Sydney sketching: Old Darlington School, Camperdown NSW 2050

July 10, 2012

Double-page spread, 5×8″ sketchbook.

Approx. 3×4″

Getting a handle on simple building structures – conveying three-dimensional space of a bunch of ‘shoeboxes’ – is made difficult by the presence of trees and other buildings. An exception to this is the Old Darlington School on the grounds of Sydney University. It is almost unique in being able to be seen from all directions, both up close and also at some distance. Notwithstanding the presence of large trees, which I’ve tried to ignore, I spent time doing several thumbnail sketches today, late in the afternoon around sunset, 3-4pm. It was overcast and the lack of sun wasn’t a concern since I wasn’t trying to convey tone. Thanks to comfortable semi-circular, continuous seating in the park setting for this School, there is potential for sketching the same building, at the same size, at the same distance: great perspective practice! 

My aim was to try to get the perspective down convincingly and to minimise detail. The building is in such immaculate condition that the contrast between barge boards and slate rooves and cleaned brick walls is very clear. What is unusual and challenging is the fact that the gables are so very steep. As one moves from north to south around the park, the south facade spire comes into view. What makes this set of buildings interesting is that the chimneys and spire are inset into the slate roof.

By the time of the last sketch, I was getting a handle on the building and couldn’t resist finishing with some attention to the detail; the brick and timber detailing on the south facade are particularly attractive. And I didn’t even have time today to take in the marvellous east facade! 

The idea of thumbnails from a variety of angles (apart from getting perspective right) comes from Ernest W.Watson’s comments about size and composition (how large should a sketch be?), size and tone (a range of values which expands the closer you get to the subject) and size and detail (further away, less detail). Watson provides an example: six differently-sized sketches of a boathouse on the Cornish coast, showing how the tonal range increases and the amount of detail similarly increases, the closer you get to the building.


It was designed c.1877 by George Allen Mansfield, architect to the Education Department and is a fine example of the single-storey Gothic Revival style suburban schools of the period. It was transferred to the University in 1975. Photos on the Sydney Architecture website appear to date from renovations undertaken in 1978.

Old Darlington School is two-storeys, constructed of polychromatic brickwork, with sandstone sills, kneelers, broachers and string courses. The spire is in the SW corner; note the chimney almost in the centre of the verandah on the west facade. Blond brick is used for the body of the walls; see the use of red brick to accentuate window arches and the quatrefoil window to the main gable. They have been used recessed to form a cross motif, based on brick modules – see the spire and the sill to the main gable. Outbuildings have been removed.


Ernest W. Watson, The Art of Pencil Drawing. New York, Watson-Guptill, 1985


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