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!


A very very tough week. But when things get tough, the sketchers get sketching (to cope)!

Around the middle of the day, last day of August. Elizabeth Bay marina, looking north over Sydney Harbour from Beare Park.  Quiet in the sunshine, except for Council workers using leaf blowers.

Just after the cold lull which hits Sydney every early Spring – this year, a spot of heavy fog; in the past, fierce winds which blow a lot of flowers off fruit trees affecting the season’s production.

Staedtler Fineliner pen and Winsor & Newtown watercolours.


A very relaxing morning’s sketching with talented Sydney Sketch Club colleagues for the international event, SketchCrawl. The overwhelming impression I gained from the plein air sketching was the truth espoused by the painters of the Heidelberg School about Sydney Harbour being rendered best at dawn and dusk. After 11am or so, everything becomes washed out in a still clear light. Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts and others were painting just a few bays along from where we were working today and it was great to take in what they would have seen.

Here are two “modified” sketches: guidelines in very light graphite pencil (which are retained throughout, even though they don’t come up on the scans) followed by heavier contour in pencil. The “modification” comes in the selection of particular lines and tonal passages. I’m learning from online sketching that Anything Goes. I retain the guidelines and additional detail, since they might be useful later; I use the heavier line as a concession to scanning and digital reproduction – the best of both worlds! These two were only 20-minute “sketches” (since I literally had a ferry to catch!), done half-blind contour as much as anything else. I see now that this contour work involving planes and perspective, with a minimum of tonal work (and ideally with some variety of marks to create interest) might become my ‘short’ style: when I’m intrigued about something compositionally and want to ‘just see how it turns out’. 

Platform 2 on Circular Quay Railway Station was delightfully deserted. In the interests of public safety, fences and barriers I find are a major part of the landscape in Sydney, blocking views. I choose not to ignore them since they reflect contemporary preoccupations. They form an ongoing commentary on shielding people from beauty. Unfortunately Platform 1 on Circular Quay Railway Station was closed for weekend trackwork, so I will get back to the planned drawing of the AMP Building and Customs House at a later date. At 8.15am, the Opera House was draped in shadow, not reflected in my quick sketch; in the afternoon sun, it takes on its sparkling white-light quality.  I was intrigued how the bulk of the moored liner, Rhapsody of the Sea, completed dominated the Sydney Harbour Bridge; hinted at here, but not entirely captured as I would have liked. 

Once full of passengers, the ferries take their time getting going. At Manly proper, I ventured a little along the 9km Manly Heritage harbour walk towards The Spit. I didn’t anticipate going to Manly to draw a landscape, but a peaceful, seated spot suited me. For its part, the East Esplanade was excellent for boats close to shore as well as sea bathers and seagulls. At an expected 27C degrees, it was warm but not at all humid. The Town Hall with its liver-coloured brickwork and bright yellow woodwork was another interesting subject, behind massive Moreton Bay fig trees. The crowds appear around 10.30am so working before then is obviously ideal. The main beach proper was busy with a surf carnival which might have been worthwhile were it not for being in the open in the sun. Of course I’m wary about mixing Art and Sport; there was that controversy about photographing surf carnival participants and there was a sense that the beach and boardwalks had been thoroughly taken over for the day. I put a spot of yellow into the sketch of the merry-go-round as my concession to Piero della Francesca’s use of spot primary colours, though red would have better linked the black and sepia penwork.

I was able to very briefly take in the John Guppy painting exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum with its juxatposition of disparate objects and people – a fitting commentary on my own art-making process today. I would have liked to have flipped through a book on sale there devoted to drawing Manly, “Drawn to Manly”.


Managed to use a variety of pencils for the ‘long’ study; aimed too much to copy Nature rather than simplifying it perhaps. I’m still coming to grips with the logistics of plein air work. No problem with public seating on this occasion; the upcoming NRMA MotorFest with no public seating will however be a challenge! I’m fast learning that wearing the Right Clothes is important, as is taking the Right Waterbottle.

I felt very privileged to be part of long conversations at lunch with colleagues about life drawing, weights of paper, media, journalling, tone and contour. The variety of approaches by the participants was astonishing – virtually no two in the Sydney Sketch Group seem to have at all similar styles. There was none of the fevered quality of Darling Harbour setting of last weekend and it was great to break my normal routine of resting at home on weekends after a busy work week. If I don’t get out on the weekends, I might as well opt for living in a small country town!

On this bright and sunny note, I finish The Artist’s Notebook Project! I have been contemplating this week’s online sketching challenges: Every Day Matter (some bow ties in watercolour pencils?); Urban Sketchers (May Street St Peters with its renowned graffitti as an example of Alleys) and Illustration Friday (last week would have called up a drawing of some homemade chicken stock for “Chicken” and this week’s “Dusty” surely calls for  some blind contour portraiture of Dusty Springfield!

One fine day…

January 5, 2011


A second drawing in a H pencil, with summary over-drawing in a B, at a local park during my lunch break. The subject matter only came to me after seeing another sketching blog yesterday. I’d thought my children’s playground installation was multicoloured and was surprised to note it was all a light blue; I must have eaten lunch beside it a dozen times already, which just goes to show much I observe my environment. I note Borromini Bear talking about exploiting the ‘spread’ across two pages of the sketchbook, an important aspect of design/composition, as opposed to the vignette style and the typical Renaissance disegno sketch of subject plus accompanying detail nearby. I like the thematic link in sketches of playground and cemetery, beween the locus for the child and the deceased, presented in a cold, artificial manner, devoid of vegetation or trees and the natural world (though I’m particularly drawn in Rookwood Necropolis between the nexus of tombs and nearby straight lines of trees, especially squat paperbarks, and dividing mown lawns). 

Plan: repeat this two-page spread at subsequent on-site sessions, but add watercolour washes, perhaps with a single colour wash used in both drawings.


A copy in Copi markers (grey and brown) from page 104 of Moira Huntly. Done in relation to boats moored locally on the Cooks River near Sydney Airport. I need to keep copying this Huntly then transfer the same techniques to on-site sketching. I’ve already “absorbed completely” the important notion of the boat’s reflection in the water: no boat without reflection! I’ve misplaced the grey but the brown still works well after years of inactivity.

Plan: Next sketchbook, move to Moleskine Watercolour journal and markers in light blue, indigo dark blue, grey, black and tan brown.

On copying

I’m wary of my daily regimen of sketching/drawing/scanning/uploading teetering under the weight of more pressing daily concerns, so will ‘get in early’ by posting a sketch done in the past. I have long copied the likes of Raphael and others from the Italian Renaissance but I am just as fierce about copying from the Moderns. Nothwithstanding that for security reasons (sketchers lumped in with delusional canvas-slashers!) sketching is no longer permitted in public galleries, there is plenty to copy from the public domain. I am pleased to see some sketching/drawing available from the Internet for download and later personal copying on paper; understandably the best work is copyright-restricted and unable to be re-sketched personally away from the computer screen. Copying others’ work is all about broadening one’s repertoire of mark-making, moving beyond one’s comfort zone and habit. We know interesting drawings/sketches deploy a wide variety of marks – drapery, stubble, etc.

Plan: identify from a ‘real’ drawing as wide a range of marks as possible. Reproduce each of the marks on a grid of 1cm squares.

On colleagues’ work

As we know, depicting children in art these days is almost dead. Certainly verboten. As outre, twisted and taboo as female students in 19th century art schools trying to attend life drawing classes. Classical training in getting the dimensions of children’s heads right is now extinct. I couln’t possibly reproduce here versions of Mantegna’s putti. Thus it has been strange to see children depicted in some sketching weblogs. Perhaps the rule of public persecution only applies to Established Artists and not amateurs. On the Urban Sketcher’s website, I have enjoyed Lok Jansen’s omae, gestural faces probably sketched on the Tokyo metro, with a similar Continuous Line technique (don’t take the pen/pencil off the page at all) used by Charles Reid in the under-drawing for his watercolours.

Plan: Lacking live models, copy portraits from photos using the Continuous Line technique.


Camesasca, Ettore. Mantegna. Series: The Library of Great Masters. Milan, SCALA Istituto Fotografico Editoriale S.p.A, 1992.