Saturday, September 22, 2018

More Black and White Sketches of Brisbane

I am really loving getting out and about in the mild winter weather. These drawings have all been done on location or en plein air in and around Brisbane.
They are all ink on paper, specifically Arches 300gsm smooth, hot pressed watercolour paper.

Jo Jo's Restaurant South Brisbane

Ithaca War Memorial
Fortitude Valley
Bardon Water Tower from Collingwood Street.
Breakfast Creek Hotel
St Matthews Mitchelton
Story Bridge Hotel
Japanese Garden Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens
Milton Fig Tree

Brisbane City from Southbank

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recent Urban Sketches of Brisbane

For the past year I have been venturing out at least weekly to capture the sights and activities of many varied locations in Brisbane.

Latrobe Terrace Paddington Brisbane, Urban Sketch

I wanted my drawings to have both strength and a strong design aspect so I decided to work just in ink. The ink is diluted into various strengths from ink black to pure water.
Brisbane has such strong contrasts with our harsh sunlight and very dark shadows so I thought ink was the perfect medium to achieve this. It can be extremely messy so I usually wear black on my sketching days! I want to indicate the bright colours of our urban landscape without using colour.

Rosalie Village Brisbane Urban Sketch

 Being a Paddington resident, and being so enamoured of the place I have no trouble finding appealing locations quite close to home. Finding a spot in the shade is the most overriding consideration and when I am comfortable on my fold-up stool I can always find a composition in any direction. Framing devices such as foreground trees or telephone lines are something I embrace. The clutter of the street really is the subject after all. I always do a quick thumbnail first through my trusty viewfinder. If I don't do this I always regret it!

Given Terrace and Great George Streets, Le Bon Choix, Urban Sketch Brisbane

Overhead telephone lines usually echo the topography of the street below so they provide a great compositional device. People and trees are my very favourite subjects as they provide the life and energy of the scene and give me chance to loosen up. If I am patient, a person that I can include will appear and if they move on I can morph them into the next person in the drawing.

Story Bridge Brisbane Urban Sketch

The landmarks of the city such as the big bridges are subjects that appeal if I can find appropriate shelter from the sun. Sometimes I work from the car. Even if I do focus on an iconic subject, I try to get an unusual view of it that is not stereotypical but is nevertheless accurate from a particular vantage point. Including the signage and the overhead lights and wires gives the sense of authenticity and accuracy that is important to me.

The Eternal Flame, Anzac park, Urban Sketch Brisbane

Some members of our group of Urban Sketchers Brisbane have architectural training and they gravitate towards producing detailed sketches of buildings. There is such a wealth of styles embodied in the buildings of Brisbane. Often in a single sketch different historical periods and genres are apparent. The silhouette provided by the shapes provides an important compositional device. Trees often do this job for me.

Ann Street Uniting Church from Ann Street, Brisbane Urban Sketch

Tonal values are paramount in this series of works. I do the big "squint" to establish where my lights and darks are and I usually go straight in with a fine pen that is slightly water soluble. I try to "disappear the line" by taking the tonal wash right up to it, as there are really no lines in the subject, just changes of colour or tone. This really creates a three dimensional illusion instead of just a drawing with lines. If I can "get rid of the line" then I do so. The change from dark to light indicates the subject in a much more realistic fashion. Also the drawings can take on the quality of an old black and white photo, which I find appealing and it creates another level of visual reference with historical overtones.

The Mansions, George Street Brisbane, Urban Sketch

The arched windows in the sketch above illustrate this point. There are no lines just changes of tone or value. As far as perspective goes, I think it is the last thing to be worried about. I use "sighting" or holding up my pencil vertically or horizontally to measure the angle of a building by sight. I never bother with measuring. I just compare to the constant vertical and horizontal of the edge of the paper.
The foreground framing of a concrete planter box and traffic lights gives sense of the crowded location. You can no longer step back from city buildings and get a picturesque view. It just isn't physically possible.

Rising Sun Hotel Rosewood, Urban Sketch

Even in surrounding small towns, the paraphernalia of the street intrudes on the subject. In the case of this hotel in Rosewood, I think the railway crossing provides an amusing angle. It is accurate from where I was sitting against the opposite fence.

Kilcoy Urban Sketch

I have traveled a little further afield and found some great subject matter. I am sure my powers of observation and subsequently my knowledge of these small towns is really enhanced by investing some time sitting in the street and sketching.

Rathdowney, Urban Sketch

Sandgate Town Hall

Oriel Park Ascot, Brisbane Urban Sketch

There is definitely a quality of recording aspects of Brisbane life of the present moment. Change happens relentlessly and some of these images are a snapshot in time. I am actually aware of this while I am working. Different things are visible in different seasons also.

Racecourse Road Ascot, Brisbane Urban Sketch

The giant fig trees that are dotted around the city and suburbs are something that makes my heart sing. I just can't go past one, even if I had another subject in mind before arriving.

The Watercolourist, at The Priory, Kenmore, Brisbane Urban Sketch

Everyone likes to come across an unexpected sketch of themselves, particularly if it is like "candid camera" and they had no knowledge of being captured at the time. I make it a mission to try and capture everyone in the group at some stage over the months.

Melbourne and Grey Streets Brisbane, Urban Sketch

I quickly captured another of our regular sketchers in the foreground here. It's always a good idea to put them in early on and just work around them. There is lot of camaraderie in our group and we have a lot of laughs when people see images of themselves. They would rather be sketched than photographed, that's for sure!

Tropical Dome and Succulents, Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, Brisbane Urban Sketch

As I mentioned earlier, trees and people are my favourite subjects and the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens is my favourite place. There is wealth of material there for the artist and plenty of shade. These textures are a challenge to indicate just using the one simple medium. I often start with a bamboo twig to get a loose starting point. I then go in boldly with large 2 or 3 cm brushes to apply the tonal washes. Splashes of ink are great to indicate growth and movement. I love the use of the accidental mark. I actually provoke it. Spilled ink adds, doesn't detract.

Latrobe Terrace Paddington, Brisbane Urban Sketch

Queensland Museum, Brisbane Urban Sketch

The Three Monkeys, West End, Brisbane Urban Sketch

Collingwood Street Paddington,Brisbane Urban Sketch

Fig Tree and Sandgate Town Hall, Brisbane Urban Sketch

As you can see these trees really are a feature of my work. When the ink is dry (which happens pretty quickly in this climate) I can go over the ink with a white charcoal pencil to bring out some highlights and create volume.

Antarctic Beech Trees Springbrook

Antarctic Beech Trees, Springbrook, close up of roots.

Depending on the amount of time available, some sketches are more detailed than others. I sometimes think that the quicker and simpler the better.

It is only after spending the morning uploading all these images that I realise how many I have actually done! I am planning to put together a small book of these black and white ink sketches. I intend to have these at my next exhibition which is November 2018 at Royal Qld Art Society.

Hope to see you there!

If you are interested in joining Brisbane Urban Sketchers, you can find us on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paddington Portrait Project 1

Throughout history, the subjects in painted portraits have traditionally been the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful. It has always been elitist and remains so with the subjects painted for the Archibald Prize generally celebrities these days. People who are larger than life in more ways than one. I find each year I am enjoying the Archibald less and less.
To quote Robert Henri

"Salon pictures are a special and very overgrown and mongrel breed". 

 Or closer to home John McDonald speaks of  a good Archibald year as one in which he is not "gasping in disbelief'. (2012)

The portraits that move me the most are more intimate and dare I say more authentic. What Christopher Allen describes as  "a mutual connection between artist and sitter that makes a good portrait the crystallisation of a relationship" . 

Even when you consider the greatest of the Old Master portraitists, some of their most moving works are the more personal ones eg. Velasquez's portrait of his manservant, Hogarth's portraits of his servants.


I believe the Archibald has become more about who is painted than how well they are painted.

I have started a project of my own which is decidedly anti-Archibald. I want to paint ordinary people, men, women and children in a much more egalitarian way. I knew I would have to build up to this, get plenty of practice, not having done portraiture consistently for a couple of years.

I was also influenced by the conceptual work of Marina Abramovic with her piece "The Artist is Present", in which she sat in an art gallery and people sat and faced her for hours on end.

Marina Abramovic

I find this work and this idea intensely moving, so I decided early on that eye contact and a front on viewpoint was essential to achieve what I was after.

I like art that looks back. I imagine a whole wall of ordinary people looking back.

Robyn Bauer Studio

So this is it. I have launched the project. This is my studio wall with my progress so far.

I have set myself guidelines which may change or develop as time goes on. I am not sure where the project will lead. For now my guidelines are

* Everything is done from life in two or three sittings of about two hours each. Not exactly alla prima as I like the paint to fully dry so I can make adjustments boldly.
* Eye contact, front on
* Canvas size 40 x 40 cm prepared with a swish of raw umber. Heads generally about life sized. maybe a little larger.
* I will paint anyone who wants to be part of the project
* Ideally I would like a balance of different ages, personalities, ethnicities, gender but I don't have full control over this
* No photography

I have had to warn all my sitters that the very entertaining show "Anh's Brush with Fame" is exactly that "Entertainment" and that I would not be psychoanalyzing them, nor were they expected to keep on chatting. We saved the chat for the breaks. I also explained that while it appears that I am really staring at them I am actually making continual decisions about colour mixing, shapes, tone etc. It is they that have the opportunity to really look at me without interruption. I am too busy working to worry about what they may be thinking about me, although I've been told that I pull a lot of faces and I stand with my left hand on my hip!

Robyn Bauer with Viewfinder

And I use a viewfinder to make early decisions.

Here are some of the portraits in more or less chronological order.

 After I had exhausted the family members I had access to, I put a sign in the studio window asking for volunteers. I have had lots of generous strangers willing to give up fours hours or so.

After I had done a few I had the courage to post a few of them on Social Media and I got a few more volunteers. Initially I wanted some link to Paddington, however tenuous but then I figured coming to my Paddington studio was link enough.

Husbands have modelled and then wives. I have made some good new friends. I know John Singer Sargent said that every time he painted a portrait he lost a friend. I guess his patrons were trying to call the shots considering the prices he was charging.

I am also very interested in how the experience of sitting feels for my models. Martin Gayford when sitting for Lucian Freud's "Man with a Blue Scarf" said his motive for sitting was "an assertion of my own existence". He said "The experience of posing seems somewhere between transcendental meditation and a visit to the barbers". 
"There is a rather pleasant feeling of concentrating and being alert but no need to do anything at all. 

The conversations had during the breaks have been lovely. One on one conversation always works best for me. I have learned about all sorts of things, including the geography of the surrounding landscape seen from my back deck. And several of my drawing boards have been expertly cut down for me by a master carpenter, seen above.

Keeping the backgrounds simple but accurate as far as my studio lighting goes, has also been an important factor. I have a black sheet up as a backdrop and it is magic for the contrast of beautiful white hair.

Basically my models are coming from pretty much everywhere. Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, friends of friends, different aspects of my life, including fellow choir members.

Some of them could do with another sitting but the sketchy finish suits others.

I want to have a balance of male and female but at this stage I am just painting whoever comes along.

Getting plenty of practice painting beards. They are all so amazingly different and I have added lead white to my palette for the first time.

And finally, if no-one comes along I have to resort to the family canines.

More to come.