Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Art of Urban Sketching

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I am head over heels in love with this book. It's full of drawings of urban scenes done by professional and amateur artists on location. It started as a website where the solitary activity of sketching became a shared experience when people posted their efforts online, connected with each other and even met in real life to sketch together. The website then spawned the book, which is an absolute gem.

I love the variety of subject matter: houses, skyscrapers, parks, building sites, public statues, the inside of train carriages, people in cafes, the list goes on. And it's so interesting to see the different styles of drawing, the variety of mediums and the way people choose to frame their subject. There's even a little write-up about the artist, where and what they like to draw and sometimes a little photograph of their sketching tools. I can't tell you how much I love this kind of stuff!

And I love this in the first chapter: 'As hobbies go, urban sketching gives you a lot of bang for your buck. With nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil, you are equipped to start drawing your city or village, the people who live there, and the things that are happening in it.' For more about urban sketchers check out the manifesto.

Inspired by this and by Yvonne's efforts from Muddle on Through I managed to get out on my own (thanks, Kim ;) for an afternoon to draw 'on location'. My experience at the zoo gave me a bit of confidence so I planned to do some drawings outside. I thought I might set myself up on the lawn in front of the State Library where students from the nearby university are often lounging about. But the pretty Autumn day was darkening and I was sure it was going to rain the minute I got out my stuff so instead I headed over the road to the Melbourne Central Shopping centre, grabbed a coffee and found a table.


The good thing about this food court is that, once again, it's full of students, sitting at tables with their laptops open (a surprising number, I discovered, were actually slumped in their chairs asleep! Ah, the student life!).

Drawing people is the bane of my life, it's my achilles heel and I avoid it like the plague (how's that for three cliches in one sentence!?). But I know I shouldn't avoid it but confront it. This location turned out to be a bit of a goldmine because the students engrossed in their laptops didn't really move much more than a few inches. The ones I drew actually held their position more or less for about half an hour! Yesss!


I also got to try out my new travel watercolour set (hooray)!


Watercolour is relatively new to me but I love its portability and the beautiful effects that can be achieved and I'm determined to gain some kind of control over the medium.


At the moment, I'm just bumbling along. But that's okay. I don't mind. It's fun. Oh, and yes, this is the journal I received in a mystery gift exchange from Sago on Tuesdays - I love it! It's the perfect size for sketching in public because you can hold it in your lap easily. And the paper...heaven!

The last drawing is a blind-contour drawing where you look at your subject and make the drawing without looking down at your page at all. The results are always interesting because, while obviously not technically accurate, it always captures a kind of essence of the subject.


This was a lady sitting at a window doing a large and complicated cross-stitch. I think she must have been waiting to meet someone or to be picked up because it looked like she was trying to kill time.

This was a really fun experience and I hope to get a chance to do it again soon. Next time I either want to attempt to complete a whole scene in detail, or do a bit of a sketch-crawl where I try to capture lots of different sketches around the city 'urban-sketch' style!

13 comments:

  1. Such a coincidence! I just ordered this book just last sunday! Now I really can't wait for the deliverance... Ooooh how I would love to go on a sketch crawl together with you. I'm happy for you that you could make the time and get out of your comfort zone to do this. Quite courageous to try out new watercolours and your beuatifully binded new sketchbook. Your drawings are great (the result of the blind one is pretty cool!) and so are the watercolours!

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    1. Koosje, you will love this book so much. Sketch crawl would be awesome. Maybe we should do a 'virtual' one oneday!!

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  2. Ok, I'm officially inspired! The book sounds amazing and I think it might be next on the wish list! I've done a bit of urban sketching when I've been travelling but have never done it at home. Time to change that!

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    1. Yup, this book is inspiring. Especially because it emphasises sketching anywhere. And looking at your own environment with fresh eyes.

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  3. I'm so glad that my journal gets to share your watercolour adventures. I'll link to your blogpost, if that's okay. :D

    ~Sonya~

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    1. Me and this journal will go on many adventures - I just know it. Link away, Sonya :)

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  4. Fantastic! Hmmm, may just have to try that too! And am of course... Nervous..
    But you've inspired me..

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    1. It wasn't anywhere nearly as scary as I imagined. Go for it!

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  5. Thanks for the book review - I'm going to look into that book now! Also, bravo for getting "out there" and sketching in public! The food court seems like a perfect place.

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    1. It was perfect. There was shelter, coffee and very still models! That book is great. I love it!

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  6. Aaaahhh!!! You're so AWESOME!!! :D Yes!!! & amen to that bane of yours - it's mine too ;) So you didn't just face the challenge of drawing in public, you actually drew PEOPLE! You are now officially my hero :D I still need to go and confront that little demon... ;) Sorry about all the shouting here, but reading this makes me so happy and inspired to go out all over again :D
    Oh, and travel watercolours, W&N Artist like mine :) What does your kit look like??
    (bought the book. shipping from Canada at ridiculous courier rates because they warn about delivery times of 7 to 40 (?!) weeks otherwise. but I'll happily accept it as a Mother's Day gift. because I've been a good little mommy. hahaha :D)

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    1. Just sent you an email, Yvonne :) Thanks for the inspiration!

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  7. Bravo! What great sketching and the perfect place to draw people in public. You did very well capturing their body language. You can do quick sketches or longer ones of those sleeping students :) I also use Cotman Watercolors in a little compact kit that has 14 colors and a tiny pull out drawer for mixing paints. Is that the one you're using? It challenges me to mix up the right shades though. I'm used to have lots of acrylic tubes or computer colors to work with. I will have to look for that book in stores.

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