Great Garden Sketchabout #20: the grounds of Government House

March 26, 2011

26 March, afternoon. Government House. Staedtler watercolour pencils and Winsor & Newtown field box watercolours.

I think this is a case of analysing one’s failure and taking lessons into the future! Monet used paint straight from the tube, newly invented after centuries of grinding paint; his style was mentioned in a BBC “Coast” documentary on tv last night concerning his sea cliff paintings and I must have had it hanging around this afternoon. I’ve used watercolour pencil in a similar way over the top of Winsor & Newtown watercolour washes. Using unadulterated orange to convey some of the warm sandstone bricks seemed extreme at the time, but they worked! Getting used to paper swallowing up watercolour hue. I need very soon to go back and look at my drawing textbooks on trees – the giant pine to the north-west of the House is an impressive tree, but a tad beyond my capabilities at the moment, especially working with just two greens. I’m happy with the joyous colour of the Governor’s flower beds in the walk towards Farm Cove – the gardeners have obviously worked overtime, considering the swearing-in of the new State government next week. This is not my usual sketching style, though the fast, jagged line is part of my signature; I’m experimenting with sketching in colour and I realise at moments like these I should be painting instead of drawing. I am now obsessed with a grand eucalypt in front of the garden’s Herbarium, a logical next-step following today’s straggly-looking pine! Straight lines are supposed to be lifeless but I try for ‘quiet’ straight lines with faster, more vibrant linework. I still take a very ‘photographic’ stance in my sketching – I sketch exactly what I see with no artistic licence; in hindsight and with more sustained looking beforehand, I might have eliminated the large tree. As well, I need to stick to my composition principle of establishing a ‘way in’ to the picture and a strong sense of picture plane: foreground, background and middle ground. Everything is too flat here and all at the one distance away from me. I can see sense in future in just throwing down a watercolour wash, observing intently while I let it dry, then overlaying with my composition in pen (substituting for my beloved graphite). I was taught this morning to “Simply, simplify, simplify!” and I think with more observation, I would have benefitted from a more limited palette.

The other two-dozen sketchers today honed in on both the warm orange tones of the sandstone or the exuberant colour of the flowers. Getting consistent crowds of two-dozen sketchers on successive Saturdays seems to be new both for the Royal Botanic Gardens as well as for Sydney sketcher turnouts. May the trend continue!

This is the view from inside the pavilion, out of the rain…

And here is a somewhat quirky view I like, with the pine tree taking on the appearance of a pineapple…

With some extra time up my sleeve and an awkward unforeseen splash of watercolour to cover over, here is a sketch of trees and seats looking south”

Drawing for the best part of eight hours is new to me. It’s becoming obvious that once I’m with other sketchers, without the pressure of a workshop situation and especially late in the day, my need to experiment increases. A high-risk strategy since I am not resting on my laurels!

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