I cut up two A1 sheets of Arches Smooth 185gsm to make four A2 sheets (far more cost-effective buying it as sheets than as blocks or pads) and had on hand a wide bristle brush, a bottle of Noodler’s Black Ink and a tea light wax ‘candle’, as well as a Rembrandt soft pastel (black), Conte crayons (white and sanguine) and Caran d’Ache Neo pastels (yellow and orange).

westmacott wax resist DETAIL 1Here’s a detail (about A4 size) of the second of the four sketches. I managed four sketches in three hours, with quite some time spent watching the ink dry in the sun outdoors. I learned to leave it out there in the sun while proceeding to the next sketch indoors.


The paper has to be stout and smooth, so hot press watercolor paper is the way to go. Any medium or rough watercolor will work against the wax by pooling it in the crevices. Any ink will buckle and crinkle thinner paper such as cartridge, rather like using watercolor on paper less than 150gsm or so. The paper has to be stout enough to withstand the rubbing of the wax. I imagine Arches Smooth 300gsm paper will withstand a lot of tough treatment.


I did a preliminary under-drawing in graphite pencil and then applied the tea-light candle wax. The particular problem with this technique is knowing where you’ve applied the wax and how much wax you’ve applied – that is, how hard to lean on the wax. Yes, you can look at the paper side on and see where the wax has left a dull mark. In terms of leaning on the wax, the ideal is a pattern of light lines – see left of the head. Repeated rubbing will create a “blocky” look.

Long thin wax candles allow you to cut them into small discrete lengths so they will end up feeling like sticks of pastel; I’m not sure how thin the lines you create will be.

I scraped off the wax with a razor blade in the first sketch, but didn’t pursue this the later ones.  I’ve read of removing the wax also by applying a hot iron (the work covered in newspaper to take up the melted wax). The graphite under-drawing shows through as grey linework after the ink is applied to the wax. I suppose to create very clear whites, one could remove the wax entirely (by scraping or heat) then using an eraser to eliminate the under-drawing.


Regarding the ink, I’ve used expensive Noodler’s black ink. Other perhaps cheaper inks such as Parker and Quink probably work just as well. The question is whether to let the black spots on the wax to dry or not; when smudged they become a non-descript bland grey. Notice the calligraphic sweeps on the white paper as the brush turns direction. It creates a very satiny-looking black (with a brownish tinge) but certainly nowhere near as dark as black soft pastel. I believe that watering down the ink with water will cause the ink to seep under the wax.


My use of additional dry media after the wax was applied was mainly to test out mid-tones.

Black soft pastel is particularly useful in terms of correcting masses and here I’ve run around the outside of the figure and to reinforce some of the darkest darks (eyes, armpit, etc.). The ink on the watercolor paper creates a good base for any pastel overdrawing – it in fact turns watercolor paper into pastel paper. As with any pastel, a workable fixative is required to prevent smudging.

Black Conte crayon seems to leave a brownish grey over the white wax.

Sanguine Conte crayon retains its sanguine red colour over any exposed black ink surface. Caran d’Ache Neo pastel in orange looks a bit brown on the black ink but retains its bright orange colour on the wax whites.

White Conte crayon translates not as white but as pale blue and takes on the texture of paint.

Compared to the shelter drawings of Henry Moore, Moore uses the wax a lot more sparingly – in single lines, rather than a mass of lines or as a big blocked area of white. He seems to work in a way which is lot slower than mine. much more deliberately.


Here are the four sheets, all drawn from a life-size plaster cast of the Westmacott Youth. The first, a full-length study (I focussed on creating a thick layer of wax); the second, the torso (aiming for more linear contour); the third (aiming to extend the linearity into the background) and a return to monochrome with just white Conte crayon; the fourth, in an unfinished state with just wax and ink.


As an alternative to The Figure, see Henry Moore’s more stylized patterns and use of flowers in his barbed-wire textile designs for Ascher, the Czech fabric designer which called on him (and Matisse and Cocteau) to design square scarves to brighten up wartime wardrobes. Moore’s use of flowers are reminiscent of the use wax in yuzen Japanese textiles and the two-colour contrast inherent in Japanese katazome textiles.


1. Finish off sketches 3 and 4 in monochrome, including Rembrandt pastel white alongside Conte crayon black and white, in particularly “evening out” the haphazard-looking background whites.

2. Copying a Henry Moore shelter drawing, or (considering their large size) a detail.

3. Doing four smaller studies, in monochrome, on A4 Arches Smooth 185gsm, trying for a less “scratchy” sketching style and less of an overall “drenching” of black ink. The backgrounds of the Henry Moore drawings, whether black or coloured watercolour, are much more subtle than mine.

4. Experimenting with ink backgrounds which are an alternative to the “hard” black. Moore uses much more subtle backgrounds which are closer to Payne’s Gray watercolor than black. In fact, his “blacks” are more likely to be Burnt Sienna and mid-tones done in Ultramarine/Payne’s Gray than Ivory Black or Lamp Black.

5. Thinking about introducing pen-and-ink, that is, a very subtle black pen line (a standard nibbed pen).






It’s quite difficult to buy 300gsm watercolor paper bound as a hardbound book. It’s impossible to buy a hardbound or spiral-bound sketchbook comprising different styles of paper – a combination of pencil drawing cartridge paper, paper with a tinted ground, watercolor paper.

I like outdoor sketching in a book because its covers provide a ready-made support. Books keep my sketches flat and relatively undamaged. However, I tend to work in different sketchbooks depending on the content: landscape, figure drawing, portraits. This keeps the sketches ordered by genre or theme, but it’s hard to see overall personal development over time.

Working on individual sheets means the sheets tend to get more easily damaged and I find it tedious to leaf through sheets trying to find one particular sketch. Work on tinted paper stays in spiral-bound tinted paper sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are easy to open and close out in the open air; individual sheets require a masonite backing board. Both require bulldog clips on windy days.

So I’ve come up with my own handmade sketchbook which keeps everything together, regardless of subject matter and paper type.

The advantages for me are:

* I can work on individual sheets, independent of issues such as working across the gutter of a double-spread;

* I can insert or remove sketches at will, while keeping my work in chronological order, or by order of theme (e.g. figures, still life, architecture, landscapes, etc.);

* I can insert at will different styles of paper – cartridge for drawing, paper with tinted grounds, watercolor paper of different thicknesses;

* I  can remove individual sheets for digital scanning and upload to the Internet, keeping the surface perfectly flat;

* The front and back covers work as an effective support while plein air sketching;

* The shoelaces can operate as an effective way of securing the sketch, without the need of bulldog clips;

* using two ordinary shoelaces means I can undo the clasp quickly while plein air sketching and do it up quickly when I’m finished.

Materials for my mockup comprised:

* two A4 sheets of 2mm boxboard (3mm is also possible but 2mm is really the minimum thickness, because anything thinner will bend too easily);

* a textblock of kraft paper, cut down from A4 sheets;

* two ordinary-length shoelaces.

I’ve not used cover papers on the cover boards yet, but I did cut the boards down to suit covering with commercially-available A4 printed papers.

The book format is inspired by the Balinese lontar and is also close to the traditional Western flat presentation portfolio made of cardboard.  The traditional lontar is very thin and long and secured by wrapping the string around a Chinese coin; its closest equivalent in the West is the panorama sketchbook. I’ve widened the textblock to accommodate my small-format sketching outdoors; the butterfly knot can be replaced with a button fastener, imitating the “button book” style.


Shoelace sketchbook: the front, with shoelaces wrapped around the covers.


Shoelace sketchbook: the exploded view of the book.


Shoelace sketchbook: a side view, showing the textblock securely tied to the two cover boards acting as a solid sketching support.


Shoelace sketchbook: the back view, showing an overhand knot at the end of the shoelace.


Shoelace sketchbook: the 20x16cm sketching workarea.

I acknowledge my sketching colleague at http://quirkyartist.wordpress.com whose mention, in passing recently,  of the potential link between the lontar book format and outdoor sketching motivated me to think how I could come up with something to suit to my own personal needs.

My next step is to give this mockup sketchbook a proper workout in the field, noting in particular how the thin kraft paper responds to the two holes at either end.

When sketching outdoors, passers-by often stop to talk to me. Adults are intrinsically curious about seeing other adults at play. Invariably they say things like, “I can’t draw” or “I wish I could draw” or “I wish I could find time to draw”.  On such occasions, I’d like to give them a notebook and pencil and tell them to adopt the Nike slogan, “Just do it!”, but I appreciate that it’s often more complicated than that.

Here then, in 500 words or less, is what I’d really like to say to them:

* Buy a HB pencil and a small unlined notebook. Never leave the house without these two things in your pocket. Some of the world’s greatest artists (Turner, Constable) sketched in books that fit into a trouser pocket or handbag. Slowly, over time,  add other pencils (an H and a 2B), then softer pencils (4B, 6B, 8B), then a biro, pen with waterproof ink, etc.

* If you ever find yourself standing or sitting still with nothing to do for longer than nine minutes (waiting for someone, waiting for a bus or train, etc.), take out the sketchbook and draw what’s in front of you. You will never find yourself having “wasted time” again.

* Don’t look back at your past work (or but rarely), focus completely on your current drawing and the next one. Don’t get precious about making Something Beautiful or Something Perfect. You will have good days and bad days, good drawings and bad; don’t judge your own work, just keep moving forward.

*  In terms of goals, aim for one 20min drawing a week. When that becomes a pleasurable habit, aim for four 20mins drawings a week (i.e. something every second day). When that becomes a habit, go daily (and by that, merely picking up the pencil and making a mark, any mark, “counts” as a Drawing). Your drawing will suddenly surge ahead dramatically at each of these three stages.

* Get access to a flatbed scanner, subscribe to Flickr and upload a scan of every single drawing. In the comments section, record materials used. Most drawings have a “story” behind them – tell that story. You are not doing this for anyone else – you’re doing it entirely for yourself. If you like to talk about what you’re doing, start a weblog using Blogspot or WordPress or similar. This “self-talk” will generate ideas and hone your critical skills. Again, you’re doing this for yourself, and your 2.5 readers. You’re not “showing off”; you’re simply Telling Your Story, alongside the 6 billion humans in the world who have stories to tell as well.

* Over time, you will graduate to other media (e.g. pens, watercolor) and other supports (e.g. sketchbooks and types of paper). Don’t get bogged down in this free-for-all for a year or so after you’ve been drawing regularly. There is no such thing as a “better” or “best” medium or tool; natural curiosity will lead to further experimentation over time. Regarding claims about “magic” drawing products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

* If at all possible, join a group of beginner sketchers and go out weekend sketching. On my first outing, I lasted less than hour. Over time, you will develop stamina and draw for longer (internet search “sketching meetup” and “urban sketchers” or your local Art Society). But keep in mind that it is possible to draw often and well, while working full-time or even being completely housebound.

* If the weather is too awful to draw outdoors, spend time copying or tracing the work of others. Comb through newspapers and magazines for things that you might like to draw.

* Remove words like “talent” and “naturally-gifted” from your vocabulary. Drawing is largely a matter of practice. There is no such thing as “I can’t draw” and, equally,  there is no such thing as “I can’t draw well”. If you don’t like drawing, you will move on to something you like doing, but there are no barriers to drawing. There’s nothing stopping you or holding you back.

* Draw what’s around you, whether you’re in a city or in the country, and draw what you like drawing. If drawing in public is too challenging, spend a year doing Object Drawing around the house (internet search “Every Day Matters”). Once you get the hang of Object Drawing, try drawing right up to the borders – first one, then two, then three, then four.

Footnote for trained artists, architects, designers, commercial artists and others with a background in sketching/drawing, and for whom the above 10 points are “obvious” or who are already “on the journey”.

Obviously you will work on particular skills and competencies in which you feel you need to hone in order to ‘improve’ or ‘progress’. But being already ‘on the road’ isn’t necessarily easy.

 Check out this recent post by Danny Gregory, especially the final paragraphs distinguishing between Art (what you already do) and art (which might be your key, for example,  to new “flexibility” or “looseness” because formal art training often “tightens” us up)): http://dannygregory.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/fresh-wisdom-to-trump-the-monkey/

stabilo88 fine 0.4

Six Stabilo point 88 fine 0.4 coloured pens, tested on cartridge paper with Winsor & Newtown watercolor.

I’m currently under the spell of Ian Sidaway, a British landscape/oudtoors on-location arrtist who does b&w pen drawings in a landscape Moleskine sketchbook. Sidaway reserves his colour work for pure watercolour sketches with no added penwork. Sidaway wouldn’t combine pen and colour the way I have here, but I’m curious about the possibilities.

Yesterday I did a sketch using five out of these six ‘coloured biros’. The bright blue and green gave the overall impression of a “coloured biro sketch” and because I was observing some very lovely lawn greens and yellow sandstone, I got thinking about either adding a watercolour wash over the penwork or laying down the watercolour first.

I liked the Stabilo pens because they didn’t clot or splutter on the page. The line was continuous and not scratchy. What I particularly appreciate is that the line is not unlike that produced by a fountain pen (though without the think or thin you get with a flexible nib). Plus there are no transportation problems – I can carry these anywhere without the threat of them leaking on me or worrying about ink levels.

I have no problems at all with the grey, charcoal and black pens. The three colours I’ve got at the moment are a bit too “fluoro” for my taste, but it’s nice to go out with a bunch of pens in my top pocket which will roughly approximate buildings, vegetation and sky. Normally, if I can step out with an A4 sketchbook, then a watercolour field set can usually tag along as well.

With these three black-and-white colours, I can pass off an on-site sketch as done in “pen”; the polychromatic colours take on the air of “biro” sketches, by contrast.

In terms of scanning and reproducing, they are a big improvement on graphite pencil. I love graphite pencil, but it simply doesn’t can for posting to online galleries or weblogs.

While I give up the sensuousness of the pencil mark with any sort of penwork, I know what whatever mark I set down with these Stabilo pens will be picked up by my HP Scanner, making them ideal of digital reproduction. The light grey is light enough for foundation lines not to impose itself on the finished product, working a bit like a grey watercolour pencil or a H or F graphite pencil. I can work in my personal method of laying in some light foundation lines, coming in with my darkest darks then creating texture and gradation through the mid-greys and colours.

From left, the pens by themselves on white cartridge paper; (centre) pen work over a watercolour wash laid down first, and (far right) pen with watercolour wash added later.

Despite the ink being water-based, it obviously doesn’t run.The only thing I have to watch out for is to let the paper THOROUGHLY dry. The pen line will fuzz when the paper is wet, either before or after a watercolour wash.

Eckersley’s sells them for $1.70ea; Officeworks in sets of 12 colours for $13.48.


A4 Milini 150g sketchbook, double-spread; coloured biros – Stabilo point 88 fine 0.4 (grey, charcoal, black, green, light blue and dark blue)

I haven’t done any pen-and-ink work for a long time, so I jumped at the opportunity of using six coloured ‘biro’s, after seeing them for $1.70ea at Eckersley’s York Street recently. The colours seemed ideal for urban sketching in Sydney, where there’s both a lot of grey and a lot of green.

I received a flyer in my mailbox today from a church in the local area and thought I’d nick out and sketch it. It’s a heritage-listed Gothic Revival church built in 1838 (now minus its spire), painted white, with a cemetery nearby. Not far from the Cooks River, it was the local church for important Sydneysiders, some very wealthy, who kept villas far away from the bustle of Sydney Town in colonial times. Despite the very muggy, overcast afternoon, it was a remarkably quiet and serene environment. I regret not having spent time here before.

I have been interested to read this week about Ian Sidaway, a British artist who keeps two sketchbooks for on-site landscape/streetscape sketching: one landscape Moleskin for black pen and another for pure watercolor. He uses a lot of hatching but keeps the look very streamlined and minimal, with a very strong compositional foundation. I haven’t yet had time to copy any of his sketches or check out his influences including Charles Rennie Macintosh. Macintosh featured in a tv documentary recently about Art Nouveau and I spent three years wandering his Teachers’ College building at Sydney University, absorbing its lines and moodiness; little wonder I like the architecture of both Art Nouveau and the local InterWar Period.

I simply started on the far left of the RH page (as I normally do) and moved in all directions, each small piece of geometric shape in turn, until reaching the edge of the page. No attempt today to think ‘compositionally’; no foundation lines except a generalised horizon line. Initial contour in the Light Grey, then moved to Black for the darkest darks, then a lot of in-fill in the greys and other colours. Eventually moved from the very severe angles of the sandstone tombstones in the foreground to the (much more) interesting sandstone tombs to the left, moving across the gutter. I normally fizzle out after an hour or so, often leaving the LH page of my double-page spreads very unfinished.

I was curious to see how things would scan and I’ll probably continue in this vein for the next few days.

At the moment, I’m channeling painter Clarice Beckett, who managed to create her tonal masterpieces by sneaking out of the house for a short time before breakfast each day. Also temporarily caring for The Invalid, I am timing my escapes in a similar manner. The next five days or so will be local on-location sketches!

Borobudur recalled

March 12, 2013


12x16cm graphite pencil 4B and watercolor sketch, in A4 Milini 150g sketchbook

Under the ongoing influence of Bangkok, the watercolor painting on watercolor paper and supports by colleagues last weekend, Steve B Reddy’s on-location sketching en grisaille with watercolour washes added at home, I worked up a tiny watercolor study from a tv news story. I’m aiming to do at least one small daily “watercolour” between now and my attending watercolour class next month.

These tourists climbing Borobudur in Java, Indonesia reminded me of time there – a vast, silent monument, apparently collapsing in on itself very slowly. The European tourists in sarongs means wardrobe standards are being enforced these days; sarongs are rented out to unsuitably-dressed tourists here, as in Bangkok and elsewhere, when visiting Buddhist temple-monuments. The grounds of Borobudur, as seen in the tv news story, indicate a lot of effort has been put into the surrounding environment since I was there. It’s great to see Java resurrecting its long and distinguished cultural heritage; there is always present in Java a certain feeling of refinement in relation to its cultural past – a subdued seriousness (the word is halus), present both at Borobudur and nearby Jogjakarta, compared to Bali is which is much more in-your-face ‘Hindu’, vibrant and pulsating.

As I did with yesterday’s sketch, I taped off the area for the watercolor instead of working to the paper edge, but this 150g paper doesn’t like masking tape.  I upped the sky blue, based on the too-pale sky in yesterday’s sketch.  Working through my new tin of Derwent pencils, it was the turn today of the 4B, well suited to the very dark diamond-shaped holes in the many stupas. The sign at left mentions the word kebersihan which refers to purity/cleanliness (“bersih” meaning “clean”); I assume that’s an exhortation to visitors to not destroy the joint and keep it nice.

Virtual Bangkok – Wat Arun

December 16, 2012

I’ve been considering nipping over to Bangkok to do some urban sketching, but am losing heart by the day due to airline ticket prices: the next price increase is 21 Dec and after that, 28 Dec. Some flights involve a 16-hour stopover in Melbourne; direct flights to any city these days are a thing of the past. I suspect I could get to Kyoto for the same amount of money, a city I already know well, but who’d go to Kyoto for just a week or two especially when the flight can take up to 30 hours transitting Melbourne, Singapore and Seoul?

Intrigued by any new building or city, here or overseas, I like to train myself up by working from photos. Coming upon the building in reality is always a joy after having observed it closely at home. These days the numerous photos on Flickr provide a lot of valuable context; from the angles and positions taken to photograph a building, it’s possible to guess how one might sketch it in situ.

It’s not too hard to dream up a sketching itinerary: Day 1, canal boats and Golden Mount, Day 2 Royal Palace and Wat Arun; Day 3,  Wat Phra Kaew and so on, I’m wondering how reasonable a pace of 8 sketches a day, 1 per hour might be, or given the conditions, is 2-3 per day more feasible? In terms of somewhere to stay, I’d probably want somewhere close to either Siam Square or Central World Plaza, the largest lifestyle complex in Southeast Asia: that way I could nip back into airconditioned cool to eat and drink before heading out for more sketching.  Somewhere near the National Stadium Skytrain station too would allow me to get around easily.

Notwithstanding this, I’ve been practising with new media in a 118g sketchbook with blue-grey toned paper, a Strathmore Toned Gray 5.5″x8.5″ sketchbook, small enough for on location work in any busy city.

Wat Arun

So far I’ve been looking at a range of photos of the famed Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun. It’s a popular subject among urban sketchers in Bangkok, those who have been participating in Bangkok Sketchers which just celebrated its third birthday. The first involves sanguine, black and white, because I was wondering if the classic Three Pencil technique as used by Watteau could translate to drawing buildings. Additional colour via Prismacolor coloured pencils. The subject matter involved a photo taken either on the river approaching the wat or across on the eastern side of the river. The main purpose was getting down the main prang and its surrounding four subsidiary prangs. The light effects are due to the shards of faience ceramic which decorate the Mount Meru, though I’m confused about the cosmology here: a Theravada Buddhist temple with a symbolic Hindu Mount Meru. Need to brush up on my Buddhist cosmology!

Wat Arun 2

The next involves Staedtler pigment liner 0.1 pen (the thinner 0.05 is completely useless) with Prismacolor coloured pencil highlights. The gritty contour of the wat is common in urban sketchers’ work. The focus today was the two staircases up the wat and some differentiation of the several layers that make up the great prang. Is such a sketch possible in real life? I suspect the original photo was taken on the water, so it would be impossible to sketch this view as is in real life. The white unexpectedly seems to convey the busyness of Bangkok and the famed reflected light off this wat.

Wat Arun 3

The next involves the combination of pen (as above) with watercolour, touched up with Derwent pencils. Today’s new components were the white columns and red grill fence surrounding the prang. It’s important not to use the same white in the sky as in the land: the illusion of depth-of-field is lost.

Wat Arun 4

The last involved Derwent Graphitint which are graphite pencils able to be ‘diluted’ of their pencil marks with water. By contrast, I used Prismacolor colored pencils which are wax and waterproof for the sky. The bright sunlight of the original photo lent itself to distinct geometric shapes which of course were washed away with the water. The paper is too thin for water, so no more wet media in this particular sketchbook. Watercolour for sky next time, not pencil.

My original ‘vision’ is fading, just as my hopes of going to Bangkok are slipping somewhat.