DS watercolour paints on Moleskine Folio Watercolour; Rosemary #2 brush; 15.75x15cm.

A second copy of Albany Wiseman’s Derelict Farmhouse in his The Artist’s Sketchbook (London, David & Charles, 2002, p.51).

Several conclusions:

  • sky: wet-on-dry today: I have to attribute the hard edges to the paper and its sizing (I’ve suspected all along that Wiseman used 300gsm for this study); mine has more granulation;
  • I’ve used DS Sap Green almost exclusively today: the background hills are ‘pure’ and everything else involves a mix with that green; the foreground would be improved with the granulation provided by DS Potters Pink;
  • I’m more certain today that he uses a cooler green than my DS Sap Green (Wiseman’s hills are much more convincing than mine as a consequence) – but I’m not obsessing over trying to replicate the exact colour so much as imitating the brushstrokes;
  • I am pleased with the transparency of washes sufficiently ‘watery’ to show pencil lines; however it’s obvious from the ‘beads’ he’s left in the foreground, they could possibly have been more ‘watery’ still;
  • there’s much more work to do with improving the visual interest of the mid-ground and I think one way of imagining that a little better would be do a pencil drawing of the entire scene, adding what I think Wiseman might have seen only to have subtracted it in his watercolour;
  • I keep seeing new things, despite having gone over the original book illustration of 10cm square – I’m today seeing blue lines as ‘window sills’ and – !@#$ – two tiny people;
  • I used a Rosemary #2 brush exclusively today and I’m more convinced than ever that a much smaller brush was used for the details.

Yesterday’s is plainly much more vibrant than today’s and it was interesting to move to more ‘watery’ washes to compensate. To give my brushstrokes a bit more ‘direction’, I’ll go for a separate pencil drawing to create imagined details in the mid-ground and try out a rougher paper. Fascinating!



DS Watercolour paint in Moleskine Folio Watercolour sketchbook, 15.75x15cm.

I’m carefully adopting a traditional studio approach to watercolour before going outdoors. That involves deciding on tube paint, the texture of the washes, the order of work, which colours were mixed on the palette and which mixed on paper and being very strict about assessing drying times.

I’m going through all my books for simple watercolour sketches I can copy, more to compare brushstrokes and strengths of washes than matching them colour-for-colour.

Copying means I can get into the artist’s head seeing how they used what technique to what effect. The current subject appeals because it very plainly uses ‘watery’, ‘juicy’ and ‘pasty’ washes in combination. A variety of mark-making is evident, as is materiality: backruns and colours mixing on the paper, the “superpowers” of watercolour.

Today’s is a copy of Derelict Farmhouse, in Albany Wiseman’s The Artist’s Sketchbook (London, David & Charles, 2002, p.95).

Behind the white paper mount around my drawing are my colour notes and order of work: 1. pencil lay-in (little more than a dozen lines); 2. Sky: what looked like a juicy wash on wet paper in cerulean (and actually descends right through to foreground on the left and down the building on the right); 3. Building first layer, with water added for watery wash towards foreground; 4. Background hills: juicy wash in Sap Green and more watery wash in foreground with addition of yellow; 5. Dark highlights (Van Dyck Brown) moving to more watery for building shadow; 6. Scarlet highlight with additional more watery dashes to its left.


  • tonally darker than the original, which is a natural consequence of preferring ‘juicy’ washes over ‘watery’ ones;
  • I suspect the paper wasn’t pre-wetted at all for the sky, for example – try a ‘juicy’ wash on dry paper (and if still too strong, go for my routine ‘watery’ wash);
  • go even bigger: published it was 10x10cm, but I suspect from the smallest brushstrokes that the original was probably twice the published size, not 75% in today’s – either that change to a much smaller brush for all the brushed lines;.
  • .using ‘juicy’ washes virtually eliminated all pencil marks – try again with my more routine ‘watery’ washes.


On a personal note, I love the summer break for experimenting. Yes, there is the ‘shock of the new’ but it’s great to play before going back into the studio proper to tackle the year’s body of work.



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 (!).





Today I went out sketching with a very genial location drawing group at the southern end of Tom Ugly’s Bridge, Sylvania, facing north on to the Georges River. Though it was hot (33/mid-80s) it was overcast and not yet sunny, so the river had a distinct grey-green look about it.

This started out with a Rule of Thirds in place, the LH third corresponding to one of the bridge pylons and the other to the edge of the boat ramp. These measurements got distorted over time, since I ended up going further ‘south’ than originally intended. I knew it had to be reasonably high key because of the strong sunlight but there was no way I was going to flood the drawing with watercolour washes.

The paper is not watercolour since it’s a Hahnemuhle Sketchbook, hence the rather strange ‘granulation’ of the Daniel Smith watercolour washes.

The kraft paper frame overlaid on top is a temporary measure. I’m sure that if this became a painting it would go through some tough re-negotiation in terms of Rule of Thirds and Fibonacci spiral measurements. That may or may not happen, though reworking the rocks would be very worthwhile for me.

13jan18 tom uglys bridge PYLON.jpg

This 9×6″ sketch filled a page of my Venezia Sketchbook Fabriano Accademia 200gsm and the pencil was a breeze compared to recent watercolour struggles I’ve had this past week. I worked this with Mitsuhishi 4H (layin)), 2B (detail) and 4B (dark highlights) only. I had in mind the effect of a Lionel Lindsey woodblock print.

There was on hand an infinite range of subject matter to work on: boats on ramps, barges on the water, seagulls, swathes of sand, fishermen, let alone light effects on water. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the ‘largeness’ of everything and by narrowing the focus, one feels one is missing out on so much more!


Here’s the view I chose for the sketch. It was 30 degrees, very bright sun with a cooling northerly breeze; this looks west over the bay and I was attracted by three things:

  • the dynamic angles of the old trees (background left);
  • the way the colours changed on the water (from dry sand to wet sand to shallow water to deep water);
  • the strong, dark shadows associated with bright summer days. These shadows are so much more inspiring to draw than the muddy greys associated with more overcast weather.


Here’s the view as I wanted it on my page – double-spread in a Venezia sketchbook, Fabriano 200gsm, 9×5″.


Here’s the sketch I walked away with. After an initial lay-in in 4H Staedtler pencil, I took up my small dagger brush with watercolour.

I got down on paper none of the things that attracted me to the scene in the first place. My only consolation prize was some revision of geometric shapes in vegetation. I tried to salvage the heavy-handed watercolour brushwork with some 6B pencil in the tree (right), by way of contrast, but destroyed most of that contrast by adding a wash of Derivan Liquid Pencil (what I colour “black-and-white watercolour”).

I’ll revisit this subject with some Golden Mean/Fibonacci spiral geometrical foundations and, using the photos, attempt something much simpler. I am very keen to revisit the old trees near Gunnamatta Bay and study further the gradations of colour associated with the surprising range of colour in the water.

I definitely need to revise my timed (20-minute) plein air watercolour drawing.

This particular spot was enlivened by the Polynesian beachgoers nearby.

I thoroughly enjoyed the company and inspiring work of colleagues from Shire Sketchers! We encountered similar problems and challenges with the subject matter and I hope to work with them again soon.

Today I took to looking at how Albrecht Durer renders deep pictorial space in his woodcuts. In his earliest work (e.g. in the work of the late 1480s/early 1490s), Durer makes no distinction between the ground plane, mid-ground and background. There’s just one undifferentiated line used throughout the whole woodcut.

After spending time in Italy, learning about perspective and coming under the influence of Mantegna, Durer starts around 1500 to create a sense of depth. He distinguishes clearly between the foreground, often dark with both of lot of detail as well as thick hatching, diminishing to fewer lines in the mid-ground to long, continuous single lines for any subject matter in the background. Obviously the black-and-white medium mitigates against any use of color perspective, relying instead on strength of line and strength of tone.
durer landscape 1

Here’s a late woodcut from 1513 which features landscape alone. It’s unusual among Durer woodcuts because it is “pure” landscape, without any humans or animals. It accompanies a Madonna in a Circle. I’ve emphasized the rendering of deep pictorial space by using color: three shades of Stabilo 18 point 88 Fineliner pens, a black, a grey and a light grey. The black and grey are difficult to differentiate, but then the ground plane quickly merges into a middle-ground of sorts. It will be interesting to go on location sketching in future with just these three pens to sketch landscapes in black-and-white.

durer landscape 2

In doing a partial or limited transfer from the squared up woodcut, Durer’s skill in dealing with the strong diagonal of the composition was immediately obvious. More subtle is his use of locating key features or landscape ‘landmarks’ at strategic positions matching the Golden Section.

Durer has been careful too to leave the strongest dark against the lightest light in the foreground lower-left, with a pattern of ‘open’ light areas in both the mid- and background, all at the same horizontal level.

Imitating this strength of compositional structure when sketching plein air would be quite difficult. It does show that however artless or casual these woodcut landscapes may appear to be, they are nevertheless very highly structured, composed and engineered.

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