Monday, January 21, 2013

My First Urban Sketchers Experience

My First Urban Sketchers Meetup (Wes Douglas)
It was one of the coldest days at the beginning of 2013…January as I remember. I took the Metra West line train into Ogilvy Transportation Center and walked to the Chicago Cultural Center (the former Chicago Library on Washington and Michigan Avenue). Gosh it was cold but I made it. And when I entered the south entrance and walked up the stairs, I met Alex Zonis for the first time and recognized her immediately from her Facebook picture. She said “Welcome to Urban Sketchers and there are lots of us here. If you see someone sketching, it’s probably one of us.”

But let’s back up about a month. How did I come to walking 10 blocks in 15º F cold to join up with Urban Sketchers Chicago? In December 2012, I walked over to the Elmhurst Public Library from my office to check out the new book section (as was the habit of mine during my lunch breaks).

The library is only a block away so it was good exercise. Scanning the creative book section, I stumbled upon a book called “The Art of Urban Sketching." By now, many people are very familiar with it but at the time this book was new to me. I come across books on sketching all the time and I even seek them out. But this book caught my attention and realized that I was learning a new term, "urban sketching."

With the background noise of a woman on her laptop hammering on her keyboard as if she was a percussionist in a rock band (sketch shown on the left), I flipped through the sketches from various artists and learned about the existence of the global community. Then I went to the website and noodled around there until I noticed that off to the right were local chapters listed. I clicked on the link for "Urban Sketchers Chicago" and found the Facebook group page. Then I asked to "join."

Only a few days later did I receive notice that I had been accepted into the group. I do not recall if Alex Zonis herself had responded to me but she was and has always been the face that I recognized from my first encounter with the group.

Since I had been sketching most all of my life, sketching scenes from my life were already embedded into my daily habits. I merely continued sketching random scenes that appealed to me but with a new focus on paying attention to only those scenes that were directly in front of me. And I became a prolific poster of my sketches to the USK Facebook group.

Then I found out that this Chicago chapter meets once a month at various locations around the Chicagoland area and the next one was scheduled for the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue. "What? You mean I can actually meet real, live people from a Facebook group? Does that even happen?"

As a matter of fact it does happen and it continues to happen for urban sketchers every year, every day.

Now back to that bitter cold day in January. I walked around the Chicago Cultural Center and noticed the sketchers that Alex had told me about – some in clusters sketching together and some by themselves, alone in a corner. All of them were busy sketching and little to no conversation took place.

I think I had envisioned that these get togethers were going to be like workshops where artists were collaborating, laughing, having fun and enjoying each others' company. But then I had to remind myself that these were artists and artists tend to be quiet, focused people who, like me, have trouble sketching and talking at the same time. And I was ok with that.

At the end, when all of the urban sketchers were invited to meet back at one of the entrances to share what they had sketched, it was then that I realized the magic of this group. I was able to see how many people had shown up and braved the cold on this God-forsakenly cold day in order to do what they enjoyed best with other like-minded individuals. And to have the ability to see such a range of talent and working styles opened my eyes to the true benefits of being a part of such a wonderful community.

And to top of this already wonderful experience, Alex Zonis and Mary Lanigan Russo had asked me to consider being a correspondent of this group. This essentially allowed me to be a regular contributor to this USK Blog. I thought it would be fun. The rest, as they say, is history.


  1. Welcome, Wes! So good to have you! And awesome drawing - very striking!

  2. Welcome, Wes! I love the graphic quality in this sketch. The lighting is outstanding.