Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: … and We Share Our Work Online

So you went out, sketched, and your sketch turned out rather nice. You want to share it with your friends on USk Chicago group and on your blog and on ….

You took a picture of your sketch or perhaps you scanned it, and it looks like this - flat and grayed out and, for heaven's sake, crooked.

What can you do? You don't have Photoshop, you are just a regular sketcher and cannot pay prices equal to GDP of a small country for a piece of photo editing software.

The answer is  GIMP! GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo editing, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages. You can download it here - http://www.gimp.org/downloads/.

The urban legend has it that a few former Adobe cowboys/engineers with a grudge of some sort got together and produced this "almost Photoshop" amazing piece of software and put it up for everyone to use. I don't know if this is true, I read it on the Internet :). But one thing is true - GIMP is FREE under Creative Commons License.

Anyway, download your free GIMP and install it. Now you are ready for action.

Here are steps we are going to take:
  1. Rotate
  2. Crop
  3. Curves to restore contrast
  4. Unsharp Mask to sharpen details
  5. Scale to reduce size
  6. Export to save the file
Let's do it step by step. Open GIMP on your computer and open your unprocessed sketch in GIMP. Let me know if you need help with that and I will add a Step 0 to this tutorial.

Step 1 - Rotate

Click the Rotate button in the Tool Box on the left panel and you will see a grid come up over the sketch and and a Rotate window open.

Grab the corner of the image with your cursor and rotate. When the level will look satisfactory release the cursor and click Rotate button in the Rotate window. The rotated image will look like this:

Step 2 - Crop

Click Rectangular Select button and drag your cursor over the sketch creating a rectangle. Manipulate the selection in such way that it is nice and tight around your meaningful image.

When satisfied with your selection, click on Image menu and then on Crop to Selection.

Your sketch will look like this. Nice!

Step 3 - Curves

Photographing or scanning an image grays out colors and and reduces contrast. We will restore that using Curves. Click on Colors menu and then click Curves.

A Curves work window will come up. The diagonal line in this window determines your values and contrasts. Play with it by dragging it with your cursor to see what happens to the sketch due to your action. When tired of playing, get back to work :)! Drag the line into a shallow S curve and nudge its curves up and down a little until contrasts and colors in your GIMP image resemble your sketch on paper in real life. Click OK when satisfied.

Step 4 - Unsharp Mask

Photographing or scanning an image not only grays out your colors and flattens values, it also reduces sharpness. We will restore it in this step. Click on Filters menu, then select Enhance, then Unsharp Mask. You could also work with Sharpen at this level, but Unsharp Mask is smoother and produces less digital noise.

A work window will come up. Drag the levels so some meaningful portion of sketch is shown in the Preview window. Set Radius to 5.0 and Amount to 0.50. Threshold can be 0 or 1, I cannot see any difference between them. These settings will give you a nicely sharpened image and will not introduce too much aberrations. Click OK when done.

Step 5 - Scale Image

Many images coming from cameras or scanners are big, or sometimes you hear them referred to as fat. They have a lot of megabytes in them and can slow down loading pages. It makes sense to slim them down by reducing resolution and size. Click Image menu and then Scale Image.

A work window will come up. If you are preparing the image for displaying it online a resolution of 72 dpi is good, and size should not be bigger than a laptop screen. 

My images for the web usually are about 10x8" and 72 dpi. This is what we are going to do here. Click Scale when done.

Step 6 - Export

We have a very nicely processed sketch now. Time to save it. Unfortunately, some terms in GIMP are not as intuitive as we might wish, and clicking on Save will not produce a file type we want. Instead click on File menu and then select Export. This will allow to save the file in your computer directory in a JPEG format (or many other formats if you want them). But JPEG will do nicely :).

And here's our result - ready to share!

We hope this is helpful, and we will be seeing many shared sketches on USk Chicago group from now on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday Tips and Tricks: On Location, Location, Location!

© Barbara Weeks

Urban Sketchers-Chicago has been happy to welcome many new members to our group. Some are new not just to USk-Chicago but to sketching in public as well. The Urban Sketchers manifesto says “we draw on location”. That may cause a little hand trembling, at least it did for me when I first started drawing out in the open. Here are a few things I’ve learned.


What equipment? Keep your gear to the minimum. It’s easier to manage in small spaces, easier to keep track of and easier to gather up when the day is done. Check out our Pinterest board for sketch kit ideas. 

Where? A coffee shop is a great place to sketch especially when you’re just starting out. So many people are busy on their computers, tablets or phones they don’t even notice what you’re doing. Added benefits - you have a comfortable seat, a table and something to eat or drink! Outside, try to fine a spot where people can’t come up behind you. Position yourself with a wall, corner or post at your back. It gives you something to lean on, too.

© Barbara Weeks

What about the public?  People are curious when they see others sketching. They're also usually very complimentary and respectful. Children are fascinated. If you don’t want to be interrupted wear ear buds and listen to music (or pretend to) and avoid eye contact. 

© Barbara Weeks

Sketch with friends. There is a comfortability in numbers. The tab “Sketch Crawls” on this blog’s navigation bar tells you where and when we’re meeting next. Join us.

© Barbara Weeks

Post your location sketches on our FaceBook page. The encouragement and feed back from other urban sketchers is invaluable.

  • Sharpened powers of observation.
  • Learn to work quickly.
  • Teaches you to take risks and improvise to get the sketch down. 
  • Overcome selfconsciousness and become a more decisive painter.
  • Have fun meeting and learning from other sketchers.
  • “Show the world one sketch at a time!”

© Barbara Weeks

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: "Framing a Sketch"

Framing a Sketch
Have you ever made a sketch that you felt was missing something or was unfinished?  Couldn't figure out exactly what it needed?   A well thought through sketch can mean many different things depending on who you are talking to, but for me, one of the most important factors of a beautiful, well composed sketch is how it is framed.  I’m not talking about ripping your sketch out of your sketchbook, taking it to Michael's, having it matted, thrown in a frame and calling it done (although many of your sketches deserve to be framed), because that would be too easy and this post would be a waste of your time.

So what do I mean by framing a sketch?  Here are a few bullet points on what framing a sketch is, followed by just a few of my favorite examples and techniques:

Framing a sketch:   
  1. is to compose or arrange the subject of your sketch in a way that draws attention to the most important part of your sketch
  2. is the ability to draw your viewers eyes to what you want them to see
  3. is putting your sketch in a position to be resolved, and finished compositionally
  4. can be done not only for long, involved sketches, but ALSO for quick, on the go sketches
Here a few of my favorite framing techniques:

Pick one object out of a particular scene and draw it so that it can stand alone and still look complete. Instead of capturing everything you see, just pick one object.  Here I drew the Villa Rotunda, and centered it on the page.  In order to suggest what it’s surrounding looks like, to resolve the sketch, and to give the building something to visually rest on, I drew a wavy line that very quickly begins to suggest where it is.  The line centers the building within everything that is drawn, and makes the building the focal point.
© Andrew Banks 2014

Incorporate the Subject:
This might be one of the most popular techniques.  Use your subject to your advantage.  Transform the subject into the framing device for your sketch.  Here I used two obvious options, a window and a door. Everything fits inside the openings and the frame becomes part of the sketch. 

© Andrew Banks 2014

© Andrew Banks 2014
Fade out the edges of the sketch by using less pigmented paint, less cross hatching, less shading etc...  The detail will be concentrated in the center while the faded out edges focuses the attention where you want it to be .

© Andrew Banks 2014

Use architecture and architectural features such as walls, arches, colonnades, columns and even windows to frame your sketch.

The buildings on the left and right rise up on each side of the picture plane, framing the busy street scene.  © Allan B. Jacobs 2014

This column and arch is the focus of the sketch as well as a framing device for the background content of the sketch.
© Andrew Banks 2014

Compose the subject in a way that allows natural or built landscape features to frame the subject. Some popular and effective landscape features are trees, tree trunks, tree canopies, bushes, large plants and flowers, leaves, and street furniture (planters, benches etc...)

The tree canopy curves over the top of the entire sketch.  Combined with it's strong, dark value, it works as a strong framing device. © Allan B. Jacobs 2014
Value/ Contrast / Line weights:
Differences in value, contrasts, and line weights are perfect framing tools.  Use objects with more value or thicker/stronger line weights along the perimeters and in foregrounds of your sketches.  Lighter values and line weights will recede to the background, allowing your framing devices to be that much more evident.

Buildings in foreground, on left and right have stronger line weights than those in the background.
© Andrew Banks 2014

The contrast in value and drawing technique of the trees from the rest of the drawing emphasize them as framing devises. © Andrew Banks 2014
Literal Frame:
This is the least creative of the options, yet an option nonetheless.  Draw a literal box around your sketch. Make sure your drawing fills up the box and that parts of the sketch come into contact with the box.
© Andrew Banks 2014

A fun twist on the literal box is to break the box up and allow the subject to overflow out of it.  Here, the dropped out silhouettes of the people on the bottom become part of the continuous line border of the sketch.

© Andrew Banks 2014

I hope you find these tips to be helpful!  Feel free to comment with any questions or any of your own framing techniques!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: "The All-Important First Mark"

Posting and sharing your latest sketches is fun and exciting. You feel good when other people "like" and make positive comments about your efforts. But what if someone, whose name you do not recognize through your regular groups, shares or reposts your work? You can only hope that their intentions are good but you really have very little control over it...or do you?

Do yourself a favor. Somewhere on your sketch write this simple text line: "© [current date or year] by [your name]." According to the Copyright Basics circular from the U. S. Copyright Office <<http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf>>, adding this copyright signature is really not necessary because you are granted copyright protection from the moment you create your original sketch, painting, sculpture, etc. Social media, however, has a way of separating and detaching artwork from its original creator. People tend to post verbatim what they find that is interesting and pay little attention to whom should get credit (if any). Also, the person posting or reposting an image is not necessarily the original artist on the piece and that can be misleading.

In my examples, I make it a habit to always write “© 2014 Wesley E. Douglas” along the edge of my sketches. The reason I am suggesting this is because it is not the responsibility of anyone who views, shares, repins, retweets, or reposts your image to make sure you are properly credited. That responsibility falls on your shoulders. And by writing this simple line directly on your artwork it will be less likely to get separated from the sketch than adding it to the comments box.

This simple line of text will actually solve a few common issues with posting images online:
1. Your sketch will always remind people that you are its rightful owner. Regardless of how strongly you feel about whether your sketch deserves to have your signature attached to it, 
this is not the time to be shy.

2. When a media outlet wants to use your image for an article they are working on, having some kind of identification on your artwork will make it easier for them to contact you for permission to use your image.  

3. When you are staring at a blank page in your sketchbook, adding this simple signature makes the perfect first mark on your page.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Let's sketch Chicago - Lincoln Square - July 19, 2014

Lincoln Square in Chicago is a winner location, and we are never tired of it. On July 19 we gathered in Lincoln Square for the third time, and it was the biggest group ever!

Here are some photos to document the sketch crawl.

Our sketches from Lincoln Square!

Lee, Sandra, a sketcher whose name I forgot, and Mary

Cal (Curtis)




Jodie and Kordt


Looking at Lisa's sketch over her shoulder

New member of the group

Lee, Sandra, USk Chicago member, and Mary

And afterwords we went to Brauhaus. We had beer, pretzels (amazing!), and brats and talked about sketching, pens, sketchbooks, and future plans. What a great day it was!

Urban Sketchers in Brauhaus

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.