Cabbage Palms and Sydney Icons

April 6, 2022 | 3 Comments

Last Saturday I was very happy to attend the monthly meet of Urban Sketchers Sydney at Circular Quay and hang out with some friends and meet a few new sketchers.

Most of my time was spent in conversation so as a result I only ended up with two super quick (15 minutes max) sketches. The first one was my warm-up of the Sydney Opera House and the foreground cabbage palm trees…

And the second one was done in the last few minutes when everyone started gathering for the ‘throwdown’. This also shows some cabbage palms with the SHB (Sydney Harbour Bridge) in the background.

Cabbage Palm trees were the first tree used by the European Settlers for wood in their buildings. The timber was soft enough to be worked with the poor tools they had.

At the time I did this sketch I was aware that I needed to do something with the values of the shells of the SOH and the sky. This is always a dilemma when sketching the SOH on an overcast day.

I wasn’t in the mood to fix the problem at the time so when I was back home I decided to do a little experiment with the sky and darken its value. The experiment (which I will explain at some point in the future) didn’t work and I ended up working over my washes a number of times. In a way, this morphed into another experiment – seeing how many layers and partial lifting this Alpha paper could cope with. 🙂

The end result is a much darker and more threatening sky than there was at the time! And the sketch lost some of the initial spontaneity. But that’s fine with me as I’m totally okay with doing tests and experiments (and potentially sacrificing a sketch) in order to refine a new technique.

I’m particularly thinking about creating texture in my sketches at the moment…

So here is a detail of both the sky (multiple layers and splashes done with two different brushes) and the palm tree (watercolour pencil and paint).

Here is the final spread of my second sketch including the colour combo that I’m a little obsessed with. They are not colours that I would typically use (especially the pink and russet) but I just love using these Caran d’Ache Museum watercolour pencils in my sketches these days.

A close-up of the palm trees from this second sketch.

After the meet I ended up doing this paint-only (direct watercolour) sketch of St Marys while I sipped a coffee. (Note: No cabbage palms here)

And then on Monday evening, I did a few experiments based on the same scene. I think this type of revisiting a subject that I’ve sketched on location is a really good way of doing some research and development. BTW this is my theme for April.

Do you ever revisit a scene like this back home?


  • Carrie D says:

    How are you liking the folio palette?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Carrie,
      As you can see I’m still using it and do really enjoy it as an everyday palette at home. It’s lightweight and slim and has enough mixing area for general usage.

      Refilling the pans is a little fiddly and if I was travelling I would stick to my usual schmincke metal tin as half and full pans contain more paint.

  • Andrea Lee says:

    I really like how you talk about your experiment with the sky above the SOH and being ok with sacrificing a sketch in order to refine a technique or learn something. I just had the experience yesterday of adding some ink lines to a watercolor painting and I knew as I was about to do it that I might not like the result. But being willing to “mess it up” was necessary for my learning process. I added the ink and didn’t like the result but I wouldn’t have learned anything had I not tried it out. I keep reminding myself not to get overly fixated on the end result but to get everything I can from the process, so it was very timely to come across this post.

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