Wally Temple Jazz Trio. Caught their last set, before calling it quits for the day – the first item for sax, banjo and plucked bass, the second for clarinet, banjo and bowed bass. Hence the restatement in the sketch. The poses were very distinct and I’ll be aware of what to look out for next time I sketch a jazz trio.

The Frazer Mausoleum, left,  is still not completely sealed off from the elements; this view is towards the south-west. Many of the problems experienced with drawing from photos were present again when drawing on location. The Anglican Rest House (“Elephant House”) , right, has three squares of floor tilework, not six as I imagined from photos on the Internet. From this angle, it was impossible to keep out of the afternoon sun, which got the better of me.

Chapel of St Michael the Archangel. The first sketch of the day, with light and shadows changing quite fast. The groundsmen did a superb job preparing this and other important buildings for the Open Day. The volunteer guide on duty provided a wealth of detail, pointing out the damage to the black-and-white marble floor tiles, a remnant of the re-roofing whch took place in the 1960s or 70s. Each of the stained glass windows featured saints; the crypt at the northern end was desiged for temporary storage of the deceased while family and mourners travelled from far-flung parts of the State (this persisted up until the 1930s; prior to that, most people lived in the country, not in Sydney and might take three or four days to arrive at Rookwood).



Boden Reserve, Pemberton Street South Strathfield NSW 2135 AUSTRALIA. A return to the children’s playground, after a week. A focus on the Apollonian, but I couldn’t resist falling back on my natural bent for tonality by adding some shading. Unusually for me, I could go back and keep adding to this sketch including other parts of the climbing equipment. Superficially of course it would end up looking like some technical drawing exercise, so in a sense I’m returning to childhood when we were taught about elevations and planes and perspective. But of course, I’ve stopped myself. Like the sketching in Rookwood Necropolis (it’s too large to be called a mere Cemetery), it’s all about a foreign object(s) in a natural setting. As with the cemetery, it is largely devoid of people. It is Apollonian: clean lines, order, symmetry, imposed on a wild wild world (especially this week given the massive flooding in Queensland). Why am I drawing it? My midweek  of metro-bouleau-dodo is Apollonian, imposing order on an unruly world. My weekends are Dionysiac, full of tonality, vague edges, sensuality. I scour the weblogs of my fellow sketchers for similar parallels: the illustrator or architect who is Apollonian by day (built environment), meditative with sketchbook in tearooms after-hours (still life) and Dionysiac with sketching friends (landscape): covering all the genres, covering the spectrum of emotions.

Rookwood Necropolis, Lidcombe NSW 2141 AUSTRALIA. All-Russian Orthodox Section. A return to the cemetery for 20-minutes at lunchtime, with an entirely new working method. Very fine, single, gentle construction lines for the middle ground (these have only middle and fore, there is no background – largely because the trees on the horizon are so non-descript and given the size of the page would clutter and overtake in terms of decorative quality), including through lines. After the middle tomb comes the foreground one(s) and of course I have misread the proportions and the two don’t match (but that’s okay).  I learn today about the proportions of the cross, which is useful. On the train trip home, I also draw in the perspective lines to the eye level (about half way up the cross to the far right) and at night I threw in the felt-pen outline so it could be reproduced on the scanner. I’m not happy with the result, but sketching is almost never about the result – it’s about the lessons learned which may or may not show in subsequent drawings and sketches.

Chinese terracotta warrior, exhibition catalogue. A brief return (Orpheus-like, without looking back!) to my natural tendencies, the Dionysiac (but not too much!): tonality without line or contour, with strongly defined whites and blacks on a middle ground. In this case, horses from the Chinese terracott warrior site.


The Context. Week Two of the new year. It’s still quiet with most of the country on holidays: the trains are not crowded, the roads less full. Everyone comes back to work after Australia Day full of passion and energy, like bulls in china shops – but not for a few weeks. The daily grind of commute-work-commute and all revolves around a mere twenty minutes in the middle of the day. Over breakfast and after dinner, I’m scrutinising the websites of other sketchers, drawers, illustrators… their sketch kits, their approach to sketching and drawing. I find I’m developing a “middle ground”, where initial sketches are retouched as “skraws”/”dretches”: part-sketch, part-drawing, mainly in response to the demands of the scanner and digital reproduction. I won’t find that trend while I’m still finding my visual “voice”. 

I am nearing the end of my current A5 sketchbook, spiral-bound 100gms. On completion, it will disappear on tour for a year as part of The Artist’s Notebook Project (Fibre Arts Australia). Despite fixative, the sketches are showing the signs of wear-and-tear which come from daily transportation. There’s a whole section in the back now where I’ve glued in the newspaper clippings which have inspired some fo the sketches – they need to be trapped so, otherwise they will get lost and most are certainly worth more than a single sketch, worth coming back to. I’m tempted to insert text comments throughout as an overlay, but I find the clash with text problematic – even adding the date is a ‘distraction’. I’m not so frightened of messing up the drawing as detracting from its message. I cannot possibly include all my thoughts and commentary – that detail is here in the weblog. Otherwise I’d need a separate facing page for text: which might be the way I have to go. A journalling phrase or two about how I feel at the time seems too superficial. I am amassing new materials and moving towards 200gm paper suitable for on-site sketching using wet media and/or for more studied drawings based on sketches. I’m not sure I like markers and pens, but I feel I ought to acquire them and test them – they’re so cold compared to pencil! While experimenting, other aspects are consolidating: I know I love three-pencil work on mud-coloured paper; will almost certainly start carrying around a mud-coloured paper A5 sketchbook if I can find one (my A4-sized one is too big to go on the road). I know I need a small moleskine (less than 5×8) for surreptitious sketching, a landscape one for the landscapes I love (I find the portrait format too yang), a 5×8 for pencils/markers and an A4 for elaborations on the sketches. A3/A2 for life drawing classes. As a bookbinder I keep coming back to hardbound rather than spiralbound. I notice Balahy uses one side of each folio in his sketchbooks which I admire – more of a ‘statement’ than a ‘ramble’.

I’ve never sketched with others plein air before. Thanks to the influence of Urban Sketchers, I think I can balance some plein air sketching on weekends with the Sydney Sketch Club with the work week and university study commitments – a weekly untutored life drawing class would be ideal, but that would be stretching my time management resources. In the meantime, the daily uploads of new and exciting work to Urban Sketchers.org and sketchers contributing to Flickr keeps me going. My “better” or more considered sketches are going up on Flickr now.

I have done all this before – notable spurts of drawing energy, which quickly dissipate like waves.


Heroes.  Thibault Balahy (Angouleme) for his cerebral comments (Drawing Apprenticeship Notes 1-7) and his overriding simplicity, a poetic distillation. Christian Tribastone (Washington) and his use of coloured paper as a mid-tone ground; again the illustrative simplicity and focus on individual objects surrounded by lots of space allowing them to breathe; the Apollonian focus on the everyday (food trucks). Also his interest in moving beyond the sketch to the drawing (lots of differentiation here) and then to its communication to other people, via framed drawings on building walls or sm handmade books or giving away sketches – this liaison between artist and viewer in new and innovative ways is engrossing. The ability of Liz Steel (Sydney) ability to infiltrate her sketching into the everyday: to draw table settings and to constantly comment on her own process, like a dog entrancingly chasing its tail. It’s not only wonderful to behold but enormously informative (which is the chief feature of the Internet), essential for solitary sketchers outside formal art education contexts. And lastly, this week, Paul Heaston (San Antonio), whose prolific drawing on Flickr is all about the observer of buildings and landscape; the facility is paramount – the lack of any barrier between him and his subjects, that permeable membrane. Lastly the potential for social engagement of drawing exhibited in Damien Roudeau (Paris), that the content we focus on, which we choose to sketch/draw,  is  – whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not – inscribed with class, power and politics. Art has so often been the footstool of the rich and powerful, a means of consolidating exploitation of others and the natural world; Rodeau doesn’t let us forget this. His work is not whimsy or Charm School, but like Tribastone’s or Balahy’s, it is not so oppressively serious as to be off-putting.






www.flickr.com for Liz Steel, Paul Heaston. See Groups: ‘Urban Sketchers’, ‘Sketch Kit’, etc.

Plein air sketching

January 7, 2011


Lunchtime sketch at Rookwood Cemetery, All-Russian Orthodox Section. Overlapping forms again, with tighter perspective than Tuesday’s. I was struck by the contrast of white and black marble. As with the other lunchtime ventures this week, prelim sketch on site followed by a makeover at night.

I’ve often railed against my daily commute but have softened under the weight of a new routine: if I have to wait ten minutes or less at any transit point, out comes the sketchbook. Redfern Station, Platform 4, south end. This is an early 20thcentury building I have noticed for forty years; given the state of re-development in the area around Carriageworks and Wilson Street, it may eventually come down in the next five or ten. This gives no indication of its faded painted commercial lettering or the fact that at this angle it’s obscured by railway infrastructure. Feel good at having ‘won it over’ by drawing it after all this time. Introduced a warm grey Copic marker, which of course bled through; coincidentally it conveyed the sense of impending thunderstorm – it’s been trying to rain all day.


I’ve been thinking what I’d REALLY love to draw (next): the Gallipoli Mosque at Lidcombe; the Dutch-inspired building near Central Station and its counterpart in Newtown; kangaroos. I have long adored kangaroos or malu (Arente Language) but have never drawn them. They move to the eastern fence of the Deer Park at Univ New England Armidale every dusk, swapping over with the deer who occupy that space in the middle of the day. I always seem to be too busy whenever I’m at UNE to sit and draw them. I have noticed some urban sketchers here in Sydney tackling them at Taronga Zoo and I’ve ordered a copy of the DVD of Roo Gully, a brilliant ABC TV documentary on the Western Australian wildlife refuge where they are looked after. Copying from a video is of course not optimal, but there are protracted scenes I recall showing their movements – not the usually highly-edited quick visuals you’d expect normally. There’s also a section on drawing from TV in Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing (pp.216-217) of relevance. As for drawing kangaroos in the wild, I think I have to travel a long way by public transport across to Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside, or a caravan park at Jervis Bay or the most convenient (still 2.5-3hrs away), a clearing at Euroka Valley in Glenbrook National Park in the Blue Mountains.


Dodson, Bert. Keys to Drawing. Cincinnati, Ohio: North Light, 1985.

Plans & ideas

January 4, 2011


Back at work today after a week away for Christmas/New Year. The commute was okay because of school holidays. This return to work after an absence very often spells the end of a bout of Inner Work relating to sketching/drawing. After a dozen or two pages, Life Intervenes, normally – after delving Inside, I need to go Outside. My sketchbooks are thus full of huge gaps; thus, I have no ‘record’ of the intervening months (though I strongly suspect what has happened). So it will be interesting to see if and how long the current ‘phase’ continues. Normally by now I am starting to propose to myself Grand Plans, moving behind Sketching to Drawing. But with the help of other sketchers out there on the Net, who unbeknownst to them are fast becoming mentors of a sort, we’ll see how far I can go. I tend too to love my sketches, I don’t want to leave them by exploring new subjects and creating new ones.  I have no idea how I’m going to fit in sketching/drawing with my univesity studies, which resume in six weeks’ time, but I’m Living in the Moment. I came home from work tonight and jumped on the Net to look at USK and the work of other Sydney sketchers; I like the details given of materials used, of approaches to sketchbooks. I realise I’m not fitting into stereotypical categories: I’m not a bookbinder/papermaker/scrapbooker, nor an architect nor a visual arts studio artist nor someone using drawing as a vehicle for creativity or as part of an imposed drawing-a-day routine. Someone mentioned the difference between sketching and drawing today which I’m taking on board. Someone also mentioned they learn more about themselves through images than text.


Today’s lunchtime sketch in the All Russian Orthodox section of Rookwood Cemetery. New gravestones, ones I’ve not seen or looked at before. I suppose technically the genre is Landscape. The clean lines of this blue-black marble grave, with the contrasting white marble of the cross(es), appealed. I eliminated the ‘decoration’ of urns and flowers, mainly because this is only a 5×8 sketch and it’s in monochrome. It turned into an exercise in perspective of sorts. I ‘sketched’ some gestural/impressional lines on site, from direct observation, with a 4H pencil, but ‘drew’ stronger contours in bed before going to sleep in 4B, partly with digital scanning/repro in mind. But I can justify the heavy lines also in terms of moving away from tonal to contour, and thus gaining a new-found respect for contour.  Of course, away from the site, I’d forgotten the ‘purpose’ of some of the lines in the background, e.g. vegetation, so as part of the artistic selective process, I eliminated them. There is also the strong influence of a Peter Booth drawing (Drawing, 1971) in a published collection of AGNSW drawings, of the contours of tins/bottles/packets a la Morandi, which I like at the moment. There is also a churchyard cemetery drawn in either Moira Huntly or Doreen Roberts’ books, two books I’m forever going back to; I can’t lay my hands on it immediately.


Another sketcher here on wordpress has just drawn a children’s playground installation. He’s pushing the envelope with daily drawings/uploads like me at the moment. There is children’s playground near where I work with similar plastic furniture, so I might have go at it soon: it would go nicely next to the gravestones as a beginning/end ‘spread’. In which case, I can see the useful application of watercolour washes. An earlier drawing he did of a mosque gave me the idea of travelling out to Sydney’s Gallipoli Mosque at Lidcombe. I normally see it see from the train nearby, more elevated than at street level. It would be worth experiencing/seeing it at ground level. There are other nearby mosques at Arncliffe and Tempe worth doing alongside the ‘usual suspects’ such as cathedrals and churches.

Plans too for my ‘Big Day Out’ for the 30th SketchCrawl: some sketches of 19th century buildings at my local train station, Customs House from the south platform of Circular Quay subway (as opposed to sketching it from ground level) and the harbour panorama (Harbour Bridge to Opera House) from the elevated north platform at Circular Quay, followed by the thirty-minute ferry ride to Manly Beach.  I like the idea of a sketch crawl (like a traditional “pub crawl”) and the idea of stopping periodically for 15-20min sketches…


Huntly, Moira. The Artist’s Drawing Book. Devon, David & Charles, 1994

Kolenberg, Hendrik. Australian Drawings from the Gallery’s Collection. Sydney, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997.

Roberts, Doreen. Drawing Workshop: Learn to Draw with Confidence. London, Guild Publishing, 1991.