Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: Sketching Blindly in the Dark

How many times did you have to attend a boring event? Yep, me too. Often it is a fancy party or a benefit for some very noble cause you get to attend with your spouse. It is their cause, and you are just along for solidarity and support. Yawn! 
But don't fret! We got you covered! All you need is this:

A little book and a pen will fit in your evening clutch or sport coat pocket. Get them out when they will begin speeches. Keep your eyes on the speaker. It is too dark to see anything on your paper anyway. Have the pen touch the paper and go. Trace the shape of his head with your eyes and let your fingers follow with the pen. Then his neck and shoulders. What is he wearing? Trace those lapels. Is there any hair? Add it, if applicable. If you want, you can glance down at your paper every so often - this is not a test.

When you have the basic outline down add some darks. Just scribble in any way you like to create dark masses. Add facial features without being too specific. Put in some details, if you have time: a tie, a necklace if any. You are done. Turn the page and find another victim attendee.

You may find that your heads are sometimes detached from shoulders. Facial features may land outside the heads, a tie may be pinned to a shoulder like a tail on a donkey. This all is fine and even great, you don't have to show your drawings to anyone. You will also find these sketches oddly expressive and free. And you will realize that you are no longer bored. In fact you may not even notice that they finished with speeches, and it is time for the rubber chicken. Good. You can sketch that woman sitting across from you.

What you are doing is practicing blind contour drawing.  Blind contour drawing is a method of drawing where an artist draws the contour of a subject without looking at the paper. This artistic technique was introduced by Kimon Nicolaïdes in The Natural Way to Draw, and then made popular in Betty Edwards The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Nicolaïdes instructed his students to imagine that the pencil point is actually touching the contour of the subject. He suggested that the technique improves students' drawings because it causes students to use both senses of sight and touch. Blind contour drawing trains the eye and hand to work as a team, and it helps to really see all of the details of the object. 
The drawings above I sketched blindly in the dark at a benefit for Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis I attended with my husband. The speeches were coma inducing and the chicken awful… I had fun!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: the Poetry of Speed Sketching

A Japanese poetry form, haiku focuses on moments in the environment and connects them to the human condition. They are concise, using only the number of syllables that can be said in one breath. They are expressive, capturing those fleeting moments for us to appreciate. Sounds like Urban Sketching to me!

Many of us Urban Sketchers carry a small sketchbook with us wherever we go. We capture fleeting moments of our days while waiting in line, catching a quick cup of coffee, on the train or bus. Whenever and wherever we can we draw our connection with the world around us.There is a need to be fast and concise!


1. Think Small - about the size of a credit card or smaller.

This is a 2.25” x 2” sketch of the view from Starbucks in the Presidio in San Francisco. It's the Place of Fine Arts. I scribbled a few lines while I waited in line and threw on the color when I got back to my car. Pencil and watercolor. Total Time: 3 minutes

2. Keep It Simple - avoid details and the need for perfection. Think simple shapes and values.
This is a 3” x 4.5” (a little bigger than a credit card) sketch expressing a bitter cold evening at Navy Pier in Chicago. Simple shapes and 3 values. Pencil and watercolor. Time: 5 minutes

3. Focus - what catches your attention? Pin point your subject.

About 1x 2.5” sketches done during a long airport wait for a rental car. Continuous line drawing–I filtered out the chaos all around me and focused on the disgruntled and bored people sitting across from me. Gray, fine point Sharpie. Time: 1.5 minutes each

Hint: If you spend more than five minutes on these small sketches you may be putting in too much detail.


1. Focus

2. Improved drawing skills

3. Increased spontaneity and freshness in your sketches

4. Rapid planning of ideas for larger sketches or future paintings

5. Great for fast travel sketching, especially when traveling with non-sketchers

6. Confidence

7. They're fun

About 2.5” wide sketches done in the car on a road trip to Ohio. Continuous line, 4 values, simple shapes, watercolor and pencil. Time: I don’t remember but they helped make the long ride go quickly!

Poetry of speed sketching –capturing fleeting moments in time and recording a reaction to them. I call them Tone Poems.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: How to include people in your urban sketches

Today we announce a new feature to the USk Chicago blog--a weekly urban sketching "Tips & Tricks" post.  Each Tuesday a new sketching tip will be shared.  Tips will span a range of topics and will aim to give you a new skill to work on during that week.  Before you know it you will have a new arsenal of sketching ideas, tips and tricks to use on sketching outings and to refer back to, all in one place, on our blog.  Blog posts will also be posted to our Pinterest board "Tips and Tricks," so if you want, you can share these and other pins with your own followers.  If there is something you would like to see as a post, please add your suggestion in the comments below.

Topic: How to include people in your urban sketches
The question often comes up about how to draw people. Drawing people can require years of anatomy study and practice to get the proper proportions. For those of you who do not have that kind of time, here are a few of my favorite tricks for adding people and a human element to your urban sketches. First let us review why you would want to add people in the first place. If you still have questions, pose your question in the comments section below. Thank you.

5 Reasons To Add People To Your Urban Sketch:

1. To give scale (size relationships) to your environment

2. To add a human element to your environment

3. To observe how people live, work or play

4. To capture movement and gesture

5. The "unintentional portrait" happens when a person is so engrossed in whatever they are doing that they will stay in position for a long period of time and present you with the perfect model from which you make your detailed sketch.

5 Types of People Sketches in Urban Sketching:

The Stick Figure Silhouette: Stick figures thickened up to look like clothes. Perfect for subjects that are further away and the people are not the main focus.

The A-Frame People: A variation of the stick figure based on the simple letterform “A”. It is the suggestion of a person without having to be anatomically correct. Perfect for subjects that are further away and the people are not the main focus.

Block People - Basic: The human form made up of blocks and circles. No facial details needed and the pose contributes to the scene.

Block People - Detailed: The human form made up of blocks and circles, but more detail is added such as clothes, hair, and the suggestion of faces.

The Close-up Portrait Study: A more time-intensive study of the subject focusing on anatomy, shading, details, clothing and environment. Careful observation and attention to small details are important here. Shading can come in many forms such as watercolor, hatching, markers or pencil.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Note From the Correspondent

The USk Chicago Sketch Seminar is just around the corner!  In just 5 days, sketchers, artists, doodlers, architects, designers, creative types, both beginners and experts will gather in and around Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts in Lincoln Park.  The Seminar weekend will comprise of 8 workshops and 4 sketching activities focused on teaching the art of urban sketching and related skill sets.   As the Seminar Correspondent I will document the Sketch Seminar through sketches, photographs and blog posts.  For those of you who are getting ready to attend the seminar and those who will be following the activities from around the world, here is a preview of what you can expect to see from me during the weekend:

Each workshop will take place within blocks of each other.  To help capture and document the activities and instruction at each workshop, I will ride my bike to and from each workshop;
sketching, photographing and posting what I see in real time to our Twitter, Instagram and Seminar Blog accounts.  USk Chicago’s accounts are: Twitter: @USk_Chicago, Instagram: @USkChicago and Pinterest: Urban Sketchers Chicago.
Make sure to follow these accounts to stay updated with the weekend's events.  If you want share your own photos or sketches, tag your posts with 
#USkChicago2014.  At the end of each day, check back with the Seminar Blog for a blog post re-cap of the day.
This is an exciting weekend for USk Chicago and the USk global community.  We are excited to see how we will grow as a chapter and to be able to show the city of Chicago one drawing at a time.  I look forward to documenting the Seminar and sharing my sketches, photographs and experiences with you all.  I hope you will check out our Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and blog accounts and follow the events of the weekend.  Don’t be a stranger. Feel free to comment, ask questions and connect with the USk Chicago group.  Talk to everyone soon!  

ndrew Banks

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Take Us Out to the Ballgame

Today we met at Wrigley Field to sketch. It never ceases to amaze and inspire me how we are all looking at the same thing but see and interpret it so differently!

The Cubs were playing the Brewers. The crowd was large and loud. Cubs won. Harry must  be happy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Airport Angels

Spring Break.
There I was, standing in the long line for security checks, trying to squelch the six other long lines of human noise-makers to my right (clucking, loud breathing, long sighs, complainers, whining kids, etc.) The usual TSA bottle neck put a whole lot of people in one small hallway at the same time is pretty normal about this time every year ( a period of time that lasts for 4-6 weeks here in the USA), and yet so many people have to act like they have been personally taken advantage of during this very important safety check.

And then, suddenly, and like a breath of fresh air, the four lovely angels, these flight attendants came into my life, to my left, as a temporary visual oasis from the otherwise chaotic mass of people in which I was included. Four matching, cranberry uniforms who toted matching, company-issued roller boards and these cute little hats. I was suddenly transported to the Pan Am era of the 1960s where stewardesses (as they were called then) ruled the air ways with a status not too different than celebrities and fashion models of today. 

I could have been jealous that they were walking effortlessly to their gates without any delays, but instead I enjoyed to view and my brief visit down memory lane. (The fact that I was just born around 1960 in not important at this time. Let me have my moment, will you?)

Air travel is kind of a bummer, yes, but little moments such as this make it worth the wait.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Register Today for the Urban Sketchers Chicago Sketch Seminar Coming in June 2014

Urban Sketchers Chicago Sketch Seminar Coming in June 2014

(Chicago, IL) Urban Sketchers Chicago will be hosting their very own Chicago Sketch Seminar weekend in the great city of Chicago on June 7 - 8, 2014.  The event will attract local and visiting sketch artists from near and far. While sketching at various sites throughout downtown Chicago, there will be instructors teaching related topics such as an Introduction to USK, How to Choose What to Sketch, How to Draw People in Urban Sketching, Collaborative Sketching, Urban Sketching on an iPad, and a review of Best Practices and tools to name a few. Workshop details and registration information is available on the blog: http://chicagosketchseminar2014.wordpress.com.

Everyone with an interest in drawing is welcome.

We are excited to announce that the home location for the Sketch Seminar will be at
1012 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60610 www.paletteandchisel.org

Urban Sketchers (USk) is a global community of artists that practice drawing on location in cities, towns, and villages in which they live, work or have traveled. It is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location.

USk Chicago is the local community of diverse artists united by a passion for sketching, discussions, socializing and sharing their unique visions of the world around them with others. In fact, the Urban Sketchers motto is "See the world, one drawing at a time."

Don’t miss the USk Chicago Seminar coming June 7th and 8th, 2014.
Details and registration information is available on the following links:
Chicago Sketch Seminar Blog: http://chicagosketchseminar2014.wordpress.com

Urban Sketchers Chicago Twitter: @USk_Chicago

Urban Sketchers Chicago Instagram:  http://instagram.com/uskchicago

Urban Sketchers Chicago Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/USkChicago/