Tuesday, December 24, 2013

“Drawn to Seattle”: More Than a Peek

12/24/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, Fabriano hot press 140 lb. paper
Before I started sketching, I used to read the Seattle Sketcher’s column every Saturday in The Seattle Times and think about how much fun it would be to peek inside his sketchbook. At that time, I didn’t really know anyone who did that type of sketching (nor could I imagine myself ever doing it), so it seemed like such a novelty to be drawing pictures for a newspaper rather than photographing them.

Inspired by the Seattle Sketcher and compelled to finally draw, I eventually joined Seattle Urban Sketchers (the Seattle chapter of the international organization Gabi founded), met Gabi Campanario, and actually did peek into some of his sketchbooks. Today I got the biggest peek yet – some literally larger than life – at “Drawn to Seattle,” the Seattle Sketcher’s exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (it continues through May 26, 2014).

If you’re a regular reader of Gabi’s column, the sketches will be familiar. Even so, when you view the span of sketches from 2009 to the present all at once, it’s surprising to see how much his style has changed and matured over time. And I think some sketches in the exhibit were never published in the paper or online, so even faithful readers will find something new.

Sketches are presented in their original form and greatly enlarged.
The MOHAI exhibit presents the sketches in a variety of ways – the original pages taken right out of sketchbooks; intact sketchbooks mounted and framed; full-size facsimiles that you can page through; and huge reproductions on the walls. You can step back and see familiar “characters” larger than life, or you can squint closely and try to read the tiny scribbles Gabi wrote to himself in the margins as he interviewed sketch subjects. It’s also fun to see the messy watercolor swatches at the bottom of sketches – all that stuff that gets cropped out when published.

Familiar "characters" appear larger-than-life.
The sketches are curated around themes like “Hidden Places,” “Community Stories” and “Changing Landscapes.” As a Seattle native and lifelong resident, I have seen most of the places shown in Gabi’s sketches, yet I am always struck by how fresh those familiar scenes look when they are viewed through his drawings. Even more, I am struck by the stories Gabi writes – the little anecdotes his sketch subjects told him while he sketched, no doubt, and the small yet important histories he recorded there, in words and pictures. I am reminded that Gabi is not just a sketcher; he’s a journalist, and every sketch is a story.

This case shows Gabi's sketch kit materials -- look at those messy palettes!
Gabi’s spectacular exhibit is a fun and interactive space. Sketchbooks are provided by MOHAI so that visitors can participate on the spot. Tips from Gabi offer encouragement to sketcher wannabes: “Sketching is a form of visual documentation that is accessible to all. No easels or expensive oil paints needed, just a pen and a piece of paper and you are all set to get started.”

If I weren’t already an urban sketcher, seeing this exhibit would inspire me to become one.

There's my sketchbook with the yellow cover!
Shameless self-promotion: I will be among the “Urban Sketchers in Residence” who will be leading mini-sketchcrawls at MOHAI every Saturday 1 – 3 p.m. through March 2014. And my own sketchbook, along with those of other Seattle Urban Sketchers, is displayed in a case in the adjacent participative gallery! (On Christmas Eve morning when we visited the exhibit, Greg and I practically had the place to ourselves. But whenever I saw others coming through, I wanted to shout, “There’s my sketchbook over there! I’m part of this, too!”) 

More sketchbooks contributed by members of Seattle Urban Sketchers.


  1. Great Post! so interesting to read your impressions on the show!

  2. Wonderful post/review! I would think the same... There’s my sketchbook over there! I’m part of this, too!” !! I see mine in the first picture with your yellow one. Mine is the lower right corner, next to Frances'.

  3. First of all, I'm impressed that a newspaper has a sketcher's column and recognizes the importance of sketching. Yeah for the Seattle Times! Congrats on being selected to participate in this amazing exhibit at the museum. That is something I would love to see...too bad it isn't closer. I always wondered how you could display sketchbooks in an exhibit without having people turning pages of the originals and ruining them. The enlargements and facsimiles sound like a good idea.

  4. This is a wonderful post, TIna. Gabi's sketches speak for themselves but wow...who did the organization of that exhibit? It's fantastic! Not only does it show Gabi's work, but it shows HOW he works. And those HUGE sketches. Wonder how they managed that while retaining their crispness.

    Cheers --- Larry


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