New USk Workshop!

Mark your calendar! The 2015 Symposium will be in Singapore, July 22-25. Read more here.

January 31, 2015

Open air movie screening at National Museum of Singapore

I sketched this while waiting for the movie to start. Even at 1 hour before the screening time, seats on the open ground were already being snapped up quickly.

This open air movie screening is part of the Under the Banyan Tree programme by the National Museum of Singapore. At the last weekend on each month, there will be a free movie screening at night. This was the first time I've been to one and the atmosphere was great. The movie they showed was The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, a French oldie directed by Luis Buñuel. Unfortunately, I don't really get the humour of the film.

Materials used: Noodler's Bulletproof black, Artgraf watersoluble graphite, ink wash.

- Parka

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

reportage drawing by greg betzaThis is a drawing of the actual space shuttle Discovery. The shuttle is housed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. I've never been much into air & space, but when you're in the presence of a shuttle, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Enola Gay, you can't help but be in awe.

January 30, 2015

The Medea Effect : Day 02

By Marc Taro Holmes in Montreal, QC, CA

I've been back for my second day in rehearsal with James Loye and Jennifer Morehouse at the Talisman Theatre production of The Medea Effect, (Get Tickets Here)

After my first day of pencil sketches, I was excited to return and do watercolors on location. It so happened, this day they were going over some of the same material - the first quarter of the story - in which the characters spar. Ada, the aging actress pressing her case with Hugo the young genius director.

Good, in that, I was able to carry on right where I left off. But, on the other hand, I'm still in suspense how the story ends!

At the start of each day the actors do an exercise where they interfere with each others personal space. Pushing back and forth with their presence, moving about a tight circle without colliding. Initially the overbearing director looms over the pleading actress. It almost looks like psychic pushing hands Tai Chi. They are exploring physical stances, becoming comfortable projecting a shifting balance of power between them.

"Yes, I’m proud of each of my wrinkles. I know why they are there, I could catalog them, say which one appeared first and why, I could trace the path of my wrinkles, name each tragedy"...

Talisman Theatre has it's own interesting story. Very much a reflection of Montreal.

From their own site "Talisman has a vibrant, living mission: to produce English-language premières of Québécois plays for Montreal's public and students". I think that's a fascinating response to the perception of Two Solitudes in Quebec culture. They continue: "...we retain the essence of traditional Quebecois theatrical practice as part of our hybrid development process; and we have developed a talented bi-lingual team with its own distinctive artistic approach."

My answer, whenever asked about my own progress with the French language, is that drawing is so consuming, I couldn't possibly study another language at the same time.

So I have no qualifications whatsoever to say - but to my ear, the translation by Nadine Desrochers from Suzie Bastien's original, sounds authentic. There are word choices that seem pitch perfect.

"They are an obstacle to her fall. And her fall must be perfect. Let me try. Let me say those words. Please listen to me".


Directed by Emma Tibaldo (a older piece on her here), The Medea Effect is on stage February 3 to 7, 2015 at the Segal Centre Studio. (Get Tickets Here)

January 29, 2015

Actors in Rehearsal : The Medea Effect  

By Marc Taro Holmes in Montreal, QC, CA

Last week, fortunate circumstances allowed me another step in an ongoing experiment. I like to say this is a thing I do - but in truth, it's a very rare privilege that doesn't happen very often. For only the second time in my career, I've been sketching actors in rehearsal.

This time, James Loye and Jennifer Morehouse at work on the Talisman Theatre production of The Medea Effect, on stage February 3 to 7, 2015 at the Segal Centre Studio. (Get Tickets Here)

Readers of the blog might remember my 2013 sketches from the Centaur Theatre production of Innocence Lost: A play about Steven Truscott.

I've been tremendously lucky to get another chance at this unusual experience. Being in the room, a fly on the wall, observing the actors, director, and motion designer at work. Seeing their trade-craft, and learning more than most will ever know about the subtext of the play.

It's uncommonly generous of them to allow me to watch their process. After all - it's meant to be seen, much like a painting, only in the finished state. After they've fully mastered the roles. Yet I'm there to see the relationship form before my eyes. The characters become real, and the tension between them deepens.

[Pencil, with light washes on Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series Sketchbook 8.5 x11″]

The play rests entirely on the interaction between two people. It must be a tremendous challenge for the actors - they're called upon to create a complex psychological narrative with only body language and gesture - a larger, gradually revealed, hidden story, that rides above-and-beyond the simple words they're speaking. I've only seen the first half of the thing - and the suspense is killing me!

In rehearsal - there's nothing but the actors. No costumes, no set. Though the actual performance will be presented in a stripped down almost bare set, it will be enriched with lighting, sound and video. Here there's nothing to distract from the physicality of their performance.

It's surprising to me, in this age of video games and film. I mean - I'm right there - only a few feet way from these people. Their voices are LOUD. You actually feel the tension. Even a stomped foot or a snapped gesture makes a solid noise. A tossed chair can really mess you up.

For me the first day is a matter of studying their faces. Getting to know the actors. It's a kind of portrait exercise. Research drawings. I'll be going back next week, and we will see what develops. Like I say, the suspense is killing me. Like all drawing from life - you only get one chance to make a record. I'm just hoping to live up to the experience.

~ Marc

January 28, 2015

Hit the surf!

 By Murray Dewhurst in New Zealand.

I had a lot of fun sketching the kids in the surf last week. The look of pure exhilaration on their faces as they caught waves on their boogie boards is pretty hard to beat.

There's nothing like a good blast in the surf on a hot summers day, but when the waves really get up you actually get blasted by the surf. That's pretty fun too.

Either way it wears you out! Here the guys are cold and shivering, as they recover from the surf.

Sitting on the Stairs in Castleford Library

I took the train to the small town of Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running drawing workshops with local children.

In my lunch break, I sat in the stairwell and sketched the view from the window. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills. I was using a lovely tinted, concertina book a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted Strathmore so much:

Ignore the candlestick by the way: that's part of a sketchcrawl day we did in Buxton a while ago.

January 27, 2015

Book Review: Gabriel Campanario's People and Motion

Guest post by Tina Koyama

The second book in Gabi Campanario’s Urban Sketching Handbook series has recently been released on People and Motion: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location (Quarry Books). Identical in format to the first in this series, Architecture and Cityscapes, the latest book is a succinct, compact volume that focuses this time on people in the urban landscape — how to capture their poses and moves accurately and expressively. It’s jam-packed with practical information and inspiring examples for both the beginner and the more seasoned urban sketcher.

Although we could study and practice drawing the human form by attending traditional life-drawing sessions, Gabi sees sketching people in their natural settings as having the additional benefit of teaching us about our community. “People are the life of a city. To draw them is to get to know the place,” he says. While acknowledging that drawing people can be challenging and frustrating, Gabi emphasizes the fun in sketching people around us and encourages interacting with subjects. “Learn their first and last names,” he suggests. “Ask the market vendor where his fruit comes from. Or compliment — and tip — the busker for the song he played while you drew him.” Including people in sketches “can introduce you to some very interesting folks with great stories about themselves.”

The meat of the book examines six keys as they relate to drawing people: proportion, contour, gesture, expression, context, and likeness. While including tips such as classic studio drawing lessons (an adult’s total height is about seven-and-a-half to eight times the head height), Gabi stresses ideas that can be practiced in the real world, such as while using public transportation or in a cafe.

Most interesting and useful to me was the section on capturing gesture. As I’ve seen week after week in the Seattle Sketcher’s column, Gabi is a master of this principle. How does he manage to “freeze the moment” in an often rapidly moving scene and put it on paper? “I like to take as much time as I can just watching until I can spot the move that I want to capture,” Gabi says. Showing an example of basketball players, he explains, “I watched several free throws at my son’s basketball game until I ‘saw’ the pose I wanted to sketch.”

Another useful section is about capturing body and facial expression to indicate a subject’s emotions. “Internalizing the emotions of your subjects will make your sketches of people livelier and full of expression. Is the person you’re drawing alert, relaxed, cheerful, or concentrating?”

Context, another of the book’s keys, is an important element of urban sketching. Three years ago when I first began taking my sketchbook out with me, I used to sketch a lot of people’s faces while riding the bus or in a coffee shop. Although I remembered exactly where I’d been when I made those sketches, the sketches themselves didn’t show any information about that. Where was this floating head sketched? It took me quite a while to understand that if I included a little of the context, the picture would tell more of a story. I could have figured this out much more quickly had I read Gabi’s succinct instruction:

“A hint of the environment is enough to turn an isolated portrait into a true scene that captures a moment of time. Even if you are focusing on the subway commuter sitting across from you or the musician playing on the street, adding elements such as windows, the city skyline, or a lamp post will make the sketch more complete.”

The final section of the book is a gallery of sketches by artists in the worldwide urban sketching community, including many of my favorites. An illuminating aspect of all the sketches featured in the book (as well as in the series’ first book) is that the artists have included the approximate length of time they took to make each sketch. Although I am a relatively fast sketcher myself, I am amazed and inspired by how much story can be told in a mere 10- or 20-minute sketch. If you have an hour or two to spare, it’s wonderful to be able to use that time to flesh out an entire urban scene. But what if you have only the length of a coffee break? You can still tell a story with a sketch – one that only you can tell. That’s what urban sketching is all about.

(Gabriel Campanario is the founder of Urban Sketchers. This review is also published on and on Tina's blog Fueled by Clouds and Coffee.)

Opinions expressed by our correspondents and guest contributors don't necessarily represent an official view of

Hidden depths: Mole Man's house

By James Hobbs, London

It looks at first like any other renovation in rapidly gentrifying Dalston, east London. But this house in Mortimer Road was for more than 40 years the home of William Lyttle, whose nickname of Mole Man came from his habit of digging a network of tunnels beneath it for up to 20 metres in all directions. This didn't go down well with his neighbours, especially when the pavement outside his house fell in, or when he tapped into a 450 volt cable and power was lost. Complaints led to his eviction. Rehoused in a flat, and deprived of his digging, he died within a few years.
Now the crumbling house has been bought at auction for more than £1m by artists Sue Webster and Tim Noble, who have hired the architect David Adjaye – his design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture is currently under construction in the National Mall, Washington, DC. Mole Man's house is, for now, no more than a fine display of corrugated iron and scaffolding.

People like ants

Winter is a difficult time to draw in Berlin, I have to recognize that I need a little push to go out drawing on Winter. But last week we got the permission to draw in the building of the Akademie der Künste in Pariser Platz. With the glass facade overviewing the square, it was warm and cozy to draw inside one of the most iconic landmarks of Berlin: the Brandenburger Tor!

I did two drawings one with twig, ink and watercolor, big format where I spent around 1 hour and half,

The second in 18 cm x 60 cm paper that took me around 30 min. to draw on site. I use a pen with permanent ink. But I did the coloring with watercolor later at home.
Here are some details to see the people closer.

You don't need much detail for people in this scale. Important is direction and attitude.. I added dots of colors to make them more interesting and give a sense of movement.

January 26, 2015

Tip Top Liquors, Time Delicatessen, Libby's, Western Appliance and the Motel Capri

Businesses don't come with quaint names like that anymore.

Tip Top Liquors, San Jose. A yelp review claims this: "Hidden behind a modest and grimy exterior is a treasure trove for craft beer lovers." Sketched in the evening light, when even the grimiest of storefronts has a golden glow.

The sign for Time Delicatessen, which has been around since 1950 is (what else?) a giant clock with "Time" written over it in a Brush-script style font. I hear they make a mean Tri-Tip sandwich. Next time I am around ( this neighborhood has ton of vintage signs I still need to go sketch) I must make time for a sandwich-break.

Water tower for Libby's, which in 1922 was the world largest cannery. Painted to resemble a giant fruit cocktail can, it now sits in a little patch of manicured lawn surrounded by high tech companies in Sunnyvale, California. A quiet reminder of the days when this land was all orchards.

A gigantic sign for Western Appliance . The top of the sign used to have three flashing lights but they had to be taken down because they confused pilots landing planes at the nearby San Jose airport.

And the forlorn-looking Motel Capri sign on historic El Camino Real.

I'm having way too much fun adding to my vintage sign collection.

You wait for one... then 60 come along at once

Last year as part of the ‘Year of the Bus’ celebrations, Transport for London commissioned some public art in the form of small versions of the New Routemaster, which were decorated by a variety of artists, then placed around different venues in  London to create walking trails for tourists and locals alike.  At the weekend all the bus sculptures were gathered together at the Olympic Park as part of a Family Fun event before being sent to a charity auction. 

Also on display were a full size New Routemaster and the ‘Battle Bus’, one of only 5 remaining from the First World War, taken from the streets of London, stripped of it’s red and cream livery  and used as a troop carrier.  Amazingly it is still in working condition!  
Despite the cold, it was great to sketch in the winter sunshine sitting amongst the great structures built for the Olympic Games, including the stunning Aquatics Centre designed by Dame Zaha Hadid.

Summer in the middle of January

by Marina Grechanik, in Herzliya, Israel

Last weekend we had one of those perfect winter weekends - blue skies with airy clouds and a gentle winter sun, that won't burn you, like in its cruel sister in summer would.
On Saturday I felt that the best place to sense this summer in the middle of the winter was on the beach, so we went there.
We bought ice cream and sat down on the grass, beside the path leading to the beach. People passed up and down, I was trying to capture them, passing in front of me, feeling that I'm looking at a very dynamic play, with extremely talented actors ;)

January 25, 2015

Punctuating my everyday with sketches

Guest post by Nina Khashchina

My story is very similar to many people around me: busy parent, employee, friend, runner... I sketch daily because it gives me a tiny pause in my life. I make sure to keep those sketches in chronological order and use them to savor that pause.

It is impossible to carry with me all the drawing materials I like to use and try. I LOVE good paper and quality watercolors and can tell you a lot about my love for gouache or color pencils but I rarely have the time for all of that. So I made a deal with myself: I put something to draw on and something to draw with in every single bag, backpack and waist pouch I carry. There is even a tiny "set" in my wallet (folded paper and pocket pen) and in my car. And I did the same around the house - every place where I might find myself - checking homework or watching a movie or waiting for someone to put shoes on. And then I draw with the first thing that I pull out of the bag. I draw anything that's in front of me.

I end up with a whole stack of sketches. Not all of them work. And it's a whole stack of the same things drawn ad nauseam: same homework, same karate class, same school pickup, same pool practice, library kids, running shoes, same rooftops, same dental chair, same parents at the same city park, same kids party etc. There is only one rule: I do my best to date things.

At the end of every day (sometimes at the end of the week) I go through all these sketches and pick those that I can say something about, those that I remember. I cut them out (of larger paper or out of the tiny sketchbook I made with folded piece of paper or just use whole card - this is my new tool - a stack of nice thick index cards in every pocket). Then I write a few additional notes if I remember more. Sometimes I might use a different color pen to add another line or correct a pose. Then I glue or tape all these in my normal sketchbook, the normal sketchbook being the one organized chronologically - the one I love and draw in when I have a bit of more "real sketching time".

This sketchbook is bulging and untidy and has many wavy pages - I can flip a few pages and travel in time. It's a bit repetitive as many things appear over and over - but I like to see these as a way to track my progress, a way to come back to working on the same thing many times. Catching poses quickly. Finding a way to draw a recognizable face with three lines. Finding new wrinkles on my hand or my shoe. I also get to try different materials (sooner or later I will be at the karate class with highlighters or at the airport with the water soluble graphite stick and will get to play with it).

Nina Khashchina is a Palo Alto, California based graphic designer. You can follow her daily adventures in sketching here on flickr