Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sketching on Cockatoo Island

I spent the last two days  on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. A place full of Sydney history from convict to industrial era and through to the present day, where you wander and explore. While Liz Steel and Paul Wang ran their Expressive Urban Sketching Workshop on the island, I spent the days drawing and taking the opportunity to catch up with my old and new sketching friends before and after the Workshop each day. I could feel the sense of enthusiasm and excitement in the group each time I talked to them. There will be many blog, flickr and facebook posts from the 25 participants from around Australia and the world . Have a look at the Australian Urban Sketchers blogsite

I had put aside these two days take my watercolour pencils to the island to explore and draw on Cockatoo Island. I generally ignored the Sydney Biennale Art installations that were on the island. There is already so much to see and sketch ! The Biennale was launched on the Friday and crowds were expected. But it did not cause any issues.

The weather was spectacular – blue skies and sunshine.
All my drawings from the two days are on my flickr site . I filled 16 pages with drawings

Begin the day with a coffee !!

First drawing was on my coffee cup with Lamy Safari Joy ink pen.

Then a focus on one of the rusty cranes



and my drawing position – on a bin ! One person stopped to say it was a great drawing. Two people stopped and asked to use the bin !

 ok – a visit to one Biennale Art installation. I listened to the Artists talk and then watched the video made a lot more sense ! 

my morning drawing – looking up to the cliffs
and my afternoon drawing. I was sitting in the area I drew in the morning Looking down to where I sat in the morning. Does that make sense?
(Note to self: During the drawing, look at page without sunglasses on ! My long distance prescription sunglasses are great on a sunny day to shield the sun and focus on the distance to sketch BUT when I took them off and looked at the page at the end of the drawing the colour and linework looked completely different. )
 My quick sketches of the Expressive Urban Sketching Workshop




Five watercolour pencil tips

As many of you may know, I draw with watercolour pencils. I enrolled in Cathy Johnson’s watercolour pencil course online in 2009.(It is now available as a CD).That triggered my love of watercolour pencils and I am still enjoying and excited by their possibilities.

Here is a list of MY top 5 tips for using watercolour pencils.

  1. become aware of the colours that your pencils make on paper when dry AND wet
  2. sharpen your pencils often- especially for those finer details
  3. draw the outline of the subject with the pencil that you are going to use as its colour (when you blend it with water the outline becomes part of subject instead of an outline)
  4. build up layers to create depth and texture
  5. experiment with the many ways of using watercolour pencils.

These are tips that I have discovered work for me as my style has developed over the past few years. I hope that this provides insight to gets people experimenting with this wonderful medium. Let me know if you have any questions !

Have a look at the following links to see more indepth information about how I use watercolour pencils

drawing a feather step by step

This post is about drawing the feather of a tawny frogmouth. I have quite a few of these feathers in my collection. I am not sure why I have so many, as you don’t see that very many tawny frogmouth birds about. This is probably because they blend in so well with the tree branches they are on and they are nocturnal. However I still think that there appears to be a disproportionate amount of feathers compared to birds you see everyday, such as magpies. Tawny frogmouths are one of my favourite birds (I seem to have a few)
Tawny frogmouths. Photo: Keith Smith Photography

The Tawny Frogmouth is found throughout Australia. They are about 35–50 cm and can be seen in almost any habitat type except the denser rainforests and treeless deserts. Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars. This feather was collected off the ground in Toowoomba, Queensland.

I often draw feathers, but they are usually simple and one or two colours. And I complete them over an evening or two. See them here . In this post I wanted to share my love of watercolour pencils and what can be achieved using this medium

The tawny frogmouth feather was more of a challenge as their feathers are highly patterned. This is the second time I have attempted to draw one and I am still figuring out how to do it. I was halfway through this one when I discovered that Derwent Inktense Bark watercolour pencil is the perfect colour for the tawny frogmouth feather. The pencils I was using were too brown or too grey and I was trying to blend them.
This time I remembered to take these photographs along the way to try to show my work in progress. It shows the real feather at the top and my drawing next to it. I started it in February this year and then put the drawing aside for about two weeks between the last two images.


in detail
Drawn on Arches 300gsm Smooth Watercolour paper.
main Colours
Bark – Derwent Inktense
Walnut Brown – Faber Castell Albrecht Durer
Burnt Umber- Faber Castell Albrecht Durer
Ivory – Faber Castell Albrecht Durer
Raw Umber – Derwent
I have found that the Derwent pencils are too soft for the finer “feathery” details of the feather (the “afterfeather”) as you can see the texture of the pencil on the paper. Faber Castells are harder and give a finer line, which can also be dissolved beautifully to give the fluffy look. This is the area I love to draw.  This particular feather was a bit of an experiment. I am very pleased with the final result, and have learnt a lot along the way. NEXT TIME I need to figure out a way to achieve the dark colour patterns and the fine lines of the feather (I think these are called the barbs). I feel that it is a little heavy handed and muddy in this one. However, I am not looking for a photorealistic drawing of feathers. My drawings are more about the impression of detail, rather then actual detail.

Tawny frogmouth and chick drawn from photo, 2010

Sketching at Erin’s

I was invited to Erin Hill’s Sketchclass on Friday to give a short talk about my travel sketching. I’ve talked to the Saturday group before, but not the Friday people. Have a look at Erin’s Scandinavian sketching session this week for our results. I gave a quick 10 minute talk about me and my sketching. I brought along my two London/Barcelona sketchbooks from my holiday in July last year. See these on my flickr page in the  London and Barcelona  SETS.  My sketchbooks were eagerly devoured by the class of enthusiastic sketchers. I think that looking through my sketchbooks provided them with an idea of the sort of things that can be sketched, with a different approach and  style.

 ” the power point converter for the UK – who would have thought of that”
“oh look … suitcases”

I also write notes on my pages -(something that not everyone does) and use watercolour pencils in a few different ways on the page. Read here about my watercolour pencils

I also brought along my current Moleskine watercolour sketchbook of which I was on the final pages. I started it one month ago.  Lots of time to sketch now. I approached the day as if it were a holiday. And it was an adventure. I knew that I was going to Manly , so  drew a map. Then at Circular Quay, where I had time before my ferry left.

The ferry ride takes 30 minutes, so I knew I had that time to sketch. I had run out of ink in my Lamy Safari Joy pen, so  I used the first pencil I took out of my pencil wrap to draw the people on the ferry.


Then down to business – looking outside the ferry window . I was experimenting with blue today.  Australian sky blue is difficult to get right and the ocean can be a challenge too. I like the Derwent Inktense Sea Blue. When combined with other blues in my sketchkit it has a good colour.

So after three pages I arrived at Erin’s class and gave my talk and my sketchbooks were quickly passed around. But not for long, as it was down to classwork (but we continued to chat through the morning and over lunch). While the students did the wonderful experiment of drawing a drawing upside down (it makes you draw lines that you see rather than those you think should be there), I drew the gift Erin gave me – some delicious and decadent looking pastries .


I drew them for 15 minutes, while the class did their lesson and then completed it at home. Although I do not have a sweet tooth , I find biscuits and cakes fun to draw and I seem to have quite a collection now . See them here



next : 15 minutes – draw something from your bag – my keys

Then a walk to a wonderful local store The Modern Furniture Store where they generously allowed us to sit in the store and sketch.

and home on the bus… a full day of drawing . I Love it !

my tea and coffee cups

I am aware that I draw my coffee cups a lot. I am not a particular coffee aficionado and I also drink tea as well, especially at home. I also draw my wine/champagne glasses.

I have finally gathered them all together in a SET on flickr, there are over 80. Click HERE to see them all together on flickr. Some are quick and sketchy and others more studied.

I know which watercolour pencils to use for the coffee (and tea) and how the colours will change when I add water .

All Faber Castell Albrecht Durer. Of course I don’t use all of these in the one drawing, but they are a part of my kit and can be used

Raw Umber (I lie – this is a Derwent)
Burnt Yellow Ochre (oops – Derwent also)
Burnt Ochre
Burnt Umber
Walnut Brown
Burnt Siena (excellent for the chocolate bits on top. Too chocolaty for general use)

I think that I tend to draw coffee cups because when I am drinking it I am sitting down, comfortable and with time to spare. I am obviously not in desperate need of caffeine, or I would start drinking straight away. Therefore I do drink cool or cold coffee very often. But I am usually very pleased with my drawing.  The coffee shop staff love it when you draw their art ! It starts so many conversations.

Sometimes I just draw the coffee and sometimes I draw my food as well. Other times I will draw what I see in the café or the view outside, to give it some context. It really depends on the day and the moment.

Of course, then it dawned on me that cappuccino’s also leave interesting marks down the side of the cup after you have finished it ! I just have to remember to drink it and not start drawing straight away, which is my normal immediate reaction. I also have to learnt to spell cappuccino as I seem to change it each time.

of course then there are the coffee cups themselves to draw ON…….
and the  tea cosies.. but that is another story