Life of an Artist – Blog #8: Seacliff Sketches

A happy little sketch a day keeps the therapist away

Hello there, in this months Blog I thought I’d share a bit about my new habit of going out to do sketches of the property I live on, my sketch a day (as much as the weather allows).

I’ve started this great new routine after breakfast, where I go out with my handy little watercolour set, ink pen and a pencil. I then walk around my garden to find a lovely spot to sit and sketch.

Here I’ll share the paintings I’ve done so far and what I am learning along the way.

First a bit about the property, I live in an Asylum 😀 An old Asylum I should add and it’s a super interesting place with many of the old outhouses still standing.
It’s the Old Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, which was the largest building in the country at the time. Unfortunately due to bad land research a lot of the buildings ended up collapsing (even during the construction phase) as the soil underneath was not very stable and was slowly slipping towards the ocean.

As you can see the architecture was quite impressive, its just a shame it was placed so poorly. There was also a terrible fire in the wooden block which was part of the women’s quarters in 1942, where many patients lost their lives. Eventually the main building became so unsafe the Asylum closed in 1972. And so the largest building in New Zealand was finally demolished.

Many of the outbuildings still remain in good condition though after some renovation work, unfortunately many have large amounts of asbestos in the roofs, leaving them unsafe to be in. I’m currently writing this from what we think to have been the doctors or nurses quarters. One of the few buildings safe for humans.

And now for a painted tour of the place through my watercolour and ink sketches

As you can see there’s a diverse array of things to paint around here. Starting with the first painting you can see the old coalshoot from the back of the property, I loved how it seemed to just be engulfed by the bright yellow lupins swallowing the dark and geometric shapes of the building.
The second painting is a snippet of my garden beds in the courtyard of the Bluestone building. The brick work of this building is mind boggling. You’ll see it becomes a reoccurring theme. The Bluestone building was originally used as the stables and the blacksmith workshop. It’s an incredible building and safe for humans. My studio is located in the back wing of it.

One day a boat turned up in front of the Bluestone Building, so I decided to paint it. The fourth painting is of the old coalshoot and workshop from the front. With this one I have noticed how much I enjoy painting old buildings tucked away behind big gorgeous trees.
Then there’s the more recently acquired Bedford bus, which has so much character with those friendly round eyes. Lastly the view of our front door from under the wonderful Weeping Elm, one of my favourite breakfast spots.

After the first three paintings I discovered the trick of using masking tape around the edges to create magic borders around each piece. I’m loving this effect. To paint these I am experimenting using my old Pelikan cartridge ink pen that I used at school from the age of 12. I love how the ink actually bleeds with the paint creating really nice and dark depth to the paintings quite quickly.

To carry on with the tour I’d like to bring your attention to this bizarre pipe peeping out of a random concrete block, nicely arched by the beautiful Weeping Elm. The lighting at this moment was beautiful. Next is a cactus in full bloom besides a giant century plant, which flowers only once every hundred years. Notice the window within a window. Then I painted a friend reading her book at the back of the courtyard, I particularly love the rather large birdhouse in the distance.

After this you can see a painting using a charcoal pencil and watercolours. I painted it from within, what we unofficially call, the ‘bus stop’. The brick work here is fantastic as there’s a lot going on with the varieties of bluestone bricks and red bricks and how the plaster has flaked off over time. I always wonder how it originally was. The lighting in this spot is particularly dramatic with the brightness flowing through the window and door in contrast with the wall in front.

The next day was particularly windy so I decided to paint a still-life of the beautiful succulent in a teacup with the long and elegant pepper mill behind it. Both could be found on my kitchen table.

The last picture is probably my favourite, it depicts the old asbestos contaminated building, which used to function as the laundry and bakery. Back in the day they would send the laundry from the Dunedin hospital via train to this building to get it all washed here at the asylum. I love the giant Eucalyptus trees standing in front of the building protecting us from the heavy winds that often come hauling over us. However, I was particularly drawn to the wonky chimney at the top of the building, it has so much character, especially with the dramatic shading.

All right well that’s the end of the tour for now

I hope you enjoyed seeing these as much as I have enjoyed painting them. Please let me know in the comments below.
The originals are available to purchase and if anyone’s interested I can make them into prints, too.
Email me or simply leave a comment, if you’re keen:

I’m going to wrap it up now, but I look forward to seeing you again at the next tour sometime in the future.
I hope you are all able to find a lovely spot somewhere and truly appreciate all the quirks, beauty and entrancing play of light.

Much love and inspiration

Natalie J. Cheetham

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Pic 1 – If you’d like to read more about the building and Robert Arthur Lawson the designer click here
Pic 2 –
Pic 3 –
And here’s the Wikipedia Link if you’d like to learn even more about the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum

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