By Vita Forest
From a hill in The Rocks
After meeting my sketching pals near the quay, we dispersed to go our separate ways, to find our own preferred subjects, to see what would catch our attention, to do our own drawings, before we would meet up again later. Some of the group gravitate towards architecture, some to street scenes, others hone in on individual plants – leaves, petals, stamens. Some like landscapes, others tiny-crafted details – door knockers, statues, gates, while I seem captivated by people and plants (an aversion to straight lines?) We use different media too – coloured paper, textured paper, tiny, discreet, hand-held sketchbooks, larger pieces of paper clamped onto boards, cheap cardboard and thick watercolour paper on wooden easels. We use pastels, ink, paint, varying lead pencils through the range of “B”s, waterproof permanent pens, watercolour crayons and graphite. Though we sketch at the same time and vaguely in the same place, it is exhilarating to see the diversity of styles, subjects and media. And even though we might not see each other again until the end of the session, we offer each other some kind of moral support.
I walked up the hill and headed to the historical area of The Rocks. There were historic buildings, there were tourists at cafes, there were market stalls. I could sit on a step outside a shop, or on the ground in a park, or on a café chair, or stand against a wall. There were endless possibilities.
I wandered through the crowded markets hearing gentle melodies wafting through the air and headed through a cool, narrow alleyway. I climbed metal stairs, stone stairs and found a shady park against a cliff, overlooking rooftops. There were benches beneath jacaranda trees, strewn with purple. There were rusted silhouettes of household items set incongruously in the stony ruins of a house built up a hill. There was shade (shade is a priority for sketchers as the weather gets warmer). There was a gnarled and twisted pepper tree with delicate sheets of fish-scale leaves swaying in the breeze. There was a pepper tree…
I swept purple blossoms off a wooden seat, flicked open my sketch book, chose my favourite lead pencil and began to draw the pepper tree. As I drew, mauve bells sprinkled down from the jacaranda tree above, tourists wandered through the outdoor rooms snapping selfies on their phones, and a bride and her posse clanged down the metal stairs in high heels, cameras swaying from shoulders, the train of her skirt held high by a friend.
I finished my sketch and walked down to the market place. There was a busker on one side whose music I did not like, and another couple further on that I did. (Music and other ambient noise is another consideration when sketching). I found a discreet table by the side of the plaza and sat and looked at the scene – the busker with jaunty hat strumming his guitar and singing a mellow tune, the onlookers relaxing at circular tables, the trees and plants framing the scene. The people staying still. (This is an issue for my drawings – sometimes my figures become an amalgam of a bunch of different people if the subject moves on too fast). I pulled out my pad and drew again, conscious of people peering over my shoulder, but continuing nonetheless.
What kind of sketcher are you? Do you announce you are an “artiste” setting yourself up squarely with your equipment spread out about you? Or are you incognito, hidden in plain view, a recorder of the scene without being a performer? There are added difficulties if you draw people. It might be fine to have onlookers scrutinize a scene of the harbour, but it is a little disconcerting to have your subjects break down that “third wall” and come and look at how they have been portrayed… And yet, I understand that if someone is drawing, you want to see what it is that they are working on.
There was still a little time left, so I strolled back to the harbour and tried to scribble a few quick portraits while I waited. But the people were not cooperative, kept moving, kept rushing on, not waiting for longer than it took for a quick selfie before striding away.
Then I saw the bride. Hobbling along in her high heels, train held off the ground by a photographer’s lackey, her groom on his phone chatting. (It was very romantic). The photographer had scouted out a good spot with a view of the Opera House in the background and so they stopped. Perhaps if I was quick… I stood under a palm tree and scribbled it down – the assistant adjusting the veil, the proprietorial black stripe of the groom’s arm around her waist, the tight fists of roses in the bouquet, the skirt billowing in the breeze. And they held their position for just long enough.
The photographer was happy and so was I.