Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: Freehand Drawing & Discovery

4/22/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
When I first heard about the new book Freehand Drawing & Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers, by James Richards, the “urban sketching” part of the title grabbed my attention, but I was uncertain about the “for designers” part. If the intended audience was architects and other professional designers, I didn’t think it would apply to me, and at $56, I didn’t want to take a chance. But as soon as I saw that it was available at the public library, I snapped it up.
Both an urban designer and an urban sketcher, James Richards offers many practical suggestions on perspective (using just enough to convey the scene realistically without being so technically accurate that the sketch loses spontaneity), composition, staying loose, depicting scale, the strategic as well as esthetic use of color, and other aspects of sketching that would be useful to any hobby sketcher, not just pros. Especially in the first section called “Learning a Language,” the author shows how sketching freehand with paper and pencil is, for him, an expressive, essential form of visual communication that can serve both the professional and hobby sketcher.
The second and shortest section, “Urban Sketching,” is filled with the author’s own delightful travel sketches. In addition, the work of two of my favorite urban sketchers, Gabi Campanario and Liz Steel, is also featured. In the first chapter, “Urban Sketching as Creative Fuel,” Richards discusses the philosophy behind urban sketching, his personal experiences sketching while traveling and the portable tools he uses. In “Capturing the Place,” he shows, in seven explicit steps, how he sketched a vast, complex landscape in Turkey in a short time by applying the same principles he uses in drawings intended for design work. The scene depicted in this remarkable example is exactly the type that would completely paralyze me, yet he broke it down into steps that I felt even I could follow and apply.
The final section, “Concept Sketching,” applied most directly to urban designers and other professionals, including chapters on incorporating freehand drawings with digital work. I ended up skimming most of the text in this section, but the beautiful drawings by the author and other designers are worth an appreciative look.
As a hobby urban sketcher without intentions of becoming a designer, I’m not sure I would pay $56 for the book. But if you love looking at pages and pages of beautiful urban sketches while also learning practical sketching tips, it’s definitely worth a trip to your public library.


  1. Thanks for the review, Tina. The high price turned me off to this book, though others have sung its praises. Wish I could see it at my library but ours are filled with French books :-)

    Cheers --- Larry

  2. Ah, I'll have to check whether I can get it from KCLS. I just read Gabi's blog post about it tonight. Thanks for mentioning it, too.

    1. Well, bother. KCLS doesn't have it. Looking at it on Amazon, I notice Frank Ching wrote a comment for the back cover.


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