Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sketch Strolls

9/13/16 brush pen, white gel pen
I keep a running list in OneNote (my digital notebook) of things or places I’d like to sketch someday. The ideas on the list can be fairly general – “Thornton Creek Park” – or very specific – “the large angel monument at Evergreen Washelli cemetery; sketch in the afternoon when the light is hitting the front.” If I’m running errands or attending a meeting in a certain neighborhood, I might check the list to see if there’s something nearby that I could stop and sketch. And when I know I have a chunk of time available, I’ll simply decide to visit a particular location and set out for it. I call this approach “destination sketching” – knowing before I arrive that I have a certain subject or location in mind.

In the summer months when I (hopefully) have many days of good weather, I usually do some form of destination sketching whenever I can. This past summer, however, I found myself more often taking a very different approach to sketching – taking casual sketch strolls in my own neighborhood. I simply grab my bag, walk out the door and keep walking until I find something to sketch. I don’t have a particularly interesting neighborhood, but something almost always catches my attention within 10 or 15 minutes of walking. I never know what I might find, but I enjoy the hunt without having a particular goal or destination. Hunt is not even the right term; I don’t aggressively search. I just remain engaged and open to what might be sketchable and see what appears. And if I come home with nothing sketched, that’s OK, too.
7/3/16 brush pen, white gel pen, colored pencil

At the risk of over-analyzing this, I’d probably say at least two things led to this different approach. One is that I had a busy summer of travel, so while I was home, I was tired of planning, organizing and having an itinerary. It felt good to sketch without a plan.

The other is the little Field Notes notebook that’s always in my bag along with my usual sketchbook. When I go out for a destination sketch, the destination or subject usually demands (at least in my own mind) a relatively large composition, a little color and enough of my time and attention that I feel compelled to use my full sketchbook. But with a Field Notes in my bag, I lower both my standards and my expectations. I don’t worry about color, context or story. I feel no pressure to share (although I usually do just because it’s fun).
8/21/16 brush pen, ink, colored pencils

If I take a walk and find nothing but a tire leaning up against a utility pole, it becomes an interesting tonal study on red paper. A toilet (!) abandoned on a sidewalk fits nicely on the Field Notes’ small page format. A couple of crows on a wire or a plastic flamingo? Ideal subjects for small vignettes. These casual sketches are not even a record of my day – indeed, they are nothing more than a record of a moment or two, as ephemeral as the paper they’re sketched on.

Maybe next summer I’ll go back to destination sketching; I certainly still have a long list of ideas at the ready. But sketch strolls have taught me that it’s just as much fun to skip the list and simply follow my notebook.
7/7/16 brush pen, gel pen
9/13/16 ink, gel pen
9/5/16 colored pencils, gel pen


  1. I like your idea of keeping a specific list of places (and times) you want to sketch locations, but I can understand how you enjoy strolling and finding something that catches your eye. With all your running around and travels lately I wouldn't want to plan much either. I have to say that I when I see a couch sitting on the sidewalk I want to call you over.

    1. If you called me, I would be tempted to fly over and sketch it! :-)

      - Tina


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