Draw on the Mountain, Blue Mountains. Day 3
October 1, 2013
Page 5, A4 Draw on the Mountain sketchbook, 90gsm.
Another post reviewing daily progress in the “Draw on the Mountain” drawing festival, held at the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney. Obviously I’m by now aware of the winners of the competition and their style and approach, but I want to try and re-create here my thinking and processes at the time.
A lot rides on the format and character of the sketchbook as part of the Draw on the Mountain sketchbook competition.
I had no idea what I was paying for in terms of the official sketchbook. Thin paper, portrait format, 11 folios, spiral bound. The restriction implied in dry media affects the potential for color, mainly because cockled pages are so hard to reproduce digitally.
The concept of sketching locations across the Mountains promotes the sense of tourist, scenic impressions. Even though someone like Arthur Streeton back in 1891 spent many days in Lapstone on the mountains preparing for his oil painting “Fire’s On, Lapstone tunnel”, there’s no way I can work one subject exclusively through the whole sketchbook. I’m totally resistant to the concept of incorporating text because text “drains” attention away from the image.
Similarly, I’m not going to produce an album of Object Drawings, vignettes of things (such as native flowers) floating in the centre of each page. There is an inevitable aesthetic involved in viewing the double-page spread so one has to bow to book illustration principles at least in part; we are simply not able to look at each image as a single artefact, it’s always in relation to another on the opposite page. Being spiral bound means there is a jarring split in terms of any work going across both pages in a double-spread.
Today’s first sketch was another “impossibility”, another “risk”, another full of flaws, potentially fatal. Yesterday concentrated on the Built Environment, so in terms of the book’s character of creating an inevitable narrative through the physical act of page-turning, today’s sketches had to be about the Natural Environment. I chose bush-bashing through the north and south sides of the tiny village of Lawson. With just six hours on the Mountains today, I knew I had to walk for 60mins then draw for 60mins, repeating this cycle at least three times.
Five minutes from the railway station, I was getting lost in the tiny trails of the Lawson North National Park. I stopped to take reference photos of all the vigorously flowering native plants. Got lost because the trails are so vaguely signed.
After my first sixty minutes, I parked myself on the trail and aimed to sketch two White Gums with their parallel diagonals at odds with the strong verticals/horizontals of their surroundings. I know that the proper aim or goal is to simplify everything and make things as easy as possible for the viewer. For some reason, I’ve resisted that. Probably to my chagrin.
My main issue was not being able to block in the masses of vegetation with the dry media to hand. But at least some color was injected into a series of otherwise drab-looking black-and-white sketches.
I have a new-found respect for Fred McCubbin, the only Australian painter who dared to paint the Australian bush. Others before and since have only ever dared to paint riverscapes with portraits of gum trees (Hans Heysen) or have only ever painted cultivated land (Arthur Streeton). McCubbin was the only one to tackle the complexity and dark drabness of the natural bush. Conder limited himself to the sinuous line of graceful white gums.