Accommodating Sketching into Daily Life

January 12, 2011


Boden Reserve, Pemberton Street South Strathfield NSW 2135 AUSTRALIA. A return to the children’s playground, after a week. A focus on the Apollonian, but I couldn’t resist falling back on my natural bent for tonality by adding some shading. Unusually for me, I could go back and keep adding to this sketch including other parts of the climbing equipment. Superficially of course it would end up looking like some technical drawing exercise, so in a sense I’m returning to childhood when we were taught about elevations and planes and perspective. But of course, I’ve stopped myself. Like the sketching in Rookwood Necropolis (it’s too large to be called a mere Cemetery), it’s all about a foreign object(s) in a natural setting. As with the cemetery, it is largely devoid of people. It is Apollonian: clean lines, order, symmetry, imposed on a wild wild world (especially this week given the massive flooding in Queensland). Why am I drawing it? My midweek  of metro-bouleau-dodo is Apollonian, imposing order on an unruly world. My weekends are Dionysiac, full of tonality, vague edges, sensuality. I scour the weblogs of my fellow sketchers for similar parallels: the illustrator or architect who is Apollonian by day (built environment), meditative with sketchbook in tearooms after-hours (still life) and Dionysiac with sketching friends (landscape): covering all the genres, covering the spectrum of emotions.

Rookwood Necropolis, Lidcombe NSW 2141 AUSTRALIA. All-Russian Orthodox Section. A return to the cemetery for 20-minutes at lunchtime, with an entirely new working method. Very fine, single, gentle construction lines for the middle ground (these have only middle and fore, there is no background – largely because the trees on the horizon are so non-descript and given the size of the page would clutter and overtake in terms of decorative quality), including through lines. After the middle tomb comes the foreground one(s) and of course I have misread the proportions and the two don’t match (but that’s okay).  I learn today about the proportions of the cross, which is useful. On the train trip home, I also draw in the perspective lines to the eye level (about half way up the cross to the far right) and at night I threw in the felt-pen outline so it could be reproduced on the scanner. I’m not happy with the result, but sketching is almost never about the result – it’s about the lessons learned which may or may not show in subsequent drawings and sketches.

Chinese terracotta warrior, exhibition catalogue. A brief return (Orpheus-like, without looking back!) to my natural tendencies, the Dionysiac (but not too much!): tonality without line or contour, with strongly defined whites and blacks on a middle ground. In this case, horses from the Chinese terracott warrior site.


The Context. Week Two of the new year. It’s still quiet with most of the country on holidays: the trains are not crowded, the roads less full. Everyone comes back to work after Australia Day full of passion and energy, like bulls in china shops – but not for a few weeks. The daily grind of commute-work-commute and all revolves around a mere twenty minutes in the middle of the day. Over breakfast and after dinner, I’m scrutinising the websites of other sketchers, drawers, illustrators… their sketch kits, their approach to sketching and drawing. I find I’m developing a “middle ground”, where initial sketches are retouched as “skraws”/”dretches”: part-sketch, part-drawing, mainly in response to the demands of the scanner and digital reproduction. I won’t find that trend while I’m still finding my visual “voice”. 

I am nearing the end of my current A5 sketchbook, spiral-bound 100gms. On completion, it will disappear on tour for a year as part of The Artist’s Notebook Project (Fibre Arts Australia). Despite fixative, the sketches are showing the signs of wear-and-tear which come from daily transportation. There’s a whole section in the back now where I’ve glued in the newspaper clippings which have inspired some fo the sketches – they need to be trapped so, otherwise they will get lost and most are certainly worth more than a single sketch, worth coming back to. I’m tempted to insert text comments throughout as an overlay, but I find the clash with text problematic – even adding the date is a ‘distraction’. I’m not so frightened of messing up the drawing as detracting from its message. I cannot possibly include all my thoughts and commentary – that detail is here in the weblog. Otherwise I’d need a separate facing page for text: which might be the way I have to go. A journalling phrase or two about how I feel at the time seems too superficial. I am amassing new materials and moving towards 200gm paper suitable for on-site sketching using wet media and/or for more studied drawings based on sketches. I’m not sure I like markers and pens, but I feel I ought to acquire them and test them – they’re so cold compared to pencil! While experimenting, other aspects are consolidating: I know I love three-pencil work on mud-coloured paper; will almost certainly start carrying around a mud-coloured paper A5 sketchbook if I can find one (my A4-sized one is too big to go on the road). I know I need a small moleskine (less than 5×8) for surreptitious sketching, a landscape one for the landscapes I love (I find the portrait format too yang), a 5×8 for pencils/markers and an A4 for elaborations on the sketches. A3/A2 for life drawing classes. As a bookbinder I keep coming back to hardbound rather than spiralbound. I notice Balahy uses one side of each folio in his sketchbooks which I admire – more of a ‘statement’ than a ‘ramble’.

I’ve never sketched with others plein air before. Thanks to the influence of Urban Sketchers, I think I can balance some plein air sketching on weekends with the Sydney Sketch Club with the work week and university study commitments – a weekly untutored life drawing class would be ideal, but that would be stretching my time management resources. In the meantime, the daily uploads of new and exciting work to Urban and sketchers contributing to Flickr keeps me going. My “better” or more considered sketches are going up on Flickr now.

I have done all this before – notable spurts of drawing energy, which quickly dissipate like waves.


Heroes.  Thibault Balahy (Angouleme) for his cerebral comments (Drawing Apprenticeship Notes 1-7) and his overriding simplicity, a poetic distillation. Christian Tribastone (Washington) and his use of coloured paper as a mid-tone ground; again the illustrative simplicity and focus on individual objects surrounded by lots of space allowing them to breathe; the Apollonian focus on the everyday (food trucks). Also his interest in moving beyond the sketch to the drawing (lots of differentiation here) and then to its communication to other people, via framed drawings on building walls or sm handmade books or giving away sketches – this liaison between artist and viewer in new and innovative ways is engrossing. The ability of Liz Steel (Sydney) ability to infiltrate her sketching into the everyday: to draw table settings and to constantly comment on her own process, like a dog entrancingly chasing its tail. It’s not only wonderful to behold but enormously informative (which is the chief feature of the Internet), essential for solitary sketchers outside formal art education contexts. And lastly, this week, Paul Heaston (San Antonio), whose prolific drawing on Flickr is all about the observer of buildings and landscape; the facility is paramount – the lack of any barrier between him and his subjects, that permeable membrane. Lastly the potential for social engagement of drawing exhibited in Damien Roudeau (Paris), that the content we focus on, which we choose to sketch/draw,  is  – whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not – inscribed with class, power and politics. Art has so often been the footstool of the rich and powerful, a means of consolidating exploitation of others and the natural world; Rodeau doesn’t let us forget this. His work is not whimsy or Charm School, but like Tribastone’s or Balahy’s, it is not so oppressively serious as to be off-putting.

References for Liz Steel, Paul Heaston. See Groups: ‘Urban Sketchers’, ‘Sketch Kit’, etc.


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