Sydney’s Japanese Gardens: Gosford/Edogawa Commemorative Garden

January 29, 2012

I had the good fortune to visit this Japanese Garden last Spring, during the very short period when the fuji/wisteria were in bloom. The garden took me straight back to Japan, the flow of the strolling shuyu garden and the creation of mini-landscapes of mountains and valleys; it was hard to hold back the tears. This time, in mid-summer, I had none of the overwhelming visceral reaction to the garden. I spent a lot of time walking around the outside of the garden on the foreshore of Caroline Bay (including taking the Friendship Walk) and noting the extent of the ‘borrowed landscape’. so important in appreciating Japanese gardens. 

The view from the Wisteria Walk was out of the sun. The formal clipped shrubs were easy to jot down. More difficult was the architecture of the Koi Pavilion, especially the darks under the roofline. More difficult still was the Cypress Bridge. The Australian Gums had to be included. I added pencil after the watercolour, not before.

“Cold” sketching – sketching something I’ve never seen or sketched before – is always a challenge. Little wonder artists concentrate on subject matter they know intimately and draw/paint again and again.  The Koi Pavilion was the venue this morning for a Naming Ceremony so was crowded. The sunlight was very strong and this was the view looking north to the Pavilion including the Turtle Island from the teahouse. The shadows became prominent geometric shapes.

After retreating indoors to the airconditioned Australian Watercolour Institute Exhibition, a second session began in the Koi Pavilion, looking west. Again, another attempt at understanding the Cypress Bridge. On my next visit to the Garden, I will take a closer look at the roof architecture of the pavilion. Family groups, feeding the koi carp, wandered in and out of the view. Having ‘got my eye in’ after two hours, this was going to the best drawing possible of the day.

I’m averaging four or five sketches per outdoor drawing session these days, a vast improvement on 12 months ago when I was exhausted after a single drawing (at the most two), after less than an hour.  When concentration wanes, I take on ‘impossible challenges’, ‘something completely different’ and today’s involving the texture of the black pines. The spiky leaves (pruned along their lower parts) provide the basis for “starbursts” in Japanese art and textiles, “fireworks” at the end of every branch. 

I was very impressed by the many sketchbooks on display as part of the AWI Exhibition. I wanted to see how others combined media, especially with pencil drawing. Most sketchbooks were invariably hand-bound on largely smooth paper; most drawings showed a lot of careful, considered effort – no rash or hasty marks. A lot of attention to detail in built environment landscapes; rather more fluidity of course in landscapes, but, again, a lot of time spent on them, with a lot (if not all) of the picture plane filled. None of the drawings on show will have been completed in less than an hour or two. None were “mere impressions”.

* pocket-size, very small (designed for inconspicuous sketching abroad, e.g. Italy – the Lucca piazza included a lot of pencil detail, very studied and very light, with no tonal work in pencil, all the tone being provided by the paint alone);

* judicious use of watercolour highlights within pencil drawings, not clashing at all with the pencil work (e.g. drinkers at an outside cafe on Oxford Street, Sydney);

* a large sketchbook of watercolour landscape paintings, on thick watercolour paper, by Rick Amor – no pencil drawing but lots of very clear colour – “preliminary” paintings in effect;

* Robyn Norling’s three sketches of a cathedral facade with two concentrating on the poses of people; 

* a large sketchbook page with a very small watercolour miniature in the middle, surrounded by lots of white paper.

* “transitional” work of Jocelyn Maughan – pencil in sketchbook plus single sheets of watercolour (studies for paintings).

The exhibition contained monumental works by Rob Wade, Ron Stannard, Jocelyn Maughan and other watercolour greats. The prices on some virtuosic works were shockingly low, more a statement about how watercolour painting is considered compared to oil painting in today’s market.

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