Urban Sketching In Isolation

Many of us have lamented that our urban sketching lifestyles have been disrupted by COVID-19.  We sit in houses thinking of better days when we sat in public places drawing the scenes before us.  And some of us have reported our “solutions” to this.  Tina Koyama talks about standing in a street circle and drawing what’s around her.  I’ve mentioned my 2-min sketches while on walks. Others have succumbed to looking out their windows for subjects.

I may have found a way to up my game as an isolated urban sketcher.  Maybe you’ll think I’m not urban sketching at all, but it feels like urban sketching to me.  Here’s what I did.

1) I went for my daily walk and found a scene worthy of sketching (are there any that aren’t)?
2) I stood, leaning against a tree, while I studied the scene, thinking about drawing it.  I noted the relative locations of all the major objects and ‘saw’ the major angles and proportions that related the objects to one another.  I thought about what I’d eliminate from the scene, where the center of focus would be.  I even mentally traced around one of the cars and some of the major tree branches just to etch them into my mind a bit.  I probably spent 5-min doing this, just as though I was actually going to sketch the scene.
3) Then I took a couple photos and rushed home.
4) I cropped a photo to reflect what I’d been thinking while on the street and drew some organizational lines and blobs to organize the paper and then started sketching from my laptop screen.  This is what it looked like when I finished the ink.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document Black ink, gouache

5) I’m still experimenting with gouache and still stumbling over myself with it.  Nevertheless, I decided to use gouache on this sketch and had some fun trying to move back and forth between transparent and opaque approaches.  Very confusing but lots of promise.  I got James Gurney’s new course yesterday and, shazaam, that’s exactly what he starts the course talking about.  Can’t wait to try some of the things he talks about.

BUT, excepting that I was sitting at a table rather than on my stool, it felt like urban sketching because of the immediate translation of a scene I’d just looked at and the one I was putting on paper.

I won’t split hairs whether this is “real” urban sketching or not as I don’t much care.  But if I can repeat this process during my isolation, I’m going to be a happy camper.  The only thing I miss is meeting up with friends after the sketching session.  I have to settle with bugging my wife and daughter with “Hey, look at this.”  Give it a try.  You just might like it.


4 thoughts on “Urban Sketching In Isolation

  1. Nice idea! I think we may have to do this for a long time?
    I had planned out all the places we would go with the
    group of Plein air painters for the 2020 season just before
    we won’t into isolation. Hope we can save some of the
    season. Thanks for the thoughts. Peter

    • Yep, spring/summer art schedules have really taken a hit. Mentally I’ve had to make some major adjustments just to keep sketching as I’m not an indoor sketcher, or at least I never have been. I’m now at a point where I don’t really care because I’ve now got more ‘wanna do’ house-bound projects that I don’t need to go anywhere. Thanks for your note.

  2. I’m diehard — I have to start and finish a sketch on the spot because that’s where the energy is for me. But I’m thrilled that you found what works for you, because that’s the only thing that matters. Enjoying your adventures in gouache!

    • As you know, I was a diehard too. Times and situations change and the change that lets me do art at home rather than insisting that everything be done on location has been excruciating to execute but I’m glad it has because it looks like the notion of getting ‘back to normal’ is a pipe dream.

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