South of the border

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.

Vic Markets

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.

melbourne2014_vicmarkets1 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by colour inks and dip pen
melbourne2014_vicmarkets2 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by colour inks and dip pen
melbourne2014_vicmarkets3 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by colour inks and dip pen
melbourne2014_vicmarkets4 LR
Colour ink and dip pen

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.

melbourne-govhouse fountainA 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.

fountain LR

melbourne2014_govhouse1 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by colour inks and dip pen

Koko Black

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.

melbourne2014_koko1 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by Micron pigma pen.
melbourne2014_koko2 LR
Watercolours and brush, followed by Micron pigma pen.

The Rest of Melbourne

melbourne2014_southbank1 LR
Southbank – Watercolours and brush, followed by colour ink and dip pen.

stansbridge bridge LR

melbourne2014_southbank2 LR
Southbank – Watercolours and brush, followed by colour ink and dip pen.
melbourne2014_fedsquare LR
Flinders St Station – artline pen and water brush pen
melbourne2014_fitzroy LR
Fitzroy – artline pen and water brush pen
melbourne2014_blockdress LR
The Block Arcade – wedding dress display. Drawn with Black calligraphic brush pen and watercolours.
melbourne2014_blocktailor LR
The Block Arcade – a tailor’s front window. Drawn with blue biro and watercolours.

Bushido exhibition

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.melbourne2014_bushido1 LR melbourne2014_bushido2 LR melbourne2014_bushido3 LR melbourne2014_bushido4 LR


Newcastle USK

Newcastle, Queens Wharf
Newcastle, Queens Wharf

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!

Stephenson Place

USK Newcastle 1 scene

I pencilled in the structure with an Inktense pencil

USK Newcastle 1 stage 1

Then threw lots of watercolour in for the background.

USK Newcastle 1 stage 2

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.

USK Newcastle 1 stage 3

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.

USK Newcastle LR 1

Newcastle Beach

USK Newcastle 3 scene
I shaped the scene with a few inktense pencils.
USK Newcastle 3 stage 1To spread the colour instead of using water I used watercolours instead.
USK Newcastle 3 stage 2
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.
USK Newcastle LR 2

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.

USK Newcastle 4 scene USK Newcastle LR 3

Newcastle Cathedral

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. USK Newcastle 5 scene 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.USK Newcastle 5 stage 1I added details only in the areas that jumped out at me and that gave the building character.

USK Newcastle 5 stage 2
And the finished piece below – I thought about inking in linework but I only had indian ink and it would have been too overpowering.USK Newcastle LR 5

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.
USK Newcastle 6 scene

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.USK Newcastle 6 stage 1 USK Newcastle 6 stage 2 USK Newcastle 6 stage 3 USK Newcastle 6 stage 4 USK Newcastle 6 stage 5
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.USK Newcastle LR 6
If you would like to see the work of my fellow sketchers from this weekend, please visit USK Australia.

The Black Angels

blackangels_1 LRLast Saturday night I went and saw an American band called The Black Angels. Their style of music is very psychedelic, grungy, bluesy rock and roll. I am reminded a little of Jefferson Airplane and the Doors. My friend and I sat upstairs at the Enmore Theatre and right at the front. I dont normally like sitting down for gigs, but for me this kind of music is a “chill out” sound.

blackangels_2 LR

I took my sketchbook with me and a cheap throw-away Japanese brush pen. I must wrack my knuckles (is that a proper saying?) each time I go out with a half-dried up pen!! Its the equivalent of not throwing out old milk, every time you go to use it only then you realise it needs to be replaced.

blackangels_3 LRThis brush pen was already on its last legs when I took it with me, so as I am drawing the Black Angels in the dark, wondering why I couldn’t see anything definitive on my page, it was because my pen was drying out.

blackangels_4 LRHaving said that, I think the blurry, washed out effect suits their music. So there’s always an upside to everything I suppose.

blackangels_5 LRCheers,

Urban Sketchers meet up

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.

watercolour and dip pen and ink
watercolour and dip pen and ink

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.

Watercolours and brush
Watercolours and brush

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.

Watercolour & brush, followed by dip pen and ink
Watercolour & brush, followed by dip pen and ink

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.

USK sydney uni 4 LR
Watercolours brush, followed by dip pen and ink

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.

Watercolours brush, followed by dip pen and ink
Watercolours brush, followed by dip pen and ink
To see some of the work from my fellow Australian sketchers that day please visit USK Australia.

Abu Dhabi Do!

Me drawing a very willing 4WD driver out in the desert. Photo courtesy of Heidi Yuko Lincoln.

In February I was given the exciting opportunity to travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to play with TaikOz. A huge honour, considering I’m not one of their more dedicated students. It was a unique advenutre and a bit of an insight into the life of a professional touring musician, and it was to a part of the world I’m not sure I would have visited in my own time.

So I hope you enjoy my sketchbook slideshow of my time in Abu Dhabi. Please click on any image for a larger view.

1 Taikoz Title page LR

1 Taikoz UAE Syd Airport LR
Sydney Airport – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Plane LR
Dinner and a movie – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE AD Airport LR
Arriving at Abu Dhabi airport – – watercolours and artline

There was plenty of time waiting in our portable dressing room, so I’m thankful I brought along my sketchbook. Most of these sketches were done during this period – waiting to do a rehearsal or sound check, waiting to go on, waiting to go to lunch, waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotel. There weren’t any windows looking out onto anything either, so all my inspiration came from within the room.

1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals DPS 2 LR
Ten minutes to dress rehearsals – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Uniform LR
Our happy Hanten coats hanging out – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals Kevin 3 LR
Curious onlookers from the dressing room next door – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals 4 LR
Early morning breakfast box – inktense pencils
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals 5 LR
The 12 faces of my breakfast apple – inktense pencils and artline pen
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals DPS 6 LR
Yet another rehearsal call – artline pen
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals 7 LR
Colourful dengaku okedos (roped drums) – inktense pencils and watercolours
1 Taikoz UAE Rehearsals 8 LR
The youngest member of our tour group – inktense pencil
1 Taikoz UAE Tabi LR
My clean white tabi (ankle sock shoes) on the first day and last day of performances – watercolours and artline

We had afternoons and evenings free so we managed to do some sightseeing and shopping whenever we could.

1 Taikoz UAE Central Souk LR
Central Souk Market – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Mosque 1 LR
The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Mosque 2 LR
The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Mosque 3 LR
The Grand Mosque – watercolours and artline

I found the Mosque to be one of the more visually appealing and challenging sights for me. Because of its clean white exteriors the light reflections, especially as the sun set, was quite interesting. So I stayed to try and capture the sunset, and made a second visit to capture it at night. These were done with watercolour/brush and ink/dip pen.

Taikoz UAE USK 1 LR Taikoz UAE USK 2 LR Taikoz UAE USK 4 LR Taikoz UAE USK 5 LR

We had most of one day to ourselves so we headed off to do a 4WD Safari.

1 Taikoz UAE Safari DPS 1 LR
Camels – watercolours and artline pen
1 Taikoz UAE Safari 2 LR
Rasheed – dip pen and ink
1 Taikoz UAE Safari DPS 3 LR
Bellydancing under the stars – inktense pencils

An international security and defence expo was on at the Exhibition Centre.

Ready and waiting - watercolours and artline
Ready and waiting – watercolours and artline
1 Taikoz UAE Tanks DPS 3 LR
Old and new parked on either side of the motorway – watercolours and artline
Military manoeuvres - watercolours and artline
Military manoeuvres – watercolours and artline
UAE Defence force were obliging and posed for me - artline pen
UAE Defence force were obliging and posed for me – artline pen

The last day before we hit the malls, I did some sketching around Emirates Palace.

1 Taikoz UAE Architecture 1 LR
A typical sight in AD, cranes and construction – inktense pencils
Etihad Towers and a work in progress gold tower - watercolours and artline
Etihad Towers and a work in progress gold tower – watercolours and artline
Emirates Palace at night - watercolours and artline
Emirates Palace at night – watercolours and artline

And back home… sorting out the souvenirs from the shopping.

1 Taikoz UAE Goods LR
Watercolours and artline

Sydney Open Day

The Historic Houses Trust of NSW ran a “long” weekend event called Sydney Open. With the co-operation of several private and public buildings in the city centre they opened their doors to the general public for a look round. It was a drawing opportunity I could not miss, so went along Friday night with the Sydney Sketch Club and on my own Sunday. There was something like 32 buildings in all open on Sunday, but as I wanted to spend some time drawing I only visited four. I probably could have fit a fifth one in but I was exhausted and found myself standing very close to a bus stop home.

I wasn’t sure of what I was allowed to use in these buildings or how crowded it would be, so I opted for pencil and a very tiny travel watercolour set, very minimal. After all my architectural studies I tried to keep two things in mind for all these sketches: 1. spend some time looking before I start; and 2. make more of an effort to create spatial difference. For a closer look at my sketches please click on the image.

I was quite happy with the Level 7 paint sketch. The view was quite high so I wanted to capture the distance between myself and the scene below. I also wanted to show the distance between the trees and the park benches, and the cityscape sitting behind the cathedral but without it crowding the church spiers. It was all to do with subduing the colour palette in the park and the cityscape (distant images) and painting it more like a wash. The sun was setting very fast so the colours and lighting kept changing. But I think the intense blue colour links the whole scene together and helps create that space I was after.

Waiting in line at St James Church

My next stop was St James church, it was All Saints Day so there was a service on before we could head in. One great thing about being a sketcher is waiting in line is merely another opportunity to sketch.

Inside St James Church

The church was designed by Francis Greenway. He was an Englishman born into a family of architects and builders in the early 1800s. He was sent to Australia as a prisoner for forging documents but managed to by-pass his prison term and served as a civil engineer and architect. He is responsible for several government and public buildings in Sydney that are still in use today. He even appeared on our old $10 note. Nice to know some crooks get a second chance.

It was an unusual church interior for me. It didnt have the typical crucifix-shaped plan with shadowy corners and aisles that I’m use to, but was instead one really long room. For me the most striking thing was the gallery as shown above on the left page. Which I was told by a fellow sketch clubber that Greenway didn’t design (oops, sorry Frankie). On the right I attempted a semi-continuous line of the organ. It looked quite cool but then I added colour and made it too busy.

Sydney Theatre Company

On Sunday I started the big day out at the Sydney Theatre Company. I was early and they were late opening up so I painted a few little thumbnails and sat patiently in the foyer till I could go exploring.

Left - Sydney Theatre Company. Right - Royal Automative Club of Australia
Left – Sydney Theatre Company. Right – Royal Automative Club of Australia

I went back to my normal habit of painting the background colour first then the linework (I used W&N watercolours and a Faber-Castell Pitt pen). But today once I finished the pen work I went over it again with colour, more particularly the darker tones. Once the paper had dried by adding the darker hues again, and with less water added to my brush, it gave the pictures more depth and a finish to them.

City of Sydney Fire Station

I was really happy with this fire station drawing. I’m not a big fan of drawing vehicles as I haven’t quite worked out their skeletal structure. But for me it was the challenge of spatial depth – particularly the yellow trucks parked further in from the red truck. Again it was down to all the things I mentioned earlier, but I also think having a small colour pallete unified the picture. I only had one blue and one yellow in my palette so mixing it with the other colours created an overall harmony through the picture.

The Great Synagogue of Sydney

All vistors had to check their bags outside before entering so I just took a pencil, my sharpener and book with me. Here was a challenge of capturing a scene that was so intricate with architectural detail but still had a sense of space and airiness. So again I tried to manage the attention to detail and shading so that it helped achieved that feeling.

All in all today was very satisfying. Sadly, this event only occurs once every two years. But I did find out some venues are open to the public most days. Oh and I love this new sketchbook (Hahnemühle Sketch Book). I normally use looseleaf paper, primarily because sketchbooks don’t like colour inks and dip pens. But a larger format sketchbook was great. It may be a little cumbersome for some, but for those of you who like sketchbooks do try one at a larger size every now and then. There’s more elbow space and room to explore with a big size.


Welcome Spring

I’m a big fan of winter but even I’m over the cold season this year. And without fail on the 1st September (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere) it was a warm, sunny spring day. Work has been very manageable this week so it allowed me some free time to sit in my backyard and draw this scene. It’s not that often I get to see all my flowers in bloom together. It makes me feel like a competent gardener, not a great one, but good enough.

I also broke some ground in my architecture study. One of the struggles I had was fitting in the entire scene without pencilling in structure lines to start with.

When it was too wet to sketch outside I took photos of houses in my area.

So I made a compromise. I’m use to painting first and outlining second, so I painted in very faint gestural lines.

I brushed in very quick, light gestural structure lines to kick things off.

Although they weren’t 100% accurate, it was enough to use as a guideline, and it took the pressure of worrying about whether I would fit it all in at the end.

And to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and only something I could do at a desk, I went for a walk and did a few more.


Happy seasonal changes everyone!


The 5 Food Groups

Armed with a bit more knowledge I was prepared for the next round in my pursuit of better architectural drawing. As work has been full on I haven’t been able to get out and sketch (not that the weather has been great for it either) so the only time available to draw is at night and at least in the comfort of my lounge chair. Again I have used The Commons flickr site for some reference material.

I decided to look at the key elements I believe really accentuate architecture and see how they work on their own.


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by Cornell University Library.

It seems an obvious statement to say that shadows or shading a building adds greatly to your picture, but when I painted the shading in first before the line work, the building’s shape was already defined.

Shading study without line work (still drying)

My habit of late is to add the colour wash before line work and I was in two minds about putting it in as I liked it as is.  But one of those two minds said yes, do it.

I got a bit heavy handed with the main section of the building but I do like the right hand side of the page. Possibly as there is less line work and the ink isn’t as saturated.

Same sketch with line work added later with blue ink

I attempted the same drawing again but this time put the shading in after the line work. The problem with the first technique is that the washes might not match up with the lines so the shading might sit incorrectly. The result makes for a cool picture but can lack atmosphere or drama…? So I did another version where I added the shading after the pen work.

Washes added after line work

With this version you get a better sense of where the sunlight is falling and also a feeling of time and place. Well, that’s my opinion anyway…


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by The Library of Congress.
Sometimes when you are about to sit down to draw a scene the composition can be quite immediate to you, while others are a bit of a struggle. If it’s the latter it might be fun to consider the shape and space of your page as a design factor. This can turn a very ordinary street scene into something with character and interest.


Not an exercise in composition but in keeping areas of your picture clean to allow for contrast and lift. Even though the photo I chose makes this exercise a little easier with its heavy set shadows, for those of you like me who don’t know when to stop it was a real test.  I wanted to concentrate on the busier areas of this photo, to retain the intricacies of the structures but not have them turn into a mess of lines. There is also great spatial depth in this photo so I had to be mindful of capturing that too.

Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by The Library of Congress.

I really had to fight temptation and not work on the buildings and tunnel-way in the centre of the page. By keeping it clean it helps lead your eye up to the tower, across to the chimney on the  left, then back down again to the middle of the picture. It was important for me to show the clutter of this scene, but not let my heavy-handed line work “be” the clutter of the picture, if that makes sense. You need to put in detail but not to the point where your lines overwhelm and confuse the scene.

As this was a monotone drawing I used light and dark tones to help create a sense of distance between the foreground and background. I allowed more white tones in the foreground to lift it out while darker tones were concentrated in the background.


I applied a diluted ink wash loosely with a thick brush to balance out the fine line work. I have to learn to pull back on applying too much wash as the line work can fight for attention with it.


Photo reference supplied via The Commons. Image owned by Cornell University Library.

I chose this photo for its obvious contrast between the foreground and background. It was tricky to capture it only with lines, even more so with a dip pen which can be quite unpredictable. To add contrast I tried varying the width of the lines – thicker lines in the foreground, finer in the back and more detail in the foreground too.  I also watered down the ink for the background to try and subdue the intensity of the colour.

Later on I added a wash using the same ink, again diluting it to create tonal variety. It’s not a bad result but not great either. Maybe bright red or pink wasn’t the best choice to use.


After my little analysis I ventured out once more and visited Sydney University. It is a treasure trove of buildings from different periods. I went there a year ago with my sketch club and it was great, especially on a Sunday when the place is virtually empty. The only external factor I had to deal with was that it was early winter. Although it was a lovely sunny day, sitting in the shadows of those large buildings and on cold steps was a bit trying (yes, I do need to buy a folding chair!).

Before I set off I wrote up a little post-it note of my five key elements and kept it on my drawing board as a constant reminder while I was drawing (see left image).

Manning Rd, Nicholson Museum entrance

Note to self: never start a wet drawing on the right hand side of the page unless you are left handed. It’s instinctive for me to start my drawing with the most striking part of the scene, but as that happened to be on the right hand side, it meant I had to be really careful when drawing in the rest not to smudge it. Doh!

Because I didn’t plan my layout, once I drew the middle section in (which was the last component) it started to draw too much attention away from the other sections. I didn’t “thin” out the linework to help make it recede. Overall I did not consider the composition or create good use of space.

This was a real test and eye opener. Again, I drew it too big that I left no room for the entrance arch below. I also wanted that middle section to be subtle but as the ink blobbed out on the first stroke, and I realised I positioned it too far to the right, it threw the rest of my composition off. Now it’s the area where your eye constantly returns too.

The MacLaurin Hall

This was my second attempt, the first was appalling. Again I started off on the right hand side!!! What’s wrong with me?! I think initially I only wanted to draw the building on the right but realised the other buildings would compliment it more.

Admittedly I got so lost in the details of the hall that my building became too long and I omitted an entire level of it. Worse than that it lacks the long flowing lines that I like in my drawings, and has instead a real choppy jaggedness. I don’t mind my “shadow” wash, I think it could have been stronger or with more tonal variation but I’m finding it hard to assess the dilution of my colour inks before applying it. To top it all off my favourite part of this drawing is the left hand side, HA!

Holme Building, Science Rd

I choose this scene because I was running out of sunlight – not to see things better, but to keep warm. This drawing could have benefitted from a colour wash especially beyond the arch. But I liked the clean spaces so I decided to leave it. I was also conscious of not overdoing the details on the trees and shrubs so the building would stand out more.

Law School & Fisher Stack, Eastern Avenue

This building was really tricky. My first attempt at modern architecture. They are devoid of anything figurative like gargoyles or grotesques to help distract me. It was pure vertical and horizontal lines with reflective surfaces.

By the time I sorted out all my inks and paper a couple sat down right in front of that spherical building so I couldn’t see the base of it. It totally threw me off as it didn’t allow me to get a sense of how deep it sat or the space around it in relation to the other buildings. I tried to compensate by putting in a base where I thought it would be, but I lost its grandeur as a result. It should really dominate this picture but it looks like a really fancy industrial air vent instead.

I am patting myself on the back for my use of colour. I was scared that all the lines would make my drawing look too bulky and busy. This is something I have learnt about buildings – although they are solid structures they don’t “feel” or look heavy. There is a lightness or upward movement which they have, and I want to try and capture that.

By using orange ink for the vertical lines it stopped the drawing from being too crowded. The same applied for the reflections of the clouds on the far right windows. I wanted to include them so I used a light colour to stop the picture from being too confusing.

My drawing board with my post it note that kept flying away.

Phew! Writing up this entry was almost as time consuming as the study itself. If you have reached this point I congratulate you for your staying power and thank you for your time.

This will be an on-going work in progress. A lot to discover and practice. I can’t wait. I have started to see changes in my work, and I am making more of an effort to lift my drawings of buildings to be more than landscape filler.

I know I could read up about how to draw architecture, and that there are loads of good books everyone could recommend to me, but I still prefer to find out my own way – through trial and error, experimenting and observing. Everyone sees and responds to things differently and that has always been the most exciting aspect of being able to draw – challenging yourself to understand and value something new.


Over the last couple of months of attempting this I realised I need to spend the first five minutes  just looking and deciding how I want to approach each drawing before carrying it out. If I’m not going to pencil in I need to at least plan it in my head a little better. A fellow Sydney Sketcher, **gasp**, has inspired me to draw up a page of thumbnails next time. As part of a course, he did 30sec gestures of the one building. This is great in helping you cut through all the details and see the main elements.

With all my good intentions and analysis I still rush into it. Like when you’re really hungry and gorge yourself without properly digesting or savouring the food. So I need to pay more heed to my five “food” groups and not pig out. But I will persevere with great pleasure.

Cheers, everyone!

Brick by Brick

A sketch I did a few years ago of the Sydney Opera House. I didn’t know how to approach it so I turned it into a tonal study.

Over the last month or so I have undertaken a study into drawing architecture. Now that I’m drawing outdoors more and living in an inner-city suburb I’m increasingly aware of buildings and architectural structures dominating much of the urban landscape. So now that I am drawing outdoors more I cannot avoid architecture in my drawings therefore I want to draw them better.

That was part of my task as well – defining what “better” is. Like others who haven’t got an architectural background my buildings tend to start off well, but once I say… draw in the windows I find I’ve either run out of room for the next window or they don’t line up with the level below. I don’t feel as though my drawings need to be more accurate interpretations but I don’t want them to be a blurred afterthought or a confused mess of lines. I also believe if you are drawing from reference even the teeniest attention to detail makes for a more convincing picture.

Drawn on the same day as the Opera House, this is the opposing view of The Rocks and the beginning of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. When I look at this picture it lacks depth of space between the three levels of building and bridge.

I also want to avoid pencilling in perspective lines or vertical lines to help set up my drawing. I have completely omitted pencilling from all my informal paintings and drawings so I didn’t want to introduce it again just for architecture. The reason why I don’t pencil in is I can get too fastidious with it and it takes over the entire drawing and becomes very heavy and smudgy.

I guess what I’m after is a way of portraying the beauty of architecture – its sturdiness, its lightness (or heaviness), its direction, its structure, its practicality, its details, its sense of space and it’s age… just to name a few. But still portraying it in a way that is still loose, full of my personality and enjoyable for me to draw.

A pretty picture, but for me lacking character and interest.

For the first step I wanted to see how many styles or techniques I could use to depict architecture off the top of my head. When I wasn’t drawing outdoors I used the flickr site The Commons or Shorpy to supply me with reference material. I tried to find photos that were pretty simple in terms of composition and lighting as I didn’t want those artistic elements to influence my drawing method.

The image reference for my first study. Photo of Detroit City Hall supplied from

Attempt #1

To avoid using perspective lines I placed little dots instead to mark out the width and height. As the building was quite ornate I tried to focus on its basic shapes but it ended up reminding me of a school project made up of  cardboard boxes taped together. It also started to look too much like a sketch study which is not what I’m after. Overall it wasn’t feeling very cohesive.

Attempt #2

This one I tried using a continuous line and I started at the top of the building and slowly worked my way down. The result was a lot more striking with more character and unity and has a better finish to it. The only problem was I couldn’t plan the layout. I had already used up two thirds of the page and had only drawn in the roof.

Attempt #3

I used a looser style here and tried not to get bogged down with detail. Again I started at the top and worked my way down. I treated it like a 3 minute life drawing where you cant stop and think about it too much, you just keep drawing. I like the result as I managed to keep some areas clean and that balances out all the line work, but it is still very sketchy and I’m not sure if I could use this technique with a dip pen.

Attempt #4

Another continuous line experiment but more of a continuous scribble. I held the pen loose and let it fly across the page like a dog scratching a flea. It’s a very therapeutic way to draw and also a great shading exercise.

Four pages later…

So at the end of my first four attempts I didn’t feel like I had made a huge breakthrough in understanding or drawing architecture any better.

One thing I did discover as a key aspect to think about is how much do you put in and how much do you leave out?

Particularly ornamental buildings such as this. You can get so lost in all the detail your drawing ends up looking like one of those magic eye pictures and dolphins start dancing around with fairies.

Technically you should only draw what you can see with the naked eye.

For example, if there was a statue on top of a 5-storey building the details of it wouldn’t be as clear to you as say a lion statue sitting at the building’s entrance on ground floor which would be closest to you (unless you were drawing from a hot air balloon then it would be the opposite, not too mention an extraordinary feet in itself!).

It’s harder to gauge this “visual illusion” when drawing from a photograph as you have a clear view of everything. You can even pick up or zoom in on the photo for a closer look which you can’t do en plein air. So my next step was to draw outdoors.

Live and unleashed

For those who have never drawn out in public it is a real test for all sorts of reasons.

Finding a good spot

In a city location it’s not always easy to find a great place to set up. Occasionally you have the luxury of a bus stop shelter or park bench, but more often than not its cold hard cement.

Newtown Medical Centre

The other challenge when drawing a building facade is that the only public space to set up is from the footpath opposite which may only be 8-10 metres away. I prefer to see the whole object in one glance as it helps me “plot” the drawing and keeps everything in proportion. It’s hard to get an overall view of the building sitting so close, your eyes are constantly darting left, right, up and down cross-checking everything is where it should be. It’s like trying to fit it all in a camera’s viewfinder. Another issue is you get little perspective sitting at that distance.

You also neede a little patience with large vehicles pulling up or people walking past blocking your view.

Crosstown traffic

Braving the elements

Enmore Road. Sketching in dwindling light with headlights coming at you from all directions makes for difficult drawing conditions.

Depending on how brave or impulsive you are some locations can be down right scary. I drew this old post office sitting on a bench situated at a busy intersection, about a good foot from the kerb. It was peak hour and the bench was facing oncoming traffic. Every three seconds I would feel a whoosh of wind from a passing car or be blinded by headlights. So drawing outdoors in an urban landscape isn’t always the relaxed, indulgent past time one associates with en plein air art.

Weather can also be another factor that determines your staying power –the wind, the cold, oncoming darkness, even intense heat can test your level of endurance as well as your art materials.

Back to the drawing board

I was happy with what I came back with but still looking for that spark. So I decided to check out some work by other people and visited the Urban Sketchers main site.

Many of the artists I checked out had an architectural background but have the ability to go beyond their academic discipline and training to paint and draw like a fine artist. (I hope I haven’t insulted anyone by that comment) Collectively, they all attack architecture, among many subjects, with so much flavour and spice and all things nice their drawings leap off the page.

The ones that caught my eye were: Kiah KieanMarc HolmesSimo CapecchiBezhad BagheriDanielle McManus and my fellow Sydney Sketch Clubber Liz Steel. If you would like to check out their sites (and I recommend you do) either click on their name above or on their picture below.

What really appealed to me about these artists was that they all have very free, confident styles and aren’t afraid to use colour and that I can identify with. After drooling over their artwork I wiped my chin and worked out what it was I liked about their architectural treatment. I came up with five key elements that carried through all their individual styles, and they are:


A very textural building and what cuts through all the vertical and horizontal lines is the shadow play on the windows and sides of the building. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Liz Steel.

Shading can help create more dimensional depth in a picture but it can also be used as a design element. For example, it can help direct your eye around the page or create atmosphere.


Beautiful balance between the large, clean, white, blocky building on the far right with the softer tonal landscape. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Simo Capecchi.

Whether in a sketchbook or drawn on loose leaf paper you can add more excitement to your work by putting some thought into where your drawing sits on the page and how it spreads out from there. And also whether you decide to use the entire page for your work or let it “breathe” a bit by keeping some areas blank.

I love the fluidity of this double page layout – the way the colours, shapes and brushwork eventually undulate towards the one area. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Ch’ng Kiah Kiean.


There is so much happening in this scene – lots of detail and line work, but it is perfectly balanced out with the empty space and strong diagonal shapes. Even using colour sparingly gives more depth to the picture than if it was completely coloured in. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Danielle C. McManus.

Which leads me to space, and by that I mean clean untouched space. It’s always hard to pull back and not want to fill in every part of the page with line or colour, but if you can leave areas free of anything, it really lifts your work and creates some balance.


Not only do the white areas of the paper help animate the scene, but having the background and foreground painted in lighter washes of similar tone and in fewer layers helps make the main building the hero of the picture. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Marc Taro Holmes.

Because I’m not intimidated by using colour, I can be quite heavy handed. It’s like when my dad’s family used to get together at Christmas – everyone would talk at the same time and the volume would get louder and louder with no listening to each another.


This picture shows contrast in so many ways: areas of light and dark; concentrated areas of details with fine brushwork against broader subdued painted areas. Artwork reproduced with kind permission from Behzad Bagheri.

Like all artistic disciplines, contrast not only creates excitement but also balance. And things like shading, light background washes, space and composition help create that. Contrast can be used to help distinguish things as well, like foreground from background or lift the subject matter from its setting.

Take Two

So with all these key components in mind I decided my next phase was to do a few more exercises where I isolate each element. Stay tuned…

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