Sydney University NSW 2006

June 1, 2013

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The Sydney group of Urban Sketchers Australia met to sketch Sydney University. I have several things going on at the one time in relation to Sydney University: the Old Darlington School because it’s a building able to be sketched from a long way away (helps with perspective), the Gothic buildings (including one by Walter Liberty Vernon), the interesting modern archtecture mediating some of the very severe 1960s Brutalist architecture, the Ancient Roman and Greek statues in the Nicholson Museum and the fauna and flora in the Macleay Museum.

Who said urban sketching is all about buildings? I got eight pages done today, four of Buildings and four of People.

A quick 30min warm-up sketch because I’ve been doing figurative work lately in association with a Strathmore online workshop, which also focusses on tonal value. With a tad more time at my disposal, I would have strengthened the darks. The sunshine was at its best at 9am; it was all downhill after that. The areas of brown patina on the bronze make this worth coming back to sketch.

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This double-page spread was useful because I was able to do a pencil sketch while waiting for the watercolor to dry. This is the gatehouse of St Paul’s College on City Road. I’ve tried hard to render the sandstone accurately. The blue character of the pencilwork is a result of the Greyscale Picture setting on my new scanner, which is better for pencilwork than the Color setting.

The watercolor leaves a lot to be desired but one’s responses are largely reflexive when painting on location; a lot of what I’m being taught at the moment is for the studio only and will only become obvious in plein air painting after another 1000 or so similar sketches. This particular subject seemed more suited to my current watercolor work than the much more complicated buildings on campus.

One of the chief sticking points for me was to sketch or not to sketch the surrounding vegetation. In the past I would have, but I’m trying to simplify things these days. Despite facing east, there was no bright sunlight on the facade, except when the sun came out, beautiful slivers of white would appear down the sides of the walls. The reference photo provides valuable feedback on what I was experiencing at the time on site; for example, the tonality of the ‘dirty’ look of the sandstone – because it looked so fragmentary on site, it was hard to see it as one tonality compared to the roof tiles, linked to the fact that the darkest darks surround the building.

I left the lovely protea flower in the reference photo and would have included it in the drawing if I’d had time.

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I found some of the juxtaposition of the planes in and around the new Law School building very interesting. I concentrated hard on rendering the glass curtain accurately and the sketch spilled over to the right-hand page of the double-page spread. I adopted the technique of drawing figures as used by my watercolor teacher. I found myself adopting many of the observational marks I’ve done previously, especially in my series of Parramatta streetscapes.

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On the first Satuirday of each month, two of the university museums are open to the public after 12noon.

Drawing the whole figure is preferable to drawing its parts, but I attempted that last time I visited the current exhibition at the Nicholson Museum. Unfortunately I didn’t lay down a foundation for what I was doing, but started with the nose and spread out (far left). It doesn’t help when parts of the body aren’t there – parts have been removed for the purpose of investigating the inner workings (see cover photo of the Museum’s magazine). The papier-mache model is both old and small, so I haven’t tried to make “William” full-size. By the third attempt, I was getting the skull proportions correct, but the sensor light going off all the time (I was virtually the only visitor) meant the subject kept blacking out on me. The pupils of the eyes are particularly lifeless; on the model, they are practically black dots. The reference photo is interesting feedback on the problems I was experiencing standing before the subject.


Here’s the wooden model of a horse’s heart which I alternated with “William” when the lights went out on him. The painted exterior is very attractive and I’ll be back to sketch it again, adding color somehow. With the Strathmore 2013 online workshop front-of-mind, I found the play of shadows (in three greys) worth capturing.  The reference photo shows I could have got the overall proportions a bit better.


One Response to “Sydney University NSW 2006”

  1. I also have a difficult time “simplifying” my images. Your commentary on your own frustrations AND subsequent ‘overcomes’ are so helpful. Thank you.

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