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.


  1. Wow that's an impressive collection Robyn!! Such variety and lovely to see them.

    1. Thanks so much Chris. I am glad you think they are varied. I am trying to push the boundaries and do as much as possible with the one medium.