Great Garden Sketchabout #1 – plans

January 31, 2011


Here’s my plan for a (portrait) ox plough hand-made sketchbook, with illustrations relating to the Royal Botanic Gardens in mind. Mine will be more a book of drawings than a “sketchbook”, since the huge amount of planning does away with the notion of impromptu sketching.

The book structure highlights panels which are right side up and an equal number which are upside down. I like this idea of utopia/dystopia. In the current age of global warming, utopia has to be the Built Environment and dystopia the natural world.

Spreads 1, 2 and 5,6 then ought to be devoted to the Built Environment, while Spreads 3,4 and 7,8 ought to be devoted to Nature. The Royal Botanic Gardens is not just a scientific establishment but represent the Lungs of the City hemmed in on all sides by Man or humans. I like the idea of an Arabian garden, an oasis, the walled and secret garden; I’m reading Christopher Kremmer on Afghan carpets at the moment. I see the RGB as less a Paradise and more of a Threatened Species; as a garden in the CBD it is a tightly controlled environment, compared to its suburban cousins, which seemingly blend into rural Australia, at Mount Annan and Mount Tomah. I want also to highlight not just the natural beauty of trees, flowers and shrubs but the fact that the RBG contains four dozen pieces of sculpture and other art installation work. Any artistic work devoted to the RBG must reflect the issues of the external environment affecting it: I recall that it in the 1970s it was about the death of mature trees, in the 1980s it seemed to be about public use of Crown Land and the acceptability of public entertainment such as theatre and cinema on its grounds. Currently it’s about the invasion of flying foxes. No artistic work representing the RBG in 2011 can ignore these issues; any work which does ignore them seems to me to be inauthentic. If mine is going to be just a work of Pretty Flowers, then I feel I might as well opt for Botanical Illustration.

The Built Environment spreads. Initially I wanted the idea of ramparts and highlighting the buildings of Macquarie Street (e.g. the Renzo Piano building and, further down Macquarie Street, Sydney’s first highrise apartment building contrasting with the stern architecture of the garden walls), the freeway running along it south side and the car parking lot along its east side. Some sort of aerial view looking down on the Gardens from these buildings would be very interestimg, but not possible I think. Not sure now, but I’m opting for views out of the gardens and the majesty of the garden’s various entrances and of course its walls in every other page of the spreads. These should alternate with sketches of the art work inside the Gardens, the infiltration of imposition of the Human onto the Natural World – the Canova sculptures, etc. There is scope for the Opera House, Government House, the Tropical Plants pyramid, the Palmhouse, etc. because the Gardens represents a house of many rooms.

The Nature spreads. Ideally they will be all-over patterns which can be read right side up or upside down. This might at first sound limiting – no full length trees or purely representational shrubs – but there is lots of scope with the ‘rug’ idea. If they are representational, then at least the composition should be aesthetically pleasing when seen upside down.

I’d like the Built Environments to highlight contour and black-and-white illustrationism and the Nature spreads to feature colour by contrast – watercolour. The overall feel will be Apollonian and controlled – not so much of the Dionysiac out-of-control. It needs to be that way because the whole notion of a Botanic Gardens is that it is an artifical construct. I’m influenced by the drawing of Sydney’s skyline in the 1840 panorama held in the Power House Museum. I had the idea of a great effusion of flowers bubbling up from inside the garden walls – a mashup of representational (architecture) and the abstract (a brilliant jumble of flowers).


I’m not sure to what extent I will be actively involved in the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Garden Sketchabout project during March and April. University study may determine participation at the bookbinding workshop. I’ll obviously be following the Garden Sketchabout weblog closely. It would be nice to participate in the Saturday afternoon sketching sessions (in addition to the two being organised by the Sydney Sketch Club), working on the Nature spreads having completed the Built Environment spreads during February perhaps. Some preliminary sketches along the lines of this ox plough book will determine that. It’s a long time since I made any books too, so I like the idea of extending my impromptu disorganised sketching into a book project; I’m inspired too by the idea of Christian Tribastone’s of a reproducible book (working A3 size and finding somewhere in Sydney – Kinko’s no longer exists – where I can make b&w photocopies of  the single page, cut it up and add colour by hand, plus some boards to cover). It would be nice to give away examples of my sketching.

Obviously I’m checking in, on an almost daily basis, on what my ‘Three Muses’ (Liz, Alissa and Wendy) are doing, since as Sydney Sketchers, this seems to be their current focus. They are producing some masterly work in response to their chosen theme – Alissa’s Wooloomooloo Gates and Wendy’s exquisite flowers (especially the lotuses against the blue background, with their pattern of white and green).  Liz is out there every day too! I don’t have their skill or their determination, especially sketching in these days of heat and humidity. I tried to call by the Mitchell Library entrance gates between business appointments in the city yesterday, but the high heat deterred me. I have thought of consulting Google maps street-view as a way of preparing for some of the Built Environment spreads; they won’t be a substitute for working on location of course, but may help with compositional aspects, especially the continuity between spreads. Things like lamp posts will be esssential at paper folds, for example: in this regard, I’m thinking of the Shakespeare monument outside the Mitchell. If yesterday’s temperature of 32C degrees was a deterrent, I’m not hopeful of accomplishing much today with an expected 36 degrees.



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