Perspective in Landscape Drawing – Tempe House, Arncliffe NSW 2205

July 21, 2013

Several views of Tempe House, a Georgian-style villa built in the countryside outside Sydney in 1835 by colonial architect John Verge. Verge designed many important landmark residences including Camden Park and Elizabeth Bay House for important clients. This villa, in Greek temple style, is facing north and gives on to the Cooks River. The current approach to harbourside or riverside high-rise housing development is to preserve any original houses, put in or restore immaculately-kept gardens but otherwise surround them by 10- or 20-storey residential apartment blocks, amphitheatre-wise. A Bangkok equivalent – this is an international trend – would be Sathorn House.


When first built, Tempe House attracted the attention of numerous respected colonial artists including Samuel Elyard and Conrad Martens.

Samuel Elyard included both the house and the causeway (now Cooks River Bridge). Here’s a sketch from a similar viewpoint, though I was right on the northern riverbank and Tempe House is just out of frame far right. I’ll try to work out exactly where Sam sat to do did his drawing.

kendrick park

Suburbia has long since overtaken the villa and its surrounds. I’ve written about the villa before in these pages, but this week it hosted a painting exhibition by members of the Kogarah Art Society so I had unparalleled access to the house and grounds.

tempe house

Milini 150gsm A4 sketchbook, graphite pencil H, 5×7.5″ sketch with a 4×5″ Albertian veil. A 40-min morning sketch.

tempe house 14jul13

Milini 150gsm A4 sketchbook, graphite pencil H, 5×7.5″ sketch with a 4×5″ Albertian veil. A 40-min afternoon sketch.

I was very unhappy with this sketch, the most telling error being not the exaggerated size of the chimneys but the rectangular shape of the wall to the immediate left of the brown drainpipe in the centre of the photo. The top of the drainpipe was my centre-point. I exploited the fact that the building was silhouetted against so many horizontals and verticals in the contemporary buildings behind. Far left was hardgoing, but things got easier with the far right.


tempe house 16jul13

Milini 150gsm A4 sketchbook, graphite pencil H, 5×7.5″ sketch with a 4×5″ Albertian veil. A 40-min morning sketch.

I was happier with this latest effort but wonder if I’m working too small for the amount of detail I’m wanting to capture. I certainly tried to simplify with ‘blocky’ shapes.  The size of the kitchen outbuildings in relation to the main house remains problematic.

tempe house 17jul13

Milini 150gsm sketchbook A4, graphite pencil H

This is the last in the current series of Tempe House, mainly because the painting exhibition held there this week made the restored house accessible to the public.

I was relatively unfazed by the fact that my measuring for one side of the facade didn’t match the other. After thinking about it for a long time afterwards however, I did realise that I’ve been making a fundamental arithmetic error when sizing up the dimensions of the frame. Instead of 5×7.5″, it should be 6×7.5″. So that it can match the 4×5″ Albertian veil I’m looking through. By having the wrong-sized frame on the sketchpad, I’ve been inadvertently elongating the finished sketch. Little wonder my measurements were fighting my ‘eye’! Not to worry – at least I’ve learned something.

As much as I love these spontaneous sketches out on location, I feel compelled to develop them. Down which path is the question.

I’m not seeing myself fitting easily into any of the following established pathways:

1. painters and printmakers who use sketches as vehicles towards two-dimensional sculptural objects hanging on walls. They prefer to work in the closed art world which heavily controls quantity and quality.

2. sketchbook artists and producers of artist’s books, who use sketches as vehicles for books. The former democratize the established art world, but glorify quantity over quality, expression over aesthetics, the fleeting over the very closely observed, novelty over continuity. While artists’ books try to fit into the art world (rather like tapestry weaving given the time and effort required to produce them), there is no market for sketchbook artists (unless they revert to (1) and sell framed examples to hang on walls), sketchbook artists defy the established primary and secondary art markets. Hope lies perhaps in Asia, beyond the established art world, where for example in Bangkok, sketchbook artists are finding ways of publicizing, exhibiting and selling in ways vastly different from the West.

3. digital artists who operate not in the traditional world of the two-dimensional artistic ”artefact’. The closest nexus between sketching and the digital is in the work of William Kentridge.

These last few weeks for me have been focussed on Western Illusionism with its premium on perspective and deep pictorial space. It’s the direct opposite of contemporary art which is concerned with “posterization” and flat depiction of space, which began largely with the ‘fragmentation’ brought on in Cubism and got locked in to Abstraction. Contemporary urban sketching is a worthwhile return to depicting the world around us (rather than an abstracted one or even a surreal one, despite the very strong thread of fantasy around these days), I sense a real return to the principles of space depicted in the Middle Ages and Byzantine art, a pre-Renaissance view of the world, a world lacking linear perspective. I personally prefer Humanism over a ”religion-ized’ view of the world, so I know how much I’m at odds with current trends.


One Response to “Perspective in Landscape Drawing – Tempe House, Arncliffe NSW 2205”

  1. quirkyartist Says:

    I have been doing quite an amount of thinking about these issues – the glorification of quantity over quality for one in particular. I haven’t managed to put it into a coherent form that would go into a blog post.

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