Taking the line to the landscape

Following on from my ‘two pencil’ practice in my last post, I decided to try the technique out on some nearby landscapes.  We are down at the coast for a week. At one end of the beach are some small but interesting cliffs, full of bulges and striations, layers and different colours.


The cliff at the northern end of Long Beach, near Bateman's Bay, NSW. Graphite, coloured pencil, gel pen and watercolour

I had so much fun working on this piece. As I was by myself I had plenty of time to fill the whole page with colour.  In trying to keep the loose approach I applied my paint with some small sticks I picked up on the sand.
I’ve done two more drawings since, but I haven’t had as much time to work on them.


Snapper Island from Surfside. Graphite, colour pencils, gel pen and watercolour.

The bay and nearby coast provide plenty of subjects to sketch. My most recent one is a bit further down the coast at Guerrilla Bay, one of the most popular dive and snorkeling sites around. Jimmy’s Islet protects the bay from the worst of the weather.


Jimmy's Islet in Guerilla Bay NSW. Watercolour, ink, graphite and coloured pencils

We’ve snorkeled here for the past two days. The variety and number of fish and the size of the various seashells makes you realise just how degraded many coastal areas are. This bay is part of a marine park so we have had some great experiences particularly spotting Banjo Sharks on both days.


Unlike some people I was too overwhelmed to find, let alone review my sketchbooks from 2015, so I took the easy way out and reviewed my Flickr posts instead.

I think that while exploring new ideas and techniques I lost my way. I started out with some drawing exercises to expand my techniques and also had classes with some great teachers at the Urban Sketchers Singapore symposium mid-year. But I didn’t integrate what I’d learned with my own style. So while individual results may have been good, I often found the quality of the drawing disappointing.

So it’s back to exploring and applying some previous exercises and being conscious about using all the techniques I’ve learn to express my own style. To avoid getting stuck on what to draw I’ve been working from photographs taken by Nic Walker , of the Sydney Dance Company, (published in the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 November 2015).


Pen and graphite used together, drawing from photograph by Nic Walker

The first step is to return to ‘blind drawing’, focusing on keeping my eyes on the subject and not looking at the page while drawing. Then applying some loosening techniques by drawing with two pens or pencils or a combination of both.
I also tried another loosening technique, drawing while holding the pen or pencil at the very end.


Right: graphite held at the end; Lower left: Copic Multiliner held at the end, drawings based on photographs by Nic Walker

It was interesting to see how the quality of the line varied between the graphite and the Copic Multiliner. Where the graphite flowed easily across the page, the Copic stuttered and hesitated, bringing a quite different quality to the line.
These simple exercises have already produced encouraging results and things like line quality to keep in mind for future drawings.

Tidbinbilla tracking

My partner and I have been taking the new online class by Marc Taro Holmes on Travel Sketching. Today we decided to to practice some of the drawing approaches that Marc has been teaching. We headed out to the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, (otherwise known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – CDSCC), in the rural part of the Australian Capital Territory, to draw the antennae in their bushland setting.

One of the key techniques we are learning is drawing simplified shapes to quickly gather enough information to capture a scene. This way you can do some drawing and still have sufficient time away from your sketchbook to enjoy your holiday! The goal is to capture basic shapes in one line, or maybe 5 or so lines, which I find quite hard to do.

The ‘blind contour drawing’ I learned at art school tends to be my default position when drawing quickly. It’s actually a good approach, but it’s not quite what Marc is suggesting. The difference with Marc’s approach is that you look frequently at your page as well as your subject and that allows the development of a more accurate outline. If you have time, you can then add further lines and build up your drawing that way. I have worked out that if I think about this as drawing the ‘edges’ then my drawings are more successful. I get less inclined to get bogged down in details along the way. I was pretty happy with this drawing I made of a local convenience store earlier in the day, well except for that very dodgy car welded the side of the building.

A simplified line drawing in pen and ink, 31 August 2015

A simplified line drawing in pen and ink, 31 August 2015

Out at Tidbinbilla there were plenty of interesting subjects to tackle. I settled on the 26 metre dish, or DSS46, (formerly sited at Honeysuckle Creek), that was the antenna that received and relayed to the world the first historic pictures of man walking on the Moon, on Monday, 21st July 1969. As the Centre’s website so eloquently says “DSS46 was retired from service in November 2009 and now remains at CDSCC as celebrated and recognised historic monument.”

While I could hardly describe the following drawing as using one or two lines, it certainly captured the key elements of the scene in front of me with more economy than I usually manage. I will admit though, that I also made several other drawings, which I could only politely describe as being ‘less successful’.

Simplified line drawing of the 26 metre dish, pen and ink, 31 August 2015

Simplified line drawing of the 26 metre dish, DSS46, pen and ink, 31 August 2015

I liked the scene enough to try a more detailed drawing. Having completed a simplified outline I moved on to providing  some solidity with shadow lines drawn with my brush pen. It didn’t take long to realise that the structure of the antenna was such that I’d probably go insane before I could get more than a ‘feel’ for the structure of struts and beams supporting the dish.

The 26 metre antenna, line and shadow, pen and ink and brush pen, 31 August 2015

The 26 metre antenna,DSS46, line and shadow, pen and ink and brush pen, 31 August 2015

At this point we made a strategic withdrawal to the coffee shop. Of course from the cafe’s deck the 70 metre antenna, DSS43, completely dominated the view – not surprising really as it is the largest single antenna in the southern hemisphere. It’s been busy recently with transmitting commands and receiving data from the Mars Odyssey and the New Horizons Pluto and Charon missions among many others.

I couldn’t resist! With a rapidly cooling cup of coffee I set about doing my final drawing for the day.

DSS43, the 70 metre antenna, pen and ink, brush pen and watercolour, 31 August 2015

DSS43, the 70 metre antenna, pen and ink, brush pen and watercolour, 31 August 2015

We are lucky to have so many interesting places, like the tracking station, to visit within our local area. It’s an amazing combination of leading edge technology in a truly beautiful setting.