Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: The Art of Urban Sketching

4/29/12 Pitt Artist Pen, Tombow markers, Hand Book journal
Note: On March 8, 2012, I wrote and published this book review on Amazon.com shortly before this blog went live. I wanted to make the review part of my blog, so I am republishing it here. I’m also republishing a sketch I made of Gabi when he gave a presentation about urban sketching at the Seattle Public Library in April 2012. Going to that presentation and seeing so many enthusiastic sketchers and sketcher wannabes in the audience helped pushed me out the door toward my first Seattle Urban Sketchers sketchcrawl the following month. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have admired the sketches of author Gabriel Campanario ever since they started appearing weekly in The Seattle Times. Known as the Seattle Sketcher, Campanario takes even the most commonly photographed, iconic Seattle scenes, such as the Pike Place Market, and gives them his fresh, personal perspective that no camera can capture. I was so inspired that I became an urban sketcher myself. As I dug for more of his work on his personal blog, I was led to the local and then the international Urban Sketchers blogs (initiated by Campanario), which showed me the world “one drawing at a time” – and further compelled me to explore my city (and any city I visit) with a sketchbook. Now The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing on Location Around the World brings to print the same types of visual expressions that I have been admiring online.

The 300-plus pages are divided into three parts. The first helps beginning sketchers gather the right tools and attitude to adopt the urban sketchers’ manifesto.

The second, and largest, section, the meat of the book, compiles the work of more than a hundred artists worldwide giving us their unique urban views. It’s nothing short of amazing to see the variety of styles, media and perspectives. Some sketches are casual and loose, while others are intensely detailed. Some are completed in minutes; others in many hours over the course of weeks. All are the result of careful observation and the desire of the artists to truly know a place by sketching it.

I especially enjoyed the artist profiles, their first-person anecdotes about the scenes they sketched and the photos of those artists sketching (usually standing on a street corner, sitting against a building or on a bench). I also appreciated brief technical tips the artists offered to make outdoor sketching more comfortable or make drawings more interesting, and information about how long the sketch took and media used. Some sites depicted are easily recognizable because they are widely photographed, yet the sketches are more intimate and personal than most photos. Other cities are less-often seen in the media, so these glimpses of faraway neighborhoods seem led by personal tour guides.

The third section covers themes – architecture, seasons, nighttime sketching – that urban artists are compelled to sketch. “People in Action” – my personal favorite sketching subject that I also find most challenging – includes helpful tips on how to capture movement, mood and energy when you only have a few minutes or seconds before the “model” is gone.

As a long-time wannabe sketcher, I have read and admired many books on nature sketching (Hannah Hinchman’s fine work comes first to mind), but as a city dweller, I don’t often or easily see the breathtaking landscapes and wildlife shown in those books. Finally, here’s a book of sketches for the rest of us that makes it clear that the urban landscape can be as compelling, moving and ever-changing as nature. If you have any desire to capture your urban life in a sketchbook or view how others have captured theirs, you will love this book.

(This book review also appears on Amazon.com.)

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