USK Workshops coming up! (Click on the banners below for more info about each workshop)

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

February 27, 2015

Constructing the Shrem

By Pete Scully in Davis, California

shrem museum under construction
More construction on the UC Davis campus, and this one is very significant. This is Vanderhoef Quad, a square on the side of campus which includes the impressive Buehler Alumni Centre, the modern Graduate School of Management, the new UC Davis Welcome Center and Conference Center, and of course the massive and renowned Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. This is the gateway to campus and has been gradually sculpted and added to since I first arrived in Davis. So what are they building to complete the square, well this will soon be the Shrem Museum of Art. That is, the "Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art", to give it the full name. When the museum was announced it was very exciting news and the designs for the new building were modern and innovative. The final design, by Brooklyn-based architects “SO-IL” along with San Francisco based Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, was announced in 2013 and the ground-breaking ceremony took place last spring. You can read about the design here. I am seriously excited about this museum. Davis is an artist’s city and UC Davis an artist’s campus (I should know eh, drawn it enough times) and this is going to be an amazing addition, and visible form the I-80 freeway. I will be sketching its progress as the building goes up, and this is the first. I stood to sketch in the shade of the Mondavi Center (it is very sunny here in California right now, apologies to those buried in the snow everywhere else in America).
You can learn more about the Shrem Museum of Art by visiting their website at:

Live Chat with USk Executive Board

Join us for two live chats with the Executive Board on Facebook on Monday, March 2:

3:00-4:00 pm GMT-1 hour
10:00-11:00 pm GMT -1 hour

We will be hovering around our laptop ready to take your questions. You can ask us any question, any question at all (except no math questions).

Looking forward to chatting with you!

Elizabeth, Gabi, Jessie, Mario and Brenda.

Hunting down vintage signs in San Jose, California

Suhita Shirodkar in San Jose, California

There's the kind of vintage sign that you will see on a decrepit building, one that is in danger of being torn down. Like the Burbank Cinema on South Bascom Avenue, which is currently rented out as a dance studio but will eventually be sold to a developer. My guess is they'll tear it down and replace it with a spanking new apartment or office complex called, ironically, The Burbank.

Or this really charming revolving carousel-atop-a-sign at Cambrian Park Plaza, another plaza that, rumor has it, will be gone pretty soon.

And then there are beautifully restored vintage signs in neighborhoods like Willow Glen, with it's Garden Theater (named from when San Jose was called the Garden City). The sign remains and lights up every night, although the theater is gutted and is now a retail and office space.

And the city of Los Gatos recently completed a huge renovation of their theater in downtown on Santa Cruz Avenue.

I'm always on the lookout of theater marquees and strip mall signs in older neighborhoods. Other places with fantastic old signage? Liquor stores and Donut shops.
This store is called Lincoln Liquors (both google maps and a small sign on the front of the store say that) but the sign reads "Arkin Liquors"

And here is Supreme Donuts.

My growing collection of vintage signs from what is now officially an obsession lives here on flickr.

February 26, 2015

This was my first visit Hayama marina since 2011

By Kumi Matsukawa, in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan

Cold winter prevented me from going out for sketching for a while... but I found time and place to make quick sketch when I visited Hayama Marina the other day. It was windy day. I wonder what kind of people own these boats.... Although I used to visit this area once or twice a year before, I still feel myself very stranger whenever I come. I don't belong here, but I like this place...

Hayama Marina

Last time I drew this place was in 2011 just one month before the biggest earth quake and consecutive massive tsunami hit Japan.

hayama marina

on Sunnyside Ave

Sunnyside Avenue, just north of Bullard in Clovis, California. Winter is long gone here in the Central Valley. Throughout the month of February, kids were swimming laps in the outdoor pool at the local high school across the street. But the warm weather has everyone wondering just how sweltering the coming summer is going to be, and how desperate the economy will be if the drought continues another year. The surrounding mountains this time of the year should be topped with snow, ready to melt precious irrigation water into our valley this spring. But the canals winding through our suburbs are bone-dry this year once again, begging the skies to bring rain.

Out and about in Jozi

By Cathy Gatland, Johannesburg, South Africa

As nobody really knows who "Johannes" was, this city is known by many names - Joburg, Egoli, Joeys, Jozi - though some say that's like calling your Rottweiler 'Fluffy'...
Two occasions where I've been out for coffee and a sketch with friends lately, the first at a pavement café in Braamfontein, after seeing the wonderful William Kentridge tapestries exhibition at the Wits Art Museum - maybe that is what moved me to use a soft pencil instead of my usual pen? I tried out a new white gel pen on the metalwork on the old Lord Milner Hotel across the street.

And in the Exclusive Books store in newly revamped Rosebank Mall - more chat than sketching went on here!

February 25, 2015

Insdie Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier

By Marc Taro Holmes in Ottawa, ON, CA

The other day my friend John Wright called up from Ottawa. His drawing group had lined up a fascinating opportunity. They were going to the Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier. A local studio specializing in the ancient art of ornamental carving in stone.

Two hours drive to sketch in the workshop of these master craftsmen? Count me in! That, after all, is the whole point of location sketching. To get out and experience new things. To see the world through the lens of drawing.

Sure, I only managed a quick sketch. But at the same time, it was a chance to draw with the folks in Ottawa and meet Phillipe Smith, one of the two lead sculptors. He was more than generous with his time, hanging out as we pillaged his shop, regaling us with stories about his unusual art form. Everything from the dangers of silicosis to the origins of some of the irreplaceable blocks of stone they carve.

I was excited to hear Smith and Barber are also founders of the Canadian Stone Carving Festival - coming up July 10, 11, 12th 2015 in Gatineau QC at the Museum of History. I hope to make it out for that, and get a chance to sketch craftsmen from around the world in action.

I've enjoyed sketching ornamental stone sculpture from so many different time periods and places - to now have the chance to step into one of those workshops, well, that's something worth dropping everything and making happen.

If you've had any great sketchbook adventures of your own recently, leave us a note in the comments. Let's give people a tour of all the hidden places our pencils have taken us.


Sketches from Vigo, Spain

Guest post by Carlos Castro Perez in Vigo, Spain.

I love urban sketching. For me it is a way to know the world and its people. It's just real life. I also find it meditative: to be more aware in the moment, to be still in this fast-paced world in one place at a time contemplating my surroundings.

My process is simple. I choose a place to draw, sometimes the day before. At other times I just walk around the city and stop in a place I like, and observe the composition. On location I do small thumbnails first and then do the big image first in pencil very lightly and second in ink with permanent black pen.

Some of my thumbnail sketches which I start with before I draw larger.

Here I am sketching on location:

And here is a closer look at the ink drawing I made:

Later at home I scan and add colors with Photoshop. Sometimes I take a photo as a reference for the colors, at other times I work from memory. I am often asked why I use photoshop. I prefer Photoshop because for me it has a lot more possibilities to capture the color and the feel you remember on the location: you have thousands of colors (all of them free) and you can undo and correct mistakes and do color variations if you don't like the result. I used to paint before with watercolors, but I have much more experience with digital mediums.

Below are more of my sketches. I hope you enjoy them!

This image on the street is a typical Saturday morning on Prince Street, in the city of Vigo. I wanted to capture the people walking and also the historic buildings.

This is a famous historic Christian church in the town of Pontevedra in Galicia (Spain). It is a town on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. This church is called "The Peregrina", which, translated in English, means "The Woman That Walks the Road".

This image of the ship is sketched in Vigo. The line drawing made on location is above, and the colored version is below.  I did it in one afternoon. I wanted to capture the ship in the foreground and also the city in the background.

Carlos Castro Perez was born in Vigo (Galicia, Spain) and studied illustration, design and computer graphics. You can see a lot more of his work here on his flickr stream.

February 24, 2015

Exhibit in Scranton PA

1Hello Urban Sketchers!
If you will be in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Friday evening, March 6th, please join us from 6pm to 9pm at the Artists for Art gallery for the opening of this exhibit, featuring my reportage work, and the work of two other talented illustrators, Kevin McCloskey and Chris Spollen. And on Saturday, March 7th, come by for the AFA Afternoon of Art, including workshops by Chris Spollen and myself. The Artists for Art gallery is located at 514 Lackawanna Avenue, in Scranton PA. Please click HERE for more info. Would love to see you there!brooklyn_bridgeBrooklyn Bridge, NYC, drawing made for Brooks Brothers, one of the illustrations that will be in the exhibit.     

Urban Sketchers at Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room

Sunday, 40+ Seattle Urban sketchers met for their monthly sketch outing at the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room.  It is an interesting place,  conceptually described as the Willy Wonka Factory of Coffee.  You can see roasting vats and silos of coffee beans  with pneumatic tubes racing around the place transporting beans from one place to another.  This place is humming with people and activity,  coffee and tea and Tom Douglas's Serious Pie.  It is pretty overwhelming.  I stationed myself  immediately at an outside window looking toward the coffee bar and got an overall view of the place.  Next time  I will walk around and sketch some other interesting parts of the place.  For more sketches of the day check out

In that neighborhood, down the street is  Melrose Market a wonderful interior space filled with small market stalls,  a butcher, flower shop, restaurant, wine tasting bar and other vendors.  Just another interesting place along the Pike Pine Corridor in Seattle. 

Seattle Urban Sketchers in front of Starbucks Roastery by Kate Buike

Inside the Roastery
Melrose Market

Melrose St.

Searching for snow

Suhita Shirodkar in Lake Tahoe, California.

While the rest of the world seems to be getting more snow than they wish for, here in California we've had a positively hot winter. Lake Tahoe, where all of Northern California goes to ski and snowboard is no exception. On my first day there, the temperature was 68 degrees on the ski slopes. ( Just about the only place in the area that had snow) There were people skiing in tanktops. The snow machines ran all day. The light on the snow was blinding. The ski slopes were a flat white expanse, no shadows anywhere.  I absolutely HATE sketching with sunglasses on, but this one time, there was no taking them off.

The upside? We hiked. And went to the beach. This is a little cove on the Northern shore of Lake Tahoe called King's Beach. My kids played on the rocks in the distance. The sky was ultramarine blue.

More sketches from my weekend here on my blog.

Reuven Dattner's Pattern-rich Israel

Interview by Marcia Milner-Brage

tree with yellowing leaves
Tree with Yellowing Leaves
I've followed your work on Flickr and Facebook, ever delighted by your densely patterned drawings of Israel's cities and countryside. Your work has a Naïve Art simplicity to it. Tell us about your path as an artist and how your unique style developed. What are your influences?

I do tend to simplify things and I think that is what can be seen in the sketches. I have been a Friday painter for 45 years—until about two years ago when I stopped my regular job and became a full time artist, something I dreamed about all my life. For 35 years I had my own business, manufacturing printed packages. I always sketched, but the last few years it has become a very important part of me. I couldn't say how my style - thanks for calling it unique - developed; it just did. I am sure I have been influenced by a lot of artists. I have always loved seeing art. But I can't pinpoint one in particular. When I started seeing Urban Sketchers on Flickr, I remember thinking: I want to sketch like x or y. But then I understood I should be myself and not somebody else.

Sprinklers, Kefar Ganim, Petach Tikva

Many of your cityscapes are of Petach Tikva where you live. Collectively, your drawings make me feel as though I've been there. Have you lived there all your life? How big a city is it? Do you draw all over town?

I have lived in Petach Tikva since I got married, 45 years ago. It is a small city of 210,000 people. I draw mainly in the area I live in. But I walk a lot so I sometimes draw other parts. Once I was afraid I would finish all there is to sketch here, but the more I look the more I see. I confess I make it much prettier than it really is  - but so what?

The Petach Tikva that you represent is packed with apartment buildings and structures found in many a large, modern city, yet nature - trees, fields of flowers, sky - often "steal the show". Can you speak to this?

עננים מעל כפר גנים 9.9.13 1
Clouds over Kefar Ganim
Petach Tikva was once an agriculture community. Modern buildings have been built in place of orchards, and this gives a chance to sketch old and new.

tree in winter apparel
Tree in Winter Apparel

Do you go to other places in Israel specifically to draw?

Our three sons and their families live in different parts of Israel. Every time we go to see them is a sketching opportunity. I am always with my sketchpad. My oldest son lives in a settlement on the way to the Dead Sea above Wadi Kelt. It is a beautiful place. Jerusalem can be seen from his window.
jerusalem above the green waddi
Jerusalem above the green wadi
On the way to see them we sometimes stop in Jerusalem and I sketch there.
beit tsefafa
Beit Tsefafa, Jerusalem

My second son lives in a moshav called Ein Ayala and it is under the Carmel near Haifa. 

entrance to the moshav with flag
Entrance to moshav
house behin a hedge
House behind hedge, Ein Ayala

My third son lives in Raanana and he used to live in Yad Eliyahu, which is part of Tel Aviv.
Flags, Yad Eliyahu
זחילת שרבוט 16.8.13 1
Tel Aviv Port
You have an ongoing series of drawings called Flowers for Shabbat. Every Friday you post a new one. A drawing theme, inspired by a cyclic cultural or religious ritual, appeals to me. The ones that are apropos to our Urban Sketchers context include the flowers with the city as part of the composition. Can you tell us how this series reflects your celebration of the Sabbath? As an aside, do you draw on the Sabbath?

flowers for shabat

I don't draw on Shabbat. I am what is called an observant Jew. Shabbat is a holiday. We meet with family and friends. No sketching and no smartphones. It is a rest from the week's rat race. A lot of people bring flowers home for Shabbat. Venders sell flowers on the roadsides on Fridays. My father would bring home flowers every Friday. Since I paint on Fridays, my wife brought the flowers home. I liked them very much. They brought colour and light into our home. They make Shabbat a different day. A few years ago, I started sketching them and posting them on Facebook. Suddenly, I found myself doing it every Friday, and looking forward to it. Recently, I started a Facebook page Flowers for Shabbat.

What tools do you use for these drawings? Tell us your process for executing them.

I sketch with colour markers. I sketch on site, but a lot of times I finish the little details at home. The colour is watercolours and that I always do in my small studio. I don't change the drawing but I am very free with choosing colours. I use my memory and my imagination. I work fast. A drawing can take from a few moments to one hour.

Thank you, Reuven! I've enjoyed this email conversation and getting to know you and your work better. And thanks for supplying this photo of you.

The photo was taken on a sketchcrawl with my friends in Urban Sketchers. We meet once a month, mostly in Tel Aviv. Our organizer is a wonderful artist, Marina Grechanik.

I don't remember writing so much since university days. I hope I didn't write too much. I am just a sketcher.

Carnival in the south of France

Carnival in Romans s/ Isère...
For three days before Ash Wednesday, we prepare the Carnival.
These days are devoted to exorcise food poverty and prepare for the death of winter ...
The most dramatic moment is the trial of Caramentran ...
Caramentran (Caremo input) is a puppet that symbolizes and personifies the carnival. This puppet is led in procession through the streets of the city on a chariot. He is the scapegoat responsible for all of the community sins and misfortunes of year.
He will be tried by a court and sentenced to be burned in the public square ...

February 23, 2015

USk Executive Board Meeting and Sketchcrawl in Azores, Portugal

23 February 2015

sketch by Paolo Brilhante

This weekend the Urban Sketchers Executive Board will be meeting in person in Azores, Portugal.

During these strategic planning meetings the Board will be evaluating our current initiatives and planning for the future.

USk Azores will be organizing a sketchcrawl on Sunday, March 1st meeting up at Restaurante Lagoa Azul at 14:00 hrs and finishing at 17:30. If you're in the area, please join us!

We're really looking forward to meeting the Azores sketchers, to sketching their beautiful island, and to having the opportunity to meet face-to-face as we plan for the future of USk.

Messing About in Boats

By Róisín Curé in Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland

Baltimore is a tiny fishing village in Co. Cork, in the southwest of Ireland. It is literally the end of the country, on the tip of the southernmost of those fingers of rock that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's the last stop, and it sure feels like that when you're trying to get there, especially if you are pulling a trailer with two boats on it (and if your navigator isn't paying attention to the GPS and you take the scenic route). My family and I arrived late on Saturday evening after a seven-hour trip, so that our kids could partake in a week's sailing camp. The village is very cute, but you can't help noticing that it's full of empty houses. "The houses are mostly occupied for just two months of the year," said Jim, our letting agent. There wouldn't be much in the way of work in Baltimore: any work, other than fishing, is based on the very short tourist season. Those empty houses seemed like a waste to me: if you were a hardy sort, and just happened to have an interest in urban sketching, it is an absolute paradise...

Two of my children have been trainee sailors for the last while. They sail Optimists, a beautiful little boat designed for children to sail on their own. They're sturdy and don't capsize easily, and the children can rig them themselves. My husband had told me that this week of sailing instruction does wonders for the kids' sailing ability, and that everyone says it's great, etc. etc. so in the end I said I'd come along for the ride. I wondered if I'd get any sketching done: I normally don't sketch outdoors in exposed conditions, but I arrived fully equipped nonetheless.

This was my first sketch: halting, hesitant, clearly the first after the winter's hibernation. It's just about recognisable as the slip where the Optimists launch.

There were some one hundred and sixty boats in Baltimore last week, and the organisation involved in keeping the young sailors safe was phenomenal. Launching was carefully executed; the kids entered the water calmly and in order, dropping like lemmings into the sea, one by one. Perhaps baby ducklings is a nicer analogy. A woman of supreme competence called Mandy stood in her bright yellow sou'wester and shepherded the children and their boats along the correct path, which was lined with striped orange bollards. I drew my daughter as she waited in line.

The kids have to wear warm hats when they're out on the waves, and my husband had asked me to buy her the brightest one I could find, so that he would be able to spot her at a distance. The pink one with the orange bobble did the job nicely.

I noticed the sky darkening a bit. "Looks like bad weather coming in," I said to my husband. "The weather is coming from the other direction," he said. He's the weather expert in our family so I took his word for it. We watched our daughter launch in bright sunshine and went to meet the landlord in the house we rented. He arrived ten minutes later. "Did you see the squall that blew up?" He asked. "Just now! It was carnage!" "No," I said, "it was lovely only a few minutes ago." "It blew up really suddenly," he said. "Carnage! Frightened children, waves rolling into the harbour, boats heading towards the was carnage, I tell you!" "Can you please stop using that word?" I asked. "My daughter is out there." When we went back down, fortunately she hadn't capsized, but there were a few who refused to go back out once they'd been rescued. You couldn't blame them.

Next day, I was enchanted by the scene before me as I stood on the steps leading to the harbour. Scores of Optimists ("Oppies") were laid out in front of me...out came the sketching stuff. The kids would be grand without me - my husband was with them anyway.

This is my perch...

 ...and a couple of days later I sat directly across the harbour and drew the view from the opposite direction. Parents "volunteered" to stand in the freezing water and help launch the kids, and pull their trolleys up the slip as they came off.

Here are a couple of parents doing "slip duty". The man on the left is a friend of mine and he said he really enjoyed slip duty, but it was relentless - there was always a group of boats coming in or going out, from 9.30 or so until 4pm. He was exhausted by the day's end...but that's where things really got good, as all the parents would gather for a pint of Cork's finest in one of the pubs in the village. Clubs from all over the country were represented, but the Galway crowd are a fantastic bunch, warm and down-to-earth.

The sailing school in Baltimore is perfectly placed. The bay is sheltered, enclosed by Sherkin Island to the west. You can see it in some of the sketches. If you want to find a piece of the world that is still pretty perfect, go there. There are ferries that head over many times every day, and one rainy afternoon I drew them through the window of the clubhouse.

That day was the worst (for sketching): it rained all day. I had very much wanted to pay tribute to Mandy, the Shore Master, and her incredible work guiding the boats towards the water, but every time I tried to draw her it was either raining, or she left, or someone wanted me for something. So here's what I did in the rain:

There is only one Mandy, but I drew her three times so that I could always work on something when she changed position.

I never tired of watching the kids head off into the bay: they'd hurtle towards the quay wall at some speed, and then tack (or whatever it's called) and change direction, perfectly confident. Once or twice I felt a bit choked up, but I didn't let on. A thirteen-year-old boy isn't going to thank you if you do that in front of his mates (I wasn't even allowed to approach him as he prepared to launch).

Here he is...I was told NOT to draw him, but, as always, he was delighted when I'd done it. It's always the same - when is my family going to learn to just accept and enjoy? And stop trying to avoid being drawn? This is the last year my son will be sailing an Oppie - he'll be too big next year. So I for one am very happy to have this sketch. Other parents asked me to draw their kids with their boats, but unfortunately none of the kids hung around long enough for me to draw them. At least I can roar at my own kids to keep still and bribe or threaten them if necessary.

The last day was the day of the race. The weather was perfect - sunny, with just the right amount of wind. This time I was free to choke up all I wanted, as my kids couldn't see me. I painted furiously between showers (note rain splotches in the sea) and watched in awe as kids from seven to fourteen years old raced across the waves single-handedly. My husband commandeered the binoculars: I was allowed the briefest of glances through them, but he reasoned he follows the kids' racing progress closely, and anyway I hadn't a clue what was going on. During the prize-giving ceremony later, a lad got a prize for pulling a fellow sailor out of the water, who had become separated from his boat...another got a special award for being the youngest sailor there - he was only seven, and absolutely tiny.

During the race many young sailors lost their heads in a squall, but our boy kept his - there are advantages to living in Galway I suppose, in that he is very used to sailing in bad weather, and the cosseted South and East types maybe not so much! He didn't win - not by a long way - but he did much better than he has ever done in the past, and he was bursting with pride as he left the water. In the past he has been very downcast. Our daughter (who is ten) didn't win her race either, but it was her first. A little girl who sailed with her - she's only eight - capsized, and still managed to place well. These kids are learning self-reliance, independence and resilience and I think I've become a "sailing mom", or "mum", in my case.

One of the other parents and I were singing the praises of the sport one evening. "What I love about it," he said, "is that it is the perfect antidote for kids' lives today. You can't bring anything electronic out there - but it's more than that. They're completely active and have to be continually resourceful." I thought about one of the eleven-year-old girls during that first squall: she tied her boat to a mooring to keep her boat safe from the fast-approaching rocks. Another young lady of eleven, who had started the day with a very wobbly tooth, found herself with no free hands when it finally came out - so she was obliged to spit it into the sea, Rocky-style, with a mouthful of blood...then carried on sailing. Now that's a cool kid.

My husband gives another reason for enjoying sailing (apart from being obsessed anyway). "It's a way to make the most of living in Ireland," he said. "It's so small, you can get anywhere easily, and there is so much coastline. It's a great way to see some gorgeous places in Ireland, and you meet lovely people."

I'm sold. The next meet is in May: I'm looking forward to some fair weather sketching....and maybe I'll even do a bit of messing about in a boat myself.

More sketches for this story at