Canberra’s ‘Urban Sketchers’ preserving a record of the city

Lottie Twyford 15 March 2021
Urban sketchers Canberra

Canberra’s group of Urban Sketchers meet once a month in various locations. Photo: Facebook.

Canberra, as the oft-repeated refrain goes – is changing rapidly – and who better to record these changes in real-time than a group of keen local artists?

Leonie Andrews and Sally Black are both members of the Canberra chapter of ‘Urban Sketchers’, an international community of sketchers who get out and draw what they see all around them.

Ms Andrews says it’s a lot like being a “tourist in your own city” and gets you to appreciate the beauty of the everyday.

But, she also says it’s exciting because it’s a record of where you live and forces you to notice the change that people often don’t even register.

She says in Canberra, in particular, the parts which were only built in the 70s and 80s are already being demolished.

For example, she sketched the recent developments in Woden’s Bowes Street. For her, this sort of space is deserving of a record “because they are the bits that disappear and are not necessarily recognised”.

They also both remember sketching The Hamlet, a development of food trucks that popped up for a time in Braddon.

Canberra has lots of “interesting” buildings, they say, making it a fascinating place to sketch. But they don’t only go to famous buildings like the War Memorial, they sketch anything from building sites to dumpsters.

But not everyone understands what they’re doing. Once, while sketching the Queanbeyan Railway Station, the police were called on them!

There are a couple of rules to urban sketching: you have to include the background so that it’s got a location, and you actually have to draw what’s live in front of you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even a completely literal interpretation of it, but you can’t draw from a picture.

Other than that, anything goes.


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Lots of urban sketching happens in cafes, especially in Canberra’s cold winter (you’ve just got to be careful not to dip your brush in your water glass).

Sometimes, however, cafes can be a bit tricky if you’re sketching people as they will get up and leave all the time – sometimes when you’re in the middle of a drawing.

There are two approaches to this, apparently.

Either you avoid people completely, as Mrs Black does, or you draw ‘Frankenpeople’ – find bits and pieces of people and mix and match. After all, there’s always artistic licence.

Ms Andrews says sketching is not so dissimilar to golf: you don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it, but you always want to improve it.

Lots of the group’s members haven’t picked up a pen or pencil in 30 years, but after a bit of practice it becomes second nature again.

The Canberra chapter has been in operation since 2015 after Ms Andrews found out about the international group and got in touch to find out how it all worked. It started in dribs and drabs as people came together, and just happened to be asking about sketching at the same time.

“We don’t care if you’ve got a degree, whether you’re famous, whether you only ever draw for your family – it’s all irrelevant because it’s all about getting out there and drawing,” says Ms Andrews.

They hold monthly meetings across Canberra at various locations, and, in pre-COVID times, there were meet-ups held all over the globe.

If you want to get involved, or just to see what it’s all about, check them out on Facebook.


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