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!


Venezia Sketchook 9×6″; Fabriano Accademia 200gsm; Faber-Castell artist pen; DS watercolour paints; W&N gouache, Prismacolor coloured pencils.

  • to add the feet, or not add the feet;
  •  watercolour over pen dulls the black (but the scale is too small to show the colour effects of overlapping translucent feathers);
  • laying down watercolour then over-painting with gouache for stronger darks;
  • realistic pattern, or suggestion of pattern;
  • conceding to bird enthusiasts: differentiating between different feather types in the wings – rather like the ‘secret code’ of defining boney landmarks in figure drawing (whether they are actually visible or not);
  • watercolour and gutters (!);
  • format size – need to work larger and more freely (ready to upgrade to an 8×11″ Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal – ostensibly for gouache (and extras), while Moleskine Folio Watercolour works for watercolour proper);
  • since I’m not American, there is an enjoyable (cultural) ‘distance’ between me and the subject – an entirely different proposition if it was an Australian bird;
  • the splendid ‘artificiality’ of bird portraits made many times bigger than life-size;
  • absolutely no intention of mirroring reality – nature photography does that: no, my bird portraits are self-portraits of the artist.

Paul Hogarth on pen & ink

February 6, 2013


I am finding this book full or surprises. Ostensibly an artist summarising his approach to this medium (he’s written a similar book on pencil),  Paul Hogarth explains in detail thes processes behind his characteristically lively and quirky work.  Every illustration is explained in terms of original size and materials.

I bought this on the back of the connection between a friend of Hogarth’s, Ronald Searle, and the link down the generations between Searle and contemporary New York urban sketcher, Veronica Lawlor. I also found Hogarth’s illustrations of John Betjeman’s book on English churches also illuminating: the mix of vignettes and object drawing with larger watercolour-on-pencil sketches of buildings and rural landscapes. While the book on churches sheds light on Hogarth’s approach to watercolour, Creative Ink Drawing covers a range of interesting, unexpected topics, including:

* dealing with the logistics of on location sketching, especially working “furtively”, out of the range of the subjects;

* the use of multiple pens in any one drawing – it’s almost never about just one pen;

* his explanations about markers;

* moving from pencil to ink, the drive being more commercial in origin than aesthetic or artistic;

* choosing the right medium for the time available when sketching outdoors;

* his use of two sketchbooks – one small for taking colour and composition notes and a larger one for ‘developed’ drawings;

* the importance of the sketchbook in his pen & ink  output.

One expects a strongly English bent in an English illustrator: steel nibs and a Spencerian calligraphic background. What is illuminating his how American architecture changed his style and approach and process: American buildings demanded pen. Using markers to cover large areas are instrumental in his capturing architecture as he, the tourist-artist, quickly moves through a foreign land.

The book remains contemporary despite the references to brand names of pens and other materials long gone.

There are chapters covering all sorts of pens (including bamboo, fountain pens, ballpoints, markers) and some specific chapters give sound, practical advice on particular subjects: drawing people, landscape, architecture, the city and a final chapter on industrial buildings and industrial landscapes.

Urban sketching can often seem to be the province of graphic artists and commercial illustrators, but though sketched in sketchbooks for the most part, his sense of the “finished artwork” is very strong where he often aims for a composite composition (fragments and separate components combined to create an impression or feeling rather than being naturalistically true or realistic in a reportage sense).

Hogarth, Paul. Creative Ink Drawing. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1968. 160 pages. Mainly black-and-white work (some full page to show his use of Chinese brushwork), with a handful of colour illustrations (mainly to show his use of markers).

My pen-and-ink teacher is moving me through the genres! I’ve not tackled a portrait before and was taken by surprise today. With some advance warning, I would have done some practice based on Albert Durer prints, for starters. Never mind! I jumped at the chance to have a go at this on the basis of recent work on the skull and my memories of a FABULOUS portrait of a bearded old-timer in the South Australian Art Gallery by George Lambert.

Having done this to death, I did a quick sketch in pen, continuous line with my left (non-dominant) hand and came up with a much better result:

I baulk at drawing from my imagination. It feels wrong. I’m so used to drawing from reality – whatever that might mean. Ontologically and existentially more correct, more comfortable, truer. I found the advice of last week’s drawing teacher to daydream more particular threatening (!).

Nevertheless, we were given a schematic of perspective at Pen & Ink class today based on a drawing of a pergola with flowering roses, the finished image of which we weren’t shown (in case it would influence us too much).

 Our job was to get something on paper which was perspectivally correct (see my glaring error at right) and later we will add in watercolour washes and penwork. For my contextual landscape of grass, trees, shrubs, I reached for the sketchbook for past landscapes. Thanks goodness for sketchbooks.

Given all the Built Environment sketches I’ve been doing lately, my doing some proper perspective is well overdue. And I need to go back and look at the discussion on Borromini Bear’s weblog as well.

Homework: photocopy your previous Pen & Ink sketches on to watercolour paper and experiment with watercolour washes. Mmmm…….