Sydney Opera House – twilight urban sketching

February 14, 2012

Derwent 3B graphite pencil, 50mins, 6-7pm midweek, February.

Having spent the previous hour drawing Macquarie Street, it was time to meet Freddie from Georgia USA and half-a-dozen members of Urban Sketchers Sydney for some twilight sketching near the Opera House. Unlike the boardwalk which was sunny and hot, the forecourt outside the restaurant was windy. We repaired to the Royal Botanic Gardens for a three-quarter view of the Opera House, including the Man o’ War Steps, aware the sun sets at 8.10pm.

I surprised myself yet again by falling into what feels like a new drawing style – working very slowly, very lightly. The view was too big to draw sight-size, so I mentally halved everything. Starting with an horizon line (the water level at Kirribilli), I basically moved from one geometric shape to another. No rash gestures, no rush to tonality. From this view, there are as many strong horizontals as verticals. The ‘base’ on which the House is founded is much more clearly visible from this angle than elsewhere; the mesh of vertical posts at the Man o’ War Steps (as well as the old sandstone gates) allows lead-ins for the eye.

The final result looks fairly insubstantial, but it’s all about filling the page as much as possible (looking more like a study for a painting than a focussed pencil sketch) and getting building proportions down correctly. Much of the House is in fact in shade at this time of day; there was far more interest in the dramatic clouds. It’s obvious why Streeton and the Heidelberg Impressionists loved painting at this time of day from their camping spot at Mosman! The dark chocolates and pale blues inside the shadows within the Opera House sails were pretty delicious though.

Virtuosic watercolour sketches from my colleagues, but for me there’s lot to be said for twilight sketching at the end of a working day!


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