USK Workshops coming up! ——> Miami with Norberto Dorantes | Costa Rica with William Cordero | Coventry with Isabel Carmona, Swasky and Simone Ridyard | Lisbon with Marina Grechanick | Orange County with Frank Ching and Gail Wong | Tuscany with Simo Capecchi and Caroline Peyron
USkSingapore2015 ——> Standard registration begins April 11, but some Workshops Passes at the discounted early-bird price are still available! For more information, visit the registration page.

March 30, 2015

Westminster: the election campaign starts

By James Hobbs in London

They're off. As from today, the UK general election campaign is underway, and this is very apparent when I cycle through Westminster, the home of government, where helicopters are hovering over Downing Street as the prime minister heads to the palace, and TV crews are setting up makeshift studios on the green across the road from the Houses of Parliament. (That's the top of Big Ben poking into the sky on the right hand side of the drawing.) UK elections are relatively swift – the vote is on 7 May – but this time the result is too close to call: none of the main parties are on the crest of a wave, and the smaller parties may well end up holding the balance of power again.
I admit it: I love an election.

Red blooming tree

by Marina Grechanik, in Ra'anana, Israel

Spring is here in all its beauty and there are a lot of blooming everywhere. 
I love especially this red blooming tree in my neighborhood - its huge beautiful flowers grow before its leaves, which emphasizes even stronger the bright splashes of red on the bare tree branches.
Here are three quick sketches of the same tree I did during the month. The last one done a few days ago, when only few red flowers left on my tree :(
Luckily, I have my sketches. And I can wait until the next spring ;)

Test-Driving my new Concertina Sketchbook

By Lynne Chapman (of Usk Yorkshire) in Manchester, UK.

This month's SketchCrawl day was a bit different. It was super-social! Simone Ridyard, who runs Manchester Urban Sketchers, set up a street-sketching day with the Society of Architectural Illustration. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so us folks at Usk Yorkshire and also the Birmingham Urban Sketchers group joined in.

The event didn't kick off until 11am, but I got a slightly early train and so managed to squeeze in an extra sketch at the beginning of the day. 

The Palace Hotel, just round the corner from Oxford Road Station, is a stunning colour, especially with the sun on its red bricks. Better still, you can get a great view of it from the warmth and comfort of the Corner House cafe, on the opposite side of the road. I passed a very relaxed 45 minutes with a sketch-buddy, then we had to hot-foot it across town to the meeting place for the official start. 

A group of 20 or so people were milling about when we got there: some familiar faces, some people I had so far only met on Facebook, some new introductions. After the hellos, we split into two groups, with half of us drawing the buildings visible from Bridge Street and the others venturing down to Chapel Wharf. The modern architecture provided an exciting interplay of shapes, especially with the sweep of this suspension bridge:

I sat myself in the sun but, unfortunately, my spot quickly got swallowed up by the shade of a tall building behind me. Once out of the sunshine, is was FREEZING but I couldn't move until I had finished my painting. Just five minutes before I stopped, the sun taunted me by working it's way back round. Typical. I was very pleased with the results though, so it was worth the pain. 

I had decided to take one of my new concertina books for a trial run. You might remember that I made a test book, to perfect the technique, so I sketched in that throughout Saturday, running my sketches together. I love that the concertina format lets me keep unfolding new pages, so I can add more space as I go along. Everything worked a treat, so that's good news after all my cutting and folding and sticking (although I had a major water-bottle leak in my bag, which was nearly a disaster).

Everyone regrouped before lunch, to share the work so far, because some people had to head off. That's when we took the photo at the top. Then it was reward-time. We were too big a group to eat as one, but I went with 10 people for lunch at a fantastic Greek self-service restaurant. We were all too busy scoffing to sketch. Gorgeous food (and cheap too!).

The afternoon's sketch-venue was the area around Albert Square. I have wanted to sketch the Town Hall for a while, but until recently it has been surrounded by builder's barriers. It's a monster of a building, so I tackled one tiny section, being very careful this time to pick a truly sunny spot. 

At 4pm, we regrouped again at a pub, where we looked through each other's sketches and got the chance to chat to some of the people from other groups. It was all too short unfortunately, as I had to dash for a train home. 

It was still sunny though and there is one section of the journey across the Pennines to Sheffield, which is especially lovely in good weather. It's only visible for a very short time, so I had my watercolour pencils and sketchbook ready - this time a ready-made, mini Moleskin concertina, just A6. 

It was a thoroughly lovely day. Thanks so much to Simone for organising things.

March 29, 2015

Drawing 'Bladerunner' part 2

The Ennis house, Los Feliz. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and used in Ridley Scott's 'Bladerunner' as Deckard's apartment. 30 min. quick sketch with pencil and ink pen. Time-lapse film. 
Part 1: Drawing the Bradbury Building is here

Remembering a Great Leader


This panoramic sketch was done in Moleskine Japanese Album Large.

Last week was the saddest week for Singapore. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister passed on at the age of 91 on Monday 23 March and we, the sketchers had our March sketchwalk at Esplanade Waterfront on Saturday to celebrate the achievement of Singapore which is synonymous with the wonderful life of our remarkable leader. Last week, there was an amazing outpouring of emotions by Singaporeans at large that people queued up for ten hours to the Laying-in-State to pay their last respects at the Parliament House.

While we were sketching in the shade at the Waterfront, people in the long long queue behind us were standing under the scotching sun in a orderly manner, no one complaint or grumbled. There were volunteers who supplied water, buns and umbrellas. I even saw a lady carrying an ice box with icy towels given out to people in the queue!

The next day on Sunday, despite heavy downpour, thousands lined the streets of Singapore when the cortege traveled from Parliament House to University Cultural Centre for the State Funeral where foreign dignitaries from more than twenty countries were there waiting in the hall. People dropped everything and the entire nation observed a minute of silence at 4pm. Good Bye Sir, may you rest in peace!

I like to share with you one of the famous quotes from Mr Lee Kuan Yew:

"I have no regrets. I have spent my life,
so much of it, building up this country.
There's nothing more that I need to do.
At the end of the day, what have I got?
A successful Singapore.
What have I given up?
My life."

Look at the sketch, within a generation; in a short span of 50 years, we transform the country from a mud land to a first world country. Thank you Sir!

El Campo Santo Cemetery, Old Town San Diego

By Lydia Velarde

The Roman Catholic El Campo Santo Cemetery was established in 1849. One of the graves here is that of Yankee Jim Robinson who was hung at the site of the Whaley House, two blocks away.

Yokohama windy day sketch trial

By Kumi Matsukawa in Kanagawa, Japan

I was determined to go out for sketching using primary colors only today. And I brought quickly customized palette filled with only red, yellow and blue pigments; headed to Yokohama Minatomirai district. There, many people were enjoying seeing blooming cherry blossoms. At beginning, it was warm and I felt pretty happy, I thought I can make the most of daytime. But soon the wind started blowing hard, that kept flipping my sketchbook, blew away my hat and pallet, and I needed to chase these items several times while drawing... I should have brought much stiff pallet, some clips to fix paper, and a cap that hold my hair from blowing .... Lesson learnt.

This is my today's palette and the way how I started.
Cherry blosom trees and Landmark tower

At this moment I felt chilly and decided to stop drawing. As you can see many people started leaving.
Cherry blosom trees and Landmark tower

Cherry blosom trees and Landmark tower

March 28, 2015

People sketching at Clover Food Lab - Harvard Square

By Mike Daikubara in Boston, USA

It's almost April yet it was still snowing today in Boston...
Really can't wait until spring is here.

Anyway, I was at least able to get one fun sketch in this lousy weather today at a nice restaurant called Clover Food Lab in Harvard Square. My wife and I sat at the second floor and I was able to sketch the people coming in to place orders in the 1st floor.

If you're ever in the area, have a visit. They have really good veggie food and the coffee is individually dripped per order making it really good too!


USk News: Coventry Space Oddities Workshop

28 March 2015

Coventry: Space Oddities Workshop

USk is pleased to announce a new workshop coming 08-10 April 2015!

Join Urban Sketchers Isabel Carmona, Swasky and Simone Ridyard for 3 full days workshop that will get you to know Coventry intimately and to develop your personal urban sketching techniques.

Main Theme:

Architecture and space. How do we represent space? Drawing is a matter of what you believe. Do you believe in perspective?

For more information about this workshop including schedule and registration information, please visit

A grand day out

If I drew a Venn diagram of my some of my favourite things – Paris, drawing and coffee – then this picture would probably represent the overlapping section in the middle.  On Friday, I was lucky enough to go on a day trip to Paris to see an exhibition of work by the Aardman studio, famous for the Wallace and Gromit films.  The animation theme continued later whilst walking along the banks of the Seine, when one of Remy’s relations made a brief cameo appearance!  I think Disney’s Ratatouille continued in my thoughts when sitting down for a coffee as I decided to sketch the rooftop of the building opposite, which seem to sum up perfectly the Parisian style of architecture that features so much in the film.  

Speed Painting at Vizcaya Gardens Miami

By Marc Taro Holmes in Miami, FL,

Near the end of our recent Florida cruise we had a free day in South Beach Miami. Not being much of a beach person, I was looking for something paintable, and a quick web search came up with the Vizcaya Museum and Garden. Sounded like a perfect trial run for our upcoming workshop in Italy. (There are still some spaces available if you'll be anywhere near Cortona Italy June 8-15).

Vizcaya is an Italianate mansion with a sprawling formal garden that offers a perfect opportunity for plein air painters. This kind of place, with its planned scenic views, well tended gardens scattered with statuary, its heritage trees shading artful nooks and crannies - you can look in any direction here and find a composition. I suggest arriving early and planning to spend the whole day. You could spend a week here and not run out of subjects.

One of the things I frequently talk about when discussing travel sketching, is the natural tension between doing a masterpiece, and seeing the world.

When you discover an amazing view, of course you want to set up a huge canvas and paint it all. There are painters that have been known to spend years on a single painting, going back again and again in the right light and weather. (Antonio López García).

Personally - at this stage of my painting life anyway - I prefer being on the move. Seeing the whole place, collecting multiple impressions, instead of investing it all in one image.

Mostly it's just my personality - that I enjoy working quickly.

But also, I feel that until you can see your finished value study, you can't really know you made the right call. That you chose the best composition at hand. The sooner you can get something down on paper with a complete representation of the drawing, the colors, and the full value range - only then will you know what you have.

If I was planning a larger work, I'd have to do a a five or ten value study, then, I'd find myself thinking - well I could have just finished the whole painting with a little bit more effort.

I knew immediately on arriving at Vizcaya that this was a beautiful location with a thousand potential paintings waiting. So right away I set myself a few limits - working small - in this case tracing my Moleskine Cahier placed face down on the sheet, giving me this 5.5x7" shape with rounded corners. And working fast. Aiming to spend about 30 minutes each.

I'm quite happy with the collection. It was a day well spent. I hope our sketching group in Italy will be interested in giving these miniature watercolors a try. I feel that this kind of rapid iteration teaches you a lot, in a very short time.


Clovis Eats

I was thinking it would be fun to go around town and sketch a lot of the places to eat here in Clovis, but it could be overwhelming, as there are so many. One day last week I went out and managed to sketch these four. I haven't yet tried a shawarma at The Broilers or a Gilroy burger at the Mad Duck, which contains dried cranberries, basil, brie and garlic, but I have enjoyed one or two California pastrami sandwiches at the Sequoia Sandwich Company. After this sketch on Herndon Avenue, I drove over to Shaw Avenue where I sketched BC's Pizza, a place our family likes to go on discount day.

Drawing street scenes in ink only

 by Liz Steel in Sydney, Australia

Something quite surprising has happened to me in the last few weeks… I have stopped using my watercolour paints and instead have been totally addicted to sketching just using pen!

It all started with this sketch that I did in the final hour of a recent trip to Tasmania, where I was making a more conscious effort to sketch street scenes. I was on my way back to the car to drive straight to the airport, it was about to rain, and I didn't want to get out all my paints and do one of my usual quick ink and wash sketches. So instead I just pulled out my Sailor Pen with a bent calligraphy nib and drew the view of Arthurs Circus standing up. It was so quick and easy, and I found that without the distraction of thinking about colour, I was able to focus more on the space and the tone. It was also nice to have a standing perspective. When you sit on the ground or on a stool, your view is below the natural eyeline of walking through the streets - how we actually experience the city.

Once I got to my car I did another one before driving off - I have this terrible habit for trying to squeeze 'one more sketch in' when I should be just moving on! This time I was thinking about how to explain tone, colour and texture with my lines…. and after this sketch, I knew that I was hooked.

A few weeks ago we had our monthly USK Sydney meeting at the Five Ways intersection in Paddington. We had set a challenge of 'five ways at Five ways' and with all my organising responsibilities, I knew that it would be hard to get five ink and wash sketches done.  A lot of you know that I normally use a very quick gestural form of setup, but on this occasion I went straight for ink.

I really wanted to focus on accuracy and recording the sense of place as I stood on each of the five corners, and once again because I was only using one tool, I found it easier than I expected.

When I started sketching regularly 8 years ago, the fact that I wanted to paint helped me push through the drawing in order to get to the colour - the next stage pushed me ahead.  In a way, this is the opposite - because I am not even thinking about painting, I am liberated to try more complex scenes - I am drawing rapidly but with a degree of accuracy that I am pleased with (of course it can always be better). You can see the full set from this day in Paddington here. I also have written a blog post about measuring and accuracy on my blog here.

Anyway, I am buzzing! Instead of my usual sketches where I explore the architectural design of a single building, I am wanting to draw the whole scene, and do this in my usual spontaneous and quick way. Instead of colour, I am loving the decision making of how to treat colour vs tone vs texture with line. Here is a watercolour sketch of a single building on The Corso Manly that I did in October, contrasting with my sketch from a few weeks ago - wanting to draw The Corso as a whole.

I am still doing my cups of tea in paint (hold on… there has been more coffee lately…what is going on?), but the main excitement is my panoramic scenes.

I never know what direction my creative journey will head next, but I sure enjoy the ride where ever it takes me. I am sure my colour will come back soon, but I am enjoying this period to focus on accuracy in my drawings, my lines and marks. And especially that it is enabling me to tackle more complex scenes that tell a richer story about where I am.

March 27, 2015

stuffs on my desk

Stuffs on desk would be good subjects to draw though they are not easy to dare at first. I try to begin though I feel reluctant always by their complicated features. But the interesting results compensate enough. When the weather is not good to sketch outside they become good friends for me at home. 

Music at The Bassline

by Cathy Gatland, Johannesburg, South Africa

Our group met in Newtown for our regular First Friday date and decided to walk over to The Bassline, a live music venue which has hosted concerts for almost every major South African musician for the last 15 years. A bronze statue of local music legend Brenda Fassie (or MaBrrr) gazes over the square, with a hospitable chair next to her for anyone who wants to pose for a photo, or in this case, a sketch. Wisdom was a willing volunteer who went and sat for us as soon as he saw what we were doing, and was very insistent that I noted down his name for posterity. 

There was a lot of activity in front of the club - a tall-hatted cleaner and a series of people who gathered and hung around until a shady looking character arrived, did some exchanges with each of them and disappeared until the next lot. I didn't investigate further, and tried not to make any eye contact! 
I started drawing some men sitting on the lawn in the square while the others finished, when the man with the guitar, Paulos, spotted me drawing him (he had also tried to pose on MaBrr's chair earlier, but too late for my sketch). He leapt up and came and stood right in front of me, launching joyfully and without restraint into a loud crackly version of "I wanna know what love is", and then, when I said I hadn't finished him yet, into a sort of rap conversation with Wisdom adding a background chorus "Johannesburg, Johannesburg"... Not sure if we were supposed to reply in kind, but it was very funny, and fun. I hope we lightened his day as much as he did ours!