Who likes storage containers?! I’m not talking about any Scandinavian interlocking eco-friendly pantry organisers. I’m talking about the big mac of storage containers, like so…
You know you are an artist when an industrial site gets you excited. So on a cool winter’s day I met up with the Sydney Sketch Group in St Peter’s, an inner city suburb that is round the corner from Sydney International Airport, hence the storage facilities nearby.
This particular area is pretty much boxed in by highways or main roads but our club organiser found these little lanes behind a pub that gave us some great views, and room to set up comfortably without inhaling petrol fumes!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re heading into the middle of winter now and although the endless days of rain seem to be a permanent fixture in Sydney of late, my favourite type of weather came out on Saturday for one of our Sydney Sketchclub Meetups –nice, crisp cool winter air with bright warm sunshine. It may be hard for people who have never visited Australia before to imagine but you can still get sunburnt in winter, especially between 10am and 1pm.
The venue for this meet up was the Australian National Maritime Museum located in a protected harbour. It has a lot of “retired” ships anchored nearby as part of their collection. It was too nice a day to spend in a darkly lit museum drawing things in glass cabinets so I decided to sit outside and draw on the wharf.
Then afterwards I headed over to the Chinese Garden of Friendship. I needed some photo reference of the architecture and motifs for a project I’m working on, but I managed to do a few ink drawings while I was there too. The Garden was built back in the 1980s as an international gesture of friendship between China and Australia. Considering it is right next to a highway that leads in and out of the city the garden provides a lot of serenity and calmness for all its visitors. Almost at every point along the walkway the scenery is compositionally perfect and plenty of seating to sit and admire it all (although sometimes it reminds me of the set design from Monkey Magic and I expect a half man half ape creature to leap out of the bushes brandishing a black and gold pole).
Anyway, for a $6 entry fee it’s a nice refuge from the weekend craziness of Darling Harbour.
To see more of my colour ink work please click here.
Back in December 2010 I started this blog with the whole premise of finding a style that I was happy with, or to see if I had a style at all. I was testing myself on all levels – landscape drawing, still life, different mediums, participating in online projects like Urban Sketches, Sketchbook Project, Everyday in May etc.
Although my work was getting better and better and I was able to break out of that commercial mode of thinking I still was never completely satisfied at the end of a drawing session. And that feeling of satisfaction is like a… well, I guess it would be equivalent to that rush a skydiver feels after completing a jump. It lifts you higher than the last and you want to keep going and going. It’s a real buzz. I’ve had it before, like when I first discovered life drawing and that’s what I’ve been searching for.
Well, I’m glad to say less than a year and a half of plugging away at it, I think I’ve found it! I went to the International sketchcrawl with my Sydney Sketch Club and the location was Cockatoo Island. It’s a wonderful location in Sydney Harbour that used to be a former convict prison and shipyard. Many of the old buildings, cranes and heavy industrial machinery is still there creating this wonderful ghost-town feel. It’s a sketcher’s paradise. I have been there a few times and because of its gritty nature I wanted to experiment with coloured inks. It’s also a really dusty dirty place so if I made a mess no one would have noticed too.
It didn’t start off well. I had an idea of using a household sponge to apply the colour washes and then draw in the scene with dip pen and indian ink. But for me it was overworked and too busy. That has been the thing that has nagged me for awhile – because of my loose, bold style I can be quite heavy handed, and have always found that my work has no point of interest or any character in it. It’s nicely executed and they’re all pretty pictures but very one dimensional.
So I gave the old Indian ink a rest and just used colour inks (Winsor & Newton, btw). I laid down a very quick wash with a paint brush and sometimes used the same colour for the linework. I used a semi-continuous line drawing technique and found this kept my work cleaner. The results were really interesting and dynamic.
The good thing is its not a far cry from how I paint and draw now, meaning it wasn’t completely contrived just to create a style. I guess what has happened is that it is cleaner and I’ve refined my techniques to give the pictures more depth. The other tell tale sign that I’ve made a breakthrough is that I look at what I’ve done and get lost in it. I keep seeing lines or splashes or textures that intrigue me and think “Holy cow! I did this!”
Now I’m in a bind – this blog was only created to help me complete this journey, so really I don’t need to continue it. But I have made so many wonderful online acquaintances along the way, and seen so many blogs that are inspring. It’s also only supposed to be a black & white art blog too. I may need to rethink the next phase of this blog and give it a new purpose. Any thoughts and suggestions are welcome.
Anyway, thanks to all of you who have been along for the ride and I hope you enjoy the new work in technicolour!!! Well, at least 5 or 6 colours.
Although I have been drawing heaps these last few months, not a lot to show on this blog site. But hoping to fit in more hand studies in July. However, managed to do two urban sketches – unfortunately one month apart. Now that it is winter the days are shorter and we have had the worst bunch of rainy days so it has proven to be impossible to get out and sketch. Especially when using water soluble pens.
If you would like to see these images with journal entries and the rest of my urban sketchers pages click here.
My blog’s main objective is to help people draw hands – in different angles or positions, of different ages and in various forms of action. They are an endless source of visual material.
Of course I’m not an expert, I just love to draw!
[INSERT CORNY HAND PUN HERE]
The human figure is without doubt the most interesting subject matter for any artist. It’s expressive, it’s emotional. It can be singular or grouped. You can study it as a whole or focus on a particular part, like me.
I love hands. Like everyone else, my hands were drawn behind the body or tucked in pockets. Or if I worked out how to draw hands in a certain position, ALL my figures had the same hands (so there was a lot of pointing going on). But the more I drew and challenged myself the better I got!
I CAN’T DRAW HANDS!
Drawing hands is all in your head, unfortunately. My theory is that we draw from memory rather than trust what we see in front of us. So attempts at drawing hands can go a bit haywire. Have you ever drawn a picture of someone you know and it didn’t work out? Whereas if it was someone you didn’t know the results were better? That’s because you were approaching the latter as a random object. Meaning: as you had no collective memory of this person you had to trust what was in front of you.
So, drawing hands… Stop thinking that they are difficult and complicated and instead understand them. How? Look at them! These have a structure. They don’t fly off in different angles, there aren’t an infinite number of bones or knuckles in one finger nor do they disappear into each other when clenched.
The great thing about hands is that they come with built-in grid lines. Look at all the wonderful vertical lines they have on both sides. This will help you with proportioning, direction and angles a lot.
If you look at each finger it’s made up of only three sections, two if you’re a thumb. Fingers will only ever curve inwards (unless it’s dislocated or you’re one of those weird-arse contortionists). They also taper down towards the fingertips. It should be like drawing a family of lumpy caterpillars.
Still confused? Think of the mechanical claws in arcade games that you supposedly “win” prizes from. They are designed after of our own hands – same shape, same structure. But as they are designed to do only one thing they are very basic. However, the claws do curve in and taper off like our own. Despite the myriad of positions we can manipulate our hands into, the skeletal structure is a relatively simple, yet sublime design.
DON’T DRAW WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE
It’s like drawing a four-legged animal – you don’t have to draw all four legs for people to comprehend that it is an four-legged animal. I know kids can think that way, but they grow out of it, just like the two left feet syndrome. So if you can’t see all the fingers on a hand then don’t draw them in.
The first rule of drawing is you do not talk about drawing… Sorry, I mean, the first rule of drawing is be confident. Anyone whose profession is public speaking/performance will tell you no matter how nervous you are, or how little you know, be confident in your action. Conviction is the key.
Don’t worry about making a mistake with your linework. Explore, just let it happen, enjoy, make a mark, make a thousand marks. But be confident. If you’re going to kill a tree for paper – make it worthwhile. (Visit Australian Conservation Foundation for donations.)
At the moment I love dip pen and black ink. I like strong lines and it suits my personality. However, don’t email me about what the best nibs, ink etc are as I wouldn’t have the foggiest. For the last eight years I’ve struggled with a dip pen that refused to work. This was because it was clogged with ink filth and I was using plain old tap water to clean it with, which is apparently a big no-no. So I’m still learning the essentials of good pen care (my mind says, “yes, you need to know these things”, my heart says “you know what you’re like – you’ll never learn”). But I do prefer W&N Black Indian Ink.
However, I also use felt pens (anything from Artlines to Sakura Microns) or biros (complimentary hotel pens, schoolbook pens etc).