Sketching Steps & Escape Stairs

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New Sketchers. 10am Tuesday August 5’14.

It’s a sunny day, which means it must be our sketching day! We always seem to land on the lucky lottery with weather for our ‘New Sketchers group’.  We have a full house today, and I’m delighted to have Karen and Toni on board to observe and help with the tutoring for this large group.

The setups this week continue to look more challenging than the last. We’re focusing on ‘stairways’ and we have the blocks stacked to form steps, which have been carefully set up for us by Erin. (Thanks Erin)

I am pleased to see no one is complaining, or daunted by tackling this new theme for the week. In fact, everyone is concentrating so hard it’s gotten rather quiet for such a large group!

Before pens are committed to paper, I’ve had a little chat about how we should see the blocks. Holding one block up, I point out how one side will be dark, the other light. And if you should get to see a third side, this would be the mid-tone. I see a few heads start to nod in agreement. We have a wonderful demo from Erin, and a couple of others to show what we should be looking for. Everyone is very keen to get started.

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We were planning to start water-colour paints (for those of us who hadn’t used them before) however, we’ve gotten carried away with the challenge of getting angles and narrowing lines right, corrections etc, that we’ve only had time for one sketch in class, and we’ve found it best to use our colour pencils. We’re not perturbed, it will be exciting to use the paints next week.

I am beyond pleased when I’m photographing the sketches before we head off down the hill, every sketch is delightful, and has had all that we talked about applied and in lovely vibrant colours.

Off down the hill we go, in the sunshine, heading for the Telstra building, which is nestled between Whistler and Belgrave Street, at the bottom of Sydney Road.

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Here we find the fire escape stairs, and they’re wonderfully industrial looking, with bolts, peeling paint and all things grungy looking.

I love the vibrant wall it’s attached to, and encourage everyone to make use of that when they come to colour later on.

This subject may not have been everyone’s idea of a ‘nice sketch’. ‘Yes’, it’s not pretty, but I liked how one sketcher put it.   It’s the ordinary things in life that we remember, that we live with everyday, and in turn can mean the most!

I am very proud when everyone has given it a proper go, and are standing back proud of the fact that indeed there is a staircase winding it’s way up their page!


Most have completed colour before we head off to the café, which is Showbox this week. One of our absolute favourite café’s in Manly.

(I’ve been dreaming of the ‘Coconut – Carrot Pancakes’ since the last time I was there. However, the menu has changed, but I am not to be disappointed. I get the delight of trying out the ‘Lemon and Poppy seed Hot Cake’, and let me tell you, it is sensational! You have to try it!)

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I anticipated that our large group wouldn’t get to sit together, but we’re very pleased to see we’ve been given the large red topped table, which I would love in my own kitchen nook, and we’ve settled in cosily together sipping coffee and teas, nibbling on gorgeous food, and chatting happily while we sketch the vibrant surrounds around us.

I think we could all quite happily still be sitting there sketching and enjoying each other’s company. It’s been a fabulous day sketching, thank you everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all next week.

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General Sketching. 9.30am Thursday August 7 2014.


General Sketching. 9.3am Thursday August 7 ’14.

Sketchers are so keen to get to class nowadays that they are there waiting when I arrive.  The little ‘block steps’ are set up on each table, and people look at them hard, thinking about how they will approach their sketch.  This is a General Sketching class, so most people have had a little experience with perspective.

The point of the seemingly complex subjects this week is purely about observation. Seeing the shapes. Comparing angles. Not questioning why. But simply seeing what is in front of you. This is the very core skill of Travel Sketching. Seeing.

We use a single coloured pen, red, rose, orange, purple, or green with watercolour pencils for our technique today. Paint could be used out on location though. We never use pencils for Travel Sketching, though I thought I sensed one in a class this week.

I have a chat about where to start, and how you will show the darks, mid and lights. We also have a very full class, and I notice a few latecomers hoping to be invisible!  That’s quite distracting for those already beginning their work. Oh and we always turn our phones off too. Yes we always remember that!

Today we welcomed a lovely new sketcher who’d overheard us recently in a cafe. She’d tracked us down and here she was, ready to rock n roll.

Karen had a ‘quiet’ corner with a lovely red hibiscus arrangement set up ready to lead her through the ‘how to see’ process.  You’ll see the great result in the pics.  Toni also an assistant tutor was slowly working her way around giving a hand where it was needed.

Our last week’s new sketcher was happy to throw herself in with the ‘big kids’ and try the block steps. She amazed herself by getting the angles right!


Anyway, just to fill you in on how we chose our assistant tutors. We at Sketch Headquarters could see we’d be needing extra help as more people were keen to learn to sketch.

After much thinking, we decided to create a Tutor Internship for someone within our own ranks.  In fact we found two people.  Both are experienced sketchers who have been with us since early days, and who have the leadership qualities required to be a Sketch Tutor with ErinHill Studio.   You have to be pretty darned special for this.  They absolutely adore working with you, (as do we all)  and it means nobody misses out.

So after all that, we made our merry way down the hill towards our next location, the very big escape staircase on the Telstra building down on the corner.

It’s been there for eons, but judging from some hilarious expressions, it hadn’t been noticed by many before! I did promise not to publish pics of those faces! OOOOh it’s tempting!

And the fact that you would now sketch it had a few more faces.

As with everything we choose to sketch, break it down into simple shapes.  They are all there if you allow yourself to ‘see’.  And as you’ll see in the pics, everybody managed to interpret in their own way, the impression they saw. That’s sketching.


Those who know Showbox, one of our favourite cafes were happy to complete their colour there.

So people began to drift one by one towards their coffee hit of the day, and to order their spectacular avocado on ancient grain or stoneground bread, made in the cafe. They do their own bread! Yum. In fact you’ll see Christy’s review on her menu choice above, and Judy’s below.

We took over a fair bit of the place, but Bo and his team rapidly delivered food and essential coffees to all our excited people.   Adding colour carried on between mouthfuls and we had a big range of great sketches to our credit.

One dear sketcher pleadingly asked if next week might be easier. Gee it just could be!


General Sketching. 9.30am Friday August 8 ’14.


General Sketching. 9.30am Friday August ’14.

Talk about keen sketchers, as I arrived at 9.15, one of the faithful, Jane, had been waiting a mere hour! She was making sure she was there in plenty of time with buses, but the early bird catches the worm that’s what I say. I was the lucky one as she brought me two gorgeous jars of preserved lemons (a belated birthday gift) – oh lucky me….can’t wait to try them.

Well, what can I say? I could hardly get a word in this morning as the rowdy chatter deafened my vague attempts at teaching.

I am surprised everyone was so chirpy as our sketching subject (Oh no, not those blasted building blocks again) of steps was not one to exactly fill everyone with inspiration.  But it’s all about that P word (perspective), but I was reprimanded by one sketcher who informed me that we just don’t mention that dreaded word.  Sounds so much better if we just say things like “things that are going away” or “things that narrow into the distance”.  Yes but we all know it really means perspective.  I suppose it depends on your perspective on things.

I cheered up the spirits of those with crestfallen faces at the thought of sketching the blocks and said “Well, just sketch a couple or a few if it’s all too overwhelming” – ah that gave a more “not-going-to feel-grumpy” feel to the whole thing.

Building blocks done, photos done, and off we trot down the hill…….


……….. Yes  Erin looked all around Manly at the amazing selection of historic houses, sandstone buildings, architectural creations and then lo and behold chose the ultimate scenic attraction of the metal steps on the Telstra building for our location sketch.  Challenging? You bet. Beautiful? Not.  Perspective? (I won’t mention that word again). Yes.

Interestingly though it makes for a good sketch.  A couple of folks felt it was not their thing at all and I suggested the church steps opposite would be a good alternative. The sandstone was decidedly more aesthetically pleasing that’s for sure. Phew, everyone’s doing steps and managing much better than expected.

So, our scenic spot complete with selection of most attractive graffiti, temporary wire fence and bits of rubbish scattered around actually turned out to be not such a bad sketching spot after all.

I went round checking on everyone’s sketches and found a rather appropriate saying on the side of the Telstra van parked outside, which I pointed out to everyone as I helped with their sketching:-


Coffee and lunch was earlier than normal (to be honest I’m always a bit late as I get carried away with it all) as most folks were keen to escape the staircase, so Showbox Cafe it was.

Love this place with it’s Ancient Grain Bread (actually I just adore the description, makes me feel like I am eating something from Roman times, but I suppose it wouldn’t taste too fresh if that were the case)  But their bread is something to behold with eeeeeenormous nuts and seeds and grains jam packed into it.  Makes me feel healthy even if it is probably about 500 calories per slice.

I demonstrated loose watercolour technique using the waterbrush as this way you can get a bit of character into the walls on a large area.

Lovely class today, thank you everyone for being such fun, we did have a laugh!  Roll on next week 🙂


General & New Sketchers. 9am Saturday August 9 ’14.


General & New Sketchers. 9am Saturday August 9 ’14.

Actually it’s probably more New Sketchers than General this week. Our more experienced people all seem to be travelling at the moment – as you do when you are a Travel Sketcher.

With 2 setups to explain, Karen and I did one table each, and swapped.  This is a first for some sketchers.The ‘P’ word can be frightening and so many have had bad experiences with trying to understand it in the past.  Not in this class. It’s positive all the way and we break it down one block at a time.  Build your base and work from there. As you do when building anything.

Of course you’ll put down some lines which may not be working. You need to start with something.  All the correcting can happen as you re position your lines. Just go over the top. Looks fine.  We check often that they are all going away one way, and the other.  After some initial uncertainty, people did begin to ‘get it’ as you’ll see.

Out into that glorious sunny Winter day. Trot trot trot all the way down the hill, cross at the crossing! Well always.

There before us, were our most magnificent metal escape stairs. How beautiful is that I ask you! You have to go a long way to find anything this majestic.  It’s not quite the Eiffel Tower, but you’ll have no trouble with that after this.  As you can tell I’ve become very attached to these steps!

Time was taken to have a very good long look at where all your big shapes are.

For those who needed guidance, there was a sign right across the road for you, and another ahead on the wall.   Judy found an uplifting one for her people yesterday too.


How does the first staircase come away from that platform? Where does the second staircase begin? How does it connect to the first one?

Build your stair case first.

No point starting with the railings.  What are they going to attach to?

Slowly but surely staircases began to emerge.

Add some colour, and we’ll complete the rest at lunch.

By the time we headed along to Showbox, everyone had a very competent sketch tucked away.  We seem to be in luck with our cafe timing. The early breakfasters have departed and the lunchers haven’t arrived yet.  Before long most of us are on the 1960’s long red table.

Two of our sketchers are happily next to us in their own little coffee world.  Both were inspired to sketch their coffees. And get to drink them hot. Great work girls.


Dishes of delicious eggs, avocado, etc with thick slices of that devine ancient grain bread were ordered, and coffee, then heads down, tails up and on with the sketching.  All the staircase sketches are a credit to you all this week.

You even felt quite pleased with what you saw on your own page. We can tell by your little faces.  Wow did I do that? Yes and you can sign it with pride.  Fab work everyone and lets see what we get to do next week.  It can only go up from here!



  1. Therese Batchelor

    Erin – the sketches of stairs today were fantasic. Really impressive. I kept thinking I will have to find a staircase to see what I can do. I don’t think you could tell that some sketches were beginners – everyone should be very happy. Therese


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