Thursday, December 23, 2021

T&T Thursday

 Braving the Cold

Sketched from the Bus Stop Shelter at the Field Museum

Tips for Urban Sketching in Winter

It's tempting not to venture outdoors to sketch in the dead of winter. Be smart but don't give in!

Be Prepared

  • Wear lots of layers. You can adjust what to keep  on and off.
  • Invest in fingerless gloves or mittens with fingers folders.
  • Bring an insulated mug with a hot beverage
  • Handwarmer pouches are great too
  • Pack only the essentials

Be Brave 

  • Keep it simple!  
  • Think process not product.Enjoy the sketching don't aim for a masterpiece.
  • What says "cold" to you? Sketch that!
  • Add a note of the weather conditions, temperature, etc.

Get to Work

  • Again keep it simple (I know, I say that a lot!)
  • Pack only essential sketching equipment, e.g.  a pencil, water brush, simple watercolor palette 

Odds and Ends 

  • If you're using watercolor, a little vodka or alcohol in the water/waterbrush will keep your paint from freezing.
  • Sketch from your car
  • Sketch what you see outside your window at home.       

Post Your Sketches!

When you post your sketches let us know what tips you used or can add to the list!

Happy Holidays!

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

T&T Thursday

Sketching Blindly

Through Years and Changes 

By  Alex Zonis

Some things get old - desktop computers? Some get obsolete - VCRs? Some even become a joke - telephone books lol. But some only become better with age - classical music, fine wine. Blind contour drawing belongs in this category.

Some years ago I wrote about blind contour drawing at a boring benefit as a method of saving ourselves from falling asleep. The world changed. Now we don’t have too many in person benefits to attend, but we have day-long Zoom conferences, multi-hour webcasts, online team meetings across time zones. Here is my old article is as relevant as ever!

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!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021


Let's Sketch Chicago

 Garfield Park Conservatory

SUNDAY, December 19, 2021

11:45 AM –  1:30 PM

Hosted by Rachel Pasch Grossman and Urban Sketchers Chicago

For our second hybrid sketch meet, we’ll be sketching at the Garfield Park Conservatory. 

You can join us on Sunday, December 19, at the Conservatory, or you can sketch there on your own, any time before that. Whichever you choose, we hope you’ll join our virtual throwdown on December 19, from 12 noon on.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest and most stunning conservatories in the world, warm and revitalizing on a cold winter day. 

  • December 19th, we’ll meet at the front entrance at 11:45 a.m. 
  • We must enter as a group.
  • Due to covid, the Conservatory is limiting how long groups can stay, so we’ll be having our in-person throwdown there at 1:30.

Reservations provide a one-time entry for a 90 minute visit to the gardens. There is no re-entry if you exit the gardens.

Restrooms will be open and are located at the front entrance, in the lobby. We encourage you to plan your visit accordingly and use the restroom before or after your visit through the gardens.  Water fountains will not be available during your visit.

The Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Avenue, just north of Lake Street. There is a large free parking lot on the south side of the Conservatory, and there is a Green Line stop right there, the Conservatory-Central Park Drive stop.

Note: If you want to go on your own, the Conservatory is requiring reservations, which are easy to get from the website,

If the Garfield Park Conservatory is inconvenient, you could sketch at 

(Plug from a local: the charming Oak Park Conservatory is a gem, with three well-established rooms, a small koi pond, and a couple of showy parrots. On-street parking and free admission too, located right off the Eisenhower.)

Our virtual throwdown will take place on Sunday Dec. 19 starting at 12 noon on our FB group. Share your sketches from this month and see what fellow members have created. To make your post easy to find, use the tag #uskchicago.

Banner sketch by Lisa Ridolfi.

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

T&T Thanksgiving


Tried and True Tips and Tricks 

“When you go out to paint,

try to forget

what objects you have before you,

a street,

a house,

a field, or whatever. 

Merely think,

here is a little square of blue,

here is an oblong of pink,

here is a streak of yellow,

and paint it

 just as it looks to you,

the exact color and shape,

until it gives you your own naive

impression of the scene before you.”

                                                     Claude Monet

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

T&T Thursday

And still growing!

What is an Urban Sketch?

By  Alex Zonis

We continue to welcome new sketchers into our group, our numbers at this writing is an impressive 1620! Every couple of years it seems useful to touch on the common topic of what is an Urban Sketch.

An Urban Sketch simply is:
  • Drawn on location, or mostly on location. 
  • The location can be urban or rural
  • it can be inside or outside.
  • It means that you are out there with your sketchbook reporting on the world as it unfolds in front of you.

There are some No’s too 

An Urban Sketch is not: 
  • a drawing from a model
  • a still life on a page without background for context
  • drawing made from a photo

Through the most difficult months of the pandemic we became more lenient in our moderating and acceptance of posted sketches. Why add more stress to people’s lives - was the justification.

Now, as we are emerging on the other side of the stressful times, Urban Sketchers Chicago is returning to our core mission - sketching on location. This also means that we are returning to moderating our USk Chicago page to the pre-pandemic level.

Here’s our favorite graphic on what is, and what isn’t, an Urban Sketch.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Cold Weather Sketching

Let's Sketch Chicago
Chicago Cultural Center


 12 PM – 3 PM

Welcome to USk Chicago first hybrid Winter Sketchmeet!

Our main location for November will be Chicago Cultural Center.
Sketchers attending on Sunday Nov 21 will gather at the Washington entrance at 12:00 pm. Enjoy in-person meetup, the beautiful space, and please take photos. This meeting will not have a host, so if you can organize yourselves for a group photo, it would be great.

Sketchers can start sketching this location now. We are looking forward to your indoor and outdoor sketches from this location.

Out virtual throughdown will take place on Sunday Nov 21 starting 12 noon on our FB group. Share your sketches of this month and see what Chicago Art and Culture scene is like reported by our sketchers

If getting to downtown Cultural Center is too much for you, please go and sketch your local Art or Cultural Center and share your sketches at the throwdown.


  • Noyes Art and Cultural Center in Evanston 
  • Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park
  • Oak Park Art League in Oak Park
  • Art Center Highland Park in Highland Park
  • Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago 
  • or similar.

Sketch by Alex Zonis

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

T&T Thursday! In a Rut?

Getting Unstuck

By Gail Dokucu

As much as I love my art practice, occasionally I feel like I’ve hit a wall.
It seems that  all motivation and creativity have evaporated. I’m sure a lot of you have had a similar experience. I’m a big fan of Skillshare classes so I thought I’d share an exercise I learned last winter that helped get me back on track.

This exercise came from a class taught by one of my favorite teachers, Ohn Mar Win. While she’s not an urban sketcher, she does have a strong sketchbook practice and several of her classes center around sketchbooks. 

Ohn Mar Win “Daily Art Practice: 14 Day Mindset Challenge

Ohn Mar’s process is pretty simple: 

  • Every day, spend 6 minutes sketching one object.  Set a timer when you start; if you draw the object once and still have time left, start again from a different angle.
  • At the end of the 6 minutes, take a break, then come back to the sketch and do a short critique:  What worked?  What didn’t?  Did you enjoy the process or tool? 
  • Each day use a different tool - various pencils, pens and paints.  

I did this as well my first time through. As I went through the class, I did the 14 day challenge following her guidelines. I enjoyed it so much that I extended the practice and kept it going for another 7 cycles, filling an entire sketchbook.

Keep Going!

At the end of the first 14 days, I decided that I wanted to spend more time exploring various brush pens.  For each 14 day period, I chose a different brush pen - Pitt B, Pitt SB, Pentel ArtBrush, Pentel Pocket Brush and Tombow Fudenosuke - and stuck with it for the whole period.  

During the challenge, I realized that one of the things that keeps me from a daily practice is not knowing what to draw.  So I made a list of objects for the entire 14 days before I started; I did 14 days of art supplies, and got over a month out of things pulled from my kitchen drawers!

When I had filled the entire sketchbook, I went back through it and made some notes on my observations. 
  •  I found I had a strong preference for very soft, flexible brush pens like the Pitt SB or the Pentel Pocket Brush.
  • Sometimes I avoid sketching because I don’t have much free time, but I found 6 minutes to be a sweet spot that I could get to every single day. 
  • Having the list premade helped keep me on track too - no time spent each day trying to decide on a subject.  
  • While these were not urban sketches, the process certainly benefited my urban sketching practice.  It kept me sketching during a period of low motivation so that my hands didn’t forget how to sketch.
  • And the brush pens felt unwieldy at first, after 3 months I got so comfortable with them that they are now one of my favorite tools.

Even doing one round is a great way to get familiar with a new tool; six minutes doesn’t seem like much but it adds up and makes a difference over 2 weeks!

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Winter in Chicago!

Sketch by Barbara Weeks

Can you believe the winter months and indoor sketching are nearly here?!

We are planning a new indoor sketching format so we can be considerate of our members’ health and tolerance levels. 

Here’s what it will look like:

  • Winter indoor sketching months are November - March
  • A FB event with a meetup location will be posted around the 1st of the month
  • Sketchers can either sketch at the announced location any time until 3rd Sunday or gather at the location on a 3rd Sunday at 12 noon to sketch
  • Throwdown will be virtual on our FB group on the 3rd Sunday of the month
  • Share your sketches and photos at a virtual throwdown on FB on the 3rd Sunday

There will be no host for these gatherings, please take photos and share them!

If you want to sketch a similar location, you can participate with this sketch as well. If you want to share a different location sketch - please do!

Happy Sketching!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

T&T Thursday


Halloween Fun in Chicago 2016

Urban Sketching Haiku

By Barbara Weeks

We often talk of about the many values in keeping a sketchbook. There are many, but what about the sheer fun of keeping a sketchbook? There’s a lot to gain from that, too!

The 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 – waiting in line, catching a quick cup of coffee, on the train or bus.  We draw our connection with the world around us.There is a need to be fast and concise! Yes, but not perfect.


1. Think Small - It can no bigger than the size of a credit card or smaller.

This sketch is about 2.25” x 2” sketch of the view from Starbucks in the Presidio in San Francisco. It’s the Palace 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. (The need for perfection can rob us of the fun and spontainaity of sketching) 
Think simple shapes and values.

Sketches done on a road trip to Mystic, Connecticut. (Another benefit, sketching in the car also keeps me from “backseat driving”!)

3. Focus - what catches your attention?

These sketches were done while waiting for my granddaughter at the allergist. I love to people watch!

What are the benefits of speed sketching?
  • Improved drawing skills
  • Focus
  • Increased spontaneity and freshness in your sketches
  • Rapid planning of ideas for larger sketches or future paintings
  • Great for fast travel sketching especially when traveling with non-sketchers.
  • They’re fun

Poetry of speed sketching –Capturing quick moments of the day and recording a response to them. 

I call them Tone Poems. 

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Sweet Home Chicago

Sketch of Bahái House of Worship by Alex Zonis

Let's Sketch

Chicago Architecture

 Open House

Saturday, October 16

12 PM - 3 PM

Event by Shruti Vijay and Urban Sketchers Chicago

Every October, the Chicago Architecture Center hosts one of the largest architecture events in the world — Open House Chicago. The members of Urban Sketchers Chicago usually choose an Open House site and sketch individually at the site.

This year we are trying something new.

We have 5 different locations that we can choose to sketch. This way we can sketch together and report this great event. 

How to participate:
You can choose any one of the below location and meet on Saturday October 16, 2021 at 12 noon. 

  • Wait around for a few minutes for other sketchers to show up. 
  • Sketch anything you like at this site: architecture, people, neighborhood. In the end have a throw down and take photos of people and sketches. 
  • Post your sketches and photos on our Facebook group. 

LOCATION 1: Downtown
400 S. State St.

LOCATION 2: Near North Side
126 E. Chestnut St. 
Enter at southwest corner of Michigan & Delaware.

LOCATION 3: North Shore / Evanston
100 Linden Ave.

LOCATION 4: Oak Park
217 Home Ave.

LOCATION 5: South Loop
1827 S. Indiana Ave. 
Enter via the porch stairs on the west side of the house, on Indiana Ave. 

In all the excitement please do not forget our Manifesto to draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.

This sketch meet will not have an admin-host and will be self-hosted.

Want to keep up to date by email? Fill in your email address in the place provided in the upper right corner under the banner. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

For Those Who Want to Play Along!


October Sketching Prompts

  • Oct. 3 - Current sketch kit, in action
  • Oct. 10 - The People In Your Neighborhood - who remembers this ditty from Sesame Street?
  • Oct. 17 - Fall Foliage
  • Oct. 24 - Sweater Weather - capture some texture!
  • Oct. 31 - BOO!

Sketch of the people in her neighborhood by Shruti Vijay

Prompts by Gail Dokucu

Have fun!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

T&T Thursday!

Fountain Pen Anatomy 

By Alex Zonis

Sketch by Alex Zonis

Fountain pens in Urban Sketching have become all the rage. Pen geeks huddle together at sketchmeets, show off their treasures and talk nerdy talk about “tines”, “feeds”,“converters” and other incomprehensible things that have meaning only to them. It is time to stop this and share the pen terminology with all.

Fountain pen is a complex tool with some ingenious engineering under the outer covers.

It consists of many components that come together to deliver ink to paper in a controlled fashion.

Here’s a look under the hood so to speak.

The most important part of the pen is of course the nib. The nib is world onto itself, they come in many varieties, materials, sizes and configurations, but all have common components.

Just a couple important points about the fountain pen nibs:

  • There are several shapes of the tips that make significant difference in marks making. Tips can be round or flat, as in stubs and italics. Tips can also be bent, also known as Fude, for Chinese style calligraphy marks.
  • Nibs come in different widths: EF, F, M, B, BB, 1.1mm, 1.5mm and others.
  • They come in different softness: hard, soft or Flex.
  • The most common materials for the nib are steel and gold, but other metals can be used for nibs as well.

The combinations of these characteristics can create a nib for every hand, style and technique.

The nib by itself would not be worth much if the pen didn’t have a system to deliver ink to the tipping point where the nib meets the paper. 

These are the parts of ink delivery system:

And there we have it – 

the fountain pen anatomy that makes a timeless tool for writing, drawing, sketching and admiring.

Learn Tips and Tricks here every second and third Thursday of the month!