Mascot panorama, 8″ square, Venezia Sketchbook Fabriano Accademia 200gsm; Sakura micron 0.5mm fineliner; Polychromos oil-based coloured pencils.


Over the years, I’ve been threatened while out location drawing at building sites into discontinuing a sketch by security guards and building/construction personnel, despite always working on public property. The law is on my side, but it’s not worth sketching under the bullying gaze and verbal interrogation of others.

The Westconnex expressway development has seen public protests since its inception so, along with the oppressively hot and humid weather today, I wasn’t going to mix it with the construction workers. Even taking a couple of reference photos for potential drawings was done as unobtrusively as possible.

I was surprised to accidentally come across this panorama of the burgeoning apartment blocks around the new metro station of Mascot in the distance. I remember when Mascot property was light industrial, with the smell of horse knackery by night. Nowadays haute couture boutique shops and luxury car showrooms have taken their place.

Apart from exploiting natural direction lines, this is a routinely-challenging square format. Making it into a rectangle would eliminate the white road markings as well as the dramatic sky. And yes, I realise it’s a cliche-looking Jeffrey Smart composition. I need to spend more time ‘skying’, as John Constable called it – drawing skies and clouds.

Use of coloured pencil with waterproof pen (as championed by James Richards, for example) is a natural extension on my pen-alone work yesterday. I love the way that in Richards’ drawings, the coloured pencil calms the overly-strong black-and-white penwork and how his very sketchy use of pencil, rather than block areas of colour, works like tinting an engraving.







Sakura Micron 0.5mm fineliner on A2 cartridge

The Rocks, Sydney

Working alla prima with no pencil underlay and with no forethought about geometrical foundation, I worked from right to left initially in contour, then in a combination of tone and cross-hatching. The line wasn’t as fluid or loose as I’d anticipated and I’m re-learning a lot about the subtlety of cross-hatching. I’m surprised how little my penwork has changed over the last five years: the ‘signature’ is firmly in place.

Happily, I worked under shelter and with a ‘found’ easel and in a setting almost devoid of distractions. High up on the viewing platform on the Cahill Expressway overlooking Circular Quay, I had barely a handful of visitors – best of all was not having to hold or handle the paper while working. Sydney Sketch Club worked this venue recently and visited the doomed Sirius building (left) from the Brutalist era. Not conveyed here with any deftness are the striking contrasts in architecture: from the Australia Navigation Company building far right, to the modernist hotel centre and the new Museum of Contemporary Art annexe left. The shadows got more defined in the last hour of the drawing, 10.30-11.30am, though their geometrical shapes were more interesting in the half-hour before that. I liked adding the indigenous flag far left.

I hope to return to this location soon.




Pen on paper – Faber-Castell PITT artist pen Black #199 F; MontMarte sketching journal 5.5×8.5″.

Summer holidays means playing with materials. This cross-hatching pen style reminds me of Robert Crumb.

Strengths. A very pleasant session observing reality! Extremely quick and very easy sketching method, almost too effortless. I was aware of contrasting textures: stone, tin, brick, bitumen, clipped hedge. I followed the concept of fish-eye/wide-angle reasonably well. There’s an understanding here of how much to economise subject matter in order to fit it on the page. Cheap paper = useful for practising both the wide-angle concept till it feels as natural as more usual linear perspective and tonal values/texture through cross-hatching till it becomes more automatic.

Weaknesses. The uppermost perspective lines are somewhat insecure; the bottom right-hand corner needs to balance up the left.

Opportunities. Location/Light and Shade. Try doing something like facing south next time – today, I was drawing into heavy shade throughout. The natural environment. Choose a less demanding subject next time – minimise use of trees next time – there were rather too many of them today and I only included a fraction of them.Keep working on the silhouettes of trees! Tools. The paper needs to be a tad smoother, though there is no bleed-through, so it’s possible to do another complete drawing on the back. Given the small size of the page, go for an Extra Fine pen next time. In fact, work through all your fine-pointed pens to see if any of them both suit the paper and suit the size of the drawing. Once all the pens have been tested, use this concept in pencil and see how it works with colour. Texture. Cultivate a variety of surface texture next time or at least know how to render it – the shrubs are rendered in the same manner as steel building facades.

Threats. Don’t stick to pen with this concept – incorporate into pencil drawing and even colour. Watch the dark darks – they tend to draw the eye!

6 bolton st st peters

A4 Milini 150gsm, graphite pencil H, early morning

I dashed off sketches of two building facades the other day, based on old photos. I was trying to get general proportions right, then infilling with details. One was strictly symmetrical, the other very slightly asymmetrical. As complex, elaborately modeled facades, I decided I needed more practice with simpler buildings. It’s a bit like going to a life drawing class followed by some anatomical study.

newcastle 1

newcastle 2

A4 Milini 150gsm sketchbook, graphite pencil H, half a page each. 

Two sketches today, the first (right) on location and the second (left) later at home. For color scheme, see Google Streetview for 6 Bolton Street St Peters NSW 2044. There was no tone to speak of because the weather was overcast and the facade faced west. I would like to return to sketch both the patchy paintwork on the brick facade as well as the massive tree in front.

I chose as simple a facade as I could possibly find in my local area. I wanted to get the symmetry and proportions accurate, which led to ever closer observation of architectural detail. Normally I don’t view building facades perpendicularly “head on” but I need the practice, the mind-training. There’s a parallel with figure drawing: one draws the figure head-on before tackling the three-quarter view.

I ignored the parked car and large tree in front of the building. The level of concentration in closely observing a building facade is not unlike the focus on anatomical structure and detail when observing the figure.

At left, the purple is the field of vision delineated by a 5×4″ Albertian veil, making sure the whole facade fitted on to the page. Green is the eye line (and assumed horizon line) but the only hints of linear perspective were in the parapets on the roof line.


In terms of proportions, the liver-red brick facade is broken into three. There are areas of decorative brickwork of identical size at the roof line. The original sash windows have been replaced by aluminium ones. These in turn have been overlaid with security steel grills. Lastly, I paid attention to the position of the Art Deco terracotta brick finials, glazed and colored vermilion, and their relative size.


With more practice of this sort in mind, I spent some time today photographing other buildings ” head on” in my local area which would be impossible to sketch on-site – either because I’d have to position myself in the middle of a road, on a busy footpath or on private property.



B and HB pencil, A4, 220gm Multimedia card stock 

The Sketching Architecture weblog demonstrated some line techniques using Palladio’s Tempietto Barbaro which I thought I’d have a closer look at. Google Images provide a context for any building; setting is important for me because I like to have a clear understanding of where the building sits. In this case, the columned facade faces north and this view is more or less from the middle of a narrow street. Not unsurprisingly, photographers look for tall trees nearby (Nature paralleling the Building) or for contrast between the horizontal of fences and fields with the verticals of the building. I’m that pernicketty sort of person who includes trees and street furniture, power poles and signs – though over time I’m dropping them if I think them ‘unsuitable’. 

Why Palladio, why today? I am intrigued today by the backlash from Lega Nord against the route of a proposed LGBT march across the Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano della Grappa. Fascinated that this is perceived as a ‘sacred site’ by heterosexual Italians. Opposition to LGBT marches around the world is almost always about police consent and the potential for violence, rarely is it about the physical route itself. And symbolically heterosexual territoriality is probably linked to the famous popular song about the bridge: Sul ponte di Bassano, la’ ci darem la mano ed un bacin d’amor: The bridge dates from the 13th century and it’s been restored to the original design by Andrea Palladio. Not that northern Italians have a monopoly on madness: I notice also German soccer fans describing pejoratively an ‘Andrea’ playing in the Italian national team, indicating his is a feminine name.

Reviewing drawing processes

I’m in the mood for looking more closely at my drawing processes. Reading the Sketching Architecture weblog is helping, as is re-reading Ernest W. Watson’s The Art of Pencil Drawing. Yesterday’s Sydney Sketch Club meetup showed a propensity for black-and-white work, perhaps reflecting the sharpness of mid-Winter shadows. I’m similarly intrigued by Ernest W. Watson’s ideas about changing perspective in architectural drawing to suit the artist’s purposes, but more on that later. I’m following his advice lately about (1) setting down foundation lines, (2) honing in on the ‘darks’, then (3) sorting out the medium tones.

(1) Preparation. There hardly exists any Important Building which hasn’t been photographed previously and on display publicly via Flickr and other websites. Urban landscapes these days call on increased greening of streetscapes, so photos, either in Winter when leaves have dropped or historic photos before trees were planted, are useful in seeing buildings “naked”. These photos are useful for understanding geometry, volume and pespective.

(2) Measuring. I’m learning to do more measuring, using the width (and half-widths) of a pencil using an extended arm, to site the building on my page. Keeping to the Golden Mean, dividing the page into thirds and keeping away from a horizon dead in the centre, is important compositionally.

(3) Volumes. What I need to do more is work on volumes before putting in tone and detail. Wish me luck!

(4) Darkest tones. For me (as for Ernest W. Watson), tone is king. There’s hardly any point in drawing a building where shadows aren’t important. I know I have no problem at all in honing in on interesting shadows; I’m developing the appropriate stamina to sit through shadows which change. Light here in Sydney was described by early Colonial painters here as “Portuguese” and “Italian”; Conrad Martens believed that putting the darkest tones in the foreground helped create a sense of depth and distance in his landscapes. I am super-conscious of the Lower Right Hand Corner of anything I do: this is the artist’s natural “blind spot” and attending to the RH corner always creates dividends. All these things come into play.

(5) Mid-tones. I’m not taking enough time to pick up two or three additional graphite pencils to work mid-tones. I need to slow down and not panic about shadows disappearing or changing. Watson talks about limiting mid-tones to three or four. A superlative drawing will probably show five or six separate tonal values.

This 220gm card stock would take watercolour but is like Bristol board in taking up the subtle greys of hard graphite pencil.