This week we should have been exhibiting another year of Brunswick Street sketches at the Black Cat. But, alas, due to Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdowns it is now on the back burner 🙁

The Black Cat in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, is a Melbourne icon. It is Cool, with a capital C. It’s retro. It’s quirky. They have a DJ. They support local artists. Like us.

There was a time when I’d walk past and see people lounging confidently on the retro velvet couches with their lattes or cocktails, or sitting under the vines outside with their beers, dogs at their feet, and I couldn’t imagine fitting in there. Because (spoiler alert) I am NOT Cool. Not with a capital C or even a small one. I am the absolute opposite. I would say I was daggy. My daughter says I’m just unfashionable. I am now also middle aged – as long as I live to 110. Plus I’m a librarian with glasses and a favourite cardigan. Enough said.

But one Tuesday my fellow urban sketchers and I wandered up to the Black Cat for lunch after drawing the buildings along Brunswick Street. We were hungry, and the sandwich menu looked tasty. Alf, our venerable senior, settled back with his beer under the shade of the vines, and gave a groan of pleasure. Full marks from him. We ordered up toasties, coffees and banana bread, and opened our sketchbooks to draw. Staff stopped to chat and look at our sketches, and made sure we knew we were welcome. They even slipped us contact details in case we wanted to exhibit (which we did). From that point on, the Black Cat became our little group’s unofficial home. Our go to place.

It turns out that the coolest thing about the Black Cat is that they don’t give a hoot whether you are young, old, cool, boring, or downright weird. Everyone is welcomed with a smile. Followed closely by something to drink and munch on 🙂

The Black Cat is on the ground floor corner of an amazing three storey Victorian building – or is it four storeys if you count the towers? I drew it from the other side of the street one chilly Melbourne morning, sitting outside a cake shop – the things I do for art! The golden and orange bricks were the perfect opportunity to dive into some of my favourite Daniel Smith watercolours – I’m looking at you, Tranparent Pyrrol Orange, Aussie Gold and Quin Gold!

The Black Cat’s quirkiness is an urban sketcher’s dream. No matter which way you turn there is something interesting to capture. We try to draw every view inside and out – including the staff, the customers, visiting artists sketching alongside us, and even the cement truck that pulled up opposite one day. I figure that if my family join us for lunch then they are definitely fair game for a portrait. I have also starred in quite a few – Di is an especially good portrait artist, and she has inspired me to include more people in my drawings.

One day we enjoyed the company of Rob Sketcherman from Hong Kong, who is famous for urban sketching on his ipad. We shared a lot of laughs and stories about how we each started urban sketching. There are some people who are simply joyous, and Rob is surely one of them. You can spot him drawing on his ipad in the middle of my sketch.

Last November we were invited to exhibit our sketches at the Black Cat and it was a fabulous opportunity to celebrate with my Tuesday urban sketching clan. Their company was a highlight of my year, and they motivated me to keep going with my Brunswick Street Sketchography. The bubbly flowed on opening night, and it was a great excuse to celebrate and catch up with friends and family. We even managed to sell some work!

We wandered back for lunch one Tuesday while our artwork was still up, and ran into an urban sketcher from Noumea who had gone to the Black Cat especially to see our exhibition. He had seen it mentioned on Facebook. The urban sketching world is, indeed, a special one, where you can always strike up a conversation with a fellow sketcher, wherever you may be. We would probably never have met Dany without the Black Cat exhibition.

In the photo below are Alf, Di, myself, Jill and Jam on opening night. We really had a ball 🙂

This week our little group would have been back exhibiting our Brunswick Street sketches for a second year. At least that was the plan before the world was turned upside down by coronavirus. Instead, the Black Cat and other bars have been closed for months, most Melbournites have been confined to their homes, and we haven’t been able to sketch together as a group for a very long time.

I’m disappointed, but more than anything I feel for the staff at the Black Cat, and the other small businesses that have been hit by the sadly necessary restrictions on business as we navigate this pandemic. It is especially tough in hospitality and creative industries. No-one could have foreseen our vibrant city being locked down for month after month, and the streets so deserted. It has been a really difficult year, and I hope that the Black Cat and other businesses can hang on until things get back to what is bizarrely being called “covid normal”. Certainly our group is busting to meet up again to sketch together and enjoy a toastie at the Black Cat.

Let’s hope it’s soon.

What about you? What impact has this worldwide pandemic had on your creative life? Is there a cafe, bar or other small business that you would normally have been sketching at? Would you like to give them a little shout out? Maybe we can share some more artist friendly places to support in person when it is safe to be back there again.

PS: If you’re interested in prints of my sketches duck into my shop.