From local churches to cathedrals

October 29, 2021 | 2 Comments

We have just wrapped up Lesson 1 of my Buildings course and it’s been so amazing to go through the content… and do the exercises again.

I have my own goals for this Group Run-through (more about that soon) but it’s really special that working on my own sketching is providing new clarity and insights.  In fact, this week I added an extra page of tips to the course – all based on the sketching I had done during the week. I also did a number of detailed reviews on Tuesday during our weekly livestream – showing the group how to improve ‘their angles’ and how to find out what went wrong… without getting all caught up with the rules of perspective. We will be looking at perspective in Week 5, but for now, I’m focusing on ‘feeling’ perspective through observation.

So what do I want to achieve in my own work during the 10 weeks of the Group Run-through?

I want to improve the accuracy of my sketches when I’m sketching really freely and loosely. I rely heavily on my reflex actions when I’m sketching, but sometimes, as I’m working so quickly, my object brain takes over and my lines are less accurate. So  I’m starting to analyse when ‘my object brain’ is active and then I’m starting to re-train it. For example, my top angles are rarely steep enough when sitting close to a building or when it’s really tall.  The great news is that I’m already seeing some changes! As I’ve said before – practice on its own is not enough (it can actually cement bad habits) –  you need to combine practice with research and analysis.

As for my sketches… I’ve shared some of these before but here are some thoughts about them and a few progress photos.

Local church sketching


Thursday: St Johns Wahroonga

I shared sketches from this outing before here but I’m including this one again as it was important for getting me back into the groove.

As I’m still enjoying mixing ink, watercolour and pencil in my bush sketches, I returned to an old style of sketching – drawing a few setup lines in watercolour pencil first.

But instead of using Brown Ochre (Faber castell Albrecht Durer), I used my Light Blue (Caran d’ache Museum). These highly visible pencil lines enabled me to check my work and are good for sharing with the group, so they are important (at the moment) for teaching purposes – both for myself and others.  Note: I’m also using Cobalt Green (Faber castell Albrecht Durer) for these setup ines


Friday: St Martins Anglican in Killara

A quick continuous line sketch was a great way to warm up and explore the building… and find out where the tricky bits were.

Note: After the Sydney 2nd lockdown I’m feeling much more comfortable to sketch out on location. It’s such a treat to be able to sit anywhere and sketch, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I used to feel more self-conscious when sketching in my local areas (see this article for more) but now I don’t care. However, I’ve discovered that churches are a great place to sketch as it’s lovely and peaceful sitting within the church grounds. Of course, if I were ever asked to leave I would do so immediately, but to date, if anyone sees me, they are always happy for me to be there sketching.

The second sketch was left incomplete in order to demonstrate my steps to the group.

Note: At the moment I’m using a foldable ruler to check my angles but on this occasion I didn’t have it with me. So the fine graphite pencil lines represent the angles measured from a photo when I got home. More about checking from photos later.


Saturday: St Annes Ryde

Finally, I got around to doing  all the exercises from Buildings Lesson 1 – although I modified the shape-based one! 🙂

As a result of sketching three different churches on location on three consecutive days (and most importantly analysing my work), I was already seeing some benefits! My angles were more accurate!


And then the final sketch… This is at the 12-minute mark when I decided to stop.

I was in need of a coffee so I finished this off back home later in the day.

Monday: St Swithins Pymble
Another quick church sketch on the way to my daily bush walk and sketch. Here I sat close to the building in order to test my angles again – the closer you get to the building the more tricky the angles IMO. I used a foldable ruler to check my angle (after I had drawn it) and then when I was home later in the day compared it with the angle on my photo.

This is a good example of how distorted images become in photos (especially when you are close to your subject) – the verticals taper and the top angles become steeper than they are on location. We talked about this during this week’s Buildings livestream but really it’s a topic to explore more fully on another occasion.

But in summary, it’s preferable to sketch on location! 🙂

Cathedral Sketching

One of the special bonuses that I’m adding to the Buildings course during the current Group Run-through is a new demo each week. I asked the group for suggestions of ‘hard’ buildings and then during each livestream (after reviewing work and answering questions) I do a sketch of one of them. This week I chose Cologne Cathedral which was the most difficult ‘church’ out of all of the options.

As part of my prep, I sketched a detail of the spire and also did a rough section through the cathedral. It’s really a challenge to sketch a building such as this one using photos as it’s just so hard to understand what I’m looking at. Being on location would be better as I could walk around the building and see all the volumes and the details in 3 dimensions.

Here are two screenshots from the livestream – showing the main volumes and then my quick pencil setup with the first few ink lines

And here is the finished sketch, plus a floor plan which I marked up during the livestream. I also did paint-only version the next day. 🙂

Sketching Cologne Cathedral late at night during a livestream was so much fun that the next day I did this quickie of York Minster…

and then this morning, did this incomplete paint-only version of Westminster Abbey.

Ah! It’s just so wonderful to be going through my Buildings course again.

A huge thanks to everyone who is taking part in the Group Run-through – joining in the livestreams and posting work (and adding lots of comments!!!) into the classroom. It’s such a buzzing place to be at the moment.

The Buildings course remains open for anyone to sign up at any time, however if you join now you can be part of this incredible group and attend the remaining 8 livestreams that I’m hosting for the next few months. It will be 2023 until I’ll be able to offer a Group Run-through like this again.

Now, it’s time to scale down and sketch some cottages, thinking about added and subtracted volumes, thicknesses and depths and leading edges. Oh! so much fun!


  • Jamie C says:

    I’m loving the Buildings class! It is so helpful to check oneself and improve those angles! Roof angles are by far where I’m seeing (and needed) the most improvement.

    You have some really beautiful churches in your local area!

  • Crystal Nitz says:

    I am so thrilled to see you tackle Köln Cathedral! It’s on my bucket list to paint as it’s the most impressive cathedral I have ever visited! Hoping to create some rendition of it for my son for Christmas this year!

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