Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Warning Signs

Elmhurst, IL: I have met very few people in my lifetime who get excited about the dreaded railroad crossing. In fact the news would confirm that more and more people believe they can outsmart the crossing gates and have had to pay dearly for that error in judgement. I am rather the opposite where I look forward to the latest artwork on the train cars, rendered by the unknown graffiti artists scurrying about the railroad yards at night, and on display for the general public imprisoned at the crossing gates. I find this art rather compelling and the one element that makes waiting for a freight train more enjoyable.

Consider, then, that the art of Urban Sketching exercises the artist's observation skills of the world right before them, and now the mundane and overlooked become the hero of their compositions. I had such a moment recently when I was stopped by the activated crossing gates and was overcome by the complexity of signage and warnings that have become necessary. "Do not stop on Tracks," "Caution: walk time shortened when train approaches," and "Warning: Fast moving trains." The only one missing might be "Warning: crossing the tracks while gates are down may kill you."

Regardless, it is this kind of over-communicating that becomes great subject matter for the Urban Sketcher. The more curious, the more there is a backstory attached to the sketch, the better.

Sketch: Prismacolor 005 Premier Pen and Prismacolor color markers on kraft paper.


  1. Neat sketch.
    Great post-I love the idea of a "date line" at the beginning. I think I'll start doing that too.

    Also- "the mundane and overlooked become the hero of their compositions" WOW! I do believe it is the Urban Sketchers' calling to help people to see not just the big picture but those things that they might walk by and leave unnoticed .

  2. Barb, I used to spend a good portion of my packaging design projects camped out at retail stores watching consumer behavior in order to figure out what would garner their attention in order to buy product. During that process I was always amazed at what a retailer thinks is important to the shopper is completely different than what is important to the shopper. Even though marketers are people and come from the same human race as consumers, it's like they somehow clicked off that part of the brain when they designed their store or products. So this phrase "mundane and overlooked" became very important to me in everyday observations and has now manifested itself into my sketches. Thanks for your feedback.

  3. I love the sketch! For so many reasons! I love the brown paper that adds to the desolate feeling. The gray boxes of warehouses. The striped arms of the gates. And most of all I love how the resulting angles make me feel unsettled. Gorgeous composition.

    P.S. I too love graffiti art, but am now careful whom I admit it to. Got some strange glances when I mention it, he-he. Have some very talented friends that do graffiti.

  4. Thank you Alex. I love how you see things that maybe came as intuitive or as an accident for me and that you are able to articulate them. This is a very useful artistic critique...something I'm not used to getting. And as far as graffiti goes, I used to make it one of the "I Spy" games with my family whenever we were stuck by a train. made the time pass more quickly.