Portraits of the Famous and Infamous

What a great title for a book – it was used by Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977), for his self-published encyclopaedia of portraits of those people from the 15th to the 20th century, who had links with Australasia and the Pacific.  A colourful character himself, Nan Kivell collected the portraits that went into the book. He was a major contributor to the collections of the National Library of Australia. At present an exhibition of works related to Nan Kivell’s book is on display in the NLA’s  ‘Treasures’ Gallery.

I took the time while attending a lunchtime talk on the exhibition to practice a bit of portraiture myself, along with capturing some of the faces that appeared on the screen during the talk.

Faces real and projected, pen and ink, 4 November 2015

Faces real and projected, pen and ink, 4 November 2015

Up in the top right-hand corner is Nat Williams, the curator of the exhibition. Below him are Abraham Ortelius, the map maker; Betsey Broughton, survivor of a Maori revenge attack, who lived into her 80’s and is buried about an hour and a half’s drive from Canberra at the charmingly named Bong Bong cemetery. Sydney Spence a close friend of Nan Kivell’s and co-producer of the book and a partially finished sketch of Kalaimanokaho’owaha, a Hawaiian Chief.

Among the anecdotes that Nat shared was, that on being shown a map of Melbourne, Robert-Louis Stevenson said “When I think of Melbourne I vomit”. I can only hope for Melbournians sake that this may be inaccurate. I’ve only just been disabused of the idea that the quote, long attributed to Mark Twain, that “Newcastle [in New South Wales] consists of a long street with a graveyard at one end with no bodies in it, and a gentleman’s club at the other with no gentlemen in it” has neither primary or early secondary sources to attribute it to Twain.

Unfortunately I ran out of time and couldn’t make it to see the exhibition, but it’s on for another month so it will go on the ‘must see’ list.

Urban Sketchers Canberra at the National Library of Australia

On Sunday we had our first official outing as Urban Sketchers Canberra, a goal we have been working towards since our sketching group started meeting in February this year. We had 15 people come along, including two people joining us for the first time.

With a bad weather forecast we had to do a last minute change from our planned outside venue to one that offered indoor drawing opportunities. So it was off to the National Library of Australia (NLA). As luck would have it the rain held off for a bit so many of us took the opportunity to draw outside the building.

Spot the non-sketcher, USk Canberra takes to the National Library of Australia

Spot the non-sketcher, USk Canberra takes to the National Library of Australia

I decided to tackle a part of the building that I must say I haven’t paid much attention to before, the large sculpture above the entrance to the library. The work is called Knowledge and was designed by Tom Bass, who is probably better known to most Canberrans as the designer of the sculpture of Ethos in Civic Square. Commissioned in 1966 the work was installed on the building in 1968. At just over 21 metres in length, 2 metres in height and projecting nearly 2 metres from the wall this is a complex piece of work. Indeed I didn’t really consider how complex until I tried to sketch the projecting elements of the work.

Part of the sculpture, Knowledge, at the National Library of Australia, watercolour and brush pen, 1 November 2015

Part of the sculpture, Knowledge, at the National Library of Australia, watercolour and brush pen, 1 November 2015

I managed to get through to the start of the watercolour when it began to rain. I retreated to the portico along with most of the other sketchers to complete adding the colour to my sketch.

As is traditional we met up at the end of our two hours of sketching to compare our efforts. As always the  subjects and approaches were quite varied.

Some of our final works on the day

Some of our final works on the day

Discussions of the day’s work continued over coffee and lunch in the Library’s cafe. Some of us also looked at the exhibition of work of William Strutt currently on display in the Library. Strutt’s ability as a draftsman really stood out and we were in awe of his fine pencil sketches.

Studies of two male figures and a woman's head, William Strutt, c. 1860, pencil (PIC R3339 LOC1132/F), collection of the National Library of Australia

Studies of two male figures and a woman’s head, William Strutt, c. 1860, pencil (PIC R3339 LOC1132/F), collection of the National Library of Australia

The next meeting of Urban Sketchers Canberra will be on 5 December, at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. You can find details of events and more pictures on the group’s Facebook page, or contact us directly at urbansketcherscanberra@gmail.com