Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden



Hello’ it’s Christy here. Today we were off to sketch ‘Wendy Whiteley’s Garden’, also known as the ‘Secret Garden’.  And the secret is out. This garden, snugly situated in Lavender Bay is  well worth visiting and our group were in for a special day of sketching.


There were 3 of us on the ferry from Manly to Luna Park today, where we’d be meeting up with everyone.

The ferry ride to the city always feels special for me, there is something so beautiful about seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge come into view as you round the corner into Circular Quay.

We didn’t have to wait long before we were arriving at Luna Park/Milsons point on a smaller tug-boat-like-ferry, and our enthusiastic group joined up and excitedly made our way along the boardwalk to the gardens.

The weather was trying to be good although we were getting a smattering of rain on our walk along the boardwalk, this quickly blew over and before our sketchbooks were even out, the sun had started to shine.


Everyone was in awe of ‘Wendy Whiteley’s Garden’. The way the paths lead you through beautifully sculpted split-level gardens, descending stone stairways which have twisted wooden handrails, and the pleasure of discovering quirky sculptures boldly holding their own in their chosen spot in the gardens.

It is certainly an adventure, and many of our group mentioned how they looked forward to coming back and sketching here again.

Everyone settled and began sketching, surrounded by lush green peace and quiet and chirping birds, except for the occasional squealing coming from Luna Park where school kids were on the upside-down ride!


We transcended into our sketching world inspired by an amazing view of the garden looking back at the Harbour Bridge.

We chatted briefly about how we’d see our composition in layers, and what colours to use creating that push and pull, bringing the foreground forward using bolder colours and the background with less intensity to allow it to move back.

Everyone was most pleased with today’s sketching, and well done!




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It took us a little while to gather everyone today, as is bound to be the case when trying to find one of Sydney’s well kept secret spots…

But, the sketchers who arrived early were well in the mood and took the extra few minutes to do some sketches of their surroundings in Luna Park…including some moving targets…. ah, nothing like the challenge of a twirling merry go round!

We had our coffees and strolled through Luna Park, with the sounds of laughing -ok- screaming children and all their  energy.

Past the Sydney Santa on his “throne” near the ocean (he must have been very hot in this weather!) a quick dance by some of the sketchers in front of the “distortion mirrors” (we are all big kids after all) and we strolled down the boardwalk, stopping to admire the lovely little statues along the way

Through the archway and up the steps to the garden…

WOW, what a place and what a beautiful vista!  One sketcher exclaimed “Why would you need heroin when you have a view like that?!? (referencing Brett Whitely who used to live there) 

We came into the garden and were greeted by a wonderful array of birds whistling … Jozy our avid bird watcher pointed out the “Rails:” These small birds create a lovely song and I had never actually seen one before…

But what’s that?!?  More whistling…but it sounds like “Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be”… That’s not a bird!  Yup, the gardens seem to make birds, sketchers and a random whistling man very happy indeed.

A group of bike riders walked past with their guide telling his group we were the students of Brett Whitely and we all had much potential… None of that small fry stuff thank you very much!

This is Erin Hill Sketching led by Vivianne Hazenveld…  and the students are way beyond the “potential” stage in our 10th week… they are all proving to be wonderful sketchers!

The meandering paths led us to various little treasures, sculptures, palm trees, little hidden spots to sit down and be…and sketch!

Unfortunately what may have been a combination of heat, sun and way too much sketching excitement (coupled with not a lot for breakfast) proved a little too much for one of our sketchers.

After a lie down under the giant fig tree…(with her Chinagraph still held tightly in hand) the group rallied around giving her encouragement (and some food to nibble on) and gently we walked her back to the restaurant. You’ll all be pleased to know that she’s fine now.

So, back at the restaurant, we completed our sketches and enjoyed some incredible harbour views, with some excellent sustenance.

During lunch we had a look at our sketches with some little tips…and then we were off … ready to do some practice over the holidays …. with many saying they were already keen for more sketching in the new year.




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Everyone was in fine spirits this morning with chuckles as two of our sketchers arrived with a matching patterned top on… yes, sketching tips are not the only things our sketchers exchange…

Therese showed us her beautifully sketched Mango Chutney Recipe … and gave me a jar of the actual thing .. Yum!

Down through the busy Luna Park and past the statues with Therese explaining the inspiration behind the gorgeous Gumnut babies.

Entering the garden we had so much choice in which scene to sketch, with one student saying “I’ll have one of those, and one of those and this one over here…”

We were sharing the Secret Garden with some beautiful maidens today.

There for a photo shoot In flowing dresses, perfectly made up faces, with their long hair decorated with large gorgeous flowers…

…..yet deeply immersed in their mobile phones when not being photographed!

While one sketcher did 4 sketches, some chose to spend more time adding delicate details and working a little larger.

Some serious brush envy was experienced as a beautiful new gold handled brush was pulled out and admired.

All totally immersed in what we were doing, one sketcher piped up saying she had forgotten to drink her coffee, another ended up with ants in her pants!

Lots of reminders today on sketching what you SEE, not what you THINK you see.

All is not as it seems it seems! Bike wheels are not round if viewed partly from the side, and square pavers no longer look square when viewed at an angle. A square table top viewed “side on” actually has very little table surface showing to the viewer.

It really helps to do some sketches in your book to nut these things out…if it doesn’t work the first few times, just keep trying till it looks right. That way you are improving your observational skills which will always help you in future sketches.

While we always encourage each sketcher to embrace and develop their own style, if you are a sketcher who does small delicate work but wants to draw big bold sketches…Go for it!

Just try it out, set yourself a very short time frame and just PLAY…

Again give yourself a fair few goes at it in order to get the hang of it…

On to “Deck” restaurant and while our booking had somehow disappeared, the lovely staff soon enough made sure we were seated with spectacular views of the Harbour.

The table was temporarily divided in half with “Sketchers” and “Eaters” though this didn’t last long, as the aroma of food had even the most eager of sketchers to put down their paint brushes for a while … but only temporarily!

The deliciously fresh food was gobbled up and colour was put on our sketches..and soon enough it was time to bid everyone goodbye.

On our way out we passed Santa’s little helpers…clocked off for the day … Still in their green costumes they were all enjoying a well earned beer … though some looking grumpier than others.

The group exchanged hugs and kisses and everyone wished each other a fantastic Christmas and a great new Year … You can really tell that an amazing bond has been formed between these ladies. It’s lovely to see how sketching can bring people together …

I wish you all a fantastic Christmas and New Year … and … alongside Erin, Christy and Judy, I am already looking forward to seeing and sketching with you in 2014.



©Christie&Vivianne for ErinHillStudio2013




  1. This blog post is AMAZING. As a gardener and an amateur doodler, I found this combination of art and garden to be perfect. I’ve always wanted to learn how to paint with watercolor. I’ll definitely paint my garden when I do, and explore other gardens to paint. It feels as if I tagged along with you guys on this trip to the secret garden because of the way you formatted the post. Love it!


  2. Therese

    Vivianne and Christy – I had a lovely day at Wendy Whitely’s Garden (and lunch following). i even managed to pop into the Kirribilli Markets and found a friend with a stall selling christmas decorations she had made. A lovely end of term outing – thank you. Therese


    • Wow, what lovely comments about our sketching adventures.
      Very pleased you all have enjoyed our postings and getting some tips on how we do what we do.
      There’ll be more when we start our new term in February ’14 and some as I travel New Zealand.


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