Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour

March 2, 2013


Urban Sketchers Sydney visited Cockatoo Island to take in some of the industrial architecture from the days when Sydney Harbour was much more of a ‘working harbour’ than it is now. Having been housebound because of rain the last two days, I wasn’t going to let a third day slip by without getting out in the wilderness to draw.

You can see from the photos the variety of materials and ages of the different aspects of the facades. This preoccupied me and at least two other sketchers today, as we tried to accommodate the different geometric shapes, textures and colours. I can’t say any of us was happy with our own results, but the effort was worthwhile.


A4 Milini 120g sketchbook, graphite pencil and W&N watercolor, with grey gouache wash.

I launched in straight away with this RH page of a double-spread, with the idea of potentially moving to the LH page to include the Sydney city skyline. By including the Sydney skyline, it would have helped locate the sketch in Sydney. I treated this more as a ‘watercolor painting’ than a ‘sketch’: blocking in the sky immediately after some preliminary pencil linework. I wanted to eliminate all background white in the buildings except where the walls or roofs were themselves white, but we were overtaken by rain and had to retreat to sketching inside. I was able to return a lot later to tidy up some of the linework in graphite pencil. Note to self: stop staying indoors when it rains and get out and sketch storm clouds! I’m exhorting myself thus because it came as shock to me in Bangkok last week how often I needed to draw motorcycles – something I never draw at home. You never know exactly when you’ll need ‘what’ when it comes to sketching! Besides, I remember the Constable and Turner ‘cloud’ sketchbooks on show at the Turner blockbuster in Canberra’s Australian National Gallery two decades ago.



A4 double-spread Milini 120g sketchbook.

I didn’t mess about ‘looking’ for subject matter today: it was simply too cold and too wet to do the various 1-1.5hr historical walking tours around the island. As soon as I hit on something interesting, out came the sketchbook. I haven’t ‘stitched’ these two sketches together, but basically I started at the bottom of one page and continued upward. I had no time (and no inclination) to include everything: I ‘take the viewer with me’ on what I was watching/seeing/observing. The interior was hideously dark of course, so it would have taken a superhuman effort to convey all the shades of brown and black; I hinted at the various colours within the darks with the spot watercolour. The interior corrugated iron was in fact a luscious teal green, for example. Here below is what I was looking at:


After a group photo and show-and-tell (every single work produced today by colleagues was scintillating and inspiring!), I wanted to re-do the original building facades, first in the sort of pencil treatment I’d been using for the interior and a second ‘thumbnail’ just setting the ‘proscenium arch’ effect of the group of buildings. The first ended up being too expressionistic and the second dominated by the use of quinacridone gold watercolour and blue wash. The second is framed by one of the small trucks used by the island ranger to get around the island.


A4 Milini 120g sketchbook. Pleased with the ‘high’ building at right.


A4 Milini 120g sketchbook. The truck’s tray encloses the foreground space nicely, but is not clear in the scan. What’s interesting is that it has taken me THREE attempts to get the fenestration on the two-storey building (right) more or less correct, there being a false door in the middle of the wall. I can’t expect to get all these building facades right until I walk around them and draw them individually – something for next time.

After discussion with a Spanish colleague today (who I believe very successfully managed to capture the different materials and geometric shapes and colours of this same view), I’m resolved now to get an ‘ordinary’ watercolour sketchbook just for practice, for crappy watercolour experimentation that no-one will ever see but me. The alternative to my trip to Bangkok was of course a year’s worth of expensive weekly watercolour lessons. While I don’t resile from the holiday and international urban sketching event, I really must now get stuck into some really decent watercolour painting lessons!


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