Friday, January 15, 2021



1/13/21 St. John the Evangelist Parish, Greenwood neighborhood
Our weather has been making national news: “Atmospheric river wallops Pacific Northwest with flooding, landslides and power outages” read The Washington Posts headline Jan. 12. With a firehose of rain and 100 mph winds battering the windows and rooftop, I hardly slept the night before. Then the next day we got a reprieve: Blue skies and sunshine nearly all day! After several days of staying in, I wasn’t about to miss it.

After my curbside pick-up of a book at the Greenwood branch library (I’m so grateful that the library offers this easy, contact-free service), I drove through the neighborhood looking for a sketch. The bishop’s hat atop St. John the Evangelist Parish was shining when I started listening to the U.S. House of Representatives vote to impeach the president for the second time in his term. Before I finished the block-in, though, the sun had dipped behind clouds, and I lost most of the light.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Tight, Loose


1/11/21 Derwent Lightfast colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Our record-breaking, 2,700-mile-long “atmospheric river” is the kind of weather event that prompts me to look around on our kitchen counter for colorful produce to sketch. Feeling anxiety and dread about current events, I took my time to make the still life above, calmed by the relaxing, meditative quality of the time-consuming pencil strokes.

Although I sometimes wish it weren’t, my natural tendency is closer to the “tight” (for lack of a better term) end of the style spectrum, and the drawing above is a typical example. The next day, with tightness out of my system, I pushed myself to let loose – as “loose” as I’m capable of, anyway. Using chunky Art Stix, which don’t allow me to get into fussy details, I gave the lemon, tomato and garlic another try (below). Although a greater challenge, expressing this degree of looseness is as enjoyable as my more natural, tighter style, but in a different way.

The first sketch is more about the close study of form and details to be as accurate as possible (without being scientific). The second sketch is less about measured accuracy, but I didn’t want it to look sloppy or unobserved. In fact, I think it helped that I had already observed the produce closely during my first sketch so the forms were somewhat familiar. I could focus more on raw shapes.

Instead of “tight” versus “loose,” I’ve seen the two ends of the spectrum defined as “descriptive” versus “expressive.” I’m not sure I like those terms, because they would imply that a descriptive (tight) drawing lacks expressiveness. I would hope that both styles are capable of being expressive (whatever “expressive” is).

I did a similar tight/loose exercise last winter when I was taking a botanical drawing class at Gage (the most scientifically accurate type of drawing I have ever done). Taking some beets from one end of the range to the other, the drawings differed in many ways, but I enjoyed them all.

Whenever I show comparisons like this on social media, some followers let me know which they favor. Regardless of which way they “vote,” I appreciate that they have engaged with my work enough to have an opinion. In any case, I’ll continue to work in my natural way as well as push myself to try other ways because they all have something to teach me about drawing.

1/12/21 Prismacolor Art Stix in S&B Zeta sketchbook

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Divided Light


1/9/21 Through our livingroom window

Before sunrise, I could see thick fog blanketing our neighborhood. By mid-morning, the sun was trying hard to burn through, and I knew it would probably succeed by noon, so I grabbed my sketchbook and a couple of pencils. At first, I was going to draw a straightforward view that I’ve sketched several times in fog previously, both in darkness and in light. As I was planning the composition, though, I remembered last week’s USk Talks Challenge: Sketch through a window and include the frame as part of the composition. Our livingroom’s divided-light window was exactly what I needed. (It was 35 degrees as I sketched. I was happy to be inside this window and not out.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Sketching Local



A new urban sketching hashtag has appeared lately on Instagram: #sketchinglocal. It’s for sketches done on location within walking distance. 

I had to laugh when I first heard about it: I’ve been “sketching local” almost daily for the past 10 months. Who knew I was a trendsetter?



Monday, January 11, 2021

Select Light


1/7/21 Through my studio window

The sun had been up only a short time. The sky was mostly overcast, yet when I looked out my studio’s west-facing studio window, the low light had picked out a few things to illuminate: two chimneys, a tree, a neighbor’s dormer. I grabbed a sketchbook quickly, and within minutes, the light was gone.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat


The past week has been distressing, to say the least.

When I am agitated and upset, I depend on two things to calm myself: yoga and drawing. To practice yoga, I must inhale and exhale repeatedly, regularly, fully, focusing on making the poses that connect body with mind. To draw, I must focus completely on the form I see and the form I am making, a continual rhythm between body and mind, back and forth, like breathing. They both take my thoughts away from the source of the distress and bring me back to the here and now, my own body and mind.

After reading and viewing too much news, I walked around the neighborhood and made a sketch. Then I came home and unrolled my yoga mat. Inhale, exhale, repeat.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Book Review: Techniques for Beginners

The latest book in the Urban Sketching Handbook

The Urban Sketching Handbook Series (begun by our own founder, Gabi Campanario, with his Architecture and Cityscapes book) has a new volume: Techniques for Beginners: How to Build a Practice for Sketching on Location, by Suhita Shirodkar. Now with 11 titles, the popular series introduces concepts, principles and techniques used for urban sketching in compact, easy-to-grasp capsules.

After an introduction to materials and how to build a compact sketching kit, Suhita dives into three main subject areas: objects, places and (her favorite) people. In the Objects section, she gives basic how-to suggestions on making contour drawings of ordinary things around the house. Beyond the cereal bowl and coffee cup, though, Suhita supports the urban sketching philosophy by showing readers how to include context that will convey “a sense of place.”

Her attitude in the Places section resonates deeply with my own, which is that even the smallest, ordinary scene can still capture a sense of place without being “grand.” Urban sketching is not just for those who travel to exotic lands filled with spectacular architecture and sweeping views; it is for anyone who has a lamp post on their own street. In this section, Suhita offers tips and ideas on composition, perspective, values, shapes, texture and pattern.

Suhita's watercolor palette

Suhita is probably best known for sketches made in the midst of crowded markets and plazas that would be daunting to many but in which she thrives. In addition to practical suggestions on sketching people as silhouettes, human proportions, capturing gestures and capturing those crowds she loves, she also offers help to timid sketchers who shy away from sketching people. Take a baby step by sketching people in your own home, she suggests, and work your way up to drawing small groups in public.

Human proportions

The last instructional chapter, Bringing it All Together, gives a step-by-step process on composing a scene by selecting various elements and deciding how they relate to each other.

The final section is a collection of challenges to nudge sketchers out of the doldrums or just to get us thinking in a new way. Draw the same thing over and over, sketch at an unusual time of day, or try a new material.

Tips on composition

Throughout, concepts are illustrated with examples from Suhita’s own sketchbooks as well as those of 75 other well-known sketchers from around the globe. As is true of the entire Handbook series, the list of artists featured reads like the who’s who of the urban sketching community.

Challenges to keep things fresh

Suhita’s book makes an excellent primer for the rest of the Handbook series: Whenever she introduces a concept that has been covered in greater depth by another book in the series, she refers to it. Any urban sketcher just starting out should begin with Suhita’s volume, then dive in deeper in areas of interest with the other books.

My only complaints about this book are the same as they are for the entire series: The elastic band that holds the book closed may have been clever when the first volume came out because it mimicked a sketchbook, but it has no purpose here and gets in the way. (OK, it had one useful purpose: To hold the cover closed while I took the photo at the top of the post.) And maybe it’s just my aging eyes, but reading the pale, tiny type makes me cranky. It’s also a shame that all these beautiful sketches have been reduced to two or three inches, but I realize that’s the limitation of the compact format. I do like that the books are thin, small and quick to read: They are an easy entry to urban sketching.

Speaking of easy entry, I’m often asked by novices for book recommendations on how to get into sketching on location. In addition to the “bible,” Gabi’s first book, The Art of Urban Sketching, I like to mention James Hobbs’ Sketch Your World and Mike Daikubara’s Sketch Now, Think Later. The first title is an overarching introduction to the world (literally) of urban sketching, and it’s required reading for any urban sketcher. The latter two are favorites for their philosophies and approaches to sketching on location (which align well with mine). And now I’m adding Suhita’s book to my “recommended” list for sketchers who are just getting started.

(This book was provided to me free by the publisher. All opinions expressed here are my own.)

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