Architectural details

My sketching has taken a sudden swerve into architecture this past weekend. I visited two historic buildings in Canberra from different periods built in very different styles.

On Saturday we were in Kingston near the Fitter’s Workshop. Built in 1916-17, the Fitter’s Workshop is part of a complex of early Canberra industrial buildings that is being converted into an arts precinct. The Fitters Workshop was designed by John Smith Murdoch, better known as the architect of the original Parliament House (commonly referred to now as Old Parliament House). On close inspection it’s apparently simple lines reveal a refinement of detail not normally seen on utilitarian buildings.

Detail of a window, the Fitter's Workshop. Graphite and white chalk on gray-toned paper.

Detail of a window, the Fitter’s Workshop, 1916-17. Graphite and white chalk on gray-toned paper.

On the southern outskirts of Canberra is the Lanyon Homestead.  First settled by European squatters in the early 1830’s the land was granted to James Wright and John Lanyon in 1834. The Urban Sketchers Canberra group had visited here last year, but we weren’t able to make it then so we were finally making up for that outing.

We walked around the buildings and gardens trying to decide what to sketch. My eye kept coming back to the bell on the kitchen building’s roof. The kitchen complex, which also includes a cook’s room and cold store was built in the 1830’s. The bell and it’s supporting structure reminds me of an old south-western US mission bell, although Wright was supposedly influenced by the vernacular styles of his native Derbyshire.

The bell on the kitchen block, Lanyon Homestead, circa 1830s. Coloured pencil and graphite

The bell on the kitchen block, Lanyon Homestead, circa 1830s. Coloured pencil and graphite

I tried several versions of this sketch before I decided to focus solely on the bell and leave the steeply pitched roof and nearby buildings for another time.

After, I moved to sketch the farm buildings on the other side of the homestead. One of these buildings was the housing for the convict labourers who were first grated to Wright in 1835. I found the simple block style a contrast to the farm and bushland that formed the background. I also decided to simplify that landscape to emphasise the contrast with man-made structures.

Convict accomodation at Lanyon Homestead. Coloured pencil and graphite

Convict accomodation at Lanyon Homestead. Coloured pencil and graphite

A Little Pomp and Ceremony


Sculpture of Kin George V, Rex , Imperator 1927 by Sir Bertram Mackennal , pen and ink sketch, Old Parliament House Canberra

Today was the first sketch outing of 2016  of our Urban Sketchers Canberra group. We met in the foyer of Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy). There were sixteen of us, including two new members and a visitor. I was thrilled that we had such a good turn out while so many people are still on holidays.

I’d already decided to sketch the sculpture of King George V, which is located in Kings Hall. This sculpture portrays the King in the robes of the Order of the Garter and is the second casting of this statue, originally commissioned for New Delhi. I couldn’t capture the full regalia from the angle I was drawing (another day perhaps), but the King shows a very fine leg in his hose and garter.

Inspired by his decorative garments I decided to try another location to sketch parliamentary regalia, in the House of Representatives chamber. It turns out five others of our group were already in there, with some fine sketches being made (see more here).


Replicas of the Mace, foreground, and the Dispatch box, rear right, in the House of Representatives chamber, Old Parliament House. Pen and ink, 3 January 2015

Resting on one end of the main table is a replica of the Mace, the original of which is now in the new parliament building, in the House of Representatives chamber. At the far end of the table you can see one of the Dispatch boxes. I was amused to learn from one of the guides that these replicas of the Dispatch boxes were made when the movie ‘The Dish‘was filmed in the chamber. The film company kindly left them with the museum after they finished filming.

After all this pomp and ceremony I decided to make my final sketch in the Senate Opposition Meeting Room, where I could sink into the comfortable large lounges, much as many a Senator has no doubt done before me.


The Opposition Senate Meeting Room. Pencil sketch, koh-i-noor coloured pencils, 3 January

The upholstery is in the maroon coloured leather, that is used in the Senatorial wing of the building. Original furniture and fittings were designed by John Smith Murdoch, the architect of the building. I’m currently testing out my new Koh-i-nor Magic pencils (more in another post). I think that the paper I used was not perhaps very well-suited to these pencils. I will try paper with a bit more surface bite to it next time.

And finally here is our group, along with His Royal Highness.


Urban Sketchers Canberra at Old Parliament House, 3 January 2016

Going medieval on me – part 1

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were living in the wrong century because for the past few weeks things around here have been focused on the medieval. Of course its all in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. (If you didn’t know, Australia owns one of the only four extant 1297 copies of the document).

Two weeks ago we attended the Medieval Fest, held at Old Parliament House, which startled everyone by completely blowing out of the water all expectations of attendance. We tried to see the morning session of the heavy combat re-enactment but it proved to be difficult.

Too popular by half!, what we really saw of the combat reenactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Too popular by half! Or what we really saw of the combat re-enactment, 8 June 2015, pen and ink

Luckily we were a lot smarter, not to mention arrived earlier on the spot, for the next session.

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

Heavy combat re-enactment in the courtyard at Old Parliament House, 8 June 2015

It was reported that over 10,000 people attended – so much for the theory that Canberra would be empty on the long weekend!

After we had our fill of medieval food and drink – thumbs up for the blackberry and brown sugar milkshake – we decided to take the opportunity to see the display of the Rothschild Prayer Book in the National Library of Australia. Created in the early 1500’s this is one very up-market Book of Hours. Each two page spread has a image, opposite a page of text, both encircled by exquisite margin surrounds.

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

St Stephen from the Rothschild Prayer Book

I love this illustration of St Stephen, who, literally as a sign of his martyrdom, has rocks in his head! (in case you forgot, he was ‘stoned’ to death).

As only one page of the Prayer Book is displayed at a time, the Library is projecting onto a large screen a digital copy of the whole book. The modular nature of the layout was obvious as we sat entranced watching the pages of the book turn. Yes, not everything was invented recently! There appeared to be several artists who specialised in different forms of margin painting. One was focused on painting Gothic architectural detail, one of flowers, as above, and another on decorative lattices. Separate artists and craftspeople, yep there were quite a few women known to have worked in the medieval book trades, were responsible for the writing and decoration of the various sections of each page. Many of the paintings were made by leading Flemish artists of the time, such as Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening.  When I saw that the Library was holding a Medieval Manuscripts Day I just had to put my name down to attend (that’s a story for Part 2).

It was a happily tiring day and it was good to know that Magna Carta is still having an impact on our society today.

'Ello, 'ello 'ello ...