38th World Wide SketchCrawl(TM)

January 19, 2013

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After yesterdays’ record summer temperatures (it was over 50 degrees Celsius inside my house), I thought I’d be feeling washed-out for this international SketchCrawl(TM) but managed better than expected. The Sydney Sketch Club Meetup event was at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens and the Canova sculptures of “The Boxers” has been on my wishlist for a long time. In addition, I’m comparmentalizing things: Buildings on Urban Sketchers AUS events and People on Sketch Club meetups. The sculptures look excellent in full sunlight but that means sitting out in the sun. A couple of 30min thumbnails in my A5 Milini everyday sketchbook, working as large as I can, including context and working to the sides of the page, just as Charles Reid says: I’ve been closely reading his book on figurative watercolour this week. Charles Reid would frown at my use of so much contour of a tentative nature but today I’m adopting his technique rather than my usual foundation lines (especially George Bridgman’s initial eight lines for figures). Not unhappy with these; I got distracted directing fellow sketchers to the meetup venue and slightly misjudged the lower limbs of the one on the right: I notice I’m not at ease with proportions in back views but that’s due to lack of practice.

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I really wanted to come home today with several views of Canova’s sculptures and wanted to work large: so here’s my A4 Milini sketchbook just for figure drawing. Here is the brutish Kreugas from the east, out of the way of two other sketchers drawing Damoxenes across the footpath. Originally both Boxers were installed a hundred years ago in the open air, with no trees at all around them; these days Kreugas scowls under a century-old Magnolia grandiflora and so there’s a mossy green patina. I understand these statues were last madeover and cleaned up a few decades ago. I’ve adopted Charles Reid’s basic contour, here in graphtie pencil 4B with bits where the contour is darkest (either from the dark background or from the sunlight). The big issue was what colours to use, since Reid mixes his red and yellow on the page to create a flesh pink, with a signature cerulean blue in the torso. I used a light green for the “mossy” bits and went for my cobalt blue in the darkest shades, working the brush slowly up the page, not down and working right to the ferrule of the brush. Reid spends a lot of time on the head and so have I today.

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In deference to my sketching colleagues, I kept out of their sightlines, staying in the same location and capturing the ill-fated Damoxenes across the footpath. Slightly smaller because further away but I also notice that when I tire I draw smaller – here a 6″ figure on my A4 Milini 150g sketchbook which produces a scan showing the faintest line and doesn’t buckle with this small amount of water and paint. I went over the gutter with the hint of a sculpted lion in the distance, mimicking where I went over the gutter with Kreugas showing a tiny park bench (bottom right here). I have of course ruptured the narrative of the Canova originals: the boxers are here not facing each other. I was sorely tempted to draw more of the contextual architecture, piling on the buildings which inadvertently show a history of Sydney architecture: the 1920s Rose Garden pavilion, The Astor apartments behind (1930s, Sydney’s first high-rise apartment block), the AMP building (the first to exceed the 100-foot height limit in the 1960s) and the later squarish pagoda-type building in Alfred Street fronting East Circular Quay. Pleased with what I can get down in 30mins, boding well for long 20min poses at life drawing. With a bit of gumption, I can start including some on-the-spot watercolour at life drawing in this Charles Reid manner.

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Still keeping out of the way of colleagues (who’d been working for over an hour on their oil sticks), I knew I had to tackle another difficult back view, here of Kreugas. This was mostly in shade and the sun was fading. You can tell I was getting tired from the size and lack of correct proportions. After 2.5 hours, I’d done all I could with these two blokes.

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Here’s a photo I took in 2011 – it’s taken me all that time to get the confidence and technique to tackle them in a meaningful way. I got some very odd looks from passers-by today, presumably because a bloke drawing another bloke naked in public arouses suspicion, which threw me back to the rather strange narrative of The Boxers themselves. I assume they were installed a century ago to raise the tone of this very genteel Victorian-style Public Garden. Presumably fig-leaved men would not damage the morals of Sydney women, but I doubt anyone today recognizes the violent boxing match of the original in 400BC, when Kreugas (under the tree) killed Damoxenes (out in the open) using a very underhand tactic in a boxing match. Was this a controversial choice at the time they were installed, since most public sculpture is heavily criticised in Sydney?  Is this not all about the Hard Man destroying the Soft Man – the narrative of being a bloke in Sydney and certainly the story of my life (and I’ve wandered past these statues for over forty years)? Is this not emblematic of the power struggles in nearby Government House and Macquarie Street’s State Parliament? For me also, it’s telling Canberra has Rodin (the Calais burghers) and Sydney has Canova. Canova incidentally was a sketcher and I’m curious to find out more about gender in outdoor sketching, comparing Sydney with Singapore and Bangkok shortly.

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I started wandering back to the meetup venue when I came upon “Summer”, a small sculpture with interesting drapery. Also there is a female model at next week’s life drawing. As it turned out, she’s lost the demure look of the original (notwithstanding the dangerous-looking scythe she’s bearing) and I’ve misjudged the shoulders and her legs look like a man’s. The drapery alone is worth returning for. Almost entirely in shade, surrounded by very black vegetation. I got distracted by a sketching colleague and added yellow instead of ochre to one of the legs. A5 everyday sketchbook, 150g Milini.

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I have missed out on my regular visits to the Australian Museum down the road in recent weeks and so having lugged all my Prismacolor Coloured Pencils today with the aim of rendering fur in colour, it seemed a good idea to get out of the impending rain.  I wanted to include the eyes so worked big in my A5 everyday sketchbook, even if that meant not including the full length of the tails. The head on the one on the right is still too large; this one is roadkill from Alstonville NSW; the one on the right is backlit and I’ve included some cobalt blue in the torso in the Charles Reid style (which makes him look like he’s wearing a swimming costume). In any case, this was useful (graphite pencil then coloured pencils; pencil then watercolour then coloured pencils for the second go on the left) and I’m now ready to find out from the experts how to render animal fur.

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This was the last sketch of the SketchCrawl(TM) day: a possum skeleton. The Skeleton Room was crowded on this weekend afternoon so it was impossible to hog the glass. My aim here is to try and re-do this adding fur and to re-do the stuffed specimens with their skeletons in mind. This transference between skeleton and body is important to me and I want to apply it to the elephant skeleton and the live ones at Taronga Zoo before they all get shipped off to Dubbo Zoo. Even animals as roly-poly as possums clearly show ridges on their fur indicating skeletal foundations, so it’s all worthwhile.

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Lastly, a watercolour done in the 1950s by my father when he was a student at the (now) National Art School. He reckoned he studied under John Passmore (we visited the ANG in Canberra in the months prior to my father’s death and stopped by the John Passmore painting there) but I suspect he knew Passmore or knew of him a few years earlier when Passmore was working as a layout artist in Lintas, a connection in the then burgeoning advertising industry in Sydney. My father never took up watercolor after this; he always had the belief that art-making had to be 100% original. I believe he came away from the NAS experience with a lack of patience; he spoke very harshly and disparagingly about student colleagues turning up to class, rather pathetically in his eyes, with a banana in a briefcase in order to spend a night trying to paint it, like this one, on (mere) cardboard. Anything artwork resembling that of another artist was “useless”. In aspiring to be 100% Original, he ended up making no art at all.

I rescued this and a few other of his watercolours on the way to the rubbish dump after he died, no-one in the family seeing any value at all in his art.  I have spent the week working on Charles Reid’s book on figurative watercolour. My father owned a copy of the same book, but never did any – he simply admired the limpid, open, watery style. Certainly if my father saw my work today, he would dismiss it as derivative and he would certainly cringe at my working on the male nude. It’s interesting how problems and solutions in art and art-making work themselves out from one generation to the next. Certainly in my last years, I am preoccupied with art as he, my father, was preoccupied with the ins-and-outs of classical guitar in his.

A good day today, auguring well for Bangkok: six pages of A4 and four in the A5!

Reference

Charles Reid, The Natural Way to Paint: rendering the figure in watercolor simply and beautifully. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1994.

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