There is no end to eateries in Brunswick Street, but not many of them have an open fireplace like the Fitz to tempt cold sketchers on a rainy Melbourne morning. Opposite was, at one stage (sadly now gone) Attaboy Roy. It took us a while to realise we were drawing “Fitz – Roy”. The building that housed Brown and Scott’s Drapery in 1905 is now Polly Bar.
Spin around the corner of Johnston and Brunswick Street and you’ll see something completely different to draw in every direction. Change your view in a rooftop bar, and the world shifts again. That impossibly bendy IOOF building just never seems to make any sense, whatever the angle, but it and the old post office are still the landmarks they were in 1911.
Before the pandemic put an end to traveling overseas, our little gaggle of sketchers often enjoyed the company of international guests. The urban sketching community is known for its hospitality, and there is surely no better place to take a fellow artist than the Black Cat. We feel a real fondness for this Melbourne icon, and there is drawing inspiration in every direction.
The friendships I have made while sketching Brunswick Street have been an absolute joy, and it isn’t just about a shared love of art. Urban sketchers build up a mighty appetite when sitting out in the cold for a few hours, and after drawing all morning we wander up Brunswick Street for a fine lunch together. We are spoilt for choice. Of course, any café becomes another excuse for a sketch or two.
Fitzroy has been a place of constant change. The pink building crowned by birds in my drawing is almost unrecognisable unless you spot it next to Davies Drapers shop in 1861. I could see cracks which suggested a shapely curve over the windows when I was sketching, but couldn’t imagine what was missing. Sadly the beautiful draper’s shop on the corner has been torn down. What a loss.
Cohealth and the Brotherhood of St Laurence snuggle up opposite the housing commission flats. I love the green building next to cohealth and the bright red flowers flowing from the window box nearby. These must have been built after 1910, because the previous buildings exploded!
My friend Alf laughs at how long it took me to draw every building on the west side of Brunswick Street from Victoria Parade to Gertrude Street. He says it was a year, but he exaggerates – it was just six months. It was a special occasion as I picked up my sketching things and we finally crossed at the lights. Back in 1866 they didn’t seem to need traffic lights. Or did they?
I have been drawing Brunswick Street for nearly 2 years, and I move along very slowly. You can see how the seasons change from one picture to the next. There are lots of clues about when I was there. Look closely. Were the bins out? Was a house for sale? Were there leaves on the trees? One day I spotted bright pink magnolias blooming and rushed back to paint them. The next week they were gone …
I began drawing Brunswick Street at the corner of Victoria Parade in January 2019, starting with the three storey building once known as the Belvidere Hotel. It doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1864,, at least on the outside, although I do wonder what those men with top hats were up to! Old news articles suggest scandalous behaviour and it is where union members started their fight for the 8 hour working day.
Fitzroy Library Exhibition November 2020 to January 2021: Brunswick Street Fitzroy sketches and urban history
Brunswick Street Fitzroy: sketches and urban history is an exhibition of sketches, illustrations, vintage photographs and clippings from old newspapers that share my long term passion for the architecture, history and community of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. All of my artwork was drawn on location over the last couple of years, with watercolour added to the longer streetscapes in my studio.