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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.

Seattle, USA
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…
  
Monk fish
(ink)
Pike Place Market
Seattle
USA
1996

Naples, Italy
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.

  
Sword fish
(watercolour)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001
  Sword Fish
(watercolour)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001
 Sword Fish
(pen&ink with gouache)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001

Sinaw, Oman
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
(watercolour) 
Sinaw Fish Souk
Oman
2006
  
Fishmonger
(pen&ink) 
Sinaw Fish Souk
Oman
2006
  Joh chatting with the fishmongers, Sinaw.

London, UK
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.

  
Dorset crab
(watercolour)
Borough Market
London
UK
2007
  Octopus
(watercolour)
Borough Market
London
UK
2007

Arhüs, Denmark
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. 
  
Sailfish
(watercolour)
Arhus Fish Market
Denmark
2007

Venice, Italy
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
(watercolour)
Venice Fish Market
Italy
2010
Muscat, Oman
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
(watercolour)
Muttrah Fish Market
Oman
2012

Hobart, Australia

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. 
(watercolour)
Mures Fish Market
Hobart
Australia 
2015


Sydney, Australia
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.  

  
Australian Bonito
(watercolour)
Sydney Fish Market
Australia
2013
  
Tuna
(watercolour)
Sydney Fish Market
Australia
2015

Mumbai, India

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. 
  
Indian Salmon
(watercolour)
Sasson Market
Mumbai
India
2015
  
Prawn sellers, Sasson Market, Mumbai

Melbourne, Australia
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
(watercolour)
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne
2015

  
Salmon
(watercolour)
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne
2015
  
Queen Vic Market fish still life set-up in my Melbourne studio.
  
Sketching in my studio with my artist friend, Diane Mah. 

  

Fish Still life(Queen Victoria Market)
(watercolour)
2015

  
Prawn and Oyster Still life(Queen Victoria Market)
(watercolour)
2015
  
The feast afterwards! (Betsy particularly interested in the oysters…)

It’s a bit of a fine-tuned ritual for me, as anyone who knows me will attest – the morning café. I started dabbling in my 20’s, living in Seattle, a morning coffee before I started the painting day, I had an apartment on Lake Washington, and decent local cafe a few minutes stroll away. I’d take my camera and detour along the shore – snap some pics of ducks and geese on the lake en route.

Returning to Melbourne in 2001 it soon became the one regular event of my day, and my retrurn coincided with Melbourne’s emeregence as, in my humble opinion, the good coffee capital of the world. I can say that with some confidence as no matter where I’m travelling in the world I always seek out a cafe in the morning, and while Europe has the most stunning and atmospheric cafès(particularly Paris, Vienna and the entire country of Italy), for pure coffee flavour and excellence – Melbourne is the place.

At the risk of having already alienated 90% of non-Melburnian people reading, here are some sketches and tales from a smattering of cafés I’ve warmed seats in over the years, in no particular order…

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Compañia del Tropico de Cafe y TE
Cordoba, Spain
2008

I learnt a valuable lesson in Cordoba, an obvious one now – for a better coffee in Europe, order what the locals order. The barista did make a cappuchino, my usual drink, when I ordered it, but it wasn’t very good. I listened to these locals early in the morning(the streets buzz late into the night in Spain, but they also get started early which I love) and my second coffee here was a ‘Café con Leche'(coffee with milk), and it was delicious.
The men were obviously long-time regulars, and while I only caught the odd word in their conversations, I enjoyed their animation and running commentary on the local early morning news on the mounted television glowing in the corner.
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The most beautiful water containers in Spanish cafés too, a sketch of a lion-headed porcelain jug in a Madrid cafe.

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Monmouth Coffee Company(view from)
Borough Market
London
United Kingdom
2007

Any Antipodean moving to London soon learns that the only cafés safe to drink at are those owned or run by Australians of New Zealanders.
As it happens the MCC’s main cafe is at the gourmet Mecca of Borough Market, so after you’ve shopped for duck eggs, italian truffles and wild partridge(n.b. I never bought any of these items there, but one could…) I’d settle into this large hole-in-the wall cafe for some beautiful coffee, and a read of the Guardian(Yes, I am ok with being a cliché). It was a regular crowd of Aussies and Kiwis, and gourmand London-types.

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Imperial Hotel Breakfast Room
Delhi
India
2010

Joh and I stayed in some gorgeous hotels in Rajasthan, but when we first landed in India it was a less than auspicious little inn in Old Delhi. And then we discovered the Imperial – one of the great classic hotels of India. We didn’t actually stay there…we’d get a tuk-tuk there every morning and slip into the luxurious 1920’s dining room for breakfast and coffee…Very distinctive coffee in India, a subtle spiciness, which I was never sure was added or just inherent in the local coffee beans.
Mostly wealthy Europans breakfasting here, and Indian business folk. After a couple of coffees I’d leave Joh reading through the papers and explore this hotel’s superb art collection on display around the corridors.

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65 Degrees
309 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Australia
2014

This is perhaps my favourite Melbourne city cafe, originally discovered because it’s open at 6am weekday mornings. The coffee is delicious, they roast it themselves, and the Edwardian era building is a bonus. Mostly a business crowd, and I don’t often sketch there, but I do love leafing through The Age at their counter while it’s still dark outside and sipping 2-3 cappuchino before I get into my city errands.

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Cafe Edison
New York
USA
2013

This was a very nice discovery on my North American trip last year, a cafe quite close to my hotel near Times Square. It was a part of the Hotel Edison, and what it lacked in decent coffee(Classic American diner percolator coffee) it made up for in New York ambience. It’s old-world New York, the ornate interior is a former ballroom(I think that’s the old band stand in the top right). It was quite busy on both visits, a mix of New Yorkers and tourists, and I was seated at the beautiful curved counter both times. The matzo ball soup was amazing!

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Caffe E Panforte
Florence
Italy
2011

This guy was great. Surly as all hell to me and every other guy in there, but he’d have a real spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye with every woman who entered…Cappuchinos were good, but once again it’s the old world elegance and ambience of European cafés that make them so special. This place was right off Piazza Republica, where we were staying last time, and after a walk and a sketch and lots and lots of photos on the beautiful streets of Florence it was lovely to warm up in here with a coffee and a panforte, and a pissed-off glance from this guy.

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Market Square Cafe
Sinaw
Oman
2007

This is a view of a coffee seller from a small cafe in Sinaw, a market town in eastern Oman. A fascinating place, Joh and I stopped in here on our drive south towards Sur, researching for my first commission from the Sultan of Oman. The coffee was strong and very rich, and we also had some delicious fresh fruit juice at the cafe. It was a wonderful place to sit and watch the market, a mix of resident traders and shoppers and gorgeously attired Bedouin men and women in town to stock-up on supplies. I got caught up later in the fish souk doing portraits of the traders, including one particularly proud fishmonger who insisted on holding up a large tuna as I drew him.

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The Gunshop Cafe
Brisbane, Queensland
Australia
2006

This is one of Brisbane’s sensational cafés, located near the bottom end of Boundary Road in Westend. This was our local when Joh and I first met, our first six months together up in Brisvegas. It was a 5 minute walk form Joh’s flat, and weekends in particular I’d be up early and landing us a table(always big queues here), later to be joined by Joh and the weekend papers. It would be 11am before the local newsagent would get an imported copy of the Saturday Age, but these days the iPad app means no waiting(love it when the world bands together to find solutions for first-world problems…)Wonderful food here, the potato and feta hash cakes are legendary.

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Café Sperl
Vienna
Austria
2012

A survey of world cafés would not be complete without a Vienese entry. On my most recent visit in 2012 I visited a number of classic cafes – the bohemian Hawelka Café, imperial Café Central(both below in an earlier entry, ‘A Vienese Sketchbook’), and elegant Café(Hotel) Sacher, but I took a particular liking to Café Sperl, near the main city market. It’s a cavernous, L-shaped interior, with shabby old world furnishings and fixtures, and lovely rich wainscotting along the boothes. I almost had the place to myself the morning I walked there, and enjoyed a delicious
Wiener Melange (Viennese Blend), and a croissant( which any Vienese will tell you was developed in Vienna).

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Café Jorden
Aarhus
Denmark
2007

I visited Aarhus from London in 2007, a weekend tallship festival where I was researching a maritime exhibition I was painting for King Island. It was a lovely Nordic city, all the more atmospheric for the dozens of glorious schooners, barques and clippers in harbour at the time. Cold though, and Café Jorden quickly became my favourite spot to shelter. Thanks to a random ‘bump-into’ of a friend that weekend – one of Lonely Planet’s main Scandinavian writers – I got to know quite a few bars in town too.

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The Wolseley
London
United Kingdom
2006

My years spent in London are why I’m featuring another of their cafés – it’s not an endorsement of the city’s coffee. And certainly not at the Wolseley – better to order tea here at this Picadilly institution. Such a gorgeous venue though, and it was one of the few breakfast spots in London where the black pudding wasn’t that manky supermarket freezer type. Cafe Nero is the ubiquitous cafe chain in England, and while the venues themselves were often in gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian shop fronts, what really kept me coming back was that I perfected how to forge(with watercolour) the red stamps on their loyalty cards…

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Jack and Daisy
Pascoe Vale
Melbourne
2014

And this is my current local. A five minute walk away from home – though these days it’s a 45 minute walk with our dog Betsy, and a table out the front. Fantastic coffee, and delicious breakfasts – we come here often on weekends with friends and they do a roaring trade in the rambling rooms and courtyard.


Well, there’s an even dozen cafés over the last few years, the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ really. And yes I do spend an hour or two in them every day, but as a painter working from home, it’s often my only human interaction in a day, save for Joh, so getting it right is paramount. I could have added more from every city, and lots more countries – France didn’t even get a look in, and Parisian cafés are amongst my favourites. But considering I could easily dedicate an entire blog to cafés and have no problem filling page after page – be thankful I stopped here…