Parramatta NSW 2150 – Town Hall (1880)

October 31, 2012

A4 paper, spiral-bound sketchbook, 80gm kraft paper (Art on King, Newtown); Prismacolour Coloured Pencils

Okay, this is somewhat lolly-coloured, but conveys the feeling of painted stucco.

This is the third time I’ve sat down on the public benches opposite Parramatta Town Hall, built in the first three years of the 1880s. What makes it relatively special is its use of painted stucco, given that most historic buildings in Sydney and Parramatta are either unadorned brick or natural yellow sandstone. Once you add stucco or a concrete render, then there’s the added burden of painting it regularly. I’m sure Parramatta Town Hall has gone through many different colour schemes over the years, depending on fashion among restorers.

Other buildings I can think of that fit the criterion of being 100% painted (from around 1880?) are the Darrell Lea Chocolate shop in King Street, Petersham Railway Station and Campbelltown Old Town Hall. There must be many more in Sydney’s central business district, but certainly most public buildings adopted sandstone, dressed or rusticated,  in the old days.

Today’s use of the intense colour of Prismacolor coloured pencils on kraft paper came about by accident. I was testing dry pencil colour on this sketchbook, bought a while back and never intended for drawing buildings on location. I saw some delightful sanguine pastel colours the other day and started dreaming about doing more portraits/figure drawing on toned grounds. Also the classic Three Pencil technique (one sanguine red, one white and one black, on toned paper), as in the sketches of Watteau, came to mind.

The only contemporary urban sketcher I can think of who regularly uses toned paper (with black and white, plus magnificent colour recently) is Christian Tribastone. These days, kraft or manilla or brown-toned paper has connotations of the ephemeral, what with brown paper for packaging, but obviously with the mid-tones largely already set, it’s “only” a matter of adding lights as white, mid-tone (flesh) as sanguine) and shadow in black. Adapting Three Pencils to urban sketching would be to anthropomorphise architecture – a step too far for most.

While I have no sandstone yellows that convincingly work on this kraft paper, I’m happy I’ve got a solution to working quickly in the field with any painted building. I’m doubly happy to authentically render the blue of a Sydney summer sky.

Effective colour obviously lies with the Prismacolor compared to the Derwent tinted charcoal and tinted graphite; the feel is like pastel on Canson Mi-teintes, though the thinness of this paper (as thin if not thinner than typing paper) precludes any use of water, though I had a go here; even fountain pen ink bled a little.

The colours of Sydney summer are well rendered by Arthur Streeton; he works in the main with yell0w-purple colour complementaries. He certainly knows about the all-over ‘blocks’ of colour for sky and sea (especially as it ‘glazes over’ darkly at the end of the day) in and around the harbour. What’s curious about this painting is that it dates from 1937 and it’s fascinating to think that the end of his life coincided with the early days of Francis Bacon. Bacon’s work is on show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales over summer, in part for the benefit of Mardi Gras tourists, one suspects. If Tom Roberts was Melbourne’s first ‘urban sketcher’ (think his Collins Street 5pm – reprised by John Brack), then Arthur Streeton certainly captured the outdoors in Sydney.

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