blood poppy

This month’s meeting of the Canberra Urban Sketchers was supposed to be held at the Botanic Gardens, but with a weather forecast that featured 90% chance of lots of wet stuff, the venue changed to the National Library. At least there we would find shelter if the heavens did decide to open.

As I venture out to do more urban sketching I find myself changing and refining the kit that I take out with me, depending on what I think I’ll be sketching, and what blogs and tutorial videos I’ve been watching for ideas of techniques and tips to try. This time I crammed two sketchbooks (one landscape and one portrait) and a piece of corrugated plastic board in the bag with my usual bits and pieces. I also chose to go with paintbrushes and water container over my usual water brushes this time for the sake of control and not winding up with too many huge puddles of water, as I am wont to do lately with the water brushes.


My experiment this time round was with the corrugated plastic board acting as a hand-held easel of sorts to clip my paint, water and sketchbook to, so that I could hold all of that with my left hand and be free to draw or paint with my right. The size of the board was constrained by what would fit in my little Rickshaw bag since I wanted to keep my kit self-contained and somewhat compact. It worked for the most part, though I think I would have preferred something a little larger…I’ll play with that next time. Here’s what it looked like; my left hand held the board under the cover of the sketchbook and the paper towels for wiping off my brushes was held in the fingers of the left hand under the board.


My goals for today were to have a go at improving my perspective for sketching buildings and to attempt a landscape that didn’t end up looking like a mud puddle as they have been of late. The rain hadn’t arrived when we started out, so I grabbed a prime position on the forecourt of the Library and set about putting into practice what I had been learning in this Craftsy course that I watched last week. I measured and checked angles as best I could while the stormy clouds rolled and boiled above me. I felt the first drops of rain as I put the last details in. Overall I’m happy with the result.

20151101 - national library

I made it up to the verandah of the Library just as the spots of rain started to come a little faster. Unfortunately I couldn’t see a scene I wanted to paint from back there, so I ventured out a little way to get a view of what lay over the lake from me, and as it turns out I could see Mount Ainslie under the stormy clouds. I snapped out a couple of quick value sketches in pencil before I settled on a portrait composition that had lots of the purply clouds at the top and a little of the same reflected in the almost still lake below. I stood in the rain and captured the basics of the sketch before retreating to what i thought was a safe dry spot to add the watercolour…as you can see in the sky below I failed to take into account the wind factor and wound up with some unexpected “special effects” in my sky :) I’m pleased I managed some decent contrast in this one…was a quickie that took about 20 minutes or so.

20151101 - mount ainslie under stormy skies

The board worked equally well standing up and sitting down.


Not really what I was going for with the clouds, but the little raindrop blooms are kind of pretty anyway. :) And as a side note…when I went to scan the pics I discovered that I had stared my new Windsor and Newton landscape book bak to front and upside down…Numpty!



I discovered, quite by accident, a few weeks ago that there is a group of sketchers that get together regularly in Canberra (one of them saw my Goulburn post and contacted me) and today I decided to stop being such a hermit and join them. Time for me to meet some new people!

Quite aside from my normal social anxiety, I hadn’t picked up a pencil or paint brush since the end of June and so I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. I figured I had best practice a little and started preparing yesterday by sketching of some blossoms in my back yard just to get the feel of it again. I had forgotten how relaxing it can be (smacks self in the head).

Here’s what I ended up with today…Nothing quite like going from flowers to artillery! I have drawn the War Memorial building itself a couple of times in the past and wanted to try my hand at something a little more detailed, and since the weather wasn’t too unpleasant outside, I settled myself down next to a 9.2-inch howitzer from World War I. I started out by mapping the proportions of the gun in pencil before going in with my rollerball ink pen and then the Pentel brush pen for the darkest shadows, and then finally with the watercolours.  All up it took probably an hour and a half or so from setup to dry paint.

20150906 - WWI Howitzer

The group met back at the cafe after a couple of hours of dispersed sketching (we all went and found our own “things” that we wanted to capture) to compare sketches and enjoy a coffee. I found it fabulous how we were each in the same geographical location, but came back with such a wonderful and diverse set of sketches.


I’ll definitely be meeting up again next month at Floriade! If nothing else it will push me to be a little more regular with my sketching and perhaps prime the pump for some more ‘proper’ art pieces for the shop. Here’s the warm up piece I did yesterday…  

20150905 - spring always comes

I had such a lovely day today!

I recently connected with a cousin on Facebook that I haven’t seen in many years, and had the opportunity to meet up with her and her family partway through a trip she was taking that passed within an hour of where I live. We were to meet in Goulburn today for lunch at the iconic Paragon Cafe, so I got myself down there a bit early so that I could do some drawing before we met. The cafe is just around the corner from the local Court House, so I found a park and threw on a  couple f extra jackets to protect me from the cold. Unfortunately I forgot to pack my stool and there were no park benches in the grounds of the Court.. so I perched myself on the buttress root of what I think was a liquid amber tree … could have been a plane tree….not sure… one of those two!

The pencil sketch and ink portion of the drawing didn’t take too long.. it was too cold to linger long.. and I am a woos! Shivery fingers make for shaky lines :)


I worked pretty quick with the paint too in anticipation of getting back to the car and warming up… I really need to prepare better for these things! A damp butt is never a good thing when it’s cold and foggy.


I’m happy with the result…I think I’ll go back again and take a bit more time over a “proper” drawing.

20150628 - Goulburn Court House
By the time we had finished lunch and I had bid farewell to the travellers, the sun had emerged from behind the mist and warmed the day up tot he point where it was an utter delight to sit on a bench in the main street and capture the Paragon’s sign.


If you are ever in Goulburn, go and visit the Paragon for a wonderful old style country milkbar-style cafe experience. The meals are reasonably priced, generously proportioned and absolutely delicious!

20150628 - Paragon Cafe
There’s something wonderful about milkbars in small country towns … shame they don’t do paper straws any more.. but the steak sandwich was to die for!

out of practice!

June 8, 2015 — 2 Comments

The past couple of months have been more than a little hectic one way or the other due to the fact that I bought a house, moved in and furnished it… and I haven’t posted the last commission that I did for my sister-in-law who runs an organic farm in Victoria with my brother. These little piggies wound up being salami … or some of them did anyway. I completed this one and mailed it off a couple of weeks before I moved and the next day packed up my desk.

Pigs' butts

At the same time as my house move, our office had a big move as well…to the other side of the city. My commute has gone from being less than 10 minutes to being about half an hour. Whilst still not onerous, it’s different and I’m adjusting. My sketchbook has been languishing in my handbag for months as I’ve taken short lunch breaks to get work done in anticipation of moving offices or to buy me time to leave the office early to do house stuff. So my normal midday sketch breaks of late have been crunched. :(

Here are a couple of pages that were scribbled and splotched in haste:

20150504 - across the square

These were some lovely roses I was given for mothers day. Sweet subtle fragrance and big luscious blooms that lasted for ages. I would loved to have been able to sit and draw longer to try and capture some more depth in the blooms.

20150510 - pink and white

I was determined to draw “something” one day the other week, so I sketched the counter at the cafe while I waited for my lunch to come…took me 5-10 minutes and it shows … I am feeling so out of practice!

20150527 - central cafe

Life seems to be settling down now, for the most part, and I found myself dreaming about painting the other night, so perhaps it’s time to sit myself down at my new setup and get painting…..either that or I am losing my mind….dreams about pigment running into wet puddles on the page has to be some kind of sign… or not :) Perhaps I’ll just opt to wonder….


hello cocky!

March 9, 2015 — 9 Comments

I remember spending lazy Sunday afternoons as a kid lying on the lounge room floor and thumbing through my dad’s glossy bird identification books. The drawings in his books by the wife of noted ornithological zoologist John Gould and others fascinated me. I doubt I’ll ever attain their level of mastery , the detail is amazing! I haven’t looked at those books in years, but to this day I still enjoy watching birds and trying to identify them.

I have a couple of king parrots that live in the trees behind my house, and there was a blue wren and his harem living in the back yard of the last place I lived. In late spring there are lots of baby galahs screeching to be fed in the trees of the neighbourhood, and protective magpie parents dive-bombing me as I travel the streets on my bike.

The birds I see the most in my neighbourhood are the cockatoos. They are a funny bird… a mob of them scared the living daylights out of me a couple of months ago. I was startled from my sleep in the early dawn when I heard thumping on the roof above my head and then the clatter of what sounded like rocks being thrown onto the roof. I bounded out of bed, grabbed my phone and the baseball bat I keep beside the bed, and raced outside, expecting to find a number of the local teens causing mischief. Instead I found half a dozen white cockies bouncing around on my roof and pulling the concrete out of the ridge-capping and throwing it at each other. Destructive sods! As you can imagine I was somewhat relieved that I wasn’t going to have to get snarly at a bunch of kids… but on the other hand I quickly came to understand that I was completely at the mercy of the birds… I had no way of scaring them off.

I spent the next couple of early mornings cursing the cheeky birds as they continued to systematically remove the concrete from my roof and drop the pieces in a noisy clatter until I could get someone in to re-point the tiles along the top of the roof.

I think cockies are the teenagers of the bird world… cheeky and destructive for no apparent reason at times, but distinctly loveable all the same :)

20150307 - cocky


dairy farmers fun

March 6, 2015 — Leave a comment

Autumn has arrived along with its crisp sunny days, and chilly nights that are wonderful for sleeping. And I’m sitting here inside bundled up in a blanket on the couch suffering from a nasty throat thing that does not want to leave. :(  I am lethargic and blech…not even enough energy to draw. That’s miserable. So to cheer myself up I’ll tell you about what I did last weekend.

The National Arboretum is one of my absolute favourite places to go around town. You can wander through forests or sit in the cafe and sip a beer or you can do what I did.. trundle up to the top of the hill and look out over the Brindabella’s. I took myself up there on a whim last Sunday to see what I could sketch. Problem was though that I wasn’t particularly prepared .. no hat and no sunscreen. I set out the rug and my gear and sat down to take in the view and before long I could feel the sting of the sun on the back of my neck. Bother. I really should keep a hat in the car for these little spur of the moment jaunts.

Suffice it to say that I really didn’t want to have a scorched neck, so my sketch session lasted all of about 10-15 minutes before I poked myself with a fork and declared myself done.

This was my view from the top of Dairy Farmers Hill. Beautiful isn’t it?

I’m not especially happy with my sketch. I attempted to slap the paint on over a very light, quick pencil sketch and decided against an ink line drawing for the sake of saving time. It looks flat … lacking in depth and interest to me. Actually it could almost be an abstract depiction rather than a landscape sketch. More practise is required! But then, that’s what a sketchbook is for … the good the bad and the ugly of refining skills.

20150228 - dairy farmers hill

Do you keep a sketchbook? I have my regular watercolour ones that are probably more of a journal than a proper sketchbook, and I have just started carrying around a little pocket sized cahier for the sole purpose of practising quick sketches of people when I am out and about. I hope to see my skills grow as I fill these little books. How do you hone your skills?


There are few things more satisfying than getting to the end of a sketchbook… and whilst it took me almost a year to get through this one I am ashamed to say…. the last half of the book went quicker than the first half, so I think my mojo has returned. I have loved working in the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks… the paper is wonderfully heavy and creamy and takes the watercolours wonderfully. So I have decided to stay with them, though I have opted for the ivory paper over the bright white for a bit of a change.
20150301 - out with the old and in with the new

A habit I shamelessly copied from Liz Steel is to start each new sketchbook with a colour chart .. in past books I’ve done a straight colour swatch to remind me what I was carrying in my travel palette. This time I opted for a colour mixing chart so that I would have a handy reference of what colours I could mix with the pans I carry… particularly important since I changed the palette up a little this time round. I felt like I needed to reacquaint myself with the colours.

20150302 - start of the colour mixing chart

I ruled it all up and made sure it was tiny and precise since I managed to cram 22 pans into the tin this time… took me ages. And then I started to mix…

Tiny blobs of paint dotted on my mixing plate… meticulously counting and ensuring I was mixing the right colours… or so I thought…

20150302 - chart - pretty sure I've killed it

The problem was that when I started mixing the paint for the colour chart, it was after work… and I was tired. Actually I lie… the problems started before that. I’m still too tired to figure it out properly, but I think I numbered the axes of the chart incorrectly… I was getting little of no swatches that involved mixing the dark end of the spectrum…and to make matters worse, by the time I was mixing colours  6 and 7, I realised that I had doubled up and done the same set of mixes twice. So I gave up. My sketchbook has a completely useless colour mixing chart to start it off. I am really hoping that this is not a sign of things to come for the rest of the sketchbook!!! ARGH!

I think the thing that annoys me most is that I’ve done four or five of these over the years and have not had a problem. Lesson learned… don’t do anything you have to use your brain for after a long day at work and a weights session.

Anyway, to end on a high note (sort of) … here’s the colour chart I did of the current travel palette that i will cut out and tuck into the kit. I had some spare reds and purples hanging around, so I decided to slot them in to see what I can do with them. I’m still not a huge fan of the Prussian Blue, and I think I need another green too … something to investigate and experiment with I think.

20150301 - swatches for new setyp

And just for good measure here’s the scanned front page. The botanical letter is something I wanted to have a go at after seeing the tutorial over on The Postman’s Knock. Though this was a lot of fun to do, I think perhaps I’d like to experiment with some Aussie bush wildflowers next time.
20150302 - front page new book


The chart still looks kind of cool.. but is utterly useless. :) Not that I am particularly perturbed… it is annoying, but at the end of the day I was engrossed in doing something wonderful for a couple of hours. Well worth it.

les escargots

February 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’m on a creative roll this week it seems! Not that I am complaining. I did this one quickly in two parts… I sketched the edible portion during my lunch hour yesterday and then the slimy portion and watercolour etc while I noodled around on the ‘Net searching for a house to live in last night. I’m not actually a huge fan of slugs and snails, but their eyes-on-stalks amuse me no end.

As always, click on the image to see it bigger :)


201502016 les escargots

stop and go

February 16, 2015 — Leave a comment

These two traffic lights are on the same intersection just beside my office. Something a little mundane to add to the sketchbook :)

20150205 Stop!


201502014 go