Draw on the Mountain, Days 5 & 6

October 12, 2013

Day 5 involved a train trip to Katoomba and a long walk down to Echo Point past the 1920s hotels and guest houses to look south-east to take in the Three Sisters and to look west to take in the cliff face. It was impossible not to take in the tourists milling around and I needed any excuse at this point to include the figurative. Gone is the precarious chicken-wire barrier fence of old; the viewing platform now is an immense concrete area, with line upon line of buses disgorging hundreds of Chinese tourists.

The walk back to town took in the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I was surprised to see the Blue Mountains Art Gallery charging admission. The view south from the cultural centre is very impressive and I would have stayed longer if it was not a designated non-smoking area. What’s particularly lovely about the view is the receding lines of mountains in successively lighter shades of blue.  In a need to “anchor” the panorama, I had to include the extensive white roof of the supermarket below it.

Day 6 involved botanical specimens, in an effort to keep the variety of sketching content throughout the sketchbook as wide as possible. The only weakness is the lack of the figurative, which could have been included had I taken in the Festival location, the Lindsay museum at Faulconbridge, with its female nude sculptures in the garden.

I regret the use of Derwent graphite pencils producing grey linework. The grey suggests weakness and lack of confidence, so I need to upgrade to some sort of very dark, black pencils. In hindsight, the use of coloured pencil is regrettable since coloured pencils convey but one emotion: superficiality. For a sketchbook destined to be included in a public exhibition, one needs gravitas, not superficiality. I thought, though, at the time, that the sketchbook needed a positive, optimistic high note, best conveyed with colour.

This brought the sketchbook to a total of 16 pages, worked on both sides of the paper.

The sketchbook exhibition

The exhibition included work from everyone who participated; I lost track of them after about sixty or so. The vast majority created sketchbooks with massively cockled pages. Only a very select few (including the winners) worked in dry media only and only on one side of the paper. None sketched on more than 8 or 9 single pages.

What conclusions did I come to about the winners and other participants? Colour is a no-no. So is wet media. The wettest media producing any effective results was a marker pen. No sketchbook project or competition I know of has paper stronger than 90gsm. To realistically expect decent wet media, the minimum has got to be 200gsm. Only one or two featured very highly detailed pencil drawings. I noticed an unfortunate trend (in more than one sketchbook) of inserting whites over pencil or charcoal with liquid paper or white paint; the horror of this is the texture is so jarring.

Obviously the focus is on landscape, though some featured a lot of figure drawing, based either on people in cafes or the Lindsay garden sculptures. The focus too is on commercial art – sketches which can be reproduced for advertising and promotion purposes. All up, it’s patently obvious that there are only two imperatives in sketching/drawing: Perspective and Anatomy. If either of these is not 110% correct, then all one ends up with is feeble sketching. This is personally encouraging for me, because I’m well down both those tracks. I just need to persist with them. Only one or two sketches were worked as double spreads; the key thing here was that the ugly metal spine needed to blend into the sketch. And one involving complex penwork managed to disguise the spine.

The two biggest weaknesses in my sketchbook were the lack of correct perspective and insubstantial figurative work. Pontoons and fence posts at Wentworth Falls Lake, the soaring architecture of the Lithgow Blast Furnace all had to be immaculate in terms of perspective. I was surprised (but not surprised also) to see so many sketchers rush to sketch other art at the Lindsay museum. Admittedly, the museum is probably the second-biggest tourist attraction on the Mountains after the Three Sisters, but I thought better (for some reason) to not include the art-referencing-art of figurative sculpture.

What I certainly need to do next time is make all my images larger on the page, with only an inch or so as a white border. This has implications, of course, for the size of the marks on the page. Because sketchbooks are to be read as books, at very close range, no mark on any page can afford to be gratuitous. Every mark has to count!

It’s also incredibly important not to disturb the viewer by jumping from long-distance views to close-ups, from Claudian landscapes to botanica. From the winners, it’s obvious that one must maintain more or less the same distance from the subject throughout the whole sketchbook.

It’s pointless to create more sketches than the minimum: one per page, nothing on the reverse. It was interesting to leaf through the sketchbooks and find the weak sketch which should have been removed – and with 11 pages it was always possible to tear out the weakest. Unlike an exhibition of paintings, where all are of similar quality, it’s inevitable in any sketchbook to come across “dud” sketches.

draw on the mountain p13

draw on the mountain p14draw on the mountain p15

draw on the mountain p12draw on the mountain p11

draw on the mountain p10

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