6,7,8,9,10B Mitsubishi pencils on A2 cartridge

Miranda Fair (now known as Westfield Miranda) is Sydney’s first shopping mall – that is, the first regional shopping centre to have two department stores, Grace Bros and David Jones – built in 1964. It became the largest shopping centre in Australia in 1971.

I have no recollection of the shopping centre in my youth, since, at around 4km from home and inaccessible on foot, it was too far away.

As it has increased in size over the decades, the very large (and presumably very old) Moreton  Bay fig on The Kingsway, the main road, has become surrounded on three sides by the shopping mall. The tree, these days, is very much hedged in by the architecture. Public space has been considerably reduced to just seating around the tree, which admittedly is a lot cooler than seating in the direct sun. My colleagues did some excellent renderings of maranta leaves found at the base of the tree.

ShireSketchers had in mind people sketching at this venue today and I found it had unusually good potential for unobtrusive people sketching. There are few places in Sydney where remaining unobtrusive is possible; it attracts smokers who generally sit still longer than most.

I wanted to exploit the current summer sunny weather by drawing the tree, with its very dark darks. I knew in advance it would be ‘bookend-ed’ by the architecture.

I’ve been re-reading this week the published sketches of Penang artist, Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, but instead of tackling a piece of paper 28x76cm, I thought I’d settle for A2 size. I did however use his 6B+ pencils and complete lack of any lay-in. I wanted one sketch for the 10am-noon session and because I work quickly, I didn’t want to overwork simply because the paper was too small.

I started far left and finished far right. I deliberately started at the left-hand edge of the paper (in the manner of Charles Reid) – and finished right at the right-hand edge of the paper. I found myself, unexpectedly, working a lot more blind contour than I ever anticipated. The mind continued to try to do its thing: ‘correcting’ my lines to make the subject matter more readable. During the 90mins, my pencils got blunt once and needed re-sharpening halfway through. I started with the lightest, a 6B and when that got blunt, picked up the next and so on, until they were all blunt and needed resharpening.

I was surprised how much I filled in the time taken; for a full two-hour sketch I could have easily filled a sheet 76cm wide. Countless people walked past but none interrupted me; this is the Shire, after all, where artists are allowed to do their thing in public – anywhere else and I’d be constantly watching my surroundings. Having attempted this today, I can see why Kiean uses a 28cm narrowness. I can’t be sure but the subject was not much smaller than sight-size.

I stopped after 90mins because I’d reached a Y-junction: do I ‘touch up’ the tree by making it darker and in general push the abstract qualities (thinking Kiean, Paul Hogarth, etc.) or push it in the direction of greater realism/naturalism? I’ve also resisted making any changes after-the-fact; in general, I think it’s dangerous to alter the spontaneity of an on-site sketch too much – one might as well do the whole thing again from memory, using the on-site sketch as an aide-memoire.

Several things I can do better next time:

  • time to invest in a tripod: I am tired of a jittery sketching style arising from the fact that I am constantly holding the book in one hand as well as pencil in the other – sitting with it on my knees meant the paper was falling forward, contributing to parallax error;
  • bring an A2 portfolio and a spare plastic sleeve for the finished drawing – carrying a block in one’s hand is no guarantee against injury or damage;
  • pursue an idea to came to me on-site: working outside the Murraya Restaurant (not open on Saturdays) on the lowslung brick wall provided (!) for the lefthand side of the drawing, then move to the next block eastwards to tackle the righthand side of the drawing. As it is, it doesn’t read as Miranda Fair or a shopping centre, but with these two viewpoints (meeting up in the middle of the tree), it would or might ( notice the tree looks better on the untried second location!);


28jan18 miranda fair RIGHT hand side.jpg

  • think seriously about tackling this in watercolour on-site (e.g. Canaletto Aquarelle paper, 35x50cm, 300gsm medium CP), even working without a tripod since then at least the water will run up rather than down the page (!).





Exif_JPEG_PICTUREVenezia Sketchbook (Fabriano Accademia 200gsm), 7×5″. Pilot G-TEC-4 pen, Daniel Smith watercolours, Mitsubishi pencil 7B.

The initial pen drawing was correct and formal, on a foundation of a diagonal top left corner to bottom right corner and two contrary diagonals at the one-third positions.

I then added watercolour with a much smaller synthetic brush than normal, though still too big in terms of starting from a point.

I then added a soft 7B pencil.

I can’t convey how much I hate the finished result and, in fact, how much the  developing looseness in approach over this week to the subject matter horrifies me, as seen in this collage. I feel the more I spend time with the subject, the more it escapes me. I had the same feeling about the egg series last week. I suspect the unrelenting heat of summer is getting to me!

collage LOW RES




Drawn today from life in the middle of the day, when the leaves are transparent with sunshine and there are cast shadows, inspired by the ink-and-wash style of Peter Woolley, UK watercolourist.

Paper. I used a different wet media paper today: Art Spectrum Medium 210gsm (133x190mm block) mainly to get an idea of how Daniel Smith watercolour paints react to different papers. It’s slightly rougher than Fabriano Accademia 200gsm and Woolley appears to use paper in his ink and wash work with some visible ‘tooth’.

Penwork. The initial penwork wasn’t as slow and deliberate as Woolley’s; today’s was a Schwan Stabilo point 188 (I must get back to using a Pilot G-TEC-C4, a former favourite). I prefer yesterday’s post-paint penwork – there being no need to outline every contour, just reinforce the main (hard edge) ones.

Paint. There are endless compromises when sketching from life and mine here is using unmixed paint, straight from the tube: Daniel Smith Cobalt Turquoise (a cool “green”, which is quite blue on paper), Sap Green (warm green and dries to very much lighter on paper). For the lightest and sunniest of the leaves, I introduced Cadmium Yellow and Quinacridone Rose for the flower buds. The general cast of these colours is very 1940s and probably better suited to Australian natives, compared to this Brazilian native Blue Ginger.  I could continue with Daniel Smith tube colours, or I could spend a lot of time mixing greens in advance; or, I could adopt the Michael Carver palette which has no greens at all in it.

I was more careful today about not swamping the vivid purples of the flower buds; I think I can only capture the green spikes in the buds with a light green gouache.

Tomorrow, I think I need to return to pencil, to tighten up the detail. Watercolour is essentially useless without incredibly sound drawing as its foundation.



Eschewed the easy road of pencil drawing for something more adventurous: Daniel Smith watercolours over pencil lay-in and Schwan Stabilo point 188 overlay, on Fabriano Accademia 200gsm, 9×6″ Venezia Sketchbook.

I’m working to the edge of the paper without working within a pencilled-in frame or temporary paper mount. For the larger areas, the Rosemary #2 brush works well, but drawing in such a small format as this really requires a smaller brush as well.

I’ll aim for purer tube colour next time – ideally, just two colours as I worked last week (last week – Payne’s Gray and Yellow); this week, Purple and Green(s). I’ll also aim not to overwork: twice I had a lovely effect which I painted out.

Post-painting contour helped and I’ll keep doing that until my brushwork improves to such an extent that it becomes superfluous.

Twenty minutes to paint, another twenty minutes to draw before adding the penwork.

An alternative would be to use different papers with the same materials.


Venezia Sketchbook Fabriano Accademia 200gsm; Mitsubishi 2H and 2B pencils only.; full page, 9×6″

The light changed too much for me to do any more. I will graduate to watercolour tomorrow. As with last week’s daily drawings, I will stick to just two main colours: here, purple and green.

The focus today was to get the general shape of the leaves as convincing as possible. As with twitchers identifying birds often by their “tell” (the sound as they pass rather than actually sighting the bird), I think half the battle is getting the leaf shape looking believable.

I haven’t made things easy for myself since this is sitting in the middle of a fern. Also, it’s out in the garden, not under controlled lighting indoors.


I believe this is known as Blue Ginger.(Dichorisandra thrysifolia). The flowering usually occurs February through Autumn. This bush receives slightly less sun than another which is already in full bloom.

For the purposes of a more detailed understanding of the flowers, I took two additional photos today; both are worthy of watercolours in their own right.



This is what I did in class yesterday. After an initial contour sketch and more detail (mimicking the variety of marks to be made in pen), I drew over most of my pencil lines in Staedtler Fineliner pen. I’m about to erase the pencil lines.

Some comments:

* I’m a bit diffident about traditional pen-and-ink which fills the page with a mass of pen lines. In overcoming this prejudice, I am concentrating on filling the page more than I normally do.

* Personally I’m more interested in sticking closer to reality than this and less interested in radically alterating reality just to make a pretty picture. In overcoming this prejudice, I am concentrating here on maximising the number of interesting geometric shapes throughout the drawing.

* When all is said and done, leaves can be remarkable homogenous and compete with tree trunks. In overcoming this prejudice, I am concentrating on exploiting the variety of marks: lots of little branches, dark areas within the leave masses, lines reinforcing the curves of the trunks, shadows of limbs against trunks, stipping and scattered lines for transitions, reflections in water and of course the anchoring effect of an horizon.

* I went in a bit too hard with the dark darks because the example we were copying seemed not to have a focal point. Traditional Pen and Ink aims for an all-over, whereas Painting goes for a focal point.

* Traditional Pen & Ink stands alone without colour. I am tempted to re-do this a couple of times with different experiments with watercolour wash, watercolour with salt, watercolour with plastic film-wrap, etc. 

* Copying someone else’s drawn or penned lines is incredibly easy. The upside is that you come out with something that looks good; the downside is that they’ve done all your thinking for you. What’s more challenging, is applying all this to one’s own composition.

* Lastly, there’s nothing like practice. If drawing daily is too difficult, try drawing every other day. Skill starts to fade after leaving things for three days in my case.

This is all fortuitous since it was only yesterday I was out drawing Moreton Bay fig trees (though they may be Port Jackson fig trees – Ficus macrophylla versus Ficus rubiginosa*) so for the next class in a fortnight’s time I should re-do yesterday’s trees in the park as a Traditional Pen and Ink. Alternatively, look at a Hans Heysen or Albert Namatjira and translate it to pen-and-ink. 

Also there’s an ‘endangered’ tree in Laura Street Newtown, so I want to sketch that as soon as possible before anything happens to it. Also a new planting of ten trees by Marrickville Council (two have been vandalised already) in Richardson Crescent Tempe – it will be interesting to compare a sketch of them now with one done in ten years’ time since they will radically alter the rise of the railway bridge.

(*) Rubignosa is smaller – see the one outside the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Macrophylla has roots which drop, curtain-like, from limbs. Will check out the example on Observatory Hill next time I’m there.

Part of the second-last spread in my handmade book. And I still haven’t managed to attempt to draw the tree itself…