Reflex Sketching: Complex terrace house in Newtown

January 13, 2016 | 1 Comment


Following on from yesterday’s post about making mistakes, I want to revisit this sketch again from a few weeks ago and share a few thoughts about the compromises I accept when I am sketching with friends.

It was a very complicated terrace house in Newtown painted in one of those ‘difficult-to-get-right-in-watercolour’ colours – a cream with a hint of green – and the sun was moving across the face of the building fast. (That last aspect is always the case whenever you sketch on location, so I am not sure why I have mentioned it at all!)

I was sketching alongside my local sketching friend Wendy Shortland at the time. We always have a lot to talk about, but as we were so overdue for a catch up, my priority for the day was social and not to produce ‘the best sketch ever’. (Just for the record, it is never my intention to produce ‘the best sketch ever’ when I go out to sketch – my goal is a little more realistic: a sketch that I am happy with and/or enjoyed doing.)

Anyway this day was a perfect opportunity to test my reflex sketching skills! I have specifically developed some ways of working that enable me to ‘sketch and chat’ at the same time*. They involve snatching a few quiet moments at the start to come up with a rough plan – normally involves a big picture idea, overall shape or a few key edges – and then allowing myself to wander on the page for the rest. Enjoy the moment and accept the results!


In this sketch I made many mistakes with my lines (loosing my place as I was talking too much) and because I was going so slow, I ended up applying more washes with an opaque pigment than I would have normally used and I lost a lot of my whites! The building was a lot paler than I made it, but although in some respect I would have liked to have made it a little more accurate, I did make a decision very early on to ‘push’ the colour a little anyway.

The most important part of it was that I had a wonderful time sketching this – sketching in the shade on a gorgeous summer’s day, chatting to Wendy and a few people passing by, and just sketching in a rambling relaxing way.

* ‘sketch and chat’  is also very handy at Urban Sketchers events, like the recent one at Manly. As long as I manage to sneak in a sketch during the morning, I am happy!

Are you able to ‘sketch and chat’, or do you need a degree of concentration that makes silence much preferred? 

Honestly, I work a LOT better when I am not talking at the same time and best of all when the background conversation of strangers becomes white noise – that really helps me concentrate while at the same time creating a buzzing environment that gives life to my sketches! I also like sketching while my friend/s are narrating a good tale or there is an interesting group conversation happening around me. But at the end of the day, for me people come before sketching, so if it is a chance to catch up, I will chat and hope the best in regard to my sketch.

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