Sydney sketching : sketching Sydney – Postcode 2000, Observatory Hill

June 20, 2011

Observatory Hill is a popular sketching spot since it sits provides grand vistas of the Harbour Bridge, the historic Rocks area as well as views down Darling Harbour, across to Balmain as well as the Sydney Observatory buildings.

The Sydney Sketch Club met there on what turned out to be a sunny day, one of the few fine weekends without rain in about six months.

I took along a new sketchbook (Derwent, 12x17cm, 200gsm smooth paper), devoted to ‘first rough’ drawings of metropolitan Sydney. The drawing paper is absolutely superb; I can push a pencil around like a brush. The format is small and extremely portable, but a tad too small to do any but “alla prima” sketches in pencil and watercolour wash. Anything requiring re-work later on in terms of added colour or penwork really requires a bigger format in my view. I tried adding Staedtler fineliner pen on-location but it feels incompatible with the other media. Perhaps on another occasion, I’ll try fountain pen.

I thought the pencil lines would disappear in scanning, but most seem to have stayed. Any enhancements provided by reference photos taken at the time really require a separate re-working elsewhere. I read the methodology of different urban sketchers and their individual sets of values, superstitions almost, about working on one side of the paper, or adding text or not, adding notes or not, etc. and everyone seems to stick religiously to what they believe in, while others compromise for what delivers in terms of scanning/uploading paradigms, catering to international audiences on-line and so on. Certainly the diary approach, where the ‘reading’ experience implicit in the book (and few work outside the book format, sketching or drawing on single folios) allows the view to assess evolutionary progress of technique, with the strong expectation that sketches at the back of  the book will be much better than those at the front. Separate sketchbooks for separate content or subject matter is another link to the traditional book format. The book format is itself a “revolutionary” step away from art traditionally put on a wall and marks itself also off from prints which are ‘read’ separately out of a drawer. Personally I think I’m moving towards the idea of separate folios of ‘drawings’ which I can later bind (in the order I want) according to the subject matter I choose.  

Derwent Journal (120x170mm; 200gsm smooth paper); Derwent graphite pencil; Winsor & Newtown watercolour. These are the on-site sketches, but I didn’t like some aspects of each of them, so decided to pull them together with the help of reference photos taken on the day, as follows. The additional drawing isn’t gratuitous – it was an attempt to reprise problems identified on the day, with perspective and shadows.

The wonderful thing about the Sydney Observatory is that it has plenty of seats, complete with tables – a near paradisical environment for a sketcher. The heavily foreshortened view of the Observatory (11am) is not ideal, but a useful starting point in assessing the sandstone brickwork. Not shown here is the bright blue and yellow of the time ball (which rises and falls at 1pm daily); also not highlighted is the bright white of the sandstone blocks at the building corners. The view of one of the cottages in back, with the backdrop of modern builings and the two copper observatory domes was made difficult by dense shadows (12noon).

This lends itself to an extended treatment of the high-rise buildings of Milsons Point and North Sydney to the left, but the focus today was on the structural elements of the north side of the Harbour Bridge (1pm). Not fully developed enough here are the delightful terrace houses and pine trees leading the eye into the Bridge from its south pylons. 

Graphite and watercolour pencils. The Garrison Church, The Rocks. While there are seats (and tables!) very close to this vantage point, they don’t allow for a full view of the church facade. What’s lacking here are several important elements: the green of the vegetation directly in front of the church; the very dark slate roof and the low additional church buildings directly to the left (for another sketching session). The facade has a very austere and simple facade in terms of brickwork, framed by some very complex decorative stonework – that contrast needs to be highlighted next time. There is also the more difficult contrast between warm woodwork, the stark wood work on top and the extremely dark slate roof to the side. I look forward now to seeing how other artists have drawn this facade.

My next step is to re-do everything again from scratch in the ‘studio’, with additional detail provided by reference photos. Thus, they won’t be “sketches’ anymore, but architectural illustration/landscape ‘drawings’.


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