Sketching details in The Rocks and a step-by-step JimmyB

June 21, 2021 | 6 Comments

On Friday I went back into the City for another sketching outing.

I wanted to revisit James Barnet’s Police Station while I still had sunlight on the facade and I wanted to do a little investigation for another project which I have coming up in August.

As a result of my exploration of the area between Cumberland and Harrington Streets, I filled a double-page spread of details and little sketches.

It was a lot of fun to do a page like this and it’s not something I do a lot of. (Hmm, the last time was in Feb 2020 as part of the prep for a Buildings in Watercolour workshop and I’m not sure that I ever posted it here on the blog)

Here are larger versions of the two pages.

I couldn’t help thinking about changes in planes and changes in colours while I did these sketches. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to… this is what we are exploring at the moment in the Edges Group Run-through.)

The JimmyB Old Police Station building in George St was looking wonderful in the morning winter sun so I sat down on a bench opposite it to sketch.

It’s a very complex building so I decided to do a leisurely neat-ish sketch (last week’s version was very experimental!)  I started filming bits of the process and ended up creating my first Reel on Instagram.
It was only a short video so I’m sharing a more systematic step-by-step here using some screenshots from additional footage.

I often mix things up a little (omit any pencil setup or start with painting the shadow shapes) but these photos represent a more traditional approach to sketching complex buildings in ink and wash. And all of the concepts and techniques are explained in more detail inside my SketchingNow courses, so I’ve included the relevant course in the descriptions below.

Minimal setup with pencil and minimal site measuring… just checking that the overall shape was a square. (Foundations)

Drawing the main structure first (Buildings) and trying my hardest not to get caught up drawing the details at this early stage.

Note: Because the structure of this building is so complex and decorative I got distracted more than usual by the details!

Separating my horizontal and vertical lines when drawing a row of rectangles (Buildings)

Slowing down and carefully observing the foreground elements – using plumb lines to help (Foundations, Edges and Watercolour On Location)

Drawing the details last…

…and enjoying it! (Buildings)

Palette beside me on the bench as I forgot to bring a support board with me. Note: Fairly clean palette!

Painting the local colour first with a watery wash full of pigment. (Watercolour)

Pausing to admire some watercolour magic/pigment party happening on the page. (Watercolour, Buildings, Watercolour On Location) Note: This mix is a combination of DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, SCH French Ultramarine with a little DS Transparent Red Oxide.

Adding a wash to the warmer shaded areas…

…making sure that the washes are still full of pigments and with plenty of water. (Watercolour, Buildings, Watercolour On Location)

And then a cooler wash for the cast shadows.

Once the building was done…

….adding the foreground elements (no picture of that part – sorry) and the sky last. (Foundations, Watercolour, Buildings, Watercolour On Location)
Note: The partial sky is something I do a lot as it gives me lots of options for the page layout. (Sketchbook Design)

And here is a scan of the final version!

I hope that you enjoyed this step-by-step!


  • lise gauthier says:

    Super process … thanks you so much Liz to share … always a pleasure to see your work in process … very helpful! …. you succeed to transform big problem in a simple way … not easy but achievable! … thanks again! Lise Gauthier

  • Stephanie says:

    I enjoyed how you broke out the steps along with the courses. Another beautiful sketch on location!

  • Hashi says:

    I love that building! Funny how the thing I find most distinctive and interesting about it — the lion with a truncheon in its mouth — is something you just indicated loosely.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Hashi – hope you are going well!
      Ah, yes, I often don’t notice sculptural details like that as I’m more interested in the general arrangement and the detail of the structure – all those bands on the columns. Sign of an architect???

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