Last week I stayed overnight in a “harbourview apartment” on Cockatoo Island. The island is located in Sydney Harbour and was a convict penal establishment between 1839-69 and then a huge shipyard up until 1951. It is one of my favourite places in Sydney to sketch but for various reasons it is nearly two years since I was last there. I’ve also wanted to stay overnight (glamping – glamorous camping) at some stage… but well it’s hard to get around to doing things in your hometown, isn’t it?
Here are a few photos of the views from the apartment. It was quiet at night so I felt as if I had the whole island to myself.
The Biennale is on at the moment, so I wondered around to view a few of the works. They were ok but I was more interested in the buildings and spaces of the island. However it was very cool to be able to go inside the Powerhouse for the first time!
The idea was to have a mini sketching break and see what I could come up with over two days on the island. It turned out to be just over 24 hours as I left at 11.30 on the second day – I had done enough.
As for my sketching… I had a ‘no-pressure’ approach which meant I wasn’t trying to produce masterpieces – although of course I was hoping that a few would happen!?! So I simply used my everyday sketchbook (Stillman and Birn 8×10 Alpha Softcover sketchbook) rather than my special outing sketchbook (Moleskine Watercolour A4 book).
Here they all are:
(please keep scrolling as I have some comments below)
Although I sketched a lot (especially the first day) and had a lot of fun (ah! so great to have a good amount of time for sketching just for me) I wasn’t totally happy with the results. I just didn’t achieve what I was hoping for (I know I said no pressure!!!?)
I’m not 100% sure why I never felt in the groove but maybe it’s a combination of these factors:
- the Alpha paper wasn’t working for me (true watercolour paper would have been better especially as…)
- my timing and my pigment to water ratio was a little off and not suited to the paper (not exactly sure why this was the case as I use Alpha all the time and love it)
- I have been to the island so many times that it was hard to be inspired to find new views. Normally I don’t mind sketching the same thing but when it comes to Cockatoo Island, the objects and scenes are getting less interesting to sketch as restoration work continues and rust disappears. (eg. compare the crane sketches below with the ones here.)
Now when making a statement along the lines of “I’m not happy with my work” I normally get three responses:
- I’m so glad that you do work you are not happy with and make mistakes! I thought you only ever produced masterpieces and it’s nice to know that you are human.
- Please don’t beat yourself up and let your inner critic put you down – you have to silence your inner critic!!!
- I wish my good sketches were as good as your bad ones.
So, in anticipation, here are my comments to these statements:
- Of course I make lots of mistakes all the time and regularly create artwork which I am not happy with. If I was happy with everything I created I would worry that my art had turned into a formula and/or I had lost the ability to push myself to improve. Here’s the thing, as your skills develop, your definition of a good sketch develops as well and it is still hard to achieve.
- My inner critic is my best friend and I not know what I would do without it! My inner critic spurs me on to improve. Sure it sometimes says some silly things, but I never let it prevent me from having another go. I hope my comments do not come across as negative. More about my IC here and here.
- Try not to make comparisons like this – everyone is at a different stage of their creative journeys. Also try not to use the word ‘bad’ about your own work. I prefer to think of terms like ‘a learning experience’.
I know that sometimes sketching can be frustrating, but ultimately regardless of whether I’m happy with the result or not, I always enjoy the experience of sketching out on the location. And I’m always keen to reflect on what I did do, and what I would do different next time!