Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Trash Day Musings

8/15/19 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Recently on Facebook, artist and urban sketcher Laurie Wigham posted some paintings she had made in Italy. One of a lovely church included several dumpsters in the foreground. Laurie wrote, “Should I have edited out the dumpsters from the painting of this beautiful 11th Century church in Bellagio? I thought about it, but it seems to me that the dumpsters, messy palm trees and motor scooter are all part of the building’s existence in this time, this place. To present it in a glowing antique mist would be a lie, or at least not the story I’m interested in telling.”

I was reminded of a painting a local sketcher had made of a historic building in downtown Seattle last month. Several of us had sketched the same building that day (you can see mine here), but something was missing from his sketch: a construction crane that was prominently standing behind it. This was no oversight; he and I had even talked about the crane as we sketched side by side. (I had laughed about how it had rotated just as I was trying to draw it.) It was clear that he had made a conscious choice to omit it.

Parts 3 and 4 of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto are the following:

Our drawings are a record of time and place.
We are truthful to the scenes we witness.

As a journalist, the writer of the USk Manifesto, Gabi Campanario, probably places greater emphasis on the “truthfulness” of the scenes he witnesses than most sketchers would. While I don’t regard or follow the Manifesto as laws that must not be broken, perhaps my own journalistic training has made me think more about being truthful to the scenes I witness so that I might make a record of time and place. My personal reasons for sketching also come into play: I appreciate the stories that sketches tell, and it’s important to me that my sketches tell stories that are accurate.

We all bear artistic licenses. Every time we put implement to paper, we make choices about what to put in and what to leave out. Indeed, the act of composing is all about deciding what to include. Omitting a construction crane from a painting of a classic building is certainly a valid artistic choice; many artists would probably make the same choice. But is it a truthful record of a particular time and place? In fact, without the crane, I think the painting becomes timeless (which is perhaps the goal). The painting does tell a story – but not one about what the building looked like on July 12, 2019.

Some of us, of course, choose to include trash bins in a sketch without having much of a story to tell beyond the fact that it was a Thursday in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. But without those bins, it wouldn’t even be Thursday.


  1. I love the trash bins, they add a certain vitality to the sketch.

  2. It is funny because sometimes I edit out things like trash bins and sometimes they just call out to be included. It may be because of the "story" I am trying to tell or maybe they just look too disgusting. lol

  3. I was drawing a lighthouse at the weekend - all white tower and black base - and there was a great big green wheelie bin at the bottom with a brightly coloured lid. I was happy to put it in to give it some variety.

    1. There you go -- sometimes a trash bin is exactly what a sketch needs!


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