and how many Flinders St Station sketches can I fit into one post?
As I often do, before I start the big scan job from my recent trip to Melbourne, I want to share a few reflections from my fortnight of non-stop sketching. (Other posts from this trip can be found here.)
I did this recently after a visit to Tasmania, and also after my Brazil trip 2014 and Penang/Singapore trip 2013. I personally find these post extremely helpful to re-read when I am preparing for the next adventure. I hope that you will enjoy reading my musings and that you can relate to some of my decisions and challenges. I am always thinking about my travel sketching – how to best capture the essence of a place on my page and record my adventures throughout each day. Having a strong strategy in place is on of the most important means of coming home with a full sketchbook!
So here are seven things that I am thinking about on my return.
1. Sketchbook Decision
Like my recent trip to Tasmania, I decided not to take my usual travel sketchbook (A4 moleskine watercolour) but to take my everyday book instead. And that is the Stillman & Birn Alpha 9 x 6 – its good for general sketching but is not true watercolour paper. This was a dedicated sketching trip but I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to do a lot of sketching (particularly as I recently had an injection in my left wrist). I also took some loose sheets of watercolour paper but sadly didn’t use them once.
I didn’t regret my decision until the night I came home and pulled out my A4 moleksine sketchbooks from previous Melbourne trips. This A4 version of the Forum done in April 2013 (above) was a very rushed sketch but the watercolour paper certainly did something for my sketch (look at that wonderful granulation)… and it made me realise what I had missed by not using better paper. On the other hand, the freedom I had to ‘go for it’, the quick ink sketches would not have been the same in a bigger book. And of course the bigger book is heavier and more expensive!
Looking at the larger book also made me appreciate the frustrations I had at the time fitting some subjects on the page. This was particularly the case with Flinders St Station – there is an optimal size to sketch the glorious bombastic details of this building and the smaller landscape sketchbook was a little too small for this.
Here are other two sketches where I realised that the size I wanted to sketch meant I wouldn’t’t fit the whole building in – I wasn’t trying to reach the ground, but it was a little sad that I couldn’t!
But as always, there is a balance and a compromise – I don’t think there will ever be a perfect sketchbook for me. And in the end, all things considered, I know that I made the right choice for this trip.
2. Right Handed Sketching
Some days my left hand just wanted a rest so I continued experimenting with my right hand. The finished images look more lively and responsive than they were for me at the time – it was a real challenge to draw with my right hand, but easier to paint. I made a number of interesting discoveries using my right hand which I will share in a separate post, but it was strange to be out in public sketching with my other hand. I felt like I needed to explain to people who were looking over my shoulder, that I was in fact left handed, as the lack of control was a big issue for me. It was hard to be hanging out with fellow sketchers and not to be able to sketch and respond like I would normally do, but in the end I was very happy with what I achieved.
3. Quick Recording Sketches
Following on from the light-bulb moment in Brazil during Richard Alomar’s activity, I am continuing to push myself to make super quick (sub 5 minute) sketches. Whether 3 minutes under an umbrella waiting for a tram or just stopping for a few moments to sketch.
Picking up from a technique I thought of in Brazil, I used a pentel brush pen in grey(watersoluble) to draw the shadow shapes first and then added ink over the top. I am very happy with this approach as it captures the shapes of the main values first.
Another technique was to use watercolour pencil for overall outlines and shadow shapes.I then added a few ink lines and a little water at a later date. In this example I wanted to record the row of chimneys and the straight parapet – sure I could take a photo, but this rapid sketch is MUCH more meaningful and memorial for me.
4. Ink Sketches of Scenes
I continued with my latest fad of doing more complex scene using my sailor or hero pen with a fude nib. I can’t tell you how much I love doing them, how satisfying tit is be able to capture a real sense of the place fairly quickly and easily from a standing position. It is also hard to express how surprised I have been that I wasn’t missing my watercolour painting… but that did change half way through the trip!
5. Cafe sketching – the food and the views
Of course I was still using my paint, but this was more for the food and tea sketches rather than my sketches on the streets. BTW there is a disturbingly high proportion of coffee sketches in this sketchbook. The coffee in Melbourne is superb, but I do believe the tea is better in Sydney.
As I was often in cafes with other sketchers who want a longer time for sketching than I normally allow myself to have, I was able to do more than just a sketch of my food, and so I started sketching the view as well. Really like these combinations of painted food sketches and linework scenes.
6. The big Melbourne USK event and the return to watercolour
There is no doubt that when you go to a big event, like the one in North Melbourne with the Melbourne USK group (approx 60 people), you see a lot of work that inspires you and that challenges you to improve or to try new things. I often say ” we share but we don’t compare” … and it is very important that we remember this at Urban Sketchers event. But there is no doubt that everyone of us is often awed by the work of others – other people’s work is always better than our own and we see our own weaknesses more! So that ‘share but not compare’ saying is something I tell myself all the time too, because we DO compare! What is important is how you respond to this comparison – use it to inspire and push you further! (I want to write more about this soon!)
Spending a week sketching with Chris Haldane (she did gorgeous work everyday), seeing the paintings of number of very good watercolourist in the USK group, and as always seeing Paul Wang in action, made me want to get back to my paint! I really do love watercolour and it is sad when I don’t have a colour record of a place. On the day itself, I was much too focused on meeting people to really give time to my painting but on the days that followed I wanted to do more watercolour scenes.
So here are some of the sketches from the last 2 days. I did wish I had better paper in my sketchbook, but that is okay, I really like the narrative in this book. I know I had some loose sheets, but the last day was too late to start using it! In the end I am very pleased with the record of my 12 days in Melbourne that filled my book and I had had so much fun doing it – and that after all is the main thing!
7. Two things that I have to consider for my next trip
– I need to test how many ink pens I should carry and what colours are the best? As I mentioned in my last blog post, I did wish I had a few more colours in my kit on a few occasions.
– I want to test doing my fude nib ink sketches in the A4 moleskine to see how I like them on that paper and in a larger format. I also want to get an idea of how comfortable I will feel doing super quick sketches in a big book as in general bigger book and better paper means that I am more careful and sketch less!
So once again, I feel like I have been on a big creative journey during this trip. There are a few other things happening in my work at the moment, but I am keeping that offline for a little while longer. Can any of you can guess what I am referring to?
And finally, did you notice?… 7, yes SEVEN sketches of FSS included in this summary post – sigh – yes I am hopeless case!