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 (losing 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.

NOTE: This turned out to be the last time I ever sketched with Wendy so sketch is very special to me now – reminding me of all the great times we had together over the years.

1 Comment


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