Doesn’t Play Well With Others

January 13, 2011

Sydney Sketch Club

I’m looking forward to my first plein air sketching session (a “meetup” in today’s language) with the Sydney Sketch Club. I don’t know exactly what has happened to the Club in the last hundred years but it’s President used to be the august Conrad Martens who first represented New Holland through the eyes of a European. Given the high pedestrian traffic, I can’t imagine being able to sit down at Cockle Bay Wharf so I’m not exactly how long I’ll devote to any one sketch; colleagues on the Internet give few indications about how long they spend on each sketch. I may take an A4 sketchbook for an extended draw or two. I am anticipating uploading at least two sketches, possibly in wildly different styles – one spare and Apollonian, one tonal and Dionysiac – since I don’t have a consistent “voice” these days. I notice urban sketcher Marc Holmes of Montreal/San Francisco uses ballpoint and brush pen, a combination I haven’t tried before.

Cockle Bay Wharf Twilight Sketching

I ‘hate’ Darling Harbour because it is wall-to-wall concrete. Like the rest of Australia, it is arid and barren: Australians walk up and down the hard concrete paths surrounded by concrete buildings. Even the water is made artificial with marinas. Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay Wharf are renovated docklands, built like most things in Sydney these days for people inside looking out rather than being out in public spaces. What drives city planners away from places where people can congregate (rather than areas in which people walk from one destination to another) is the fear that ‘static’ places will cause the homeless to congregate. There is nothing more irksome for Sydney’s polite society than to have to deal with the poor. Sydney would never build piazzas in the Italian style; it’s believed they would quickly degenerate into daytime sitting areas for the indigent and homeless. The buildings at Cockle Bay Wharf are bars, hotels and shops; Sydney does public places extremely badly. 

Our former Prime Minister Paul Keating has spoken vividly about removing the ‘straight line’ foreshore mentality for the former wharves in the development of Barangaroo further along from Cockle Bay, closer to Sydney Harbour, and Cockle Bay Wharf is certainly proof of that. More than anything else, the Wharf is more of an odd querky building housing a restaurant which has given its name to a boardwalk precinct. I’m on the hunt for sketches of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco for ideas; the SF correspondents on Urban seem not to have included that Wharf in their work.


These days, with the Internet, I don’t have to imagine the plein air drawing venue because thousands of photographers have gone before me. On a hot and humid summer weekend afternoon, probably with the threat of rain,I’ve done some prep by considering possible vantage points. Three obvious ones in landscape format come to mind: aerial looking south from the bridge; looking south at ground level and looking north at ground level. Of course there will be quick sketches of pedestrians or even buskers involved but my main preoccupation at the moment is perspective and large planes. The two querky facades lend themselves to a couple of portrait-format sketches also. Exaggeration of the verticals and horizontals to give a strong sense of the cavernous quality of the bay seems to be called for. If the sky and setting sun turn out to be particularly dramatic, then I may focus on the clouds instead in conte pencils on coloured ground. Dusk was always critical in the work of the Sydney paintes of the Heidelberg School so a 4pm meetup should be interesting in terms of the fading light from the West; of course the sun won’t have set by 8pm either so I’m not anticipating a Marc Holmes-like approach to night sketching though I might take a piece of black paper or two with some coloured chalks just in case.

Looking more closely

Superficially, it’s all about the straight-line waterfront and massess of concrete buildings behind, an area boxeed in by expressways to the south, an unprepossessing marina to the west, high-rise to the east. On closer examination, there are three informal buildings (dark and with circular structures) set among three more formal facades. Sketching/drawing is never just about representing reality but heightening it, so in terms of architecture, there is scope for exaggerating the three informal buildings. I like the idea of architecture being pressed in by sky and sea (a silhouette and detail of buildings); I also like the potential for the yellow/black chequerboard of the facade of the IMAX cinema.

References Marc Holmes (Montreal/San Francisco) mercifully provides indicators such as “10minutes, ballpoint and brush pen” under some of his quick sketches. Obviously from Paul Heaston’s sketches too, where he indicates under 30minutes, I get a sense of how much detail in a building facade is possible – a ‘quick’ line nevertheless, which differentiates itself from the more studied line and extensive cross-hatching in more elaborate drawings which obviously take a lot longer.

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