Monday, June 5, 2023

Urban Couches and Context


5/31/23 Green Lake neighborhood

Urban couch season is now open, and I bagged my first last week! I must have been slackin’ all summer, because the last one I sketched was more than a year ago. I’m ready – bring ‘em!

As I sketched this, enjoying 61 degrees and a soft breeze in the sunshine, three thoughts occurred to me: One was that in years past when my palette was tied more closely to “real” colors, with rare exceptions, almost all discarded couches were dingey, dirty brown (or formerly some lighter color but brown by the time I sketched it) – talk about sketching mud! This one was too, but using a secondary triad, I was able to get a slightly more vibrant dingey, dirty brown.

Secondly, I thought about how couches make excellent exercises in perspective. Most are basically cubic rectangles with some parts missing (especially if they are lumpy and misshapen), but if you draw them from an angle, it’s quite a challenge. In describing her new online course devoted to teacups, Liz Steel mentions that teacups present a good challenge in drawing ellipses. Maybe I should teach a course on drawing urban couches with perspective as a topic. 😉

Finally, making this sketch made me think about the importance of context in visual storytelling. People new to Urban Sketchers often ask whether something like a potted plant qualifies as an urban sketch if it was drawn from direct observation. I think these two parts of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto address the question:

  • Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live, and where we travel.
  • Our drawings are a record of time and place.

Nothing in the manifesto explicitly prohibits a potted plant as subject matter for an urban sketch, but the question is always about the story (no matter how small that story may seem). Does the sketch tell you anything about where the potted plant was when you sketched it – on your own patio, on the porch of a derelict building, in front of an Italian villa? Let’s see the context that shows those location details, and then youre telling a story.

As for my sketch above, imagine if I had sketched only the couch. It could be in my own livingroom, in my friend’s livingroom, or at the city dump. Or it could be on a residential street near Green Lake where, unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be claimed because the street is closed for pavement work, so no pickup trucks will be able to get to it. But without context, you’d never know it was the latter.


  1. I love that you sketched it with its orange cones!

    1. Any excuse to use orange when urban sketching! ;-)


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