By Robyn Canning
As my interest in learning about art and artists grew, I subscribed to several newsletters online. Each week after shopping, I would look forward to my coffee and reading the Doodlewash and Angela Fehr newsletters.
It was in the Doodlewash newsletter's “Feature Artist” section that I discovered Australian artist Charles Sluga. I read his article and looked at his paintings in the article and saw a style of art that really appealed to me - loose watercolour landscapes and seascapes. I looked up his website and found he had an art gallery in Yackandandah, Victoria. We had travelled through Yackandandah many years ago, and I remember it as a quaint little town, 20 minutes from Albury, NSW and not far from the beautiful tourist town of Beechworth. Charles also conducted workshops at his gallery, and I looked at those to see what might interest me.
In October 2020, I booked a place for the Urban Sketching course for April 2021. We all had our fingers crossed lockdowns would be eased by then, and the course would go ahead. It was a week-long course, and my husband and I planned to stay in Wodonga for the week I would travel the 20 minutes daily to the gallery in Yackandandah. Charles had a provision for a refund of the deposit if the course had to be cancelled because of lockdowns which I thought reasonable.
Luck was on our side as April was one of the short periods of ‘freedom’ that year! It was a perfect autumn week for urban sketching, and I joined an enthusiastic group of people at the gallery on a beautiful sunny Monday morning. Charles and his wife, Nancy (photographer and picture framer), were wonderful hosts. Charles has a great sense of humour, and this relaxed the class immediately and set us up for an enjoyable week. The first day we spent in the gallery talking about the basics of urban sketching and expectations for the week. We also sketched in the town - on the street and in several shops where Charles had asked permission for us to sketch. On our first day, we learned Nancy was a wonderful cook, and at morning tea, we sampled her scones, jam and cream with our cuppa! That became a daily ritual, wherever we were - Nancy would arrive with coffee, tea and delicious homemade cake for morning tea!
The distraction of food didn’t deter our eagerness to sketch! We travelled to a disused local dairy farm in the Kiewa Valley with lots of old machinery, a shed full of old tools, an old cow shed and wonderful scenery. We all set up with our sketchbooks and chairs in various parts of the property to sketch to our heart's content! Charles encouraged us to sketch fast and loose and avoid getting tied up with detail. There were some very accomplished artists in the group that had chosen the course specifically to loosen up their sketching. They struggled with the ‘fast and loose’ style, but their sketches were fabulous! Fast and loose was perfect for me as I had no real idea how to sketch from "real life", and my sketches tended to be probably too loose. Adding a little colour at the end seemed to bring them to life!
Another day we sketched at the Botanical Gardens in Albury. These are beautiful gardens with lots of inspirational subjects. Wodonga’s old train station was another location full of interesting things to sketch. They converted this into a cafe and seating area, and Charles encouraged us to sketch people - once again in a fast and loose style. In our introduction, Charles had given us tips about how to do this, and he wanted us to practice on location. We also did a challenging sketch of a building from a difficult perspective, which I have to say was really hard, and I wasn’t sure that was one I enjoyed!
On the final day, we sketched in Beechworth. So many choices of old buildings for inspiration, but it was very busy with tourists and a little difficult to sketch on the street due to the narrow paths. I chose a lovely old house with a picket fence, which taught me much about using values to improve my piece.
This was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to when I can do another course with Charles. He has a “Still Life with a Twist” course that I’m interested in, so we’ll see what the future brings!
Thanks for having a read, and I wish you a great week!