Quick sketches

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.

Inktense pencils and disposable felt brush pen
Inktense pencils

As I was scanning this sketchbook I realised there were some other drawings I had done awhile ago outside the Art Gallery of NSW.

Scribble technique using 3B graphite pencils
Inktense pencils



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.

Urban Sketchers at Hyde Park

I managed to get to an Urban Sketchers event on the weekend, but only had half a day to draw. Feeling a little guilty to be enjoying such a beautiful day when there have been raging bushfires happening in greater Sydney and country NSW – very scary and disheartening for all those poor people who have lost their homes.

But life went on in Sydney town and I think all of us who were out and about enjoying the weekend weather were grateful to be able to do just that.


Last time we had a USK event in Hyde Park it bucketed down and we scrambled to the safety of the Australian Museum. But this time it was fine, and it is so much nicer to sit under the shade of a tree and sketch then a confined building. I do love sketching outside, especially in more serene locations, where you can spread out, take your shoes off and paint.


Lately, whenever I sketch I have been trying to put more contrast in my work. Whether it is through linework, brushstrokes, details, movement, anything. And I am also trying to tackle better depth of perspective. It’s interesting, for one has to  also keep that balance between letting go and holding back when you paint. Or painting instinctively but exercising some control as well.

Anyway, still working on it, as you can see in these sketches, but will elaboate more another day. Lots of exciting projects happening at the moment and hoping to share in the next couple of months.


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

1st Urban Sketchers Australia meet up

USK PaddingtonGardens 4 LRIt was a much needed day out of sketching for me, and although Sydney was thrown into 40˚ heat leading up to our first Urban Sketchers Australia meet up, the gods were fairly decent towards us on the day. The gardens are a lovely refuge in the inner city and even though there was a constant stream of visitors we could still spread out and enjoy ourselves. It’s also one of the few public places that provides free reading material and cabana beach chairs!

I brought along my Derwent inktense pencils, a couple of W&N colour inks and my W&N watercolours, and I was also drawing in a large format Hahnemühle* sketchbook. I always apply my colour washes first and then my linework, and sometimes I look at my finished colour washes and think “does it need linework?” So I attempted one with and one without.

USK PaddingtonGardens 2 LRUSK PaddingtonGardens 1 LR

I guess they both work well, but it is nice to know I can create pictures without feeling the need to add linework. I created these pictures by first using my Inktense pencils not just to establish structure but for colour, then instead of using water to spread the colour, I used my watercolour set instead. So in the end I think it retains enough linework but in a more subtle way.

USK PaddingtonGardens 3 LR

It was nice to start to my first USK Australia meetup by breaking some new ground and I look forward to the next.

*I bought this sketchbook at the last minute – I wanted a large format sketchbook to take into buildings I thought might have an issue with large artboards. It’s great for pencils and concentrated watercolour application, but having more watery washes and colour inks it just seeped right into the paper.  I didn’t mind the subdued watercolour result (you can see it more clearly in the sky in the third picture), but I had to apply colour more liberally if I wanted it to stand out.

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.


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 shorpy.com

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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