Who likes storage containers?! I’m not talking about any Scandinavian interlocking eco-friendly pantry organisers. I’m talking about the big mac of storage containers, like so…
You know you are an artist when an industrial site gets you excited. So on a cool winter’s day I met up with the Sydney Sketch Group in St Peter’s, an inner city suburb that is round the corner from Sydney International Airport, hence the storage facilities nearby.
This particular area is pretty much boxed in by highways or main roads but our club organiser found these little lanes behind a pub that gave us some great views, and room to set up comfortably without inhaling petrol fumes!
My work had moved office location, and the final destination wasn’t ready yet. So we were temporarily located to the end of George St, which is the more touristy part of town. It’s a hop, step and jump to the Harbour Bridge, the Rocks and Sydney Opera House, plus several museums and galleries.
To make the most of our short time in this part of town, I went out a few times to sketch.
I have been completely undisciplined with posting blogs this last couple of years. Sometimes I think I have posted only to find out nothing’s there. I have been drawing a decent amount (somethings I’m not particularly ready to share with the online public yet) but I have been out sketching with my friends since January! And here’s the proof… 😉
Chinese New Year came a lot earlier this year as it follows the lunar cycle rather than a set calendar date. I missed most of our lion dance performances this season so only did Friday and the weekend but that was exhausting enough! Usually I feel this tired after doing 2 weeks worth, not three days – I must be getting old.
I’ve written (plus sketched) in more detail in previous posts about what lion dancing is so if you would like to check them out please click on these links 2014, 2016.
Lion dancing is always on the move – not just the performances themselves. We cover so much of Sydney and constantly broken up into teams that at anytime we could be sent off in different directions. So everything we need is carted around with us.
It can also make parking an issue. This sketch was done at the Marigold restaurant in Chinatown. It’s four levels up with a very small ground level and basement carpark. Despite the number of years we have been booked here they still never leave car spaces for us. There is this constant ritual of having to negotiate space so we can unpack.
When we do shopping centres some at least allow us to use their loading docks.
Raise a glass
During this period large Chinese restauarants offer banquet deals – you book a table and they serve you a set menu with a lion dance included. Its such a celebrated event that in some restaurants its become more of a spectacle. When the lion dance starts it gives everyone the licence to go mad.
Traditionally what happens is a table will offer the lion a red packet of money. The lion will come over to their table and collect it in its mouth. Many people place their red packet on a cup of tea or a glass of wine or beer with the intention that the lion also shares a drink with them, like spreading good cheer amongst the table.
Some like to take it to another level and cheekily stack the red packet on a tower of wine glasses, beer bottles, saucers, cups, bowls or teapots. The idea is that the lion “swallows” the entire tower and when its finished pulls away to reveal a different combination of cups and so on. Occasionally they are a little too high, or the lion head is a little too drunk (can happen) that it all comes crashing down. Thankfully the atmosphere is so lively and jubilant even the managers aren’t upset with the mess and damage. Though not so pleasant when the lion reverses into a chandelier or expensive light fitting.
At the Marigold there is a low stage at one end where we set up the drummer and cymbal players. We also pop colourful paper confetti that makes the kids go crazy. They flock to the stage and collect it handfuls. Basically once they’re on the stage they don’t leave and jump and dance around.
A couple of little girls watched me draw, almost sitting right on top of me. As I was doing this sketch below, I hadn’t drawn the faces in yet as the drummer and cymbal players swapped with new people halfway through my drawing. They were completely different sizes or stood differently so it threw me a little. One of the girls asked me to finish the face of the cymbal player [left hand side] which was completely blank. I just drew in his glasses and left it, but she wasn’t satisfied so she took my pencil and drew in the eyeballs for me. They were so good I decided to leave them in – she drew with the book upside down too you know!
Chinese New Year is all about family, and we are seeing a young generation of lion dancers taking shape with my friend’s kids.
It’s amazing how fanatical people get over the lion, especially the Chinese. I suppose because I am a part of it I have a different perspective. There is no other way to describe it than they just go apeshit for lion. I apologise for my language but you watch mature well respected or at least mild mannered adults go manic over a lion, like Beatlemania or Beliebers. So when there is more than one in a room its a lion frenzy.
Later that night we performed at Sze Yup Temple in Glebe, one of the oldest Chinese temples in Sydney and still visited frequently by the Chinese community. During this period it is incredibly busy and on the eve of the New Year it’s standing room only. The dragon dance performed by another group had already finished. This temple has a very small forecourt and dragon dances need some decent floorspace so I don’t know how they managed.
Even before we started the crowds already encircled us, they crept closer and closer like sharks around prey. Not only was it tight on the ground the air above was thick with burning incense or joss sticks both in and outside the temple.
One worker who was dressed more like a hazchem cleaner would push his way out of the temple every ten minutes with a bucket loaded with lit joss sticks and candles because they were overwhelming the small urns inside. Only inches from your head were handfuls of lit joss sticks clutched in people’s hands as they pushed past to make their prayers. That’s why I drew this picture, it reminded me of a torch relay but one that stings your eyes from all the ashes.
Your typical day
The next day I was out and about covering a whole lot of Sydney. That’s probably the most exhausting part to this side of lion dancing – the amount of travelling that happens from morning to midnight.
The only time I get to chill is when the others perform the lion dance poles – heartstopping, dramatic, highly skilled and disciplined moves. Admittedly I have drawn them jump before so gesturally I already know the most dynamic moments to draw. So even if I can only capture a fraction of it, I can, to some degree, fill in the rest of the sketch based on what I know and have drawn before.
Happy New Year folks, hope its a great one!
One of my all-time favourite bands from the UK came to Sydney in December. The Stone Roses were only ever an alternative (i.e. not mainstream/Top 40) band in Australia. Although they have fans here, their impact was not to the extent of say Oasis or the Cure. In the UK however, they were on the cover of every single music and urban lifestyle mag around. Everyone was dressing and walking like them and several bands even imitated their sound. They were also known for not doing the typical touring regime, but put on stand alone stadium sized concerts. I have only seen them perform once before at Wembley Arena and that was in 1995! It was close to their demise, but have since reunited in the last couple of years.
I was a bit reluctant to buy tickets when it was first announced as the venue was the Sydney Opera House. Not that its a bad venue, on the contrary, I’ve seen many performances there and enjoyed it. However, they have been classical concerts or at least “sit-down” affairs.
The Roses were known for crossing indie music with dance, whichever way you look at it, the music they play is upbeat and poppy. From all my years of seeing live music, one thing I was certain of is that in Australia when people see bands, irrespective of what type of music it is, if you give them a venue with seats they will sit down, like there’s some magnetic attraction between their arses and their seats. They will not raise from it unless everybody else does or its the last song, i.e. the big hit/the only song they know/the song that they’ve been waiting for. Which sucks because they also don’t like it if you want to get up and obstruct their view. I find it infuriating, don’t they know part of seeing a live band is also audience participation? How do they think an atmosphere is created?
So, I had succumbed to the belief that this was going to be a sit down affair and decided if this was the case then I’d at least get some drawing in. Not a great consolation considering the price of the ticket – a very expensive life drawing session indeed!
As usual, I got there early, sat down and started drawing the stage and roadies doing sound checks. I was at a good vantage point to be able to get some details. However, only moments into the bands intro music starting up, everyone was on their feet. And nobody sat down at all!! What I attribute this to is that the majority of the crowd were Brits – either living here or holidaying. I’ve seen bands in the UK and watched concerts filmed there on tv and know that this embracing of the moment is typical. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in the nosebleed seats EVERYONE gets up and dances and sings along. If you think I’m being unfair to Aussies – that night the only ones sitting down were two behind me who were Australian (because I knew one of them) and the following night’s concert I was next to an Aussie couple who stood up BUT spent the first 20 minutes of the concert texting and reading their smartphones!! His girlfriend spent most of the second half sitting down as well. I think our relaxed attitude is sometimes too relaxed.
Although we were in a prestigious and refined venue where I have seen the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform Profkiev and Mozart. At this moment in time it was like being in a crowded pub on a Saturday night. Or in the stand at a England vs Germany football game. I’ve never seen (or felt) spilt beer on the Concert Hall floor before. Guys next to me were standing on the chairs swaying back and forth becoming a thorn in the sides of security and the people in front of them. I went by myself but I was singing and dancing with everyone around me. It was one of the best shows, nay best experiences, I’ve been a part of in a very long time.
It was so good, I went back the next night and it was more of the same. Its moments like this where you wish you could bottle it or Command Save and repeat all over again. I was surprised that I managed to get any sketches in at all. My legs were aching and I was covered in sweat and beer but I would do it again anytime of the year in a heartbeat.
All sketches were done with a black Artline pen and waterbrush pen.
Most of last year has been an absolute blur and I can’t believe its already 2017. I think the reason time flies for many people is that we try and cram so much into each day (well I do anyway!) it makes the days, weeks, year go so much faster. I had more than enough on last year – some fun and pleasure, family commitments, but a large chunk of it work and that all-consuming ever lasting gob stopper list of home repair and improvements.
But I got through a major hurdle in September re: getting my house in order and since I ticked that off, it had also mentally freed me as well. So my advice to anyone who has been putting off getting something done because it seems painful or tedious to do – get it done asap! Its amazing how much of a mental hurdle it can create for every other aspect of your life.
Anyway, so as that was done and dusted, and Christmas not being as whirlwind as it used to be, I could allow myself time to get back into drawing. Although I haven’t stopped working on my personal projects, having the spare time just to draw or sketch purely for the exercise of it was very rare. The easiest way for me to get back into it was to head out with my sketch groups again.
I met up with Urban Sketches Sydney on the north side of Sydney. A very pleasant picturesque view overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park. It ended up not being a great day for me sketch-wise. I don’t know whether it was because it had been a long time since I had sketched outdoors, that I was rusty and didn’t know what to bring, or because I slept in and then found out all the trains I needed weren’t running so it took me over an hour to get there arriving flustered and hot! I think it was around 30˚ that day…. Or as my friend pointed out – it was too pretty a scene for me. I thought it was a combination of all the above.
But on further consideration I think it was more the latter. I’m used to not having a full arsenal and drawing on the fly with very little art supplies – once I didn’t have anything so I used a gallery flyer and borrowed a pen. Another time I only had a dried up brush pen at a concert. So I’ve always managed in those situations. And as Everyday Matters shows us you don’t need a lot of time to get something down.
I think it was just too damn pretty there. Even the stormy sky which looked to threaten all day never really announced itself to us. The Harbour Bridge and Luna Park were also at such a particular distance that could be considered as a harmonious viewing distance, engaging but not confronting.
The only thing that intrigued me was a Moreton Bay tree trunk and a local resident exercising his dog in the water. But no decay, no distortion, nothing awkward or unkept. Even all the boats were shiny and new. There was no discord to be found!
Undeterred by my less than useful results at sketching the week before I met up with the Sydney Sketch Club in Leichhardt. One of the more older suburbs in Sydney’s inner west. Its an area visited more for its Italian food and culture but it seems to have diversified a bit more lately, though you can always find a decent cannoli here. We centred around an intersection with the town hall and a church on opposite corners. Sometimes these locations are chosen because they also afford the most street space for us to set up without creating congestion for the locals.
Everyone was already underway when I got there…and I wasn’t late either! It was another very sunny day. And in Australia when I mean “sunny” it means whatever you do DON’T sit in the sun, particularly in summer, find whatever shade you can otherwise you’ll be crisper than pan-fried bacon. Everyone was dotted along the same wall in a slither of shade. It reminded me of a flock of swallows all sitting on the same telegraph line. I wasn’t particularly captivated by the town hall nor the church, but when I looked at everyone from the other side of the road I noticed they were sitting in front of the local public school.
Partially hidden behind the trees was a turret and below a feline-like grotesque. I thought it was a bit unusual for a primary school and all the levels seemed to be stacked and compressed too, so I thought that was a interesting. The challenge was was it’s hulky shape which was partly obscured by trees and that because of its positioning I couldn’t sit far enough back to view the entirety as a whole. The problem this causes is your proportioning can be distorted, for example, the ground floor I was looking at it straight ahead or at eye level, but for the turret I had to tilt my head up to draw it, which changes the angle. It sounds minute but it can create so many problems including making your picture look or feel wrong. There was also this wedge shape in the wall that was hard to show the angle, especially because I couldn’t see where it started and ended.
Still intrigued by this building I went closer and found to my luck the school gates were open. Again I was confronted with the situation of not being able to pick and choose my angle and distance because of a very narrow walkway at the base of the building and a garden area next to it. Even when I could sit further back the trees obscured my view. I had no choice but an ultra tight close up where i was looking up at a 90˚ angle.
With about 20 minutes to go before the group review, I did a quick one of this strange little boutique shop on the opposite corner. It was strange because the roof and walls looked as though at one time in its life it was a much larger house. But they just sliced it in half and patched up the walls. It had all these wonderfully odd angles and geometric shapes like a house of cards.
I’m part of Jin Wu Koon Liondancing and Chinese New Year is a massive month long celebration in Sydney where the whole city joins in. It also means there a constant and intense schedule of lion dance performances for us that can range from morning till midnight and take us to all regions of Sydney and further.
Its a very physical thing and the long hours and minimal hours of sleep can take its toll – I didn’t go to all of them and I was exhausted! I think what compacts it more is all the time in-between waiting to do each performance – standing around on the street or in front of a restaurant. I find that quite tedious as its not necessarily enough time to really chill out but not short enough to keep your momentum going.
That’s why a few years back I decided to bring my sketchbook with me. Originally I wanted to capture what we do, click here to see. The second time it was to kill time, click here. This year it was a bit of both.
You also can’t carry much around with you – a small handbag or pack is about it, so that restricts what I can carry with me. I also need something that is also going to give me instant results as well.
So I used disposable Japanese felt brush tip pens.
Up on high
JWK have a team who also perform lion dancing on poles – normal lion dance takes some practice and experience, but this – this takes a huge year round commitment and you need something of a fearless character to do it. Below is footage from last year.
Its always hard to draw and capture fast moving objects, especially in this case where its a 360˚ performance. As I’ve seen them perform a few times before I had already worked out the moments I wanted to capture. Still not an easy thing but it helps you block out the temptation or natural tendency to want to capture everything.
Its always a good opportunity to draw the crowds who watch with great anticipation.
For those of you who thought it was a dragon, no it’s not. These next few drawings are of a dragon dance, thanks to the Chinese Youth League.
aaaaanndd if you still can’t tell what that is, here is some footage of them in action.
And when I’m not drawing the “entertainment” I look for inspiration elsewhere.
Lion dancing can have you performing at all sorts of events and venues. This was a wedding held on a restaurant boat. These couple of sketches are us waiting for our water taxi so we could head off to our next performance.
Possibly someone’s dinner – a lobster waiting its fate at a restaurant in a shopping centre.
The aftermath of a late afternoon yum cha. Hanging out at the gym and watching the Legacy Brazilian Ju-Jitsu students practice tumbles and moves.
I ended up finishing off my sketchbook, so I went and bought the cheapest pad and pens I could find.
It was tiny, bigger than a business card. I also bought a thick marker which probably wasn’t the greatest of choices too, but I’m always up for a challenge. I did also buy a thin one to get some balanced detail in.
Some scenes around Chinatown, as we waited for the State MP to rock up.
We also have the largest lion head in the country, again, probably not the best sized notepad for him, hee, hee.
Amazingly my last performance with them this season was at the Art Gallery. Sadly it was just for some sportscar promotional event, so I doubt many would have given a fig about the art around them. But at least it gave me a chance to visit.
I think I broke my record on the number of drawings for Chinese New Year. Question is, how will I approach it next year…
Back in January I went down to Melbourne for a short break to catch up with some friends, and in particular sketching friends.
I chose Melbourne Zoo as a location for a day out having not been there since I was probably 16. Its very different from what I remember, a lot more trees and winding paths. The weather never started out well my whole trip but always ended up better as the day progressed.
There was a bit of rain in the morning threatening to ruin the day for us but then the hot humid sun emerged an hour in which made things like finding a good spot to draw more open. However, I ended up scrambling for little scraps of shade anyway!
As I was travelling I wanted to minimise what materials I took down with me. Even just sketching around Sydney I tend to take more than I need and there’s nothing more frustrating than a suitcase full of stuff that’s not used.
I’ve got a new studio space at home now and have since sorted through all my art supplies. I have so much stuff that has barely been touched, a lot from when I was a kid! So my objective was to use some of this stash.
My selected tools were to be oil pastels, chinagraphs, watercolours with brush, ink and dip pen, and a permanent marker.
It was lovely to use oil pastels then brush over them with watercolours to get that nice texture created from the water’s repulsion.
I’m really happy with this elephant. Considering it was through a window with many vertical bars obscuring the view, but my persistence paid off and frankly, I think having a limited view helped me pull back in terms of not overdoing it, i.e. not adding too much detail. I do love the textures I created and the white space, and I seemed to have captured a bit of personality as well.
I’m not sure why I decided to try out chinagraphs. I had a few that had never been touched – don’t even know where they came from. They have a strong colour and application that you would expect from a piece of charcoal or oil pastel but with more control on smaller drawings. They give you an opportunity to put some detail in and it’s not as messy. The black one has nice deep blacks which sometimes I find a 6B pencil won’t achieve. It’s really soft so using it the way I do wears down to the wood quickly but it does feels more fluid.
This last lot I did was with a black Artline permanent marker. I was using it on water soluble paper so it would dry my pen out half way through a sketch – which I was hoping for as it creates a nice texture and a subtle variation in tone as well.
The great thing about working with a permanent marker AND drawing moving objects is that you cannot think too much or linger too long with your sketch. Its permanency and colour intensity means you can’t hide anything. And if you leave a (fresh) marker too long in one spot it tends to bleed making your lines blurry. So its a great medium to practice expressive drawing.
I didn’t see many animals that day but felt like I got some substantial drawing in. The only thing these drawings don’t show are how many other people you have to content with for a good spot as well as how generous an animal is with their time, or lack of.
Then a week later I went horse riding at Centennial Park, Sydney with my work. It was a lead up to a brainstorming session for a new client that specialises in animal products, particularly horse care. I’d never been horse riding before so it was quite an experience. I take my hat off to anyone who rides horses for a living. As it was a work thing, I didn’t think I’d get much time to sketch, but I at least managed to fit this one in.
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.