.
This visit I spent more time just looking at my scene before I put pen to paper. When I decided how I was going to approach it, I proceeded to put my structural lines in as a light watercolour wash keeping it all still very loose and gestural.
I also wanted to create depth of perspective between the staircase and the building. So I watered down my ink to draw the building then used it straight from the bottle for the staircase.
I realised it was too contrasting and looked more like two separate pictures instead, so I added little hints of the saturated ink to the background – mostly in the windows. That seemed to anchor them together. A gust of wind threw some leaves into the air so I decided to capture that as well, and I think it animates the picture too.
I love all the archways around this main building, and at this particular moment the morning sunlight was peeking through the clouds and hitting the wall, so I wanted to capture that. I originally planned to do this as a watercolour wash and ink in the lines, but I ended up developing it so much that I decided to leave out the linework. I think it’s because I used a smaller brush to paint with – a Winsor & Newtown Cotman No.5 then my usual 8 or 10 Roymac.
Again, what ties this picture together is using some of the Payne Grey and Burnt Umber in both the foreground and background, of varying concentration. And I made it interesting by not putting detail in everywhere. I know it sounds like a simple thing to implement, but it’s so hard to pull back.
I wish I had taken my camera with me to show you how intense this building was. On the right hand side is the beginning of a clock tower and there was so much ornamentation along the walls and windows, etc. It was a big scene and trying to find a smaller point of interest was hard.
I went for the rooftop because not only did it have some lovely Victorian detail but it also had some quiet areas too. I also made use of the flat shadows that were falling across the sides to help balance out the intricacies and give it some volume.
With only a half hour left, I tackled something not so mentally challenging. These buildings are dotted with gargoyles and grotesques that are just wonderful. As I had warmed up a bit with the other sketches, I was really loose by the time I drew these. I let my instincts take over and had some fun.
To see some of the work from my fellow Australian sketchers that day please visit USK Australia.
Following on from my last post, I have submitted more designs to Threadless t-shirts. They are running an Incredible Hulk competition at the moment, and this is my first (of two) design that has been approved and ready for voting. So if you have an account with Threadless it would super-fantastic if I could get your vote. Link is here or click on the image.
A sketching friend and I spent 10 days in Canberra and Adelaide seeing the touring Toulouse-Lautrec and J.W Turner exhibitions in each respective capital city. Apart from Canberra being the capital of Australian politics and international embassies, it has most of the national museums and galleries. I imagine it is like a mini version of Washington D.C. – which I would love to visit one day.
The amazing work of Toulouse-Lautrec was on display here. He was one of my first artistic influences who wasn’t a comic artist. What I like about his work is although he painted mostly with brushes, his style of painting mimics gestural drawing. Also his bold use of colour is incredible – luminescent greens and yellows for highlights and a lavender-like purple for shading. This latter aspect of his work is something I have been trying to implement more, especially when I use watercolours.
Colour, colour, everywhere
The more I trust what my eyes tell me to paint, ie instead of my brain, I start to see glimpses of colour I wouldn’t normally think to see. For instance, when I painted the Australian War Memorial below, the building itself is a very sandy coloured, almost muted stone. But the sun was excessively bright that day with wispy clouds slowly moving past the sun creating a light and shadow play on the flat surfaces. I also sat right under the sun, so the glare was affecting my sight as well. With the combination of these factors I kept seeing purples in the shadows and decided to put them in, albeit lightly.
Another thing I have started to do more obviously is “spread” my colours around the page to create a unified picture. When I painted the sky in, which was one of the last things I did, I threw the same blue across the building. I also did the reverse and put some of the stone wall yellow ochre into the sky despite it being a pure blue sky that day. You can also see green areas in the building which match the same colour as the dome. I find that it really completes the picture and gives it some balance, and basically, it just feels right.
Putting it into perspective
Unfortunately I left my camera at the apartment so I didn’t capture the step by step of the above picture, nor what the statue actually looked like. Another thing I am trying to improve upon when I work en plein air is creating more depth of perspective in my scenes. In this case it was making sure the sculpture stood out from the trees in the background. The easiest way to do this is by minimising the amount of detail in the background, not having objects so well defined, and toning back the colours, especially the saturation. As you can see I’m still working on this technique. I also thought that by creating a foreground, ie the leafy boughs on the top and bottom right corners, it would also help create more dimension. I “thought”…! Didn’t work out as well.
For those who are interested, I created this picture by: first blocking in the main shapes with inktense pencils (you can see it in the brickwork); then lifting out the pencils with watercolours (I think, lemon yellow and turquoise); then inked in linework with dip pen and colour drawing inks (ultramarine, sunny green and canary yellow).
Why are we waiting?
As much as I love visiting Canberra, it is such a bastard to get around by public transport particularly on weekends. We were staying at Kingston, which is what I would call inner-city, and buses would only come either every half hour or every hour. It was excruciating to wait 20 mins for a 5 min bus ride. Anyway, one plus about being an urban sketcher is you are equipped with a sketchbook and pen to while away the time instead of getting a kink in your neck looking in the one direction waiting for a bus.
This one is looking a little French boulevarde-y, but at least I got the depth of perspective down better. This sketchbook I’m using at the moment isn’t great for wet mediums. It soaks up all the colour and doesn’t leave behind the vibrancy or saturation I apply to the page. I love it more for its size.
On to Adelaide
Both my friend and I had never visited Adelaide before, so we hoped to fit in some normal sightseeing as well. We arrived to experience some freakishly hot weather. It was in the high 30s, and the next day was scheduled for 40-41˚C. Yaaarrgghhh!!! I made the quick decision that tomorrow we would spend it in the art gallery. I’m not a big fan of air conditioned buildings (no pun intended!) but it was our oasis in a relentless heat. It also helped by looking at Turner paintings of stormy seascapes and lush, shady green country scenes too.
I remember when I visited London over a decade ago I saw many Turner watercolours at the Tate, so it was wonderful for me to relive that experience. Especially now that I have more of an appreciation and personal experience of painting landscapes, not to mention the use of watercolours. So I was learning a lot from such a great and innovative master.
The next day and for the rest of our stay the weather was a lot more reasonable. Not just for us but for the animals at the zoo. To deal with the spontaneity of our furry friends I used my inktense pencils and a waterbrush pen. It seemed the most practical medium.
It’s always a challenge to draw moving creatures, and I include humans in that category as well. One has to employ patience, ie waiting for the animal to appear or turn its head towards you, and you must curb any disappointment as well when it moves away before you’ve finished your sketch.
It’s also a test of your photographic memory and I had to turn to that to help me. Not that I have that skill or its better than anybody elses. It’s more that you NEED to give it a whirl in this type of situation.
By relying on quick glances and my memory to sketch these critters it made me more aware of each animal’s distinguishing features. For the tiger it was its spine and the undulating shape it creates from a side view, or the curling, flowing tail of the lemur or the large hour glass-like snout of the hippo.
Throughout my life I have spent more time drawing the human figure, and one advantage if you are drawing people on the move is that we all have the same skeletal structure and more or less turn and move in the same way. So if I couldn’t capture someone in full before they moved on I could complete the sketch from memory.
But with animals – not only do they look different on the outside and come in different sizes, but their skeletal structures are so different. The face alone varies so much. Some animals have their eyes in front while other are on the side, some have legs tucked in and concealed under their bodies while others look awkward and gangly. They are so intriguing and challenging.
However, it was a successful day and its a lovely zoo. It does seem to be in need of better enclosures for some of its animals and that it relies heavily on donations and visitors to the zoo. So if you’re in Adelaide for a few days, take a trip to the Adelaide Zoo.
I was hoping to get more paintings done at the Adelaide Gardens, but it wasn’t as big as it looked on my map. And despite the drop in temperature, sitting out in the sun was still intense and not much shade could be found. The Palm House, however, was the big attraction so we set up for that.
I got out my dip pen and inks for this, and I was also hoping to use my masking fluid this trip. Sadly I left my old masking fluid brushes at home and I refused to ruin my good paintbrushes just to experiment with (see my masking fluid notes in this post). I found a very cheap set ($2!) in town and my expectations were even worse than I imagined. All the bristles came out every time I washed it.
I used it on the painting below, but I ditched it for the rest of the trip. I’m not sure what I had in mind with this picture, maybe it was me warming up. Or I was possibly inspired by Turner’s sea storms but applying it to a static glass house. 😛
You can see in the finished picture below where I applied the masking fluid in the sky. I would like to take it out again, but not with those brushes. My objective was to make it not only look like a glass and iron structure but to also capture that vintage feel too. It does have a French Riviera atmosphere about it, and some of Raoul Dufy’s work springs to mind.
As I had to wait not only for the masking fluid to dry but the watercolours as well, I started up another drawing of the Palm House. This time I inked the lines in first. If you’ve seen a lot of my ink drawings of buildings you might notice that they’re a little askew in places. That’s primarily because I don’t pencil in structure lines of any kind. I start at the very top and weave my way down, sometimes taking a detour to the left or right. I made that decision a long time ago not to worry about things like that as I can get too caught up in getting it right, especially when it is just a sketch. It also forces me to look harder and try to achieve correct perspective and structure as I work, but its a hit and miss thing.
Here is the finished piece, very different from the first. I think this works better as an overall picture. My personal sense of what makes a picture interesting is if you find yourself exploring the entirety of it. You look at the linework, the squiggles, the shapes, the brushwork, where things overlap, the texture etc. As opposed to something that might grab your attention immediately but it doesn’t pull you in for more review. I dont know if it’s because there is more detail in this picture or that I feel that everything is working together better. And there is more variety in my brushwork to give it more texture. Again, in this picture, like the War Memorial, I have circulated the colours across the whole picture to unify it. See the peach and blue colour in the top right palm tree.
Big day out
Unsatisfied with having only created two pictures at the Gardens, I decided to do a sketchcrawl of my own the next day. We were staying in North Adelaide so my first stop was a nearby park looking over one of many churches.
I like using a mix of all my art mediums – inktense, watercolours and dip pen. But when I sit down to draw something, the subject matter dictates to me what it would look best in, so I may not always use the same things. The photo below was taken after I applied watercolour to my inktense penciling. Since posting it I quite like it at this stage for the white areas I’ve left. Again, I’ve tried to frame the church by throwing in the hanging branch above and the flower bed below.
I think the end result is overworked. I know I was trying to create more contrast with the shadows and light areas but I couldn’t get that intensity with my brown paint. I do like the flower bed and the retreating windows on the side of the building. I managed to show some restraint there.
As I was sitting there I noticed one of the smaller palm trees near me and really like the shape of the tree trunk. I drew this by first outlining the entire shape, then added the details inside it. I’m also using a new paper that is smooth and occasionally my pen nib gets caught in it or collects some of the paper fibres on the surface.
Then I made my way down to the grand daddy of all churches in Adelaide, St Peter’s Cathedral. I sat across the road from it. Thankfully the traffic in Adelaide is nothing like that of Sydney otherwise I would have been poisoned by toxic fumes. Instead I was almost bitten to death by ants. Not good when you’re wearing sandals and a dress!
I really had no idea how to tackle this or what to use. So I spent some time studying it. I decided it was too hard to take seriously, especially considering the heat, the ants and wanting to covering a lot of locations that day. I went a bit free form with my lines and threw in a bit of blind contouring/continuous line technique for good measure. I inked in the black first and ummed and arrhed about adding another colour, but I went with a brick red. It looks a little Dracula-gothic-blood-thirsty-like but I want to start putting more dimension into my line drawings.
Then I headed into town. All along North Terrace are wonderful old building, several dating from the late 1800s. It was almost overwhelming as to where I should start and what to do first. But as it was still such a hot day, finding a good angle in the shade (any shade!!) narrowed down the choices for me.
As it has been awhile since I’ve drawn exclusively with my colour inks and dip pen, I found it really difficult to decide whether to colour it in with watercolours or keep it as a line drawing. When you’re drawing on location you don’t have the luxury of, say, scanning version 1in before attempting version 2, and if it goes wrong then hey! I still have version 1 saved. You instead have to decide how far you want to take it. This time round I decided to leave them as line drawings. I think primarily because this isn’t somewhere I can pop out to on any weekend and do an hour or so of sketching. I didn’t want to ruin my travel souvenirs of Adelaide. I’d love to know how other people feel in this type of situation and how they handle it.
My last sketch of the trip was at dinner. North Adelaide is known for its restaurants, cafes etc. and we found the Italian Ruby Red Flamingo. It was a converted manse (living accommodation for a church’s minister). Very unassuming decor of colourful bric and brac drinking vessels, old wooden school and kitchen tables and used tomato cans for cutlery. But more importantly the food was amazing. I highly recommend to anyone in the neighbourhood. Lovely atmosphere and service, it was a great way to end a trip.