Urban Sketching

MontrealHail to the urban sketchers! I don’t know how they do it.

I recently spent three days in Montreal and was eager to try my hand at sketching buildings and cafes and street scenes. Instead, I found myself challenged at every turn. With so much going on—so many people and so much activity—I hardly knew where to begin. My family had a full schedule of activities, and I thought I’d just sketch along the way, but that proved harder than I anticipated. I stole five minutes here and there—a pause while hiking, a moment before lunch, a few minutes at museums. The result, as you see, is a fairly random mix.

And so, I wonder, what’s the secret to urban sketching? No fuss? Work fast? Travel alone? Sketch anything? Sketch everywhere? Dedicate time? Or, perhaps, just stick with a camera next time!
Montreal-Garden-Inuit ArtIn the interest of speed, I jettisoned my paints on the second day, in favor of a fountain pen and water brush. Both of these pages took less than 10 minutes and I added the colored background later.

11 Comments on “Urban Sketching

  1. I am looking forward to any comments because I’ll be in the same position next month. Just how do you travel sketch when you are the only sketcher? I think those wonderful Urban Sketchers have a trip dedicated to sketching and drawing. The rest of us live in the real world of families and partners traveling with us. I guess I could take off on my own for a morning or something like that. That might work fairly well if we stayed in one place for a few days. Just not sure how to handle it when moving from one place to another each day.

    • I met a man sketching at a museum who said he typically fills three SKETCHBOOKS in a two week trip! Talk about prolific! Though traveling with his wife, they were spending much of their days pursuing their own interests. So I do think the reality of exploring places with your family makes a big difference.

  2. I’m going to have the same type of dilemma starting next week. We are heading to the French Alps to cycle 800 miles. I’ll be the only sketcher. I plan to sketch after each day’s ride as we should be done riding by mid to late afternoon. I may not even be physically able to sketch after most of these rides as the climbs are 6k-10k each day. Not sure if I’ll go off on my own or brave sketching in a group of non- sketchers. I wish there were others on this trip who would want to sketch. I’m feeling my goal may not be easy. Anyway, I love your sketches. Very inspirational.

    • Good luck Leslie! You might just need to keep it pretty basic and record whatever strikes you about the day. You’ll likely see some great views that you won’t be able to capture, but I bet you’ll be able to get down some thing. Having some time to yourself at the end of a long day may be nice too.

  3. I’m a sketcher (urban, rural, wildlands, wherever), and no on else in my family is. I’ve found a couple of tactics help. The first is that I sketch when I’m out and about with my husband, even if it’s at perfectly ordinary places. That has helped to habituate him to the “behavior” which helps a lot when we are traveling, too. I also have learned to be very explicit about when I want to sketch. For example, when we’re packing up for a day out, hiking or exploring a new place, I make it clear that I anticipate wanting to sketch at least once or twice during the day. When I find things I really want to sketch, I say so, and then aim to do fairly quick sketches and make notes (or take photos) for color references. Unless I have lots of time, I tend to just do pencil or ink sketches, and finish the color later. Also, my husband is getting more and more into photography, which is great, because then we move through a space at a fairly similar pace (as long as it’s a mostly natural environment). It’s trickier in cities, unless we’re in a museum, because I spend a lot more time looking at things than he would. Finally, I find I can sketch vignettes and small objects WAY faster, so I tend to do a lot more sketches like that. If I really want to include a full scene or landscape, I have to either say so, or leave space in the page and fit it in from memory/reference images. But, since I much prefer drawing on location, I find I wind up with blank pages that I never come back to. So, I like the post-it-note idea – at least I’d know what I left it blank for. 🙂

    • Also, I try to plan to do some sketching when I know we’ll be somewhere for a while…like when we’re having lunch. That seems to help a lot.

      • Great suggestions! My family is really good about giving me time to sketch and my kids are almost past the eye rolling stage when I pull out my journal at a restaurant. That said, I realize that I just didn’t do a good job of planning in sketching time during this trip. I’m much more familiar with drawing in natural settings, so I really wanted to do some streetscapes– but finding a place to sit or stand amidst traffic and people was more than I could manage! The new challenges were good for me to experience and, ultimately, I’ll be better for them!

  4. Yeah you made it to Montreal! Glad that you got to hike Mount Royal as well. Did you visit the Natural History Museum at McGill? I think your urban sketching was wonderful. I’m sure you hear this a lot but, i love when you include maps. I think it adds so much to your journey. It makes me feel like I’m there with you : )

    • Yes! I made it to the natural history museum, but too late in the trip and for too short a time! What a place! Right up my alley! Could have used a couple of hours to sketch there. I bet you know some other good gems in the city! I love doing maps– my big trouble with this one was when I spelled J. Cartier: “Chartier”. Ugh! Hate when that happens, but I was able to fix it with a little scraping.

  5. So fun to be part of your journey. My city sketches are always when I’m alone in a cafe, with a hot copy of chai – usually intersections with lights and bicycles. These are great!

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