Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Where Would You Like Your Art to Be a Year from Now?

Tuesday Tips &Tricks:

At the end of the year, many of us look back and take stock of the past year, what we’ve done, what we didn’t do, and maybe, what we wish we had done. I like to page through my sketchbooks and see how my sketching has changed over the year. What worked? What didn’t? What do I need to work on more? Looking at your work after not seeing it for a while, and looking at it chronologically, is interesting. There’s always a surprise or two!  Then there’s the look to the new year, where would I like my work to be a year from now?

Looking Back Over 2015

Tuesday Tips & Tricks posts have covered topics from architecture to Zen doodles and a whole lot in between! We talked about how to sketch, why to sketch, and what to sketch. We looked at color and shades of gray. We covered sharing your work on-line and in shows. and so much more. We even advised you to ruin your watercolors!  If you found a post helpful and would like to review it check out the Blog Archive in the sidebar and click on your topic of choice. The same goes for TT&Ts you may have missed.

Looking to the Future

Looking to the new year, where would you like your art to be a year from now? What are your goals? (It’s good to set them, but that’s another post.)

The next question is, how can we, at the Urban Sketchers - Chicago blog, help? Do you have a topic you’d like us to explore? Let us know. Leave a comment here with your suggestions and questions.

May we all have a Happy and Artful 2016!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

7 Ways To Enjoy Urban Sketching More

Tuesday Tips & Tricks (Wes Douglas)
Congratulations! You've decided to join the Urban Sketchers Chicago (USk Chicago) group (or have recently been added) and now you might be wondering what's next. Here are some of my tips on how you can make your experience with USk Chicago a more fulfilling one.

1. Sketch something from your day. It could be from home, school, your work, during one of your breaks, or while you are traveling. Take a good clear photo of your sketch and share it on USK Chicago's Facebook page. If you have reservations about posting your work on the Internet, do this simple step and rest assured your work will be protected: Somewhere on your sketch, embed your name and the date you sketched it onto your sketch before you snap your photo. This way, your name will always be attached to your sketch. Consider an identifying stamp too.

2. Tell us a little something about one of your sketches, like the size, what drawing tools you used and the kind of sketchbook/paper you chose.

3. Ask a specific question to the community about your sketch. For example, I once posted a sketch of a stairway railing and I asked the group if my perspective was off or not. The amount of helpful and constructive feedback was very useful and gave me the positive kind of information I could use to effectively fix my sketch.

4. Don't hit the "LIKE" button. If you see another artist's sketch that you admire, write a thoughtful comment about a specific area you think works really well. To the artist who posted the sketch, this tells them a whole lot more than "LIKE" and it starts to build a conversation.

5. Ask another artist about what kinds of techniques they used to achieve their sketch or how they approach a sketch. My experience is that artists in this group love to talk about art skills and learn a few new things from each other as well. Plus, the very nature of a Facebook group is to be social and conversations go a long way toward strengthening the bond with other artists. The very fact that we are a social media group who actually meet face to face on a regular basis is what makes this group so special and unique.

6. Come out and join the group at one of our monthly Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawls. We call our events “Let's Sketch Chicago” and we meet in person at a designated location and time announced at the beginning of the month on Facebook. It is typically on the third weekend of the month and we alternate Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate more people’s schedules.

7. Volunteer for group activities. Our biggest event every summer is our USk Chicago Sketch Seminar. There are lots and lots of ways to volunteer – ranging from organizing and planning the event, spreading the word to local media, schools, art institutions, sponsors and to the larger population of artists who might want to attend. If you have a special skill that you would be interested to share in a workshop setting with other urban sketchers and painters, please think about becoming one of our workshop instructors. Ask me for more details. I can tell you from experience how incredibly fulfilling it is to affect people's lives with new skills and knowledge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sketching the Holidays

In a few weeks we'll be thinking about 2016 and what we want to change or how we want to improve our sketching practice in the next year. But right now, it can feel like the worst time of the year for sketching.

Here are a few tips to help you reconsider your reasons for not sketching this Holiday season.

"I'm going to be traveling a lot…"

Sketch of girl waiting at Midway Airport

Airports are famously good places for the Urban Sketcher to capture scenes. Whether you sketch other passengers waiting to board, people running past your boarding area to their own flights, your in-flight snack, or something else you spy, air plane travel is a great time to sketch.

collage of faces from a looong car ride

If you're traveling by bus or riding in the car, you're also in luck. This can be a great time to practice quickly capturing people. One year on our long drive home I filled a notebook page with faces of the drivers and passengers of the cars around us. Or if people aren't your cup of tea, why not make thumbnails of the landscapes whizzing past? (Please don't try to draw while driving. I know it is tempting, but it's not worth it!)

"I'll just be sitting around with family or something…"


If you'll be seated around a table for hours, why not use paper place mats? Less washing for the household, and great opportunities to sketch those around you. As an added bonus, other folks around the table might want to make their own renderings of the company!

When we celebrate holidays with my husband's family things go back and forth between wild, when all twenty-something folks are in a single room, and quiet in the evenings or mornings while folks are sitting around talking. If you're at similar events, take advantage of those times: try gesture drawings of the full moments and more thoughtful sketches when things quiet down.

Sketch of Grandpop in between stories

"I don't feel comfortable just drawing people I'm in the room with…"

I was just studying shoes, but the dog stole the show!

Well, part of being an Urban Sketcher is overcoming your fear of sketching in public. But, if you need some extra help this year, why not try having a theme? Maybe make this a time to practice drawing the folds in clothing, or maybe more specifically the way pants fold near the shoe. If you have a hard time with hair, sketch everyone's hair. You won't have to worry about trying faces or hands (unless that's what you want to focus on!) but you'll be helping yourself feel more comfortable with drawing people in the future.

Ok, so you really, really can't draw anything on anyone this year? Urban Sketching isn't just about people, so why not try another approach. Instead of sketching the people in the room, why not sketch the room. Just remember, when we sketch, we're telling a story about the place. So, leave in the crumpled wrapping paper or even the dirty dishes on the table.

Do you have a plan for sketching the Holidays? If so, I'd love to hear it & either way, I'm looking forward to seeing glimpses of what your Holidays look like over in our Facebook group, or on Instagram.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night …

Urban Sketchers Chicago and Plein Air Painters of Society work on exhibit at Blick Art Materials

Yes, I know that's the motto of the US Post Office, but it also could be the motto of Urban Sketchers and Plein Air Painters of Chicago. We draw and paint on location in all kinds of weather. As luck would have it, it was snowy and rainy for the opening of the Urban Sketchers Holiday Showcase at Blick Art Materials in Lincoln Park on November 21, but Urban Sketchers, Plein Air Painters, and Blicks delivered! 

Barbara Weeks, Susan Hanley, Ted Gordon, and Andrew Banks offered their prints and original work for sale at the show's opening reception.

Despite the snowy day, Blick's was a lively place as fellow artists and art-appreciators came in to shop and see the show. We introduced them to the difference between original work and giclee prints. We talked about the missions of Urban Sketchers and Plein Air Painters. We discussed the media we use. We enjoyed meeting them all! One of the best parts of the day was encouraging young artists, who were excited to meet us and see us in action.

Andrew Banks and Ted Gordon discuss techniques.

 One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was encouraging young artists.

Thank you to the great staff at Blicks. They were a big part of making it such an enjoyable day. We're looking forward to future collaborations between Blick Art Materials and Urban Sketchers Chicago. 

If you haven't seen the show yet you have four more days! The show closes Sunday, December 13. Stop by Blicks, 1574 N Kingsbury, see the show and, maybe, pick up a holiday gift for your favorite artist!

We even got a little location work done. A big thank-you to Andrew Banks for the photos!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An Urbansketching Field Guide


I LOVE to draw in nature. When I'm outside, I never run out of inspiration.  The solitude and tranquility of the outdoors allow me the luxury of close observation.  And when I'm not satisfied with my reference or imagination, I turn to a nature field guide to fill in the gaps and give me some background behind the beauty of what I'm drawing. 

In the past couple of years, I've expanded my sketch-cersizing to urban settings.  Traffic, commotion, claustrophobia, and the anxiety of drawing in public can quickly cloud the beauty the city has to offer.  It's not always easy to experience the same natural peacefulness when drawing in an urban setting.  When I feel the frustrations of urbansketching setting in, I've found it helpful to mimic my outdoor art-making rituals.

Field Notes # 1  Getting Started
Often I start by... simply starting!  I walk around a bit, but I don't let myself get caught up seconding guessing the location, scenery, or problematic perspective... I just start. In this image, I drew the house "blindly" if you will, not thinking about what was important.  After looking at the sketch postmortem, I wanted to know more about the meter reader.   On the following page, I zeroed in on my subject of interest and tried out a few texture techniques.

Field Notes # 2  Challenge Yourself with a Close Up
When my sketch starts to develop, there's usually something; an object, or person, or area on the page that I keep coming back to.  Sometimes I overdevelop it, sometimes under... not knowing exactly how to translate the imagery into my book. Subconsciously in almost every sketch, there is something my brain is forcing my eyes to re-examine.  Instead of overworking an area, work out your curiosity on a new page, or utilize the blank space of your page to create a collage of close ups.  Field guides often revisit an idea multiple times on one page showing different sizes, angles, and levels of detail.

Field Notes # 3  It's art, not science.
If you haven't picked up a field guide in a while, go check one out at the library.  


The detailed line work and accuracy of field guide sketches are simply amazing, but don't let them intimidate you!  These books are meant to be factual and scientific.  As urbansketchers, we have the liberty of interpretation.  Don't miss out on the potential for growth because you want your page to look pretty or professional.  An artist's sketchbook/field guide might include things like color palettes, ink splats, texture try-outs, and value scales.  

In this image I needed to see the palette literally right on the page.  Even after drawing 8 tomatoes, I still wanted to show something even more bulbous. 

What would be in your field guide? Comment below and share your sketches!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ditch Your Eraser

USk Chicago: Tuesday Tips & Tricks by Ted Gordon

What’s the fastest way to improve your drawing?
Ditch your eraser.

How can I get a decent image of my pencil sketch online?
While you are at it, ditch your pencil; draw in ink.

The more you do something, the better you get at it. When you are studying what something looks like and practicing rendering it, you are improving your drawing ability. When you are erasing those marks, you are practicing erasing, not drawing. Don’t worry about stray marks, just keep drawing.

Another way I like to put this:
Everyone has thousands of terrible drawings in them. The sooner you get them out, the better. Erasing will only slow you down.

Committing to eraser-free drawing is easier, if you draw with something difficult to erase.

A huge benefit of drawing in ink is that it photographs well! You don’t have to sharpen an ink drawing, adjust its contrast or do anything! If you do, it handles those adjustments much more simply and clearly than a graphite drawing.

Create cleaner drawings. Ink, compared to graphite, stays where it’s put and doesn't need fixative applied to make that happen. It’s less likely to smudge and, depending on which ink you use, can be more or less waterproof.

Draw with Confidence!
If you are nervous about abandoning your eraser, you may be surprised how drawing with ink can make your marks more bold - in more ways than one.
Using a pen encourages you to be more deliberate. That creates a cleaner, more elegant line, in my opinion.
Conversely, if that ‘tightens you up’, go nuts. Put all those lines down there. As long as you are looking and drawing, you are improving.

In conclusion, I highly recommend drawing without your eraser, if you haven’t. You’ll notice that many Urban Sketchers are drawing in ink already. My recommendation comes from the advice of greater artists that have preceded us as well as my own experience, seeing this improve my drawing and the drawings of my students.

You can see my Urban Sketches and Plein Air Paintings here: http://www.tedgordonart.com/ http://instagram.com/motionimpossible

What do you think? Have you experimented with leaving your eraser out of the picture? What other reasons do you like to draw without your eraser, or in ink?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why and How of the Waterbrush

Tuesday Tips & Tricks:

Have Brush, Will Travel

There are countless little things to be thankful for every day. One of the little things for me is the waterbrush. I don’t know who invented the waterbrush or remember who introduce it to me, but I owe them a debt of gratitude! It is my go-to-brush whenever I’m traveling or sketching on location. In the studio, I use a variety of brushes, but out-and-about, it’s a waterbrush for me. There are quite a few brands out there. They all work in the much the same way, similar, though not exactly, to a fountain pen.

How to Use a Waterbrush 

The brush has three main parts:
1. The plastic barrel that contains the water reservoir.
2. The screw on ferrule connects the bristles to the water supply
3. The cap keeps the water from leaking.
Need more water to moisten the paint in the pans, to make the paint run, or to wet the paper to paint wet-on-wet? To increase the flow of water to the brush just squeeze the plastic barrel! It’s that simple. Want to change colors and clean your brush? Squeeze the barrel and wipe the brush on a tissue or paper towel. I use the cuff of an old white sock. I wear it on my wrist. With a little practice controlling the flow becomes second nature.

Filling the brush varies a little from brand to brand. Some you just unscrew the barrel and hold it under running water. Others use the suction principle. Squeeze the barrel, submerge the opening in a glass of water and release. Easier yet, hold the barrel under running water, squeeze and release. It’s surprising how much water the barrel holds and how long it lasts.

Benefits of the Waterbrush 

“Keep it simple” is one of my mantras and when you’re sketching on location you can’t beat the convenience of the waterbrush. I don't leave home without it. There's no need to carry around an extra water supply for clean water. The cap protects the bristles and fits on the end of the barrel to lessen the chance of losing it. Waterbrushes are available from art supply stores including Dick Blick, Cheap Joe’s, and Jerry’s Artarama.

Do you have an art supply that you’re really thankful for? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Zen Doodling vs. Urban Sketching? Discuss.

Tuesday Tips & Tricks by Wes Douglas

Has this ever happened to you? Someone who knows you well or someone who hears that you like to draw suddenly makes the connection to another seemingly dissimilar art form. Recently I had an acquaintance compare my urban sketches to Zen Doodling. My blink reaction, with only a surface awareness of this art form, is that it did not even compare to what I do with urban sketching...or so I thought.

But before I dismissed Zen Doodling as such a different alien art form from urban sketching, I needed to do a little research.

(Zentangle by Janet McLeod)

According to Karla Archer, in her Live The Life Fantastic blog, the term ‘Zentangle’ was coined by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. Roberts had noticed that the focus that Thomas had, while drawing, was similar to the meditative state he had learned as a monk – what is often referred to as “flow“. They then set out to develop a system allowing almost anyone to follow and use as a way to relax and express themselves creatively. The system follows certain steps which are established to allow freedom to create within the boundaries.

(Zen Doodle by Ann Marie Cheung)

Zendoodling has none of the specifics, regarding paper, size of the shape, color etc. You can draw a shape (letter, animal etc) that fills a large sheet of paper and fill it in with patterns or create designs on clothing, pottery, etc, and it can be meant to look like something. 
OK, now we're getting somewhere. So if I sketch out a building and spend the next 30 minutes adding tiny little bricks to its exterior or many many windows and, in the process I reach a relaxed state, could I be treading in the Zen waters of doodling?

Or let's consider that framing the building or house of my sketch is a number of trees and shrubs and I spend time meticulously drawing out tiny little leaves. Could this be bridging the perceived gap between zen doodling and urban sketching? I suppose it comes down to the desired outcome.

Does urban sketching help to relax you or do you feel pressure to do well?

Do you feel that having guidelines help you to produce better sketches or do you feel that they stifle your creativity?

Does drawing from observation excite you or would you rather sketch from your imagination and let the sketch appear organically?
I think there is a place for both since neither one needs to be the end all of anyone's art form. I think parts of the urban sketch can contain an element of Zen doodling but a purely Zen doodle posted on Urban Sketching may earn you some push back. Sketching can come from many influences and does not have to be exclusively defined by a label or requiring permission to apply its system. 

I'm not advocating that we all start posting Zen doodles on the Urban Sketching sites. Rather I am trying to understand that commonality that others see in different forms of sketching. If it makes you feel good, I say let it roll. If a debate must ensue, you may begin now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Who Reflections Show

So you like sketching on public transportation?

As some of you know, Ted Gordon hosted a great class at the 2015 Summer Seminar on Urban Sketching Undercover. He had great tips on how to sneak a sketch in public.

Ballpoint pen sketch from Red Line train

But what happens when you end up with a window seat on the bus or train and a neighbor who is blocking your view of everyone else?

If it also happens to be night or just dark, look out your window because you are in luck!

Wait – what?

Because CTA buses and trains have lights on the inside, the windows reflect what is around you. It isn't a perfect mirror, but it's a great way to get in a bus sketch. If your neighbor is blocking the view, this distortion can be especially helpful as it will often stretch the view to include more of the bus than you could comfortably see without it!

In the photos above you can see a  sample reflection from the bus window one evening. Notice that in these two photos there are at least three subjects for sketching without having to sketch the back of a bunch of heads! 

 This technique is also helpful when someone is starting to suspect that you might be sketching them, just look out the window for a bit and sketch them from there!
Sketch from bus Jan. 2015

 In this sketch the fellow started suspect that I was sketching him. By the time I finished he was a lot more than suspecting and had actually taken photos of me sketching him!

He was a great sport about it and we discussed the importance of the arts over a cup of coffee the next day (Meeting great people is an amazing benefit of Urban Sketching). But for some people that sounds terrifying. Even if it doesn't sound terrifying, there are times when you'd just prefer not to be noticed, right?

Well as you might be able to tell, this gentleman was sitting in the same spot as the fellow in the driver's hat from the photos above. If I had realized it at the time, I could have sketched him from his reflection instead and avoided the encounter. Neat, huh?

So what about if it's bright out? Well, as far as I can tell you're just out of luck if it's a sunny day. Do you know otherwise? If you have any tricks for gaining a sketch-able view by day, I'd love to hear them!