The Facebook call to action says: ‘Meet at Southern Cross station next to the clock.’ It sounds ominous, but to members reading the Melbourne Urban Sketchers page, it’s an invitation for like-minded artists to arm themselves with pen, pencil, paint and pad, and sketch a specific cityscape.
When my sister Lyn first suggested I join the group I found myself screwing up my nose and saying: ‘But I’m not good enough and I haven’t sketched outdoors much’.
The David Hockney exhibition at the National Gallery in 2016 inspired me to use the iPad to draw, but I started to get RSI from using the stylus on it. I then turned to weekly Life Drawing and Watercolour painting classes for stimulation and the bonus, a supportive environment.
For my first Urban Sketcher experience at The Botanic Gardens, Lyn and I chose to sit on the grass overlooking the lake. In my naivety I planned to capture the moody reflections, ducks, gondola and passengers, the island and surrounding vegetation, with Government House in the background. It was challenging and resulted in an incredibly busy painting on my small A5 sketchpad.
Unperturbed, on a wintery Saturday morning, I cycle to Southern Cross station for my next Urban Sketcher rendezvous wearing a puffa jacket with my three legged stool hanging out of the panier. I’m excited and imagine my helmet is a beret and the stool a breadstick.
In bed the night before I mentally scope out a vantage point at the station to capture the scalloped undulations of the roof and a train. I remind myself that less is more. To limit my subject and to capture the mood I decide to take a black sketchpad with four earthy coloured pencils.
Once again I meet my sister and acknowledge some of the sketchers gathered. The two of us head to the mezzanine floor for our view point. Another sketcher joins us and a few travellers stop and stare. A friend of my sister arrives from Frankston, recognises her and stays for a chat.
At an agreed time, sketchers drift back to the clock for the informal group reveal. Sketchpads, large and small, landscape and portrait, are unveiled and spread out on the grey tiled station floor. Curious passers-by stop and stare and merge into our group. When a modest collection of art assembles, I slip my pencil drawing in and hear someone say: ‘Oooh black paper, that’s a good idea.’ And I’m chuffed.
A visual travel diary and mini watercolour paint set now accompany me on every trip. Unlike a photo, sketching gives a deeper connection to a place through meticulous observation of shape, light and colour. Any wonder the Urban Sketcher fraternity is a rapidly expanding international group.