Working on perspective: Sydney Harbour #2

November 18, 2013

In response to the challenge of sketching the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I decided to square up an historic black-and-white photo taken in 1932 and transfer it to my sketchbook. I see this sort of activity as a form of subconscious “mind training”: I’m conditioning my visual memory so that when I draw it in the flesh, on site, on location, spatial relationships might come more easily. Plainly a lot of detail simply wasn’t visible in a photo taken at night, so I just drew what I could discern from the floodlit Bridge and nothing more.

sydney harbour bridge 19oct13

I turned up at a North Sydney USk Sydney event with no agenda in mind. I took the opportunity to wander down to Bradfield Park having seen the Arthur Streeton painting of Circular Quay where he stood as close as he could to the water of the harbour. With the night photo drawing and Grace Cossington Smith’s views of the eastern side of the Bridge in mind, I found a vantage point off a footpath. Because of bushfire backburning, the Harbour was full of Sickert-like fog, only really suitable for black-and-white. The end result seemed to have been that I was channelling Norman Lindsay – he would have sketched it in an almost identical way.

sydney harbour bridge 2nov13

To the immediate right of the iconic Luna Park entrance is a very steep staircase and the next two sketches use it: the first looking down and the second looking up. I would have liked to launch myself into some color work, but I seemed to have all sorts of problems getting the measurements and proportions right. I worked on the ground plane first but veered so far off course from the original Albertian veil measurements, that I had to improvise. The first photo shows the full page of the sketchbook, the second shows what I wanted to edit in terms of the Albertian veil. Apparently while I was sketching, a massive cloud of smoke blewn in and obscured the entire area, left of the tower. I need to return sometime to see what I was missing.

luna park entire page

Not conveyed here were the glorious greys inside the stucco of the scallops. I would have liked to have captured that, but the 240gsm Fabbriano Academmia paper was a bit too rough for that.

Today’s key lesson was how important it is to stick with the content inside the Albertian veil or frame. Once I go outside the frame, I run the very real risk of downgrading or watering down the impact of the subject matter inside the frame. The visual impact will probably become diluted.

sydney luna park 2nov13

Undeterred and determined to return sometime to do the color some justice, I took in the foreshortened view of the staircase with the modern building behind. As usual, I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but persisted nevertheless. I liked the contrast between the 1935 Art Deco brick staircase and the contemporary high rise behind. It seems to epitomise Sydney.

milsons point

sydney opera house 2nov13

The last sketch of the day was the Sydney Opera House. Interestingly it went from shades of grey (1pm) to warm up with some yellow after an hour or so (2pm). What attracted to me the building was not the large sails but how the smaller sails nestled or dovetailed into the larger ones – I liked that sequence. Architect Utzon liked the idea of the Opera House floating on the harbour, given its position on a peninsular. Particularly valuable was working beside a colleague and comparing what we both saw and how we interpreted exactly what each of us saw – in entirely different ways, of course!

Coincidentally it’s the 40th anniversary of the completion of the Sydney Opera House. I can say I’ve grown up with the building – here’s a photo I took in 1967 from the observation deck. I can’t recall the deck exactly, but it must have been a temporary construction in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The anniversary has rekindled emotions about the building’s original vision and its implementation; the stifling of creativity by Tory governments seems to be a never-ending refrain in Australia.

sydney opera house 1967

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