One of my favourite places to go sketching is at a fish market. When I’m home in Melbourne this usually means stopping into the gorgeous meat and fish hall of the Queen Victoria market, a 19th century architectural gem that bustles with colour and activity most days of the week(early weekday mornings is best for sketching, before the crowds arrive). On my first day at art school at RMIT our drawing class was marched down here to sketch among the fishmongers and butchers, and I’ve loved it ever since. When I’m abroad I seek out fish markets to paruse, either drawing in situ or buying some fish to paint a study of back in my room(the hotels love it when I do this…). It’s a wonderful insight into the region I’m in, and the variety of piscean delights always amazes me.
I lived in Seattle in the mid-90s, and would often go sketching at the Pike Place Market – ducking the sockeye salmon that the sellers would routinely hurl through the air to eachother accross the aisles. I mostly sketched in fine line pen in those days – not a great ‘archival’ brand either apparently, my old sketchbooks are very ‘yellowed’ now. This was a monk fish, which is extremely ferocious looking, and the fishmongers got a great kick out of tying a string to the top jaw which they would jerk when people went in for a closer look…
Pike Place Market
The Neopolitan waterfront is wonderful to explore, and on my first visit there in 2001 I stopped into the fish market for a morning to sketch a superb catch of sword fish one of the stalls had freshly procured. I had to bwe quick, these magnificent metre-long fish were quickly carved into steaks and fillets before my eyes. One of the best things about sketching on travels is that it’s an instant ‘ice-breaker’, and I recall chatting in very broken Italian and English with the fishmongers in Naples, a number of whom had family in Melbourne. They were very proud of their ‘pesce spade’. I chose a challenging angle with this first sketch, the distinctive ‘sword’ is foreshortened dramatically.
In 2006 I received a large commission from the Sultan of Oman which involved a month travelling and collecting reference around the country. Although I didn’t go on to produce a larger painting of the Sinaw Fish Souk, this was perhaps my favourite morning of sketching. It’s a small town on the edge of the Arabian desert, and has a large Thursday market that is frequented by Bedouin tribes people. This is the main sketch I did at the fish souk, and the fishmonger was keen to hold up his largest tuna as I drew.
Fishmonger and Tuna
Sinaw Fish Souk
Sinaw Fish Souk
Joh chatting with the fishmongers, Sinaw.
One of the great food markets of the world, Borough Market in London was a regular spot for me to spend a morning. I’d begin with a coffee at Monmouth Coffee Co., before sketching in the towering fruit and vegetable stalls, or the fish and game stands. It’s quite expensive, and so I didn’t do a lot of actual shopping there(a stop at Waitrose on the way home), but I could rarely go past the wild boar sausage stand without a bite, or a Cornish pasty. It’s always very busy too, even early, so these are just ‘thumbnail’ sketches essentially.
I’d travelled to Denmark form London for a weekend to see and paint a tallship festival in this beautiful Scandinavian town. Spending most of my time on the waterfront I painted scores of beautiful 19th/early 20th century ships from all over the world, but was also naturally attracted to the fish stalls along the cobbled docks. This magnificent sailfish grabbed my eye, and I filled one and a half pages of my small sketchbook with him.
Arhus Fish Market
This ruby red tuna caught my eye in the glorious Venice Fish Market. I visited early one morning, before the local shoppers arrived, and then ducked into a nearby cafe for my morning coffee. The calamari is king in Venice – I still dream of their spaghetti al nero di seppia – squid ink pasta…
Tuna, Scampi and Calamari
Venice Fish Market
I returned to Oman in mid 2012 whilst researching Arabian horses, and took the opportunity on the last morning to stop by Muscat’s Muttrah Fish Souk. I spent a lot of time sketching and photographing the stalls, but then at one point followed a worker down an alley that let to a dock and a dozen or so fishing boats and frenzied trading activity playing out against the glistening backdrop of Muscat harbour.
Fish on matting
Muttrah Fish Market
This small private market is on the beautiful Victoria Dock in Hobart, and is surrounded by the fleet of boats that fish the local waters. Much of Hobart’s Georgian architecture remains in tact on the docks, and amongst other plaudits, this is one of Australia’s most beautiful spots to enjoy fish & chips.
Alfonsino, snapper, blue-eyed trevalla and ocean trout.
Mures Fish Market
A trip to Sydney is never complete for me without a sketching trip to the Fish Market, in fact it’s usually my first port of call. The Easter trading to here is legendary, with enormous crowds gathering from 4am to get their hands on the fresh fish that is still traditionally is served on many Australian tables on Good Friday.
Sydney Fish Market
Sydney Fish Market
The Sasson Market in Mumbai is a labyrinth of dark corridors and ramshackle food stalls, selling everything from the locally grown pepper and cinnamon, to buffalo meat, fresh and fragrant tropical fruits and live chickens. Obviously the fish market drew me in, and I spent a morning sketching around the bounty of the local waterways and the Arabian Sea.
Prawn sellers, Sasson Market, Mumbai
I know most of the fishmongers at the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne by their first name these days, so often am I in there sketching. When things get busy and I’m not done I have been known to buy up a swag of local seafood and take it home to the studio – the obvious advantage being that I then get to cook it up afterwards!
Redfish and Mullet
Queen Victoria Market
Fish Still life(Queen Victoria Market)