urban sketching at the glass works

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.

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urban sketching at the national portrait 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.

IMG_2175

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urban sketching in canberra city

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

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urbansketching – the goongarline

20160217 - goongarline

This installation by Malcolm Utley is located in the middle of the towncentre close to where I work. The artist drew inspiration for his granite and steel piece from the rocky hills around the area and took the name for the name given to the hills by the local indigenous people.

I have been working out this end of town for almost a year and walked past this sculpture almost every day, and up until I drew it the other day and hunted around for the plaque, I had the distinct impression that the steel spikes were instead pikes in need of the heads of traitors.

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urban sketching – canberra airport

This month’s Canberra Urban Sketcher’s meet up was at the local airport, starting at the new Vibe hotel. The airport precinct has a lot of brilliant things to sketch  – anything from sculptures to people to buildings and funky new hotels. My challenge to day was to attempt to capture the movement in the water features up on the departures drop off area. They are hypnotising to watch…I have no idea how they work. It looks as through a tornado of water is swirling up through the middle of the glass tube and letting water shimmer down the outside. I had fun attempting to capture the reflected colours from the sky and plants and surrounding buildings, though i couldn’t quite get the shimmy of the water down the outside.

20160207 - airport water feature
Looking at this photo now I can see that i was so fixated on the feature itself that I completely missed the reflection in the surrounding support. :S

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on learning to draw streetscapes and slow improvement

It has been a particularly wet, rainy week, so to fill some of the time I watched some art lessons on Craftsy in a bid to improve my urban sketching and watercolour work in general. I have wanted to improve my streetscapes for a long time because they tend to be the heart and soul of travel sketching. I want to travel more and capture the places I visit, and I want to capture my adventures in a way that is at least a little bit recognisable to me!

So on Sunday, I was looking for suitable reference photos in my stash, and I came across my holiday snaps from a trip to France a few years ago. At the time I took a heap of photos to use as references to draw from for my travel journal each evening (we moved far too quickly at the time to sit and draw or paint in situ, so I constructed my journal pages in the evenings and finished a large portion of them at home at the end of the trip), but also in the hope that I would get to draw them in a more detailed way at some stage. So…fast forward five years, and I want to draw … and I discover that I had captured some good references and some woefully unhelpful ones. Apparently this is a skill you learn over time too. What will work as a composition and what will not. What will translate to a sketch, and what will not. What lighting will produce dramatic effects.

After much fussing about I chose a photo of a street scene from inside the Mont Saint Michel village and set about doing a “quick and loose” watercolour streetscape using the techniques I had learned during the week. I sketched up a rough pencil outline with the big shapes and then went in and added detail with pen before hitting it with watercolour. This is the result. I consider it displeasing given that it looks like it is being viewed in a carnival magic mirror. :S

French street scene

What I don’t like about this piece….

  • The perspective on the left handside of the drawing is off. I lost my vertical lines at some point along the progression of buildings and it is looking a little like a fish eye lense attacked it.
  • The colours are muddy. I think I need to figure out how to exaggerate lights and darks in a bland photo to get more contrast (perhaps explore tube paint rather than pans to get juicy colours for depth too?) and experiment with using colours other than what i perceive as a direct match with the scene – ie trying to capture the essence of the scene and playing with reflected colour.

But for all the things I feel are wrong with it, I know that it’s an improvement on previous attempts.

Here’s a street scene from my “France” travel sketchbook back in 2011. It’s from a different place (a village south-west of Paris called Chartres), but it’s easy to see that I have learned some things since then about perspective and learning to be looser and lighter with my pen strokes and quicker with on the spot type sketching in order to capture a scene. I didn’t even bother finishing this one… I gave up in despair.

French street scene 2
Incremental progress is a funny thing.

We don’t see it unless we keep our “failures” to look back on. I learned that lesson when I started powerlifting as a way to get healthy. A friend who had been at it a long time encouraged me to take a “before” photo so that I would be able to look back and see progress, which as it turned out was a fabulous thing, because I didn’t feel like my body had changed but comparing photos, I could see a clear progression and improvement. I could not see improvement by looking in the mirror because the changes were so small each day, but cumulatively over months they were substantial. I am discovering the same with my art. Comparing these two pictures I can see that I have made some improvements over time, but see that there’s more improvement to be made too when I compare it to the work of artists I admire.

Here are some of the things that I am telling myself as I work to slowly improve my art this year. Michelle… listen carefully……

  • Learn and practise the rules and master the basics before you try to eyeball something  or bend the rules. Watching lessons by artists that have been at it for a lot longer than you have and attempting to emulate their shorthand is not helpful.
  • Give yourself permission to fail, but make sure you learn the lessons to be learned and move on mindfully. Realistically, failure is not something we can avoid in creating art, or in life for that matter. Take the time to examine things critically and work to improve. Always.
  • Try not to start a new venture on a project that is too complex… you are setting yourself up for unnecessary failure. Start small and simple and work your way up to the more complex tasks. I think I chose a scene that was perhaps a little too tricky for my skill level at this point.
  • Keep reminders of past flops so you can see how far you’ve come, and don’t be afraid to share them. Other people are learning too, they may be able to take a leap forward by analysing how you messed up. Or there may be someone with more skill or more acute perception that can help you improve by pointing out where to tune your technique. You will likely end up with sketchbooks and loose sheets piled up with scenes that make me cringe…but you will at least have something to compare to, and see how far I’ve come over the years.
  • Be consistent in your practice if you truly want to improve. The only way to get better at representing what you see in the world on the pages of your sketchbook is to do it regularly. Every day would be ideal, but not practical at this point, but a couple of times a week will still yield results, albeit a little slower. Sure life gets in the way at times, but if you want something, you need to make time. End of story.

I tend to talk to myself quite a lot, especially when I’m trying to learn something. I don’t always get intelligent responses, but there you go 🙂

What are you telling yourself this year?

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a rainy day adventure

Canberra has been hit with some pretty wild weather this week… thunder and lightening (very very frightening …. yeah I know, sorry :S) accompanied by lots of rain. It’s generally unpleasant and not the right weather for adventuring with my geriatric fur baby nor being a gadabout on the scooter. So a dear friend, who understands just how stir crazy I can get at times, suggested that I go and wander around a museum or something and do some arty stuff. So I did. I trotted off to the National Museum of Australia to see what I could see. I hadn’t been there since my boys were little…and given that they are both in their late teens now…… it has been awhile.

Weapons of choice today were my sketchbook and a handful of graphite pencils. Most museums don’t allow wet media, and I couldn’t be bothered asking. To be frank, it has been a good long while since I did any purely pencil only sketching without the benefit of watercolour or ink, so I figured it would be good practice.

I had a blast…so many interesting things to see! I picked a few random small items to sketch along the way and plonked them all (none too poetically) on a spread in my sketchbook. I had a couple of challenges. The lack of seating anywhere near the exhibits that allowed me a decent view for any length of time was not especially helpful, and my feet got sore before too long. I didn’t feel I could plant my butt on the floor, there were too many people about (there were a couple of old cars that I would have loved to tackle). It was also very dimly lit, which I found distracting, but on the whole there was lots to see and sketch. I will likely go back and take another swipe…preferably on a day where I can have a go at the very interesting architecture that the institution has to offer.

Here’s my spread complete with spelling mistakes (you’d think I’d know better! gah!) :
20160130 - national museum of australia bits

 

One of the exhibits that made me smile, and feel very old, featured items from the old corner stores that I remember from my childhood in country Victoria. There was always a little (usually) continental man behind the refrigerated waist-high counter would lift the stainless steel lid to ladle out the milk for your milkshake from vats below the counter. The metal scoops, anodised aluminium cups and stripy paper straws. Ahhhh! Such nostalgia! This year I think I may take my scooter for a tour of small country towns in search of old-style cafe’s that still might have this kind of whimsy. I will likely find them in the same places that have the obligatory small-town Chinese restaurant that is decorated in exactly the same manner as the one in the next town along the highway.

 

IMG_1846

Also, I am somewhat addicted to lovely smelling soaps, and I found this one at the gift shop on the way out. it smells DIVINE! Its ingredients look more like something that belong in a Thai dish…so if you know me, and I smell tangy and delicious and edible….don’t. 😛  It’s just my soap. I will bite back 🙂

All in all, an afternoon out that tickled many senses and chased away the feeling of having been inside for far too long….even if I was still inside………..

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kicking off the new year

Better late than never I suppose, but here are a couple of sketchbook bits and pieces from this month. I am hoping to draw more regularly this year, and thus be more active on the blog… that’s the plan anyway………..

The King George V monument outside Old Parliament House:
20160113 - king george monument

 

Glorious smelling roses in the Senate Rose Garden:

20160113 - senate gardens

 

The old Commercial Bank building in Braidwood:

20160123 - braidwood - old commercial bank building

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