I cut up an Arches Smooth 185gsm sheet into eight A4s today and joined USk Sydney colleagues for a sketchcrawl through St Peters NSW 2044.

My aim today was to put brush to paper over a pencil sketch within 10mins of choosing a location and packing up 20mins later (feeling rather like a cadet soldier learning to strip down a gun and put it back together again in record time). Hence, four sketches in three hours…

st peters MAY LANE


Here’s the first of four 30min sketches of the day,  involving great potential ‘interconnectivity’ between the object and its shadow (involving pressing down to the ferrule with the dark pigment). I tipped in reference photos (colour and grayscale) so I can see where I can improve (e.g. establishing a pattern of darks!). I worked rather too small; I “understood” the shadows in the doorway but failed to execute them.

st peters COUNCIL ST

Here’s the second involving more considered drawing. I tended towards ‘colouring-in’ but failed to establish darks and mid-tones. Things fell apart when the foreground linear perspective of the footpath failed to meet its extension in the middle ground. The reference photos were taken 3hrs later – interesting shadows (and the sky was white before)!


The third involved even more considered drawing  – and even more “colouring-in”. I am happiest with this because it represents a transition between Drawing and Painting, notwithstanding a tendency to look like an architect’s concept drawing. I’m a sucker for Payne’s Gray.


The last of the day was a rushed job – all over in less than 15mins instead of the established routine of 30mins from start to finish. I’m learning not to proceed to the painting unless the drawing is correct/not distorted. Again, the tipped-in reference photos were taken three hours later, so I won’t tackle this subject at midday again.

st peters CAMPBELL ST





giants of pramaThis is an entirely odd piece of work, a graphite pencil 2B drawing of an antique marble statue from Sardinia with added Payne’s Gray watercolor.

It has the ‘awkwardness’ of a William Kentridge charcoal drawing. I’ve been swayed too by a Joshua Reynold’s painting entitled Theory of a goddess swathed in blue fabric, currently on show in Bendigo Regional Art Gallery, as well as by the blue negative painting around one of the main, seated characters in Seurat’s painting Une baignade, Asnieres.

Suffice to say I need more practice with graduated washes but it’s sometimes worthwhile working beyond one’s capacity.

16x28cm, Arches Smooth 185 gsm, watercolor.

oslo sculpture watercolour

I thought I’d add figurative into the mix, while still sticking to my regimen of 5 mins drawing and 20 mins watercolour painting. I’m scheduled to go into the field and do some watercolor drawing of outdoor statues in a few days’ time, though it’s been raining non-stop for over a week.

DRAWING. I ought to have found some mechanical means of copying the reference photo, even tracing it against a window pane, but thought I needed the drawing practice so drew it freehand.

PAINTING. Because of the stark stylistic nature of the subject matter, I decided to stick to two colours, Reeves Payne’s Gray and Cerulean Blue. I exaggerated the white whites and dark darks. Two weaknesses became apparent: the ankles (left) and clasped hands (left), errors which would have been more than likely fixed had this been done on site and not from a photo. I’m still learning how much accuracy is required in a watercolor under-drawing – where I must be tight and where I can be loose. Today’s shows up the need for practising graduated washes a lot more. I am however learning how much water to have on the brush at any one time.

As for the spots, I’ve learned not to fiddle with my travel palette too closely to the work! This is probably worth re-doing sometime (as are other similar works in this Oslo sculpture garden), including practising with a more accurate traced drawing (as well as freehand drawing) and getting the shadows more accurate.

A4, Arches Smooth 185 gsm paper; Reeves Payne’s Gray and Cerulean Blue


Summer Hill Flour Mill 1Automatic formatting in WordPress is particularly bad today (some days are better than others), so just keep scrolling through. I’ve tried to caption each image with some text. Apologies for any inconvience!


A warm-up in soft graphite on A4 cartridge paper, prior to meeting sketching colleagues. This is on the rise on the main road to the south-east of the complex and this view will be completely obscured by a Meriton residential apartment high-rise in the immediate foreground.  Sydney Trains workmen were clearing their storage sites nearby, with the new light rail service up and running just two days before. The new Lewisham West light rail stop is visible behind the palm tree in the middle-distance. The main Mungo Scott Flour Mill building dates from 1922 and bears a distinct similarity with similar former flour mills adjacent to Newtown Station, a little further in towards the city. In the early 1920s of course, Newtown and Summer Hill were at the extreme edge of Sydney city. The flour mill took advantage of the adjacent goods railway line built after World War I. The silos in the background date from the 1950s.

Summer hill Flour Mill 2

Today was the very last day of business for artists who ran the Mungo Artists group on the flour mill property. Part of the premises seems to have been leased to Sydney Trains while they constructed the light rail extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill. By rights, one ought to eschew watercolour impressions for something more detailed, such as carefully-considered graphite drawings,  in the case of architectural reportage. Today ought to have been an occasion to document the buildings and especially those parts of the architecture extraneous to any re-purposing as part of the site’s redevelopment. Rightly or wrongly, I chose to work on my own issues – working in watercolor for 30 minute stretches. The morning ought to have been raining – this was the eighth or ninth day in a row of rain in Sydney – but miraculously there was sunshine and deep shadows. Conscious that the contours of the silos will remain in the redevelopment, I chose to note those outbuildings and fittings which I know will be swept away. A4, Arches Smooth 185gsm, W&N watercolour, 30mins.



Summer Hill Flour Mill 3

































I’m not preoccupied with “correct” watercolour technique as with simply learning to manage materials and get down something – anything – in just half-an-hour. The Malcolm Carver travel palette allows minimal time spent mixing colour, allow me to paint in two steps – pigment to paper – rather than three: pigment, mixing tray, paper. I’m painting purely tonally with scant regard for local colour. I was intrigued in this view by the fact that the mechanics for dispensing flour to trucks at the bottom of each silo was still in place. This was painted at the top of some stairs adjacent to the east boundary fence and over my shoulder was the railway line and Lewisham West light rail station. A4, Arches Smooth 185gsm, W&N watercolour, 30mins.

Summer Hill Flour Mill 4
































The view looking south between the silos showed a most wonderful sky blue and that competed with the fittings on the side of the silos adjacent. A4, Arches Smooth, 185gsm, W&N watercolour, 30mins.

Summer Hill Flour Mill 5
















We decided on a final sketch before lunch and I chose to revert to the graphite of the initial sketch, here capturing the fast-moving shadows on the silos. Beyond were the trees and carpark of the Mungo Artists’ Studios. A4, 150gsm cartridge, graphite pencil 3H.





Out of the studio and into the streets today with a quick 35-minute sketch done on Cockatoo Island, a former maritime industrial site in Sydney Harbour. My sketching colleague and I were attracted by the water tower set high above dark vegetation and cliffs and a series of old pieces of machinery giving the area its name of “Easter Island”. In terms of tonality, the white water tower was set against dark storm clouds brewing – some exciting tonal differentiation!

Location sketching is about doing the best one can in straitened circumstances. It will only be extremely rare that Composition and Technique combine to work superbly in these circumstances.  By contrast, in the studio, faults can be corrected, weaknesses minimised; the sketch can even be completely re-done from scratch while preserving the ‘feel’ of having been done plein air. So Managing Expectations is, to me, an extremely important thing to consider.

DRAWING. A minimal 15mins drawing threw up the strong contrast between the metal railing and the trees behind, which became a focal point of sorts where the darkest dark lay next to the lightest light. The curves of the cylinders in perspective needed more attention and I could have spent all day on the series of machines in the foreground. The Drawing tragic in me would have liked to have spent all day on the machinery. In hindsight, a choice between either the water tower OR the machines ought to have settled on, but when out sketching it’s not always easy to arrive at the “perfect” composition. A sketch is primarily about observing and capturing – getting the mud and water bearing the gold into the pan first, followed by a lot of messy swilling around; a Drawing or Painting is about casting and setting that gold, an entirely different experience.

PAINTING. Because of a departing ferry back to Civilization, I had exactly 20 minutes to do the brushwork. Note to Self: take off spectacles to paint properly any straight lines (or cylindrical curves, in this case) of any Built Environment items. I paid scant attention to local color, focusing entirely on tonal differentiation. The ‘green’ was an accident caused by mixing Payne’s Gray with Burnt Sienna. I followed Malcolm Carver’s advice about painting trees (though I need more practice to perfect them), including using the wooden end of the brush to draw in branches and trunks.

I still have a tendency to “colour in” and where I don’t, I leave instead “rogue whites” and/or hard edges which need softening. As usual, I could have paid much more attention to the hard edges, softening them with clean water, scrubbing the paper with the brush right down the ferrule (in the case of this 185 gsm paper). I’m constantly surprised at the lack of any need to wait for paint to dry with this hot press paper. Yes, there are runs but I’m not reaching for a hair dryer. The biggest weakness (apart from the errors in painting convincing curves and straight lines in the water tower) was the “contradictory” nature of the dark on the right-hand side of the water tower: it ought to have been kept completely white.  The machinery in the foreground ought to have been better “grounded” to form a large triangular shape up to the water tower. A fundamental error was not taking a reference photo, so vital to any analysis and fiddling around with variations back home.

Probably the main strength is feeling confident about going plein air with minimal watercolour equipment: a water bottle; a tiny water cup; a zip case containing pencil, brushes and bulldog clips; a travel palette containing tube paint (12 colours) and a wad of A4 watercolor paper. One additional item I wouldn’t have minded having is some sort of easel or sloping support to overcome my tendency to paint horizontally as per an ordinary sketchbook.

My colleague did a brilliant job with the black clouds negatively painted around the water tower. Fortunately I’m scheduled to return to this spot in a week’s time, so I’ll have the opportunity to sketch it again perhaps with greater insight.

Arches Smooth 185 gsm; Reeves and Winsor & Newtown tube watercolors.

cockatoo island

My established routine is 5 minutes underdrawing and 25 minutes watercolor drawing on Arches Smooth hotpress 185gsm, around A5 size.Cairo Street colour photograph

1. DRAWING. My focus to day is not just the “path of light” down through the middle but the fact that the detail of the foreground building has to be more defined and accurate than the detail in the background buildings. There are lots of tell-tale orthogonal perspective lines to take care of as well. Here’s the grayscale version of the reference photo I’ll be painting from.Cairo Street grayscale

2. PAINTING. Aiming for better negative painting of people in the foreground and generally getting perspective ellipses and straight lines in order.cairo street watercolor

3. ANALYSIS. I felt I needed to glaze over the left to remove any whites competing with the far right. The initial darks weren’t dark enough and I think that’s mostly a matter of judging the pigment-water ratio. Any misgivings I happen to be feeling need to be put aside because it’s less about rapid improvement and more about “brush mileage”: simply painting and painting and painting, wearing out one brush after another. Additional, deeper understanding of the subject matter would have been much more evident if I’d done several intense observational drawings previously, but I’m here emulating working on-site without any prior ‘preparation’.

cairo street watercolor grayscale


Sticking again to my regime of 5 minutes under-drawing followed by 25 minutes watercolour drawing, my aim today is to practise painting the straight lines inherent in architecture rather more accurately.


Step 1. DRAWING. I’ve paid attention to the straight horizontal and vertical lines. I’ve put this Google photo image up against a window to create a 3.5×5″ drawing, equivalent to an A5, on Arches 185 Smooth watercolor paper. The pigment “stays” on this paper and doesn’t act like the blotting paper of other grades. The hot-pressed/smooth surface of the paper helps retain straight lines, inherent in urban watercolour painting; it’s also a lot more effective for plein air watercolor because I’m not waiting for the ‘blotting paper’ of higher gsm grades to dry.  I’m very conscious in my drawing of the telltale signs associated with perspective, with particular attention to the entrance path and angles on the front iron gates. The characteristic curves of the domes can’t be made too scrappy either. In referring not to the original colour reference photo, but to a grayscale scan instead, I’ve omitted a lot of the fine black line from my drawing because I want to add those details in black (erasable) Frixion pen (aka “sudoku pen”) when I finish painting. Using GIMP, I’ve created a ‘poster-izing” effect (Level 5) which creates approx three different tones (white/gray/black). Watercolor painting is all about exaggerating the lights and darks; reality is mostly gray tones but the painting will only make sense if paper is left blank and the darks are made very dark.

kapitan keling mosque colors posterize level 5

Step 2. PAINTING. I used the same big dinner plate for a palette as yesterday, with no new tube paint added. That means there was some Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue for the darkest darks and the shades of gray came from Quinacridone Yellow, Cadmium Yellow and Permanent Magenta.  I could have done the whole thing, for example, in Payne’s Gray if I wanted a monochromatic sketch.

In the last remaining minutes, I added spots of detail with a black pen.  To recover some of the lost whites, I could have used a white gel pen, but very sparingly of course.

penang mosque watercolorStep 3. ANALYSIS. I’m pleased with the painted straight lines. If this was a 60min or 90min painting, then I can see where a lot of things might be improved, but this is a training exercise for 30mins’ location sketching. I need to erase less with the kneaded rubber at the end of the drawing process because my drawing lines are barely more visible than the very light Tone 2 of my five tones. Symmetry is ultra-important not just in drawing buildings but in watercolor painting; you’ll notice that I got the horizontal wrong between the bottom hinges of the two front gates – firmer ‘dots’ at those extremities and a straight line running along the bottom of the two stone pillars and across the entrance path would have helped.  I was happy with the last-minute blue-grey glaze over the left ground plane but was too tentative about duplicating it on the right. Darkening the ground plane adds to the recessive quality of the building beyond, thus heightening the atmospheric perspective. I guess I was unsure about how much ‘white’ to leave in the entrance path. The grayscale scan of the finished watercolor reveals some faulty observation: the entrance facade is not in fact parallel to the front fence, but at an angle veering to the right. I need too to focus more on hard and soft edges. The discussion of hard and soft edges in the recently-published drawing book by Richard E. Scott has been very useful and I need to apply that skill to watercolour painting.

penang mosque watercolor b&w