Draw on the Mountain, Blue Mountains NSW
September 27, 2013
A Blue Mountains art shop/eco retreat, Wild Valley Art Park, with the assistance of some prominent artists who live locally, is organizing a local drawing festival in September. I’ll be participating in the self-guided drawing trail event from Springwood to Lithgow. I’ve registered and will receive a Draw on the Mountain sketchbook which I’ll fill up over the ten days of the event. I won’t be attending any of the fine-looking workshops being given by the local artists, all of whom are big names in the art scene.
It will be a good opportunity to sketch the Australian bushland near Sydney but to maintain visual interest will inevitably be a mix of Buildings, Streetscape and People that I associate normally with Urban Sketching as well as landscape and botanica. The Blue Mountains is urban, suburban and rural, all rolled up into one, since it’s close to urban Sydney and Parramatta but also sufficiently removed to be a collection of small villages, now technically suburbs of Sydney, surrounded by National Park.
I had the opportunity to commute by train on a daily basis to the mountains for a week earlier this year and for this event will repeat that dynamic: a nearly three-hour train trip up the Mountains, some sketching and then a three-hour train trip back home.
On the mountains, I hope to practise sketching a variety of trees, since at least some of the drawing festival locations include or are adjacent to national park eucalyptus forests. Sketching, drawing and painting the Australian bush is a tricky thing, not lease since most of art books don’t feature advice on sketching Australian trees in particular. The built environment is changing rapidly given that the villages which for a hundred years or more have been one-horse towns along a thin winding road but are being radically altered both by suburban housing subdivisions and suburban high streets now being swallowed by by a widening of the road to become a modern expressway.
While I hope to venture into the more interesting landscape locations, I’ll be limited to public transport, so the pace will inevitably be ‘slower’ than if I was darting from one mountain lookout to the next by car.
There are some interesting subtexts going on. For example, Norman Lindsay lived on the mountains, combining the figure and landscape. It will be interesting to revisit those themes perhaps with a visit to his home, now a gallery featuring his work. He was an inveterate sketcher growing up and his early sketches have been an inspiration personally. The long-standing Kedumba Drawing Prize, held locally every year in November, is a focal point for Australian drawing and I’ve learned a lot from the drawings exhibited there. The Mountains are home to one of the world’s oldest trees, the Wollemi Pine and also to one of the few places close to Sydney to observe kangaroos in the wild. Some commentators have dubbed this the “first” drawing festival, though I would have considered the Drawing Marathons in Adelaide, established back in 1997 as the first of this kind.
I don’t want my sketchbook to be a visual journal in the strictest sense, with dates and written commentary (often done in very questionable calligraphy), but it will in part be structured around each of the ten days because of the nature of the travel involved. I’ll try not to limit myself to one particular medium. I’m mindful of one watercolor exhibition I attended recently where on display were expensive-looking, relatively unused leather-bound books, some of which only contained one or two very studied watercolor paintings – and these were all dubbed ‘artists’ sketchbooks’ in glass cabinets designed to flesh out the framed paintings on the wall.
I want it to be an exploration of the sketching medium, with color notes and personal observations of a technical nature. Unusually for me, it may include text annotations, mainly because of late I’ve been anticipating what questions people ask when they look through my sketchbooks, i.e. the narrative imposed by the viewer. And I can see some value in providing that information “in advance”.
I don’t want it to be a chocolate-box presentation of the best of the Blue Mountains’ tourist views or in the style of sketchbook illustrators like Cedric Emmanuel with one medium throughout, in his case, pen and ink. I’m highly resistant to epithets like “Charm School”. There’s nothing more deadly than being labelled “Charm School”!
I’ll probably be doing it alone because no-one I know would be prepared to commute and walk as I’m prepared to do. This is a long way from urban sketching by Sydney Harbour, but the bush landscape is an incredibly strong tradition in Australian visual art, impossible to ignore or reject simply because I live in the city.