Sydney sketching: St Mary’s Cathedral

June 28, 2012

2B Derwent graphite pencil on 5×8 Daler-Rowney 150g sketchbook

Okay, so I’ve started up a medium-size sketchbook just for drawing buildings on location and this has been an exceptional week since it hasn’t been raining. Sydney has hardly seen the sun for ages.

I was in Sydney around lunchtime again today checking out the Supreme Court and former Land Titles building adjacent to St James’ Church, but since that meant sketching directly into the sunlight, I opted for College Street. The Cathedral is across the road from my efforts of Monday and Tuesday.

Amid the homeless dossed down under trees in Hyde Park North and alongside lunchtime fitness fanatics doing boxing routines with their personal trainers, I managed to get down some of the delicious shadows of the transept entrance facing Hyde Park and its tower. I am eternally grateful to the manufacturers of WalkStool; they have made sketching comfortably a reality. This is but a fraction of the facade, so I’ve left the rest of the page blank and the other half of the double-page spread as well to follow up at a later time. The clarity of the shadows came and went; in undifferentiated light, there are basically just two colours – a brown of the tilework and the yellow of the sandstone (not counting the purple-grey of the slate roofing).

This is something of a personal odyssey since my father came to sketch the Cathedral once (or several times) during his lunchtime breaks from work almost exactly sixty years ago. I don’t have the sketches but have the memory of them – they were lightly drawn and on watercolour paper, so he may have had an (ambitious) watercolour in mind. I haven’t worked out his vantage point exactly, but he may have sat at the foot of the Archibald Fountain; the full west facade is quite dramatic as far back even as Elizabeth Street at David Jones’ department store.

Yes, I detect minor probs with perspective, and yes, I could have “grounded” everything a bit with attention to the footpath and steps and street furniture. While colleagues draw Italian palazzi and Spanish cathedrals, I’m in their wake, working on the local equivalents. I find myself these days looking intently at building facades, noting the use of Greek columns or pseudo-Medieval ornament. A Gothic Revival cathedral such as this – it differs little from examples at Lincoln or York – is in the same vein!

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