Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Archisketcher

I almost didn’t buy this book.

I’ve read nearly every book available with the words “urban sketching” (or similar phrases) in the title, and I occasionally go through my public library’s catalog or Amazon.com to see if any new titles have shown up. (Amazon is uncanny in its ability to let me know if a book I may be interested in has been newly published – amazing, isn’t it.) So when I heard about Archisketcher – Drawing Buildings, Cities and Urban Landscapes by Simone Ridyard, my first impulse was to buy it – but then I paused. Did I really need yet another book on urban sketching? What could this one offer that the others haven’t?

Unlike most others I’ve read, this book is written by an architect, which made me pause even longer. As much as I admire Simone’s urban sketches, I was worried that the book would have a stronger emphasis on architectural drawing (drawing buildings the way architects draw buildings) than I was interested in. Technical instructions on achieving three-point perspective? No, thanks.

Then I saw the photos and video flip-through on Parka Blogs. Even if there was nothing else to be gained from the book, at least it would be full of delicious eye candy: many luscious sketches by all my favorite urban sketchers. Who can resist candy?

Not me – and I’m certainly happy I didn’t resist after all! Filled with many different styles of urban sketching, this book has very little to do with drawing like an architect and everything to do with helping you make buildings come alive in your sketchbook. Its goal is not to teach you how to draw but to show a variety of approaches so that you can find and express your own.

The list of contributors reads like a who’s-who of contemporary urban sketching – Shari Blaukopf, Nina Johansson, Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, Suhita Shirodkar and Liz Steel are among the more than 40 artists worldwide – but my guess is that at least half are not architects, which I found inspiring in and of itself. “You don’t need to be an architect to sketch architecture confidently,” says Simone in the introduction, and a quick scan of the book would tell you that’s true.

Focusing on composition, color, viewpoint and other aspects of architectural sketching, Archisketcher expands on each aspect by showing multiple examples. Each of the book’s five main sections ends with “Sketching an Icon,” in which sketches by several artists of the same well-known structure (such as Notre Dame or the Brooklyn Bridge) are shown together. I found it fascinating to see how sketchers take on the same subject in such varied ways. In addition, each section highlights two urban sketchers showing their home towns in “My Neighborhood.” Both of these unique selections of sketches are especially inspiring and enjoyable to savor again and again.

One other unique feature of Archisketcher is the author’s particular viewpoint as an architect, which is apparent in brief but illuminating sidebars to many sketches. Simone might comment on the historical significance of a Moorish tower appearing in Alvarao Carnicero’s sketch, for example, or how the roofline of a city becomes its signature. As someone who has never studied architecture, even casually, I really appreciate this context and the opportunity to view a sketch the way an architect might.

Other than brief lessons on one-point and two-point perspective, the book contains no how-to instructions or basics found in most urban sketching books (such as suggested art materials or portability tips). For those reasons, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to a novice. Instead, I’d say its audience is sketchers who have a few years of sketching under their belts and are now looking for ways to step-up their architectural sketching level. Perhaps that group includes sketchers who are comfortable with most subjects, but architecture still intimidates them. I could also see experienced sketchers who are comfortable with architecture nonetheless being inspired by the wide variety of approaches shown that could get them out of a potential sketching rut. There’s something here for almost everyone – and definitely candy for all.

(A shorter version of this review appears on Amazon.com.)


  1. Good review, Tina! Glad the book wasn't too architectural. It sounds really interesting.

  2. This book was released a week later in Canada than in the US and mine just showed up. I'll be reviewing it once I get a chance to read it but after flipping through it I can suggest that "wow" might be a proper review. I love the fact that we're finally getting some location sketching books that are "advanced", presenting ideas that are beyond which end of the pointy devices to put on the paper :-) We do live in great times for sketchers.


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