Great Garden Sketchabout #28: Tropical Centre

April 16, 2011

16 April, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Tropical Centre, Australian section. Biro and Staedtler watercolour pencils. Today was the last session of Wendy Shortland’s brilliant series of Bookbinding & Sketching workshops, organised as part of the Great Garden Sketchabout and Autumn of the Arts, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. We revised colour plans and discussed tonal contrast and concomitant issues relating to drama and because of the wet weather, we retreated to the Tropical Centre, an indoor venue for tropical and subtropical plants. The Australian section is the driest of the three and the least likely to have water affecting the sketching surface. The dramatic leaf shapes translated themselves into penwork using a biro alla prima, something I haven’t done for ages, with darks worked up in black watercolour pencil. As with just about all botanical landscape sketches, there’s a lot going on. I’m turning the page upside down at regular intervals to better judge how ‘far’ to go and when to stop, as well as achieving some sense of overall compositional balance.  I am still being strictly photographic in terms of content, copying exactly what I see, without being overly selective.  One thing I’m not doing often enough is checking for interesting negative spaces and reinforcing them, something which I imagine would be easiest done early on, working in pencil. The comprehensive illustrations in Judy Martin’s book, Colour, have been front-of-mind this week too.

I am also consciously moving beyond small detail to covering more of the page. This is an interesting development because it means staying with a subject longer and perhaps moving far beyond the original ‘impression’. I’m understanding what’s physically possible in terms of cramped spaces and standing up to sketch and what requires slower, more methodical looking, either via repeat visits or with the help of photographs.  I’ve come up with the aim in my daily drawings as part of Every Day in May to make my marks meet at least three sides of the page. This will help move me on from the vignette style and propel me into the domain of formal drawings and paintings.  In this regard, I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite books on painting.


Whisson, Colley. Creating Impressionist Landscapes in Oil. Nevada: International Artist, 2001. Whisson makes much of the yellow-purple colour scheme in capturing the Australian outdoors.

Maughan, Jocelyn. The Draughtsman’s Contract: thye works of Jocelyn Maughan. Patonga, NSW: Bakehouse Gallery, 1998.  Noteworthy are the trees and landscapes sketched at Putney Park, Sydney.

The Art of Dean Mitchell: The Early Years. Kansas: Mitchell Studios, 1999. High-key landscapes with dramatic darks, literally a black-and-white world view.

Stern, Arthur. How to see Color and paint it. New York, Watson-Guptill, 1984.

Martin, Judy. Drawing with Colour. London: Quarto, 1989.


2 Responses to “Great Garden Sketchabout #28: Tropical Centre”

  1. quirkyartist Says:

    I didn’t know Colley Whisson had a book. I once went away with friends to an art week in Queensland and one of the friends had Colley for her teacher for the week & did a series of Aus landscapes in oil.

    • rodbyatt Says:

      If I harbour regrets, it’s not having done a workshop with Colley Whisson! Will post some more about him. For me he captures, like Streeton, the essence of summer. Sydney is more built up now than it used to be and there is less of the high summer heat suffused with eucalypt trees around Sydney’s beaches, but fifty years ago this was a very tangible thing. I just don’t think we have those sorts of days anymore, which creates strong nostalgia for me when I look at Whisson and Streeton. Both really convey that gasping-for-breath high summer heat, that feeling of being caught out in the open, unprotected, that fundamentally disorientating that happens. More ‘contemporary’ landscape artists, e.g. Tony Slater or Rick Amor, convey a less ‘open’ aspect to temperature and smell. Smart obviously does a lot of outdoor work in summer, but of course his always has a much more Adelaide-ian/Italian (thus Mediterranean) sense of light. Justin O’Brien, Ken Done – each seems to convey it slightly differently. I’m currently thinking the way in to Whisson’s paintings is via the yellow-purple combination. Even when his humans look “lost” (like Tom Roberts’, but not like Conder’s), the air is full of cicada song and the whole effect is ludicrously happy. He talks too in the book about deliberateness of brush stroke (I guess in a Cezanne-type way); there is nothing ‘flat’ or ‘unconsidered’ in this regard.

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