Category Archives: Cockatoo Island

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




Urban Sketchers – Cockatoo Island

 Yesterday, about 15 sketchers met at Sydney’s Cockatoo island (a quick ferry ride in the harbour)for the final Urban Sketchers Sydney event for the year. The weather was all blue skies and sunshine, as summer has finally decided to arrive in Sydney. We have visited Cockatoo Island regularly as is so full of inspiration and potential sketching opportunities
I always like to arrive  a little early to start sketching before everyone arrives and I start talking. I sat the café with Phil & Chris and looked back to Sydney, sketching the panorama in watercolour pencil. Is was so peaceful.

Often when I visit Cockatoo Island I feel the need to draw BIG-  the buildings are big, the cranes are big . I draw everyday on a 20 x 13 cm moleskine watercolour sketchbook. So this time I came prepared with some larger sheets of paper, Unfortunately, I was in the mood for drawing small….so the papers were left untouched this time. But I will return in the New Year to experiment with size and equipment


The Drawing Office is one of my favourite buildings on the island. And that was even before I knew that it was called the Drawing Office and then that just made if more special. The Drawing Office was established in 1914 as part of the dockyards of the Royal Australian Navy, which were based there.I love the colour and textures, the greens and the rust .I have sketched it a few times previously. We only had about half and hour for this one before meeting everyone for lunch.


some of the sketchbooks from the morning
We chatted, compared notes on what and where we sketched and the experience of the morning.


Liz Steel reminded me that Cockatoo Island was the first place we met and sketched together way back in 2008. It was an International Sketchcrawl and we were the only two that turned up. How much has changed in our sketching lives since then! So many wonderful art adventures, meeting some interesting and inspirational people. There have been opportunities in the art world that I never would have dreamed of.

Certainly my sketching has changed. I think that I am more confident in my line and colour. I feel like I am capturing a lot more character of the object I am drawing. Below are my sketches from 2008.

I can see that my subject matter has not altered at all, and I could have chosen the same objects this weekend.  That would have been interesting!
I am still using watercolour pencils, as I had only just discovered them then and am now a complete aficionado.
I was using Pitt pens and Micron pens then, whereas now I love my Lamy Safarfi Joy ink pen. The flow of ink off the nib is so smooth and suits my drawing style.
I also drew on castoff sheets of A4 card stock then, and now I am up to Moleskine watercolour sketchbook number 37 since December 2008. I will be starting on sketchbook number 38 as I fly home for Christmas in a short time. I sketched at the airport for my Christmas flight in 2008 in the first pages of my first Moleskine. I am getting nostalgic thinking about it!

Urban Sketchers Sydney – Cockatoo Island

Today was an Urban Sketchers Sydney event. We went back to Cockatoo Island , n Sydney Harbour, as the last time it was cold and rainy. Today had beautiful blue skies throughout the morning. There were about 20 sketchers. We all went off in our different  directions alone or in groups and met up at lunch time to show and discuss our drawings and paintings. There are so many styles and mediums and it is such an motivation and inspiration to be involved in days like today. Sketching can be as sociable or solitary as you wish. Most of my friends in Sydney are sketchers.

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But first I sketched a boat at the ferry terminal as I had arrived early (on purpose – to sketch a boat or scene)

 Once on the island it was hard to know where to begin. This is the usual problem at Cockatoo Island as there is so much to see.  I had decided to sketch in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (13 x 20 cm) as I just did not feel  like drawing  “big” today.

The old industrial cranes and the sandstone cliffs of the island have such wonderful colours – stains of age and time. I have become familiar with the colours of my watercolour pencils and the marks they make on the paper and the way their colours change when a little or a lot of water is added. These two drawings are a combination of :
pencil directly on the page, with water added after
colour off the tip of the pencil added with the water
pecil only on the page – great for fine lines and details
They were all sketched in ink first .

The colours I used for rust and stains are :

Faber Castell
Light Yellow Ochre
Burnet Ochre (turns very orange when water added)
Burnt Umbre
Cool Grey IV

Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is in Sydney Harbour and a wonderful place to spend a day.
It was a convict settlement from 1839. It was also the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards, operating between 1857 and 1991. The first of its two dry docks was built by convicts. Many of the original sandstone convict buildings and the dockyard and shipbuilding complex are still in place and you can explore them. There are also many, many cranes from its shipbuilding years. Sketching heaven !!

Now you can also camp overnight in tents as well as catch a ferry there for the day. It is a favourite place of my sketching friends to visit and we have been there often.

I caught a quick 10 minute ferry ride , but had time to fill in first at the terminal – by drawing !


some tanks
pipes on the side of a large beautiful old sandstone building

a very large crane and some tents for camping
the same crane that I drew on my coffee cup

There are so many buildings equipment and views to sketch on Cockatoo island. I had my watercolour pencils and Lamy ink Safari Pen with me and my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook. Last time I was here I especially brought large sheets of paper with me and some inks to experiment with . I had felt the need to sketch these cranes LARGE one day. I did a few, but it was raining, which does not work well with watercolours and ink . I can try again next weekend as it is the place for the Urban Sketchers Sydney next event !

I also found a sketch from my first visit to Cockatoo Island in Jul 2008. It was for an International Sketchcrawl and the first time I met an sketched with Liz Steel !
It was my first Sketchcrawl and I had only just begun drawing watercolour pencil. I am not sure if my drawing style has changed – but my confidence in use of colour certainly has !