I’ve had so much on this year that getting out to sketch on location is a luxury. I’ve allowed myself once a month to go out with one of my local sketch groups. On the weekend we went to the Sydney Fish Markets.
The weather has been really unpredictable lately so packed mediums that I could use under any (or no) shelter. I think the biggest issue was finding some space to draw amongst all the visitors who come down not only to buy but to eat.
As I was scanning this sketchbook I realised there were some other drawings I had done awhile ago outside the Art Gallery of NSW.
Sydney Sketch Club organised a meet up for the annual Hidden Walk art exhibition at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. Thankfully it was only in a small section of the grounds as it is one large mother of a cemetery. This is my third or fourth sketching venture to a cemetery so won’t bore you with the reasons why I enjoy them so much. But if you would like to see and read some of my past trips to them please click on this link.
One thing I did aim to do this time was to work solely with graphite pencils and a rubber/eraser. I liked the results of my Bushido series (shown above) drawn when I went to Melbourne a few months ago (click here for link) and wanted to revisit that technique. So I took the below equipment with me. I’m not sure how I ended up with so many of the same pencil and pencil grade but it proved quite useful.
They were mostly 3B and 4B pencils which meant that only after a few seconds of sketching the sharpness of the soft lead point would disappear, and you can lose your momentum having to re-sharpen the same pencil over and over again. What I do is sharpen them all before I start and lay them out next to me. As soon as one goes blunt I pick up a sharp one and continue.
Mind you my first drawing of the day is always the least successful (image above). It’s like what they say about making pancakes – the first one is always the “throw away” and the rest get better after that. The next three drawings show artwork installation from the exhibition.
The rest are just wandering around the older parts of Rookwood. Its early spring in Australia so all the overgrowth is in full bloom.
This next one I attempted to use some of my inktense pencils. I’m not sure if I like it or not. I don’t know if it adds anything extra being there. I will have to make a few more attempts next time.
This last one is my favourite of the day because I treated it more as a completed composition rather than just sketching what I see and then “finishing” it off. So I was very conscious of it working as a whole from start to finish.
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.
Visited the Australian Museum today to see the touring Alexander the Great exhibition. The collection comes from the State Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia which is on my art bucket list. One thing I will say about the incredibly rich and powerful, they got a lotta booty and they like to show it off. So thank you, Catherine the Great! As it was mostly her collection that is on display.
I only sketched from one section of the exhibition which was the early Hellenistic period, as the rest seemed like a lot of Greek statues or over the top gilded clocks. Some of the engravings were awesome, but I like the really worn down rustic stuff. Anyway, off to research more about the Battle of Tyre.
Have a great New Year everyone!
Artwork was produced mostly using Derwent Inktense Pencils and a mircon pen.
I dont know what it is about cemeteries that I enjoy drawing so much but Rookwood has always been on my checklist of places to draw, so when the Sydney Sketch Club headed out for its Open Day I thought it was a great opportunity.
Rookwood Cemetery is the largest neocropolis in Sydney. It was established in the late 1800s when the city location became overcrowded. No existing towns wanted a cemetery built where they lived, but land was purchased out in western Sydney which was quite rural then. It was also situated near the newly built rail line, so people could board a special train back in town that would not only take them to Rookwood, but their deceased in coffins too.
It is still a very popular cemetery as it provides for people of all denominations. My own grandparents and other relatives are here, but today I visited areas that I never knew existed. I headed up to the older Anglican section. Many of the graves in this area date around the early 1900s and seem to be neglected, which from an artistic point of view, is appealing.
As sad as it may be, some of the graves I saw had flowering trees growing from it which I thought was really heartwarming, and the weather was so perfect it was really peaceful and pleasant sketching away from all the noise. I couldn’t think of a more idyllic location.
The last place I visited seemed to be an area dedicated to fallen Australian soldiers with a simple, but striking memorial called The Crown of Thorns. This monument seemed to reach into the sky and yet I never knew it was there.
Even as I caught the bus back to the station, it drove through all these old sections which were “new” to me, and I decided I must return to draw more. The deceased are just as interesting as the living.
I have always illustrated for other people to suit their needs (it’s a commercial thing), but I’ve never had my own style. I was taught to be versatile, which is still important I guess, but these days, you can be who you want to be and it’s okay. It’s acceptable. Maybe it’s to do with the internet opening up the world to us all, and that individuality is a much needed thing to hold on to. Or maybe it happened when independent culture started having mass market success – music, film, etc. and broke down pop culture mediocracy.
Without getting too philosophical, I need to find a style that’s not only ‘me’, but that I feel is going to challenge me and bring out the best in my skills. At the moment I’m just going through the motions. I can draw and paint, but I don’t feel a certain connection to a specific style, medium or subject matter. I think I’m getting there, I just have to be a little more patient. But I believe having this blog will help me get there, or at least keep pushing me on, even to experiment a bit more. It’s the most public thing I’ve done regarding my work, so hopefully that will stop me from slacking off.
Plus I want to encourage drawing, sketching, rendering etc. and not just as lead ups to finished paintings. There’s nothing like getting down and dirty with a bottle of ink and pen.
Pen art is the love of my life. Even as a kid I never cared to draw with pencils. They’re either too smudgy or not dark enough and the best results only appear on good quality cartridge paper. I think you also get a little too precious with a pencil – you know, start off light, mess about with draft lines then layer up and up and up. None of these things appeal to my nature. Plus I ALWAYS break the lead when I use a sharpener or end up with a lapful of pencil chips after I’ve wittled it down with a knife.
Dip pens are what I am addicted to now, and feeling more and more comfortable with them as I progress. But even your basic artline pen or bank teller biro is great to use – biros especially, because you can press down hard with them! And the smell…
Anyway, I know some people find working with pens very intimidating, because once you make a mark you can’t rub it out [See: “THERE’S NO ERASER IN THE WORD DRAWING” about the evils of rubbing out]. However, with all the experience I have, it’s the best medium to use. Especially if you want to improve your skills. Using a medium that is indelible trains you to make every line count. As guilty as I feel now, when I was a kid I went through mountains of exercise books. If I stuffed up one line then I would start a new page again, and again and again, until I got it right. My teachers must have wondered where all the spare books went from the storeroom, hee, hee. But as a result, you become a lot more confident with your drawing and you just cant go back to pencil. Just say no to graphite!
THERE’S NO “ERASER” IN THE WORD DRAWING
The best use for an eraser, I find, is to prop up a wobbly table. If you’re sketching for fun, set your eraser free! Let it run with all the other wild erasers. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake – some of the most interesting drawings have their mistakes there for all to see. And they dont detract from the finished piece. Even all the old masters kept there’s in, and who’s going to trash Leonardo or Michelangelo for it??