International SketchCrawl #31 Sydney, Australia – Royal Botanic Gardens

April 16, 2011

16 April 2011, 12.30pm. A very quick sketch of a tree which was intended to be part of the background for a more interesting one. Black biro with black watercolour pencil for the tonal contrast and watercolour pencil for the vegetation. Rain overtook me, but I’d like to come back sometime to re-do it, probably after examining the photo to select compositional elements. Some of the lawns at this time of year in this weather have enormously attractive bright yellow-green patches of lawn, contrasting with areas of brick red of bark pieces used around the trees.

1.30pm, Tropical Centre. At Wendy Shortland’s Bookbinding & Sketching workshop, we made ‘credit card’ papers, ideal for covering book boards, and discussed colour plans and tonal contrast, culminating in a sketching session inside the Tropical Centre, the undercover glass pyramid and ‘arc’ for the cultivation of tropical and sub-tropical plants.  Here’s a photo of how it looked in finer weather some weeks ago.


In the afternoon, we joined sketchers from the general public who came to the gardens for the Great Garden Sketchabout, as part of the Royal Botanic Garden’s Autumn of the Arts program during March and April, as well as participants in the 31st International SketchCrawl who’d been busy at The Rocks and the Opera House earlier. With a dozen or more present, we fairly had the Tropical Centre to ourselves, given the rain, allowing us more freedom than usual in parking ourselves along the narrow pathways and staircases inside. I was expecting more moisture and water inside, but apart from regular drops from on high in the wettest, tropical section where all the orchids were in flower, it was drier inside than out. With tonal contrast and colour uppermost after the morning’s workshop, I tackled a Cattleya maxima in a pot. The location photos were dismal in terms of capturing colour, but useful in terms of describing the pot. I often take photos of my sketched subjects so I can remember the content not captured on-site. The sketch is really a location one for a more refined portrait of the orchid at another time. The key for me was to include the stems of the plant, not just the pretty flowers. Obviously water droplets from on high affected the watercolour pencil work but I managed to move away from careful pencil foundation and worked in biro instead. I was expecting a lot of moisture, heat and humidity to affect the paper, but that was not to be.


2.30pm. Tropical Centre, Australian section. Colleagues were busy with pitcher plants in the Tropical Montane section, but I found a leafy plant in the Australian section instead. The 3B and 6B pencils seemed to produce no darks at all, perhaps because the paper got wet earlier, so the pencil became greys and biro the blacks. I was a seated model for a colleague at the time, so I’ve learned what it’s like to both sketch and be sketched at the same time. I ended up going well past the ‘impression’ stage to something overworked by my own standards, but I’m reaching out for the more ‘painterly’. It’s interesting to go ‘too far’. The next thing is to work within a defined rectangle or square.

3pm. Lion Gate Lodge. I’ve discovered three new delights in the Garden today: the Friend’s Terrace, with the interesting facade of the original Herbarium nearby, the Tropical Centre and the Lion Gate Lodge. This was an opportunity for me to see a watercolour painter at work. Sitting in a chair, with paints on a table and huge variety of brushes, is a long way from the dashed-off sketching I’ve been used to! This was an opportunity, more importantly, to toast our Workshop leader and the Botanic Gardens organiser, to look back on the splendid previous six Saturdays, as well as look ahead to a scintillating exhibition by our experts and potentially future SketchAbout meetings at different times of the year, perhaps one every season.


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