RoadTrip2021: A few days in Canberra

June 1, 2021 | 3 Comments

Arriving In Canberra (Monday)

It’s hard to believe that it’s over 11 years since I was last in Canberra. It’s only a few hours’ drive from Sydney but I just haven’t been able to make it down there. So I was really excited to be finally returning. I love Canberra – both the incredible layout of the city and a few of its iconic buildings. It’s such a unique city and it was a huge change from the other towns/cities I had visited on this trip.


The city was designed by Walter and Marion Griffin and the Visitor Centre (my first stop in Canberra) has a cool exhibition on her work.


It included a video explaining the design of the city (showing the main axes) and an animation of one of her drawings – it had a pencil-on-paper soundtrack which was a little funny for the watercolour sections.


And across the lake I had my first view of my favourite building in Canberra – the High Court of Australia.


The last sketch I did during my 2010 visit to Canberra was of the Carillon, Lake Burley Griffin and Black Mountain Tower. This time, it was my first sketch!

I sketched from the same spot but at a different time in the day. Hmm, my work has changed a lot in the past decade.


The sun was going down quickly, so I went to check into my AirBnB in the new area of Kingston Foreshore. Just a little bit different from the neighbourhoods I’d been staying in recently (such as the Grain House in Albury seen here and the Studio in the vineyard here.)


View from my apartment.



The next morning the view was a little foggy!


I went out to the street and was picked up by my friend, local sketcher Sally Black, who had organised a USK Canberra meet.


First stop was the National Library…


…for breakfast at the lovely cafe – The Bookplate. I had to take a photo of the very specific number of people that can enter the building.


As the note on the page says, something was funny with my washes that morning (different air in Canberra perhaps?)

Note: I’m partly joking about the Canberra air! I did a bit of Canberra-teasing while I was there – but not only in good fun. Some people say it is a dull place but personally, I love it! And I enjoyed talking to Sally about why she loves living there.

I managed to sketch the exterior of the library during the sketchmeet.


A fairly warm sunny morning and a lovely time with the USK Canberra group outside the National Portrait Gallery.


This is a wonderful building but the trees have grown so much in the past 10 years that you can no longer see an overall view of it. So this was the best on offer.


I had a little over 30 minutes until the sketchbook ‘throwdown’ so I wandered off to do a sketch of the High Court Building. I love this building – it’s so grand and monumental, and has lots of interesting shapes and details. And, well, I just love a good brutalist building and some serious concrete! 🙂

But it had a new and special meaning for me after all the regional courthouses I have sketched this trip! 


Here is a group photo of the gang (plus Leonie who took the photo).


And the sketchbook throw-down. We all then went and had lunch together.


After lunch, Sally and I went to the lake side of the High Court building (the more interesting facade) as I wanted to sketch it again! The 2010 version is here.


It’s a very tricky building to sketch… and once I had finished this, I wanted to have another go as I had worked out the best method for tackling it. Hmm, will I be able to remember it for my next visit to Canberra?


Sally then took me to the ‘happening’ part of Canberra. The Nishi Building and New Acton.

Of course, I teased her about Canberra’s version of ‘happening’ – it was deserted. But it was busy inside the Nishi where we went for a late afternoon cup of tea and some hot chips. It was seriously ‘happening’ in there!


A challenging building – The Shine Dome – with the wonky Nishi building behind. Why is the Shine Dome challenging? Because it’s a pure form and hard to draw perfectly.


The new copper roof on the dome was very gorgeous… but I was a little sad that the old copper green roof was gone and I couldn’t use my turquoise paint!

The day ended with a lovely dinner with Sally and Charles, and Leonie and Steve. Sketching 5 out of the 7 dishes at a group dinner such as this is pretty good going don’t you think?



The next morning was beautiful and clear but cold and windy! I did some work in the morning and walked into Kingston proper (as opposed to the foreshore area) to get a few things.


Sally picked me up mid-morning and we had a great coffee at Penny University Cafe in Kingston. Later in the afternoon I finished off this spread by sketching the courtyard view from my apartment.


Next, we had a quick stop at the Glassworks – somewhere to come and sketch on a future visit.


And then we went back to the museum precinct (is that what it’s called?) because I had to sketch the National Art Gallery. Designed by the same architect as the High Court, it’s another Brutalist Beauty.


We found a good spot to sit (although the wind was cold!)


And I overworked my sketch… those long and thin blade columns are hard to sketch loosely. You would think that after all the verandah buildings I have sketched this trip that I would find it easy now. No, not at all! Each building is its own challenge!


I had another go – zoomed in on the entrance area… but it was still challenging! (Maybe the non-stop chatting with Sally was a factor!)

We then had a quick lunch and tried to find a good view of the War Memorial. It was getting very very cold but now with strong gusts. So I was really pleased with my first sketch of it.


This was the view we had sitting on a hill totally exposed to those cold winds.


I tried another version – starting with shapes. I achieved some lovely washes but I was just getting too cold and the building turned out much wider than I intended.

Another map which I will need to finish, but it’s a good summary of my adventures and the plan of the main part of Canberra.


Finally, a huge thanks to Sally for looking after me so well and sharing lots of laughs. Sally has a fun wonky approach to sketching buildings (see here and here) and it is nice to know that I’m not the only person who talks to themselves while sketching. We had so much fun – thanks Sally!

I had such a great time in Canberra and it definitely added something different to my trip. Next, I was off to Goulburn and then home… so only one more of these articles to go!


  • Laurie H says:

    Thanks Liz for sharing your art and country. I appreciate that you post photos of the things you sketch and your sketches which helps me see how you represent it. I hope to visit Australia someday which does seem a long way off at this point. I loved following your road trip!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Laurie – I’m so happy to be able to explore this part of my world and share it with everyone!

  • Angela Vular says:

    Your trip was so much fun to follow. I felt like I was there. You shared so many interesting facts about your country and your sketches are amazing. I am always in awe of the amount of work you produce and all the information you are able to share. I’ve taken a few of your classes and they are so informative and detailed. I feel a little sad that the road trip has ended! Thanks so much for sharing.

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