Garden of Australian ‘screams’

Here’s the next installment of un-posted drafts.

We visited the National Museum of Australia to sketch over the weekend (quite a few months of weekends back!). The building is certainly quirky and in many ways fails to fully deliver the concepts which lead it’s design. (I note that there has been a recent announcement that the rivetting stretch of concrete outside the museum will be removed and turned into a garden of Australian plants. Three cheers for common sense).

The Garden of Australian Dreams is a symbolic landscape of largely sculptural forms within a body of water, a little grass and a few trees. Encircled by the Museum, it provides an opportunity for visitors to stop and relax as they contemplate this symbolic representation of ‘place’ and ‘home’.

The garden reflects our nation in ways that I am not completely sure were intended, but seem quite accurate in an ironic sense. All the ‘relaxing’ bits of the garden are around the edge, rather like our population which is concentrated on Australia’s coastal fringe.

The centre of the garden represents central Australia and the expanse of painted concrete is certainly a blisteringly hot location on any summer day. I also find it scarily reminiscent of the asphalted playgrounds of my childhood. Although what the wooden paling backyard fence is doing there eludes me. And the screaming? I hadn’t realised before now that this area is where all the children are taken to run off all their excess energy.

Perspective Practice

This is the first in a short series that comes from tidying up my blog. I have found several draft posts that never made the light of day. So here they come.

Following on from the class with Stephanie Bowers, an architectural illustrator and urban sketcher, on getting a handle on perspective, I thought I’d better get some practice in. These are some of the sketches I’ve done over the past few days.


Thank heavens for narrow alleys

While they are not necessarily the most exciting of locations, our local shopping precinct has enough lanes and intersections to make finding a subject easy.


The bus stop provided convenient seating, as well as subject matter

Stephanie also taught us watercolour techniques, to add to our perspective drawings. I love the opportunity to pick up tips from other artists, such as a good way of getting an even darker grey by mixing Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, with the tiniest touch of Alizarin Crimson. Stephanie also demonstrated using square brushes, something I haven’t done before with watercolour.

Urban Sketches – Granada

Here is another sketch from the backlog of my recent travel.

We were staying in the older part of Granada and it turned out that we had some interesting views from our apartment. On our first full day in the city I started working on a sketch of the church of San Andreas, built between 1528-42. It was great to be able to open our balcony doors and sit in the cool morning air drawing while hundreds of swifts darted around demolishing hoards of insects in the morning sky. It ended up taking three days to complete this piece. I was trying to make it reasonably accurate so having drawn it one day I had to erase it and start again on the second day and then finish the drawing and paint it on day three.

The bell tower of San Andreas Church, in the Albacin area of Granada. Pencil and watercolour

This building is considered to be a fine example of the Mudéjar style of architecture, which was heavily influenced by the Moorish styles in the years following the ‘reconquista’ when the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand regained Spain for their Christian kingdom.

You can see from the photo the foreshortening in my sketch as I was looking up from underneath the bell tower.

After Porto

This post was originally written in August of 2018, shortly after I had returned from three months of travel in Europe (France, Spain and Portugal). I have no idea why I didn’t post it at the time, however I am interested to see how I wrote about aspects of watercolour painting, that are now part of my regular ‘style’. I have also included my latest cafe sketch at the end to show what I am doing now. Enjoy!

Reading the social media sites, post the Urban Sketchers Symposium held at the end of July 2018 in Porto, I was intrigued to see the number of people,who are reviewing their sketching practices. They have been inspired by the various styles and techniques of other people that they met at the event.

I too have found the approach of a number of other artists has made me re-consider my use of watercolour.

In May 2018 I briefly met Marion Rivolier at a USk (Urban Sketchers) Paris event at the Rodin Museum, (I can even be seen lurking in the photo taken of the event). Subsequently I have been inspired by her loose expressive watercolours. I went to her painting demonstration at the Porto Symposium to see if I could better understand how she was achieving her results. Marion’s advice included both the practical and the personal:

  • ‘know your colours so you can sketch fast’ – obvious in one way, but by using a limited number of colours and knowing in advance how they mix, you will speed up your process.
  • ‘You don’t have to draw everything you see – select like a stage director’
  • ‘[pencil] drawing at the beginning is like creating a prison for colour’. (Not in a good way).

Marion is especially good at capturing people and movement, so that will be an extra challenge for me.

People practice, sketching figures from photos in the weekend newspapers

Another teacher at the Symposium who was gaining a lot of attention was Maru Godas, with her ‘gouache like a child’ workshop. Maru’s advice to simplify and compress, rather than allowing yourself to be lost in detail. This is something I often need reminding about.

I fully appreciate that both these artist’s style has developed over year’s of practice. So, like I am always saying to new sketchers, you need to get “the brush-miles in” to get the result. I have taken out my bigger brushes to work with (makes painting fiddly detail difficult) and I’m on my way with lots of practice.

View into the front garden, with the Ibis sculpture ‘Gordon’ (found at a secondhand shop)

People drinking coffee.

Sketching the scene at the coffee shop.

My latest cafe sketch from June 2021 is here.

Friends chatting over coffee in the winter sunlight. Watercolour, 11 June 2021