Sydney Opera House: reviewing recent sketches

February 24, 2020 | 5 Comments

Sydney Opera House grey day
I’ve sketched the Sydney Opera House a number of times this summer so I thought it would be fun to put them all together in one article and see if there are any themes with the way I’ve been approaching it lately. It’s also interesting to compare the different sketchbooks which I have been using.

Sydney Opera House from MCA

Stillman and Birn Epsilon

This one was done two weeks ago on a grey day sitting next to Benedetta from Italy. Ben was doing a very colourful sketch and I was wanting to do something loose and expressive. I had just started an Epsilon sketchbook by Stillman and Birn and so I used this sketch to explore the effects I could get on its smooth surface.

Let’s now go back to early December…


Sydney Opera House behind a cruise ship

Hahnemuehle Nostalgie

This was a quick sketch, paint first, showing how dwarfed the SOH is when a cruise ship is in town. This particular version of SOH was done in a few minutes during a USK SYD Friday night meet – talking again!

Sydney Opera House from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Hahnemuehle Nostalgie

I was with Benedetta on this occasion sketching the Sydney Opera House in context with the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind. I don’t sketch this view very often as Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a little out of the way and very touristy. I like the way you can see clearly the three parts of the building from this view.



Sydney Opera House from MCA

Hahnemuehle Watercolour

The next few versions were done during my City Break week and this first one was an experiment to help me understand how the paper works. I wasn’t trying to be too accurate or neat. This was fun! It’s good to experiment on a subject that you know well so you can focus on the aspect you are exploring. In this case it was how the paper handled working wet.


Sydney Opera House from end of Macquarie St

Hahnemuehle Watercolour

I really needed to do a new view, so this was done sitting on a low wall of the roundabout at the end of Macquarie St. I was trying to abstract the foreground and whilst I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted I was pleased with the result. I decided to push the blue of the sky and use pure French Ultramarine. This is a very interesting view of the SOH!

Sydney Opera House Forecourt

Hahnemuehle Watercolour

Immediately after the previous sketch, I wanted to sit in the shade and so I sat with my back to a wall looking across the Opera House forecourt. This sketch is really about the steps leading up to the three parts of the building – the restaurant on the left, the concert hall in the middle and the opera hall to the right. After the previous sketch I was in a loose mood and so carefully drawing the horizontals of the steps was a struggle!

Sydney Opera House from the Botanic Gardens

Hahnemuehle Watercolour

Later in the week I did another version – this time from the Botanic Gardens sitting under a Norfolk Pine tree. I had done a similar view many years ago but because of changes to the gardens in the last decade, you can no longer sit further back and get some of the garden (grass and a tree or two) in the scene.

This is another great view and I enjoyed doing this one a lot. You can see even more of the stairs from this angle, but the shells are the focus.

Sydney Opera House on Xmas Day

Handbook Travelogue book

Another version from Circular Quay and this time I wanted to have a lighter touch and explore another different type of paper – it was the first sketch in my Handbook Travelogue sketchbook. The use of potters pink in the sky is a message to myself that the sky was a little smoky that day.


Sydney Opera House blind contour

Stillman and Birn Epsilon

This is a quick blind contour sketch which I did when I was sketching with Benedetta and Donna, a local sketcher. The shells create such a great shape for a blind sketch, don’t you think?

Sydney Opera House from MCA again

Stillman and Birn Epsilon

The final version was done last week during a Meet and Greet before a three day workshop which I taught here in Sydney. It was a fun sketching session meeting four of the workshop participants – one from Sydney, one from Melbourne and two from New Zealand. So I was chatting a fair bit and not really focusing on my sketch. I noticed that Fiona had drawn the lamppost so I decided to include a little bit of context in mine.


I’m actually not sure that there are any significant themes that emerge out of this collection. I have felt as if I have done the same sketch numerous times this summer, but when I look at them all together I realise that they are pretty varied.

I suppose the main takeaway for me is that I like sketching the same subject matter over and over. Because I know it well, I don’t have to spend as much time worrying about accuracy and can instead devote my thoughts to exploring new ways of painting it.

I would love to hear from you – which one is your favourite? and why?



  • B. says:

    I really enjoy how that greenish blue strockes and spots here and there make the red in the glass and surfaces pop up on the first one. I think you distributed those two colors in a very clever way. The blind contour looks like it was particularly fun do be done. I like the lamp touch and also it is interesting to see the different solutions in the squared building next to SOH (Xmas one and last sketch). They are all amazing, obviously. I love your work!

    (english is not my first language, sorry if i messed something up.)

  • Barbara Khachane says:

    I really like them all, but I am most attracted to the ones with color. I love the colors in the ship as well as the reds and the touch of aqua in the view from Macquarie Street. In both of these, the lines seem very free and have a feeling of ease. Love the blind contour!~

    My least favorite is the Opera house from MCA (the 4th one), which seems very heavy.

  • Sylvia Bradl says:

    I really like all of them, but my favorit is the picture with the great ship.

  • Joanne kalvaitis says:

    Each of them is so different it’s hard to choose, but the one titled “from Mrs. McQuarrie’s Chair” really appeals to me. Thanks for including the tour link as it’s nice to see the real thing. ihope one day they include one of your sketches as they bring it alive the way a photo can’t.

  • It is great to see the variety of sketches of the Opera House. These are great and each is so different!!

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