Great Garden Sketchabout #19: Friends’ Cottage courtyard

March 26, 2011


26 March, morning. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Friends’ Cottage courtyard, Sabal mexicana. Derwent graphite pencil overlaid with Staedtler watercolour pencils.

Today was the third in the six Sketching Workshops, taught by Wendy Shortland and organised by the Royal Botanic Gardens as part of Autumn of the Arts. Today’s pre-workshop activity involved running around taking photos of the gardens in the early morning light and noting the lifecycle of the bamboo at Rathborne Lodge – from shoots to unfolding protective leaves which dry and fall off as the yellow bamboo emerges. In returning to find out the name of a particular flower, I took another photo of it and will now sketch the same flower over five weeks, from full bloom through its decay.

I learned more about materials today – what’s portable and what colour work can be done ‘after the fact’ at home. I’ve learned a new term, “progressive pages” which expands sketching far beyond the notion of a 10-minute site sketch. I’m taking on board which pencils are not colourfast, the potential for watercolour pencils, watercolour washes, gouache and acrylic paint used as thin watercolour washes, the potential for blue watercolour pencil drawing in landscape (the equivalent of my beloved sanguine in figure drawing).

With today’s ‘long’ sketching session and the potential for practising a “slow” line, the convoluted interlacing of bark seemed appropriate. No fast 10-min sketch here, because the rain had forced us on to a verandah. So getting the interlacing right, was the name of the game, without losing one’s place. The palm provided the opportunity for a limited colour palette. I kept the watercolour pencil line to help create a “dry” look; a “wet” look adding water to the pencils didn’t seem to suit. There is a subtle change from yellow-green near the ground to blue-green towards the palm fronds. I’m obviously now running on empty regarding my standard dozen watercolour pencils: time to upgrade from just two greens! I’m attuned to looking for complementary colour and using it. There really IS a faint red line around the green in the bark – it’s not something I’ve invented!

The photos of the full tree below show the potential for moving beyond this tree trunk study to a larger, formal drawing. There are some gorgeous blue-greens here, common it seems to almost all of the palms in the Gardens at the moment – perhaps it’s the cast of light given the overcast weather. As I’m finding in almost 100% of the cases, there is more information to be gleaned from a sketch or drawing than a reference photo.

I didn’t have time to look at the tree up close in the rain – it proved to be equally popular with half a dozen other sketchers at the time, too – but I gather the fronds are sawn off as the tree goes. Certainly the curve of the cuts is visible.



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