Sketchbook Saturday – Urban Sketching

With a thought process that went from “I suck at drawing and painting” to “maybe I should do building, how hard can it be to draw boxes?”, I rolled into the world of Urban Sketching. At first I had no idea that there was a name or an actual movement for drawing cities, buildings and all the day to day stuff that is part of how we shape our environments as human. I just wanted an easier subject matter than humans and faces. I just wanted to smear pigment on the page and make it look somewhat good. Also I wanted to go outside and draw stuff with the comfort of cafe’s, restaurants and whatnot within reach. This plan hatched late summer 2019 and was on the back burner for a couple of weeks.

Funny how any learning process these days begins with procrastination as it was many youtube video’s in that I noticed something that came back a couple of times. Urban Sketching. It was exactly what I was doing, what I was looking for! I ran into very interesting video’s by Marco Bucci such as some details on his setup and an interesting take on shapes. Also a lot of shorter video’s on materials and techniques by Teoh Yi Chie. I think it was their video’s that introduced me to the concept of “Urban Sketching” and the discovery that there was a rather large global movement. I read the book “The Urban Sketcher” by Marc Taro Holmes that was informative and interesting, although a bit over my head in terms of technique. This was around Autumn 2019.

The Urban sketching global movement is more of an umbrella organization for many local chapters and with me living in Amsterdam, I wanted to check out what the options here were. One of my first discoveries was that there is actually a global Urban Sketching Symposium and that it was held in Amsterdam… a few weeks earlier. Let’s say I was not happy about that.

Another discovery was that most of the local chapters organize through Facebook and having removed my account for that hellhole years earlier, I felt somewhat left out in multiple ways now. It seems to be better now with events announced through the Urban Sketching homepage but that leads to the next interesting thing to happen on my journey. We are now writing in October 2019.

After processing the fact that I just missed the annual event in my hometown, I vowed to visit at least two more or less local events in 2020. Just like I vowed to run all races in 2020 that I could reasonably participate in, in terms of travel there and back. I even started gathering gear consisting of a should bag, good sketchbooks, a palette and travel brushes and more of that. I’ll make a post of my bag some day, the point is that by winter 2019/2020 I was fully set to go any place and draw and paint and so on. All that I needed was better weather.

I made it to one place, Zurich, at the end of February where my wife I visited friends and where much less painting was done than I would have liked but we had a great time with the four of us. The Dutch Urban Sketching Weekend 2020 was cancelled, the sketching day was cancelled, the Amsterdam Marathon was cancelled. Sometimes it seems like 2020 was cancelled and I am so sorry for those people who dies, those who are in they formative years as students and those that lost their livelihood due to Covid19. With this, I care not much about the urban sketching cancellations as I am healthy, my family is healthy and my income is pretty solid. My main concern is not getting worn out and developing a burnout or depression from the work-eat-sleep-childcare cycle in the one house but at least we are not sending our teenagers to die in foreign countries or worst, or own borders.

The story of urban sketching does not end here for me, my plans are unchanged and we all just lost a year due to nature striking back at humanity. My intention is to visit at least two events in 2021 and I even booked a hotel in Maastricht in June when the annual weekend would take place. My wife and I agreed that we will book a vacation only when we are all vaccinated so that would be 2022, I think the same will be for the races. But this summer, with a face mask and my bicycle, I will do a lot of outdoors sketching.

The gallery below is my first sketchbook I started with Urban Sketching in mind and contains mostly simple and fast work on architecture, buildings, details and general things from day to day life.

Sketchbook Saturday: The Little Hahnemuhle Booklet

For this iteration of Sketchbook Saturday, back after a long holiday break, I dove a bit deeper in the past and selected a little Hahnemuhle watercolor booklet I bought in March 2019 upon deciding I should really get this plein air painting show on the road. It’s compact size and the small box of Van Gogh watercolors would help me get out more while painting at the same time.

It is almost two years ago and my evolution in terms of style and what paints I use is very visible, as well as the time spend on painting something. The paper is not mega absorbent but once you get used to the fact that wet on wet washes is impossible, new doors open. In the end, I churned out Pokémon to just fill up the booklet. I wanted to get it over with, fill a sketchbook completely for the first time in my life. No matter the size, in this sense, this booklet allowed me to fulfill a very old wish of mine and I am grateful for that.

Europe in Watercolor

The hardest things for me when painting or drawing is often to get started and it is often caused by the second hardest thing: figuring out what to draw. Some people fare well with prompt lists such as those from DoodleWash or a writing prompt generator. These lists often confuse me or are conceptual and not only was I unsure what to draw, now I am stumped by some list from the internet as well! As a solution and if I have an idea for it, I will make a list myself that is curated by myself and for myself and that works a lot better.

For the month of February I thought of GeoGuessr and how the site will allow you to select continents and countries to include in your random location drop. This would be perfect for drawing locations without having to go there. As this was in the before times, we also had a trip to Swiss planned for the end of the month that would allow me that country as well. With the huge regional diversity that comes with Europe, a list was made and days were assigned.

Before being halfway in the challenge it became clear that there are only so many country roads that you can look at before giving up. For some countries I used image search to find an interesting thing to draw using a photograph that was not taken using a potato mounted on the roof of a Toyota Prius.

It is all done with Daniel Smith watercolors in a Khadi 100% cotton rag paper sketchbook.

Fruit in watercolor

As a follow up on last weeks post, this is the alternating pages in the month of January 2020.

As with last week, the randomizer gave me more berries than I would need and no banana but not being very fond of bananas to begin with I could not really care but for color variation it would have been nice.

Pokemon in watercolor

It was December 2019 and life was good. I had a stable job, plenty of art supplies and a craving for creation. Big problem: what to draw, what to paint? How to improve my skills as a watercolor artist while at the same time, use some of those juicy, succulent, art goodies?

At the same time my kids were and still are, completely infatuated by Pokémon. As a responsible adult, the appeal completely eludes me and I have never driven around town with one hand on the wheel and the other on my phone playing Ingress, a precursor to Pokémon Go. And there is a slim possibility that at some point in the past, I owned a Nintendo Switch with Pokémon Shield, considering my son had Sword. But otherwise, this was completely about the kids.

So there is it, a simple, colorful and recognizable subject matter that could easily fill a challenge month.

Considering the premise a bit more, drawing Pokémon every day for a month, I decided against it and switched the Pokémon with fruit every day so the gallery here has 16 Pokémon, next week we will have 15 fruits because you know, 31 days in the month of January. The list of which Pokémon and fruit to draw was randomized using a Pokémon randomizer and random fruit list generator which to my surprise both existed. The random nature also explains the really odd choices of Pokémon, some of the participants commented on that.

The best thing about this challenge was the comparison between day 1 and day 31, it is obvious that doing watercolor every day will help out your skills even if the subject is simple such as Pokémon and fruits. All art is in a Khadi rag paper HB5 sketchbook and done using Daniel Smith Watercolors in a custom palette that inspired by Jane Blundells blog.

Alphabet Sketchbook

In April 2020, when it became overly clear that the pandemic would keep people isolated for more than just a week or so, a youtuber Teoh Yi Chie came across a marvelous idea called AZ Sketchbook. In the core of it, one picks a sketchbook with enough pages and fills a page or a spread with images starting with the letter of the alphabet, one per letter.

As it happened, he used a Koval sketchbook with 100% cotton paper, the same I bought onle a few weeks earlier. This was meant to be! Big differences between his way of working and mine is that he is absolutely of a different akill level than myself, he has a huge social media following and he was way more disciplined in filling the spreads almost daily. I took way longer and for some reason did S twice and X not at all. All in all, he had a ton of people joining him on Instagram using the tag azsketchbook and everyone had a great time.

After completing it halfway summer I think the result is worth collating and sharing here. One can see some progress as I did a ton of drawing exercises in the same period, especially perspective. Almost all drawings are from photo reference and it was a great way to fill a sketchbook.

As mentioned, the sketchbook is a Koval Artistico with cut corners and a real treat, it is up there with the very best watercolor sketchbooks that money can buy. Pricey, yes, but money well spend. On the other hand, if it is very much outside of your range, book binding is a post for another time.

The palette used is my Daniel Smith travel palette, another post for another time.

Teoh’s playlist of his work, I wanted to link it but WordPress made it a block and that is just as well.

Botober 2020

Since something like a decade this guy called Jake Parker takes the month of October and draws in ink, daily. This started because he found he lacked the inking skill and needed consistent practice so the hashtag was born. Over time, this became very popular with many people joining in on social media and posting their own creations, often in black ink. Jake would hype things up and post a prompts list in September. And everyone was having a good time.

As is to be expected, with so many people participating some folks thought there was money to be made and Jake did a few clumsy attempts to monetize on the hashtags’ success. A special art supplies box here, some trademark disputes based on very little there, lawyers being lawyers and the internet being full of righteous disapproval. But hey, other people can make prompt lists too and tons were made, each one cheesier than the other. There was also some thing about a book or something, people got really upset about something they were meant to enjoy for free, I did not really get it.

And then the brilliant AI (Artificial Intelligence) scientist Janelle Shane used computers to generate a list, first in 2019 and this year again. You can read all about it here, this is also the page that the image below came from (all rights to Janelle Shane).

And from all the lists that came forward this was by far the best, especially because it often makes no sense at all. The list worked well for me, lots of things or clear ideas instead of vague concepts such as “Fear”, because drawing fear for sure requires the ability to draw creatures with expressions and hey, I am trying to have fun here.

Going into the month long drawing challange, I set a few simple rules:

  1. 60 minutes max
  2. post every day the 60 minute result
  3. quantity over quality

Basically the goal comes down to: “Show up and do the work.”

An anecdote that I have seen coming up a few times now, first in the book “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, goes like this: An art professor divides his photography class in two groups, one group is to make the perfect shot and has the whole semester to produce a single photo. The other group has as a goal to make as many pictures as possible. At the end of the semester, it turns out that the best photographs come from the group that had to take as many pictures as possible. So yeah, practise makes perfect or at least better pictures.

And to be fair, this is an approach I discovered only a few years ago, it is an enjoyable one. So just show up, do the work and to quote Jake from Adventure Time: “Sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.”

In the end, the only one I really struggled with was “22: Shookswobbler”, so I just drew what I saw.