I have been pushing myself to include more portraits in my sketchbooks this year…everything from five minute sketches to more considered pieces. I have enjoyed exploring different styles and learning new techniques. SktchyApp has been a fabulous resource for interesting faces to draw!

For the past six weeks or so I have been joining with a couple of hundred other students from around the world to work through Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Buildings course.

This sketch of the St John the Baptist Cathedral (Canberra)was drawn about six weeks ago during the first week of the course. We had looked at various types of sketches from painting the negative shapes, painting the abstract shapes and then finding the edges of the building and attempting to see the volumes that made up the complex buildings we selected. It is easy to see that this sketch has perspective issues and lacks any depth to the edges of the roof lines and the windows. It is a very flat representation of the cathedral.

Constructing Volumes exercise
The sketch below drawn today (from a slightly different angle) and I am very pleased with the change in detail and approach, and I can feel that this building has some solidity to it, and the overall proportions are far better (though the onion dome thing is still a little big). I spent about 45 minutes on this one… I think I could probably have slowed down and paid a bit more attention to the lifework, but it was blowing a gale and a little unpleasant. I am also slowly refining my urban sketching kit so that it is less juggling and more art-ing :). I am most pleased with the reduced stress levels that Liz’s method has allowed. Over all I found this drawing far more relaxing and meditative than it’s predecessor.

20161018 - st john the baptist

For the sake of comparison I had a bit of a dig back though my old sketchbooks and found this one… I think this is the very first building that i attempted to capture back in 2010…it really has no body to it at all and looks like cardboard cutout of a house.
26-2010 // coast trip

This vignette was drawn in 2012 on location in Sydney. The elements of the building seem pasted on and I did have a go at adding at light and shade.

17-2012 // Marcus Clarke TAFE Sydney

By comparison, this building at the ANU was captured last week on location, and whilst a little wonky in the verticals, I can feel it as a solid object occupying space, and it presents me with a recognisable facsimile of the building.

20161009 - john yenken building

This one was done the weekend before, but this time from a photo I took in France a few years ago. I am especially pleased with the details in this one. My goal is to try to bring the relative precision of studio work to my onsite sketches. I have tendency to rush and it shows in the lifework in particular of my urban sketches.

20161003 - normandy

i have loved every moment of the SketchingNow Buildings course and look forward to practising and capturing my local area and the places that I travel to.

sketching at Floriade

October 6, 2016 — Leave a comment

Last weekend we were treated to a very rare sunny Spring day here in Canberra. I say rare because we have been subjected to a particularly wet winter this year. The fabulous thing was that this miracle blue-sky day landed on the day of our monthly sketchcrawl, at the local flower show, Floriade.

I have been thinking a bit lately about how I have progressed (or not) in particular areas and had a bit of a trawl back through my Flickr albums to see what I had done in the past. I am pleased that over all I have improved and have kept up the habit of recording life in a sketchbook. I found in one of my earliest books, a capture of a Floriade scene.

This was how I captured the show six years ago when I was just starting out on the sketchbook journey.

35-2010 // Flowers and fresh air

The following three images are what I managed to complete this past weekend. I am pleased with the general progression and that I am choosing to tackle more difficult scenes. I am still struggling with drawing on location in terms of getting accurate representations of the things I see (as opposed to controlled indoor sketches). I think the ‘rush’ factor also plays a part in the quality of the sketches, so slowing down is something to tackle. The only thing for it, really, is practice…lots of it! 🙂 Not an onerous task at all.

20161002 Florade Stage 88

Stage 88 – where there were school children and local bands entertaining the crowd that grew as it got closer to lunchtime. The HUGE crowds precluded taking up a seat close to the garden beds to draw blooms unfortunately, so I settled for this structure. I chatted to a couple of little girls who came up to check out what I was doing. I love that kids are so curious!

20161002 floriade entrance

I arrived early in order to get parking and sat and sketched the entry point while I waited for my fellow sketchers.  My aim with this one was to have a go at capturing the movement through the gates….but they moved too fast! 🙂

20161002 floriade people watching

My next big practice push and learning point is adding people into my scenes….these ones I caught as they stood waiting to meet friends and family at the entrance. Most moved on too quickly, and I need to work on making them actually look like people 🙂  I am currently doing a course about drawing buildings….next people!

Stay tuned for my wrap up of the drawing buildings course and some more before and after fun 🙂


Top drawing: Moleskine sketchbook, W&N waterfolours, Uniball eye pen. Remaining drawings: Stillman & Birn Alpha series  sketchbook, Uniball eye pen, W&N and Daniel Smith watercoolours

Our Canberra Urban Sketchers meet up today was at Bungendore, a small village  half an hour or so east of Canberra. The weather was crisp and sunny, so I took advantage of the sun after a very wet week and hopped on my scooter to ride out to meet the rest of the crew.  My day was fun as always, but was mostly characterised by a long line of mishaps. (the fun is always in the raucous company …who knew artists could be so nutty?)

  1. I left my bulldog clips at home, so it was almost impossible to juggle the sketchbook, palette, water jar and paper towel all at once.
  2. My new little travel palette suffered from lack of grippiness and the pans ended up all over the shop inside the box instead of neatly clipped into their rows, and the hodge lodge of colours that I had assembled it from simply did not grab me. The whole setup will need some work to get it functional.
  3. My little water bottle leaked in my bag leaving a bit of a soggy mess.
  4. The selection of pens that i brought with me decided that today was a not a good day to flow well, and staged a revolt, so that everything I tried to do felt scratchy and difficult. 🙁

Nonetheless I ended up with a couple of sketches after much faffing about.

This 1957 Cadillac parked just long enough for me to get the drawing done and the first layer of colour down. The gentleman that owned the car came and had a chat and looked at my drawing and asked for a copy, which was nice 🙂 I am gradually becoming accustomed to talking to people I meet when I am sitting outside sketching. I finished the rest of it when I got home from memory. Capturing the reflections of the clouds in the boot lid, and the sky and surroundings in the chrome was a real challenge! Cars are hard!!


This poor building suffered from perspective ailments…well the drawing did anyway. GAH! The real thing is lower and longer and had a much redder roof (one of the shortfalls of my palette, or perhaps my ability to mix … or both)  Thank goodness Liz Steel’s Sketching Architecture online drawing class starts this week…perhaps by the time if finish I will be able to do some of these lovely old buildings justice!


The mishaps unfortunately didn’t finish with my sketching. I had a little oopsie on my scooter on the way home and ended up carrying the end of my brake lever home in my pocket. Wonder what that’s going to cost me to fix?

But wait !!!! There’s more!! When I got home I found that I had forgotten my house keys, and to make it more interesting my sons were out. *sigh*  Eventually they returned and they let me in. Now a hot bath is in order to soothe my aching muscles and frazzled mind.

(Puppy sightings and pats for the day: one tiny little French Bulldog puppy that was all about licking my hand, and one large lovely Sheppy with a very stern looking owner that wouldn’t let him have any fun at all .)

During my last late night online shopping excursion for a replacement sketchbook, I didn’t look closely enough at the version of the Stillman and Birn sketchbook that I popped into my cart. I normally buy the Beta series book that has lovely heavy paper that will take watercolour without buckling, but I managed to pick up the Alpha series one this time. I was distinctly unimpressed with myself when I realised what I had done, but as I have used it over the past couple of weeks I have come to think of my screw up as a happy accident. The sketchbook has more pages (so it will last me longer) and while the paper is lighter, and buckles a little if I get a little too excited with the watercolours, it takes ink really really nicely. I am also finding that because the per page price is cheaper than the previous book, I am more inclined to experiment and just “play” in the sketchbook, which I am really enjoying! I have also returned to using my Lamy Safari fountain pens since the paper is a little smoother and the ink flows nicely without the nib skipping. LOVE!
20160821 - beetle


If I keep the watercolour washes light, the paper doesn’t buckle too much. I couldn’t resist sketching this VW bug when I saw it parked next to me last weekend. The drawing below was done entirely with my Lami pen with Noodler’s Polar Brown ink (I was practicing seeing abstract shapes in the things I draw, so I mapped out Mr Bond’s shadows and went to town with cross hatching.)

20160824 - skyfall
Another thing I am trying at the moment, is carrying a cheap A6 sized sketchbook in my handbag and making a commitment to draw as often as I can, and without using pencil underdrawings and as quick as I can in an effort to improve my drawing skills though sheer volume. I’m only a couple of days in and have discovered that pages this small fill up quickly, which is satisfying.
20160822 - cherrybean

I have also found that pages this small seem to need a finer nib on my pen, so I’ve ordered a new fine nib for my Lamy Safari pen! In the meantime I ferreted around in my pen stash and found a Micron Pigma pen that I trialled today, and liked the way it felt.


20160825 - healthy afternoon tea


I have been drawing a lot more this year and I am enjoying the results. I hope the trend continues! If you want to see progress shots and on location pictures, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram or hit the LIKE button to join the fun on my Facebook page! If you would like to see the rest of the sketchbook fun for the year so far, you can see the sketches here.

This month’s sketch meet was at the Canberra Glassworks beside the Old Bus Depot markets in Kingston. It was cold, but mercifully, not windy. I took up position out the front of the building and set about testing out my new Strathmore soft cover watercolour journal .. and learned a few things in the process!

  • Bigger journals are heavier (d’uh!) and my hand tired quickly trying to hold it up. It was rather awkward to balance the book, paints, water and brushes all at once. I will need to find a way to handle that better.
  • Bigger pages take more paint and really would benefit from a larger paintbrush..though I think next time I will opt for a single page rather than a spread and try to get more detail in.
  • The paper in this journal is very different to what I am accustomed to in my usual Stillman and Birn books, and will take some adjusting! I was pleased to discover that I can lift pigment quite easily on this one…which conversely means that I need to be careful with layering colour and making sure things dry completely to avoid picking up what’s below when I add the next lot of colour.
  • Little people love to watch you paint 🙂 There was quite a lot of foot traffic coming past on the way to the market next door, and I ended up chatting to several little people about painting and what they liked to draw and create. It was quite lovely!

20160807 - Canberra Glassworks

Many of the sketchers chose to go inside and sketch the artisans blowing glass in the hotroom.. I am thinking I will have to check that out next time! I caught a few minutes at the end and watched in fascination as they manipulated the molten glass to make beautiful things.

I completed this sketch from a photo when I got home, it shows the rear of the building. (these following two were done in my new Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook that I use for my everyday drawing)

20160807 - back of the glassworks
We had lunch over the road on the Kingston Foreshore where there are any number of places to buy a fancy burger and a drink. I am not a huge fan of receiving a juicy burger on a chopping board that does nothing to collect the drips and juices :S

We chatted and ate and passed our sketchbooks around as we do…It was such fun to look at everyone else’s sketches both form today, and since we last met. Such a talented bunch! Also.. how fancy is the new Urban Sketchers Canberra stamp? So official!
20160807 - lunch at walt and burley

It has been a while since I posted here, but I have been drawing! You can see what I have been up to by looking at my Flickr gallery.

Indoor sketching was the order of the day here due to there being a lot of wet stuff falling from the sky. Only dry media (pencils) allowed in the galleries, so I took myself down into the section with a series of marble busts, and found that drawing those things is far harder than it would appear. I wound up with a picture of Sir George Turner that looked somewhat odd and skeletal. I tried twice without getting a likeness that I was at all happy with. The second one is just below.  I pretty much gave up at that point…. rage-quit as my son would say.

To fill the last half an hour of the session I pulled out my mechanical pencils with the coloured leads and did some quick captures of the other four busts in the area. I just worked right over the top of my first failed attempt at Sir George rather than waste another page. I have to say I actually enjoyed doing those four far more than the first two graphite ones. I think I was trying too hard… and when I let myself be loose and free flowing with my strokes, I ended up with far more pleasing drawings.


On  whim late last month I decided to sign up for the Every Day in May drawing challenge and joined up to the Facebook group to share my drawings each day with hundreds of other artists around the world. I started out the month in fear and trepidation, and not enirely sure that I would be able to keep up with completing a drawing every day, but I surprised myself and had a great time meeting new artists via the Facebook group and being exposed to a vast variety of amazing art from around the world as we all worked though the same prompts and exhibited all manner of amusing interpretations on the theme each day.

This ladybug was my favourite piece of the month:

cropped ladybug_Fotor

Here are five things I learned from this month of drawing:
1. Practising every day does improve your skills slowly but surely – as the month progressed I found the sketching part of the process flowed more smoothly. I was seeing edges and proportions and shapes in abstract terms and drawing what I could see far better than before, which in turn meant less erasing and re-drawing. As a side note I also learned that the sketchbook/black pen combination I chose that I chose didn’t like erasing so much, so I switched over to using a red lead in my mechanical pencil and left the under-drawing as a “feature” 🙂 . You can see the faint red lines int he ladybug picture above.
2. A sketch is very different from a piece of finished art – some days I had more time to complete the drawing than others. Somedays I had half an hour and had to squeeze it in between other tasks, somedays I could take several hours to complete the piece by drawing at lunchtime and then painting bits and pieces over the course of a more relaxed evening. The products of each look very different, and I found myself fretting at times about the stuff ups and about the less polished pieces. In the end I came to the realisation that there is no right or wrong way to do things in your own art journal. It’s your space to fill how you please. If you only have a few minutes to scribble a sketch one day, that’s fine because at least you are drawing SOMETHING, just don’t expect it to look like a page you spent hours on.
3. The challenge was a good place to practice new techniques I was learning from online classes – I have been watching YouTube and Craftsy lessons of late as a way to fit some art tuition into my life. Rather than creating different pieces for practising what I learned, I simply applied the techniques to my journal entries. As a result, I have a bunch of disparate styles of art in there, and that’s ok too 🙂 .
4. I got really angsty about having to post a drawing each day, I did not want to miss a day and get behind, which probaby says more about my mental state than anything. I can easily see the days when I really couldn’t be bothered but was drawing because I had to and my emotions are on full display for anyone that knows me well enough. Subtleties in the neatness of the lines, or the colours chosen, or how playful the interpretation of the prompt is. (Don’t go back and attempt to psychoanalyse me 😛 you won’t get it even close to right.. professionals have tried and failed.) Though I will admit that I possibly need to relax when it comes to meeting self-imposed deadlines.
5. I can make time to draw or paint each day if I really want to – I have used the “I’m too busy” excuse far too often in the last year or so, but I have culled a bunch of activities out of my life that no longer appeal to me and I’m left with a couple of things that make my heart sing…art is one of them. Now to put a little discipline around developing my passion and not allow myself to get sucked into procrastination and meaningless timewasting 😀 No more excuses! A little practise each day adds up over time to improve skills and hone techniques.  And I hope to complete some larger projects this way too. This exercise has sparked a bunch of new ideas for things to paint and play with!
Will I keep drawing every day? Yes! I likely won’t post a full drawing a day, but rather work at having a piece of artwork on the go on my desk at all times so that I can choose to sit for hours to work on it, or sit for 15 minutes while I wait for the veges to cook for dinner. And of course the urban sketching will continue as I capture the sights and scenes of the world around me as I explore. I you are interested in seeing work in progress shots you can follow my Facebook page or Instagram for a broader cross section of life and the things that feed my creativity.
Here’s a slide show of all 31 drawings. I had a blast and will definitely be doing it again next year!

If you would like to see some of the other offerings from my fellow artists…the group has a public Flickr group HERE that you can browse and enjoy.

For some unknown reason I decided to sign up for the Everyday in May drawing challenge … I didn’t think I’d keep up, but I’m doing ok so far 🙂 I am enjoying seeing a diverse range of artists share their interpretation of the prompts supplied for each day and having fun coming up with creative interpretations of the prompts for my own drawings. The ebbs and flows of quick drawings and more involved ones as I work around what life throws at me shows me that there is always time to fit in a quick drawing here and there 🙂 I really hope this challenge keeps me drawing more regularly into he future….in the meantime I am looking forward to the final two weeks of this challenge!


Typical Autumn day in Canberra today…windy and cool, overseen by blue skies and the odd menacing cloud lurking about.  We met in the centre of town by the fountain that looks like dandelion seed that has been here for as long as I can remember, and then each took off to find our own spot to capture a scene. I chose the merry-go-round for very sentimental reasons. For many years my friend Rachel and I used to go into the city to have a ride and then to shop 🙂 That seems like a lifetime ago now!

The group numbers are growing for our Canberra Urban Sketchers group! So lovely to hang out with like minded people and learn from other artists!
20160501 - merry go round

These two quickies were squeezed into the last 15 minutes or so before the urban sketching group were scheduled to meet up for lunch. The Icarus sculpture was one of four of these huge, ominous looking figures in various poses on the one plinth. The installation was surrounded by plane trees in various states of autumnal colour and undress.

20160501 - icarus and tree