Statues of Queen Victoria

June 16, 2013

The Sydney Sketch Club met recently on the Queen’s Birthday public holiday to go out and draw some statues of Queen Victoria here in Sydney. This got me thinking about Queen Victoria statues in Asia, especially given the chequered career of the bronze statue outside our Queen Victoria Building retail complex. Bought and completely refurbished by a Singapore company, the Federation Romanesque QVB building needed a statue of Queen Victoria, so the owners combed the world and, given no-one wanted to give up their statues of Queen Vic, evetually found one, abandoned on a farm in Ireland.

On these Winter mornings, strong sunlight tends to fade very quickly after 9am. Here’s the first, at Queen’s Square, outside St James’ Church and the Law Courts.

queens square 1

A4 Milini 150g sketchbook

You can see here how I was attracted to the very shortened pose and got increasingly interested in the skull. She ends up looking like a Chinese emperor out of Gilbert and Sullivan and I was trying very hard not to give her a beard because of the way the light fell. After a time, the sun got a bit hot so I withdrew to do a context shot.

queens square 2

This was instructive because I started to include the plinth. In hindsight, I realise it was important to MEASURE it properly and not simply work from top to bottom based on visual geometry.  The trees reminded me of last week’s effort at Ashfield and I ended up including a patch of the city skyline. Colleagues pursued the contrast between the trees and the statue with a vengeance and really developed the foreground/background space.

qvb 1

I thought the second statue outside the QVB would be very difficult because I knew it would be in completely shade – I expected a big blob of black as a consequence.  Despite the fact she looks like Quentin Crisp in dress-up (and she looks as if she’s holding a choc-top and not an orb), it turned out to be an interesting exercise in Drapery, which I don’t pursue as often as I should.  I went back to do the plinth under her arm only to discover that it was completely out of whack with the plinth on the left-hand side. I ought to have measured more carefully and the biggest lesson learned today was to do a foundation of the plinth before adding the sculpture.

qvb 2I

I didn’t have all the time in the world, so opted for a re-work of the plinth – interesting because it’s a trefoil or three-pronged granite monster. I definitely need to return to get the geometry of the plinth correct. The characters at the base were charity workers, resting from their spruiking passers-by. It was crowded with pedestrians, one asking me if this was some sort of artists’ happening (there were forty of us sketching!). We were adjacent to a pavement artist who rolled out a giant canvas on which he was working in pastel crayons – a Rubens’ 1616 painting featuring women and lions.

The ‘soundtrack’ when doing these sketches was really very annoying: John Laws had loaned his voice to a recording embedded in a nearby statue of Queen Victoria’s dog. Every time someone approached the dog statue, his voice would start up, begging for money. Similarly, there was a busker at Queen’s Square earlier in the morning with a relentless mournful repertoire played on a tenor recorder; it drove me nuts as well.

qvb queen victoria color setting queen victoria in calcutta 001

Two follow-up sketches of Queen Victoria statues elsewhere. The important thing about drapery is to establish the big areas then break them down with smaller detail – this I know, but find hard to do; the use of toned paper ought to help establish the basic light, mid and dark tones.

The second, Queen Victoria in Calcutta, belies my important lesson not adhered to: I really must draw the plinth first and get its symmetry correct before starting on anything else. I have started introducing a bit of color, which is something which is now sneaking in to my daily toned paper sketches, hopefully in a better way than my sketches on toned paper of six months ago, of Bangkok scenes prior to my trip there.

queen victoria in bangkok

The thing about adding the plinth first is that can “cramp” the subsequent statue and working with relatively blunt charcoal pencils means a loss of detail and errors in perspective. I need to return to this reference photo and work larger, with sharp pencils. My take-out from this is to go back to doing more practice with perspective. My guru, Ernest Watson (Emeritus Artist of American Artist magazine), advocates endless drawings of a 3″ cardboard cube.


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