Day 1. Retreating from the madding crowds of a Saturday morning in Pyrmont, I found a seated, shady spot in Pyrmont Park looking east. The lack of content in the foreground didn’t worry me; a Pyrmont ferry called in twice (worth a separate drawing). This is the right-hand page of a potential double-spread (the left will include a wonderful blue glass facade of a skyscraper). I worked incredibly slowly with a fine point hard pencil and it took in the east skyline of Darling Harbour, Sydney Centrepoint Tower, the Maritime Museum lighthouse and “Endeavour” moored nearby. Added watercolour onsite and coloured pencil at home; scan hasn’t picked up the colour and contour detail. Very impressed by the detail and pattern of the skyscrapers, just unsure about expressing it.



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!

Spread 1:  breakfast coffee plus pomegranites and mobile phone on a street directory map of Manly; my local railway station.

Spread 2: studies of both the AMP Building and Customs House, viewed from the southern platform of Circular Quay railway station (Sydney’s underground railway). I am actually a couple of years older than the Circular Quay above-ground railway station. I remember as a youngster being taken to the observation platform on top of the AMP Buidling; it was the first modern skyscraper of Sydney, built in 1962 and the first to exceed the planning height of the time of 150 feet; it was awesome to travel in a lift up a whole twenty storeys – unheard of before in Australia. I will like this: the support of a ledge and out of direct sunlight.

Spread 3: panorama of Circular Quay from the Harbour Bridge to the Opera House. I remember being taken into Sydney to watch the building of the Opera House as a youngster; I’ve sung in the Concert Hall (on a Christmas tree singing carols) and I’m an habitue of the Opera Hall. I can’t say I’ve ever drawn the OH. This will involve drawing with the support of a ledge.

Spread 4: some ferries at Circular Quay and Manly. If Oprah and every other visitor to Sydney can take a tour of the Harbour, the least I should be able to do is draw a decent ferry.

Spread 5: building facades in The Corso, Manly Beach, perhaps leading on to the famous Norfolk Island pine trees. The 1930s saw a boom in Australian beachside suburbs. Will there be any Art Deco facades still standing? This will allow me my preoccupation with blocky, overlapping/repeated forms. And I may use the idea of vertical guidelines as proposed by Scratchyas.

With USK (Urban Sketchers) and the work of colleagues in the Sydney Sketch Club uppermost in my mind lately, I’m coming to grips with my long-held prejudices against illustrationism and Charm School, those pejoratives used by art students of my generation and those in the art world locally. Of course the greats of Australian art regularly pushed out the odd sketch for commercial purposes (and the tradition of early 20th century is a noble one): my father who worked in advertising in Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s regularly made the rounds of famous artists’ studios, picking up watercolour originals for the likes of oil company trading cards. Sketching, drawing and related forays into different media (watercolour, pen & ink) have long been associated by me as Steps Towards Painting. Only recently have they been accommodated by curators in the retrospective exhibitions of the great – I’m thinking of the big Donald Friend retrospective a while back.

Suddenly I see journalling and sketching as an art form in its own right, validated by the Internet and digital reproduction and dissemination. I’ve been brought up with the traditional genres of Still Life, Landscape, Seascape, the Built Environment; suddenly I’m faced with a range of contemporary genres: subway, cemetery, mosque, cars…


Where photographers have gone before

I have learned a lot from the free online guide for NSW Photographers and am impressed by Little Manly Cove. Unfortunately low tide does not correspond to the SketchCrawl timeframes, but is on my backburner.


Planning spreads

Here are the railway station platforms which might frame my spreads next Saturday. In the style of other SketchCrawlers, I’ve found myself in the unusual position of Planning for the event by designing two-page sketchbook spreads prior to the day. I’m thoroughly uncertain about all this! Who’d have thought? I’m coming to grips with sketches which are “finished” After The Event – something I differentiated as a Sketch followed by a Drawing. Apparently some watercolour (and/or colour in general) and text is added ‘after the fact’, while the central principle of drawing ‘from Nature’ remains intact.


I’m definitely ‘going simple’ on this plein air excursion: a small sketchbook (it may well be the new smooth 200gm paper one) with just pencils and something to keep them sharp with: no backpack (except for water and sunblock). A really radical approach  would be to simply take a ballpoint pen. I’m disappointed I used up the point on my Micron 0.3 pen on a single drawing on 100gm cartridge paper recently; the 0.8 pen mark is way too thick. And I’m quietly appalled by the sterility and coldness of work done in pen/marker in general!

References – Photographer’s guide to Manly. Low tide will be 5.22pm at Little Manly Cove (and way too much western shadows?)

Rose, Bernice. Drawing Now. Museum of Modern Art, New York.1976.

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.


My second go at the streetscape from my front porch. 10am again. Quite hot. Love the sharp shadows of wooden lattice on dark brickwork but have ignored more DNA which says to Go Tonal and went contour today. I hate contour. I have to learn to love contour. In stopping, I exercised enormous self-discipline – normally I’d keep going, launching into cross-hatching along the lines of Stephen Gardner’s Cap Dude and similar (love his red ink work on yellow paper). Obviously if I was redoing it as a painting/colour exercise I’d be creating more interesting geometric shapes… Will come back tomorrow. I don’t get up at 3am each morning to draw the dawn but the idea (raised at the first Adelaide Drawing Marathon) still appeals deep down.

The Internet is quickly dispelling my long-held preconceptions about sketching. I thought my compulsion for sketching was something to be kept private, like a mental disease. Drawing unobtrusively in public carries with it now all sorts overtones of privacy invasion and sexual predation, but obviously where one focuses on landscape, still life, the risks of physical and verbal abuse are minimised. Some weblogs and websites are extensions of life drawing classes and organised weekly sketchclubs. Whatever the format or rationale, I find fellow sketchers madly drawing and scanning/uploading. I feel liberated! I never quit full-time work as my father thought I might straight after spending a week drawing in Adelaide at the first Drawing Marathon, but drawing definitely has that pull. One of my strongest abiding memories is trying to fly home early on a Sunday night back to Sydney with full-size drawing paper – and I mean full-size, huge rolls of paper far too big to ordinarily go as air luggage.

Spent time looking at the magnificent on-site Italy journal(s) of USK’s Australian Correspondent, Liz Steel, at; equally extraordinary linework from Eza. Curious to see that churches are charging entry in Italy; that was not the case back in 1978 but Italy has become a tourist theme park from Lombardy to Palermo, so I shouldn’t be surprised, something strongly hinted at in this week’s tv Italian movie, Agata e la tempesta. Under their influence, I have picked up biro and conte pencils today; sketchbooks with the mid-tones already in place thanks to the coloured paper background don’t look thick on the ground, but love the suggestion of someone on the Net somewhere about drawing on individual folios and binding them.

**gasp** leaves the house #1

22 January, 2010 is mercifully a Saturday so am aiming to attend the 30th SketchCrawl (TM). This may happily also involve something called the Sydney Sketch Club. Balmoral Beach was first mooted but there’s movement at the station for Manly. On account of the manliness of the indigenous who stood up to the colonial whities, so they say. Beaches are what we do best at in High Summer and I can’t overlook the fact that our surf carnivals and their participants have entered the iconography of gay imagery round the globe. Mustn’t forget the sunblock and ought to warm up with a schizzo or two at Circular Quay – the vista from the northern platform of the subway rail station, for starters. For maximum intensity (certainly my natural inclination), I would solo-crawl – but I can do that anytime, in my own way, separate from SketchCrawl. For me, the thing to do is probably organise the train/ferry trip in stages, giving myself regular 20-minute breaks to draw along the way: the local railway station, Circular Quay, a ferry or two, the ferry wharf at Manly and then the Beach proper. Manly Beach will certainly be a challenge: the place is astonishingly ‘open’ to the elements, the built environment certainly takes second place. I have always liked the winding path around to Fairy Bower.

On SketchCrawl:  

Questo gruppo prende spunto dal sito ufficiale fondato da Enrico Casarosa a San Francisco che ormai da anni organizza giornate di disegno per le città di tutto il mondo. Il gruppo si prefigge di organizzare giornate di sketchcrawl, disegno dal vero en plein air. Il gruppo è’ aperto a tutti senza limiti di età o di esperienza nel disegno. E’ un modo per scambiarsi opinioni, per passare giornate piacevoli insieme e soprattutto rilassarsi.

 **gasp** leaves the house #2

Second public outing: Saturdays 12 March to 16 April from 1pm, starting at the Palm Grove Centre, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. Great Garden Sketchabout at By rights, I should visit the Japanese Garden at Campbelltown Arts Centre in the morning of one of these Saturdays and continue out to Mount Annan Botanic Gardens.