Great Garden Sketchabout #4 – Rose Garden Pavilion

February 4, 2011


8×10″ graphite pencil, 2.20-2.40pm, 2 Feb and modified with Staedtler 0.1mm Fineliner pen two days later.

I was drawn by the sculptural qualities of the stone ‘furniture’ at this time of day, with the shadows just so. Particularly important to me were the different shades of grey in the shadows. I couldn ‘t bear to colour this (beyond the vivid red and white, here yellow, of the roses in the background, which stood out on the day. I’ve been back to the Gardens at the end of my working day since, but knew in advance that re-doing this sketch on-site would not have been worth it, with shadows so low after 5pm. The ?1920s stone pavilion is a grand work of art in itself but I’ve yet to find a seated vantage point to take it all in to its best advantage – its extremely subtle colouring, its finials and very American-looking stone bricks; it’s included here only as record of my observation, since it detracts from the simplicity of the three-quarter view of the sandstone pillars. There is a tug in the composition between the ‘English’ serenity of the right and the ‘American” complexity on the left and it was very tempting to ‘over-do’ the wonderful complexity of stone bricks, slate roof and knotty woodwork.

I’ve deliberately left out the 20th-century metal railing because I thought the contrast between sandstone and metal too harsh and because I wanted to evoke a previous era. Part of the appeal of the Gardens is their evocation of the past and ensuing nostalgia. Later additions in the name of either human safety or bird protection can’t be overlooked however. I’m sure it wasn’t there in the 1970s, but the top of the pavilion”s arbour is now headed with grey-painted RSJs with (very subtle) bird-proof spikes, presumably to hinder the ibis from taking up residence.  It’s a world away from the Palm Grove! I imagine in future sketches I will want to introduce the irony of clashing materials and historical eras, but just not today, with the beautiful shade and more beautiful roses in bloom!

I am keen to include vegetation in and around these sandstone columns, but so clearly delineated that it might be ‘obvious’ to someone familiar with the Gardens or even a botanist. I’m not there yet with my ‘generic’ trees and plants!

I was sorely tempted to modify the original sketch by improving the perspective of the sandstone pedestals, but have left them where they are – in this sketch, at any rate. My rationale is that sketching is the capturing of an impression of light and shade, as opposed to an architect’s drawing or a landscape gardener’s drawing. It’s not Draughtman’s Contract, looking through a grid. For most viewers, there also has to be accuracy of observation. And in the case of garden sketching, there is the additional criterion of views knowing what they are looking at – having direct personal experience of the subject matter. But what I love about sketching is that it raises questions – not just about artist media and sketching technique, but about the subject matter. To draw a palm invites additional knowledge about that palms and palms in general.

In this sketch, including the pavilion in the background requires thought, because it has to have some direct “link” with the pedestals and vases. So, I’ve pointed up the differences in the tonal backrounds for each of the vases, to see if that becomes convincing. The influence of Ernest Watson is the springboard throughout – hunting for interesting shadows – but because these sketches have all been contour-driven rather than tone-driven, his influence is not apparent. My concession to him today is the dramatic hard-edge shadow of the pavilion which both links to and contrasts with the softer shades in the sandstone. I console myself at this early stage of the Garden Sketchabout that I’m purely on the prowl for interesting subject matter, creating a wishlist of locations to return to, at specific times of the day. I know my artist colleagues are knee-deep in artistic representation of the Gardens; I don’t see myself belonging to that category at all – as an untutored amateur, maladroit and clumsy, I’m happy to re-discover something of my lost youth and to learn new tricks.


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