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.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Brisbane Stories

My exhibition Brisbane Stories is finally up at the Petrie Terrace Gallery.  It is on now every day until Sunday 23rd October, and I must say am pleased with it how it is all looking.

Robyn Bauer, Looking out from under the Awning, Latrobe Terrace Paddington

I did the opening speech myself on Wednesday night and I will share here the basics of what I said. I have even included the jokes I told at the end of my speech. What I can't really relate here is how much I started laughing and struggled to get the punchline out!

Robyn Bauer, Brisbane Stories Opening Speech

"I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and original inhabitants of this patch of land the Jagera and Turrbul people, for whom I have the highest respect for their care for country.  I recognise that the land where RQAS now stands has always been a place of learning and of teaching.

There has always been an aspect of communication in what I have tried to do with my artwork. I have always written blogs about what I am trying to do as much to clarify my own thoughts as to open up to my audience.  In preparing for this exhibition I sat down to write my artist statement and for the first time ever I couldn’t write anything. My mind wasn’t exactly blank but I thought that whatever I said seemed to be superfluous, a cliché, or totally unnecessary. This surprised me but when I analysed it, I realized that maybe I had finally reached a point where the paintings were doing their own communicating and they didn’t need any help from me – a good thing…

Or alternatively I had simplified what I was doing into a “response to place” that has at last become instinctive.  I am interpreting where I live through the filter of myself, and in doing that and trusting my instincts I have finally found a response in the people who also live here.
But, I do need to go deeper than this. What am I spending 7 days a week doing and why?
My answer is quite personal. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile to do with my time, than to do the fraction that I can, to contribute to a visual interpretation of where we live. Every artist would love to go to Venice and paint the canals, to paint Paris by lamplight or sunsets over the Pacific. But I live here and I feel I owe it to here to look around here.

Robyn Bauer, Cricket Match Newmarket - Rain threatens Play

Working on location as an Urban Sketcher has really helped with that. It has helped me to broaden my source material. Instead of taking a photo of something picturesque as we all do, and working from that, sitting in the street with cars and signs and barriers in the way of a good “view” I made a conscious effort to embrace all that, the clutter of the street. What Robin Boyd disparaged as the Australian ugliness has become to me, something worth recording. And we don’t see in the way a camera “sees”. A camera has one lens out the front. We have two. Cameras distort. As people we see lots of things at the same time, and we hear, and smell simultaneously. We have to use visual tools to hint these other sense experiences.

As many of you are aware, this exhibition carries on from one I had last year which I called Paradise Found – Close to Home.  The biggest difference with this new work is the inclusion of so much more LIFE, people, not just the type of models we get at life drawing but real people with different body types, real street people.  The title “Brisbane Stories” indicates that there is a new narrative or story element to these works. And why not? It makes it real and it makes it fun.

 I was fortunate enough to be Artist in Residence at this year’s Royal Qld Show and I spent plenty of time preparing by sketching everywhere I went to build up my speed skills to capture the real body language of people just going about their business, not posing. 

Ekka on location sketches by Robyn Bauer

The people that I captured, are doing things or doing nothing. - You can insert your own narratives into what is going on. I have not spelled everything out, I have just hinted at possibilities. It anchors the work not just in a particular place but in a certain time. I am aiming for the universal through the specific.  - Because it is all we have.

Which brings me to explain what different parts of this exhibition are.

The unframed works on paper presented as a grid are the works that I did on location at the Ekka. I went there 9 – 5 for ten days and walked around with just the sketching materials I could carry in a small pull-along case. I think there is an honesty and freshness about these direct images which can be lost when things are retouched in the studio.

The large painting at the back is from my show last year and I have included it because I have the opportunity in this large space and because I have had the prints made that many people asked me for. Few people have a wall big enough so the prints are a practical compromise.

Robyn Bauer, Paradise Found - Close to Home

So there are many more figures in these new works, animals, birds and trees that populate the urban landscape. The natural world is never far away even in the most built up of areas.
Many people comment about the colour in my work, but I see myself first and foremost as a tonal painter, the light and dark have to work before the colour can. I do very closely observe light, which comes from the sky and you will see that I have tried to render every possible mixture of sky colour that I have observed. Mixing colour is an instinctive thing that comes with years of practice and experimentation and I don’t even think about it, but I am enjoying seeing the range of permutations.

Robyn Bauer, Hecate of the Suburbs, Menzies Street from Petrie Terrace

Brisbane is colourful, it is tropical, exotic and can be pretty in every season. Absolutely everything seems to grow here. It is this LIFE or a feeling of it even in the architecture that I have tried to capture.

When I taught in Manchester this year at the Urban Sketching Symposium my topic was The Body Language of Trees. I had approached them with this idea and they liked it.  - How trees in the urban landscape cope with what is around them.  I think I really extend this idea to the landscape itself, to the buildings, the gardens, the streets, even the overhead wires which are wonderful visual echoes of the topography underneath.
The body language of all these things!  Even inanimate ones.  - All these things are on my radar now and one other thing I would add is that I am great walker and when walking you can observe at a human pace and scale, and you also have time to think and process things as you go.

Robyn Bauer, City from Latrobe, Long and Alma Streets.

One final point which is a kind of technical one.  - How much I use negative space. The space between things, - like the silences or spaces in music, make it what it is, the length of notes, so too the spaces between my figures, buildings or trees become important pieces of paint. And one must remember that paintings are paint, so that the history of the layers, the drips, the underneath bits are vitally important to give the quality of life that I am after, that things change, move and develop. They are not static like a photograph is static.

Robyn Bauer Brisbane Stories Opening Speech

I was told I should start with a joke but instead I am going to finish with one.

“Why did the artist cross the road”?

“To see from the other side.”

And another joke or possibly a true story, -

 A wealthy man commissioned Picasso to paint a portrait of his wife. Startled by the non-representational image on the final canvas, the woman’s husband complained,    
“It isn’t how she really looks!”

Picasso asked the man how she really looked, and the man produced a photograph from his wallet.

“That’s not her, this is her”! 

Picasso looked at the photo and then gave it back to the man and said,

“Small, isn’t she?” "

Robyn Bauer - Walking to Bulimba Ferry Terminal

All of the finished work can be viewed on my website at