Try again

It’s often a struggle to get the drawing you see out of your head and onto the page. Several weeks ago I had one of those days. We drove out to the country looking for a sketching spot and found a promising site down by the river.

As I looked up from the river bank I could see one of my favourite local shearing sheds higher up the hill. This is built in corrugated iron which has developed a lovely patina over the years. Behind it was a hill and the whole scene was enclosed below that skyline.


Shearing shed, watercolour

I did make some quick pencil sketches before I started, but even so I struggled to get the proportions of the shed to the skyline accurately represented. I had taken along my watercolours to use for the first time in ages. I tried, but I had forgotten ‘in my hands’ how to use the paint. So I was unhappy with my result.

Then I had another thought, to work back over one of my original thumbnails with the pencils I also took along. There was no pressure to get it ‘right’ I allowed myself to play with non-realistic colour and the drawing flowed!


Colour pencil over the top of one of my original sketches

Shades of grey

I’ve just finished working my way through my Strathmore Toned-Grey sketchbook, some 50 pages, most of which both back and front have been drawn on with coloured pencils. I’ve used coloured pencils since childhood, but as an adult I’m discovering these materials anew.

Unlike watercolours it’s hard to satisfactorily mix new colours using pencils. I wished I had a range of more subtle colours on many occasions. So my recent pencil buys have been of greys and neutrals, colours which are not strongly represented in the pencil box.

From left to right are: Green Ochre, Sandbar Brown, Slate Grey, 50% Cool Grey, 30% Cool Grey and 20% Cool Grey. On the right hand side of the pictures are the Sky Blue Light and White which I’ve been using for some time, but which fit also into this colour range.

New pencils, ohh goody!

New pencils, ohh goody!

I’ve drawn them onto Strathmore Toned Tan paper below. I had started using them in my previous sketchbook but I don’t have any spare pages to show them on the Toned Grey paper.

I already find these colours incredibly useful additions to my palette. Having now swapped to the Toned Tan sketchbook I’ll be interested to see how they go on the warmer background.

test colours on toned-tan paper, greys and neutrals

test colours on toned-tan paper, greys and neutrals

And just because I can , I’ve forced myself to buy even more watercolours that I’ve seen written about by several artists whose work inspires me. All the colours are from the Daniel Smith company.

These paints have been tried out on watercolour paper with a medium tooth. I love the granulation of the Lunar Black and I think the Buff Titanium is the sort of colour I’ve been after for some time. The Perylene green is for my partner who was after something dark for shadows in vegetation and the Mayan Blue is just because I like it.

Testing new watercolours

Testing new watercolours

Sketching in Civic

On Sunday our local Urban Sketcher’s chapter met for our May get together. It was great to welcome two new participants and catch up with some others who I haven’t seen in a while. We met in the centre of the city which is referred to as Civic. We were in part of the system of pedestrian plazas and near the Canberra Centre Mall.

While the weather didn’t deliver the hail that was forecast, the wind was quite blustery. Some brave souls sketched outside, but others took advantage of a seating area that overlooked the City Walk. I stayed outside as I had become fascinated with one of the more recent sculptures that have been added to the pedestrian areas. Anne Ross‘ work The Other Side of Midnight, 2012, is in three parts the centrepiece of which is a running girl flanked by two running hounds.

The Other side of Midnight, central figure, coloured pencil on cold pressed paper

The Other side of Midnight, central figure, coloured pencil on cold pressed paper

I had some more time before meeting up with the others so I pulled out my new Strathmore sketchbook which is the toned tan. It will be interesting to compare the sketches I’m making in this book compared to those in the grey-toned book I’ve just completed. This second sketch was a more traditional view of the plane trees that are planted in City Walk.

Plane trees, City Walk, coloured pencil on Strathmore toned-tan paper, 1 May 2016

Plane trees, City Walk, coloured pencil on Strathmore toned-tan paper, 1 May 2016

In my haste to capture the scene I botched the perspective and scale up – something I didn’t realise until I looked at the sketch after I got home. Oh well, there’s a lesson there! After having the obligatory group shot we went down to the food court for lunch and a catch-up.

If you are in the neighbourhood and would like to join us our next Urban Sketchers Canberra outing will be to the National Portrait Gallery, on Sunday 5 June at 10.15 am.


Autumn in the national capital brings with it the odour of burning eucalypt leaves. The smell has complex connotations of summer and bushfires, but now it is the smell of low-intensity burn-offs, designed to reduce the level of flammable plant material. The local hills have been systematically burned over the past few weeks.


I took the opportunity to try and capture some of the ‘atmosphere’ of the burn-off. Sitting on the other side of the road I worked on those strange colour changes that occur within the smoke, white, cream, dirty red.


Burning off on Mt Taylor, ACT, 26 April 2016, colour pencil on gray-toned paper

I also had a go at sketching the moment the first flames were lit.26Apr2016b

Cafe Wednesday, construction continues

The renovation work is continuing at our local shops, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone from dropping by for a coffee.

The last two weeks I’ve been drawing the machinery on site. Unfortunately no good figure sketching opportunities have arisen since my previous post on this subject. Two weeks ago I drew the bobcat, which was parked up at a pretty uninteresting angle to where we were sitting.

The bobcat, 16 march 2016, coloured pencil and graphite on gray toned paper

The bobcat, 16 march 2016, coloured pencil and graphite on gray toned paper

I’m not very excited by this drawing, I could have used the coloured pencils more effectively, rather than just ‘colouring in’.

Last week we found a better seat to observe what was going on. Thankfully the small digger that was being used to work on the replacement of the drainage system was parked at a good angle to our table.

Small digger, 23 March 2016, coloured pencil, ink and white chalk on gray toned paper

Small digger, 23 March 2016, coloured pencil, ink and white chalk on gray toned paper

This time I thought a lot more about how I was going to use my colour, which was probably helped by using the pen for the initial drawing. I kept my drawing loose, which is how I prefer to work. However there was one glaring mistake. I didn’t look carefully enough at the angle of the digger before I started. Had I done so I would have seen that the bucket was actually well below the level of the tractor treads. So now I have a more interesting composition instead, with the bucket tucked in the middle of the sketch.