Drawing Buildings: context vs the Building

August 31, 2012

5×8″, 150gm Daler-Rowney sketchbook.

I hope you’ve been following, as avidly as I have. the internal dialogue of issues around sketching ‘portraits’ of buildings versus focussing on the larger ‘urban sketching’ context of the building over at www.lizsteel.com.

I put this into practice today – the one at the top I sketched at the start the context, the one in the middle focussed exclusively on the building.

I think I’m now sold on the idea of starting with the people (obviously in the foreground) and the vegetation and surrounding buildings, leaving the area blank for my buiilding ‘portrait’. Suddenly the building looks as if it belongs to its urban precinct; the MCA building suddenly looks as if it is part of The Rocks precinct. Apart from permitting additional flexibility in getting the tonal values (and depth of field) right, it helps me get the necessary practice I need sketching people, as well as trees which abound in Sydney. 

The building proper

The Maritime Services Board at Circular Quay West, The Rocks, is a building dating from the 1940s, designed in 1940-1944 taking into consideration nearby Circular Quay railway station built not long before. With the War delaying construction, it was built between 1947 and 1952, by which time Art Deco had been surpassed. So it’s a very late, but true, example of Inter-War Deco. The sandstone is not Pyrmont, but yellow sandstone from Maroubra;  much of the bas-relief decoration, including interior marble work, has the feel of New York Deco.

Sketching it

The multiple planes making sketching more difficult than its simple H-form suggests. From a sketching pespective, the obvious place is to view it from Circular Quay East and draw it head-on, and only then incrrease the angle of view from the sides. I’ve learned this from today’s experience of drawing it from a steep ¾ view! Apart from experimenting with Context vs Building, my second concern today was drawing the same building from the same angle at three different heights, not something that’s possible most of the time.

The sketch in the middle was done first, from Platform 2 of Circular Quay railway station (20-metres off the ground?) around 9.30am; next came the one at the top, from the pedestrian walkway of Cahill Expressway (30-metres?) at around 10am. the one at the bottom was done at ground level around 1.30pm.

I was completely bowled over by the extensive public seating in the middle of the Cahill Expressway pedestrian walkway: covered, on two levels and completely deserted! The large interpretative panels make a great writing slope for sketching the Harbour.

Sufficiently intrigued to go back and draw this building some more, but to do it in any detail really requires a large piece of paper, probably bigger than A4 Landscape. This could be the poor man’s version of the late Margaret Olley’s Sydney Harbour paintings.


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