At the start of 2017, while living in Gloucestershire, I made a New Year’s resolution to draw more from real life, to be specific to begin urban sketching. If you aren’t sure what that means, it is simply drawing what you see in an ‘urban’ location. The aim is draw on site using whatever supplies you brought with you. Of course, no-one is going to stop you taking your sketch home and improving it or adding colour, but the intention is the sketches are created from real life.
There is a whole global art community dedicated to the practice of urban sketching; in hundreds of cities and towns in many countries sketching groups meet up to draw their environments. This community is known as USk and they have their own website listing each affiliated group around the world. That’s not to mention all of the unofficial groups around the world. It’s exciting to feel part of something so big, their website says:
“Come join us in showing the world one drawing at a time.”
and that sounds like a great adventure to be part of. Sure photos are great, but art can be so much more interesting.
At first I couldn’t find a group in Gloucestershire to join so I would go out sketching on my own. The sketch below is my first intentional Urban Sketch. I drew it sat on a bench in the middle of March, wrapped up cozy in my big coat and hat. I chose my church (Mariners) surrounded by the historic Gloucester docks as my first drawing. I sketched in pencil on location, then added colour at home using a mixture of Posca paint pens and coloured pencils from the pound shop.
Mariners are a very friendly supportive church, and when they saw my sketch on Facebook asked if they could make postcards from it to place in the church for visitors to have and donations would go to the church. I was more than happy to do so (its a bit like the story of the talents in the bible). Of course many artists would frown on giving work away for free however I saw it more as giving back to God, he was welcome to use my work however he wanted, plus it’s nice to think there are random strangers out there in the world somewhere with a little piece of my art work (even better a piece I am pleased with).
In 2018 I did eventually find a group that met once a month in Bristol, and I would join them from time to time (work permitting). We visited all sorts of locations, all free and all accessible by public transport. Museums, parks, interesting streets, markets, docks, anything and everything and the organisers were always open to suggestions.
There are so many advantages to urban sketching, and even more to meeting with a group.
1. You actually look at your surroundings.
I am not a naturally observant person, in fact many would call me oblivious. Sitting down and consciously observing your environment and the people around you really makes you notice and appreciate things you might have missed otherwise.
2. You can explore
As an extension to the first point, I particularly enjoy urban sketching when I am somewhere new. It’s a great way to explore and understand the area you are in. I try to ensure I sketch wherever I travel. Sometimes the buildings (I love buildings, they don’t move) and sometimes the people (they do move); you get to see similarities and differences and you gain some understanding.
3. You meet other people
I am also not naturally especially sociable, however the social side of urban sketching is within my comfort zone. Everyone has a common interest and there’s easy conversations to be had about art supplies, styles, and general preferences. All the events I’ve attended have ended up at a coffee shop where everyone is happy to share ideas and knowledge whilst eating cake (an obvious advantage).
4. Seeing a wide variety of art
During the coffee meet up at the end people generally pass their work around and it is fascinating (in a non-sarcastic way). You see so many ways to create an impression of your surroundings. Sure it can be daunting and you may not feel as capable as some of the others but you don’t have to share your work if you’d rather not. Either way I’ve definitely felt inspired and gained ideas from some of the pieces I’ve seen over the years.
5. You improve your skills
As with any activity, the more you practice the better you get. In this case, you get a wide range of subjects and conditions to sketch in. If you’re drawing people then maybe you’ll have a very short amount of time. If you’re drawing outside maybe the weather or lighting will be difficult. When you only have the items you brought with you, you will find a way to get along with them.
6. Its makes an interesting journal
Many people like to keep some sort of record of their lives, these days social media and photos on your phone do the job, but some people still like to keep a personal diary or journal. I love having these sketches as a travel journal. Places and people I’ve seen, events I’ve experienced. Sure they don’t have the perfect glossy finish a photo has, but I think they’re better for it. They show your personal impression of it all rather than an often impersonal, more factual representation.
Eventually an urban sketch group did form in Gloucestershire and I attended when I could. Sometimes some of the Bristol group would join us too. The Bristol group had really grown over the 2 years I’d been attending. It was good to see, though made finding a space for us all to sit together a bit tricky.
Now I am travelling again and sketching is still my way to explore and record my life and you will see some more glimpses of my life over the next few posts.