Drawing Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Nearly every day for the last thirty years I have jumped on the number 11 tram to travel down Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. I have wandered along the shops, eaten kebabs, and enjoyed cappucinos and eggs benedict in the cafes. But it took a trip overseas for me to come home and truly “see” Brunswick Street. Now I notice the shapes of the rooftops, the ghost signs, the towers and the cast iron lace. I can’t believe all this beauty has been here in front of me for so long and that I have simply taken it for granted.
No longer. I have challenged myself to a very long term project of drawing the buildings along Brunswick Street. As a librarian I also want to research the history of the area so that I can learn more about the people who lived here in times past. I want to learn more about this local community of mine, and discover how I fit in. It’s going to take a very long time – years in fact – so that in itself will be a lesson in patience and mindfulness for me. If you would like to follow along with me you can keep an eye on this blog, or follow me on Instagram.
Acknowledgement of country
Before going any further, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land around Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, the Wurundjeri people, and to pay my respects to their ancestors and elders both past and present.
My drawings highlight a fairly recent urban history, only since the 1850s, and I’ll be getting my stories from passers by, vintage photos and old newspapers. The indigenous history of the area is much better described by people other than myself, and you can read more about it here – https://aboriginalhistoryofyarra.com.au/ and https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/
Videos about my Brunswick Street sketches
Blog posts – sketching in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
As lockdown 2 started to settle, and we were allowed out of our homes, I headed back to the top end of Brunswick Street. I wanted to illustrate the impact of the pandemic on the local community. I sat under a verandah at the corner of Westgarth Street and drew locals chatting on a mosaic chair wearing masks. Some things don’t change though. The building housed a butcher’s shop back in 1925 and it still does today.
When coronavirus arrived we all bunkered down at home. When we briefly emerged in June our little group decided to play it safe and stay away from crowds. So we moved north, and crossed the great divide of Alexandra Parade. I drew quickly, worried about another lockdown – and of course it happened. The first stop on my way out was at polyester records – closed, but within my 5 km boundary.
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.
Instagram – #helendrawsbrunswickstreet
Australian artist, urban sketcher, librarian with a long term project to draw all of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Prints available through my website.