May 23, 2015

Sketching for the Second Time in San Juan Capistrano

by Shiho Nakaza in San Juan Capistrano, California USA

My fellow Los Angels correspondent Virginia and our sketching friends Chris and John and I went to Mission San Juan Capistrano together for the second time since sketching last summer. This time we enjoyed meeting Frank Ching and Gail Wong, who were visiting Orange County to teach Line to Color Workshop - you can read about Gail's account of the weekend here.

My day was filled with half-finished little sketches, but I did manage to make two separate sketches of Great Stone Church. The first sketch was done under the soft morning sun. The second one was done under a stark afternoon light, and it is from a different angle than the first version because there was no shade in the spot where I sketched in the morning. It was interesting to learn that this is the only Greco-Roman style ruin in the United States.

May 22, 2015

Line to Color Workshop in Orange County

May 1-3,  Frank Ching and I went to Southern California to give our Line to Color Workshop.  This workshop was initiated through the Orange County AIA Emerging Professionals Program.  It was also opened up to the community through the Urban Sketchers Workshop Program.  We ended up with a great mix of architects and non-architects...from beginners to experienced sketchers.  All in all it was a wonderful weekend with perfect weather for outdoor sketching.

On Saturday, we spent time at Mission San Juan Capistrano sketching and painting the mission.
This was the 7th of 21 Missions that were founded in California by Franciscan monks and Spanish soldiers between the years of 1775-1776.

Local sketchers from Los Angeles,  Virginia Hein, Shiho Nakaza, Chris Ruiz-Velasco and John Banh took the train from Los Angeles to the Mission San Juan Capistrano and met up with us. Check out their blogs and facebook posts for their sketches of the day.

These are two watercolor sketches I did toward the end of the morning  and afternoon sessions of the ruins of the Great Stone Church.

The ruins of the Great Stone Church were the result of an earthquake in 1812.  The Church was never rebuilt but became the home for swallows who built their nests in the arches of the ruins. Each year like clockwork the swallows of San Juan Capistrano would migrate to the mission in March  to build nests and then migrate south again to Argentina in October.  While the church ruins were being stabilized the nests of the swallows were removed.   The swallows rebuilt their nests in other areas of San Juan Capistrano.  Today you don’t see the swallows that help make that Mission famous, but there are projects that are in process to help lure the swallows back to the mission.

On Sunday, we sketched and painted in Laguna, California.  Sunday morning we started off sketching at Main Beach Park  and then walked along the Promenade to Heisler Park getting a sweeping view of Laguna where participants were able to get some great sketches of Laguna.

Sunday afternoon we went to Lumberyard Mall to have our final sketch crawl.  Lumberyard Mall was actually the home of a lumberyard in the early 20th century.  The buildings that are quasi French Normandy style architecture create a quaint village atmosphere.  It has been converted to offices, boutique shops and cafe’s.

Gail's Sketch of Lumberyard Mall Plaza.

Line to Color Workshop Heisler Park,  Laguna CA.

Photo of Frank Ching's sketch with signatures of our participants.
We all left the weekend excited and energized about sketching.  We had such a wonderful group of talented participants.  The local Orange County group have eagerly started a sketching group and hope to see it develop into another USk Group.  We look forward to seeing their continued work.

Urban Sketchers Never Stop (Even When They Ought)

by Róisín Curé in Dublin

I travelled from my home in Galway to Dublin last week for a 30-year school reunion. A lot of organisation went into getting 40 women together for dinner in Dublin on 14th May. Women flew in from Vienna, London, Scotland, France and I don't know where else, to be there. I took a Citylink bus from Galway which is somewhat less glamorous but no less comfortable than any of the airplanes or motor cars that carried my erstwhile classmates to Dublin.

I was parched when I got on the bus. In the past, complimentary bottles of water have been handed out as you board the bus, so when I saw the driver carrying two bottles I asked him if there were any going around. "Not on this service," he said, then gave me one of his anyway.

This is what it looked like:

I love Payne's Grey and I love Indigo in my tiny watercolour paintbox and I can't remember which I used, but I was happy as a sandboy - messing about with a sketch is my kind of bus journey.

I hadn't seen any of the girls I'd spent five formative years with since 1985, when everywhere you looked were bad perms, legwarmers and blue mascara - and that was just the boys' schools. Only joking, but I'm not exaggerating when I say the passage of time has only improved the girls I went to school with. I walked into the Cliff Townhouse on St. Stephen's Green (that's the posh end of Grafton St., which is the poshest street in Dublin) in my new dress, feeling far less nervous than I might have, which is a good sign, I think. I was determined to make a sketch while I was there, and I did manage a very quick one -

I had only had one small glass of wine by then, or maybe two, but the act of sketching banished cobwebs and I was suddenly stone-cold sober, which may not have been appropriate for a party which was getting decidedly animated but was okay because I had a very early start in the morning. The decibels and the pitch rose as the levels of wine went down and lots of group photos were taken. I'm not sure if a homemade sketch bag, a pair of jeans in a previous life, was quite the accessory for a sparkly red dress but getting my priorities right has never come naturally to me.

There were two more tables to the left behind a wall. The photos of the evening are doing the rounds now but I think a sketch adds considerably to the general feeling...I mean to add a bit of colour to the ladies' skin tones, and a touch of ruby for the wine, and then I'll pass it around to the ladies too.

The 8.45am Citylink back to Galway the following morning was every bit as comfortable as the way over. The lady in the seat next to me evidently felt the same as she had a nice snooze, and kept very still. I'm far too chicken to look at an awake person and draw them (unless they are distracted in some way), but full of courage when a person is out for the count.

Me and the ladies have planned to meet up again in five years' time. Perhaps I'll leave my sketching stuff at home next time...or make a nice gold-sequined sketch bag.

The Other Perspective

by Fred Lynch, Boston

Most of us know that to draw “in perspective” is to create the illusion of receding space on paper. Finding the horizon line and vanishing points help artists to understand, and to show, how things line up systematically in relation to our eye level. This is called linear perspective and it can be a very helpful tool, or a very confusing puzzle, to an artist facing a scene. The development of perspective drawing is considered to be a major breakthrough of the early Renaissance. 
What fewer people consider is that there is another kind of drawing perspective that helps create the illusion of space, and that is atmospheric perspective - otherwise known as aerial perspective.

Using atmospheric perspective means reducing the focus and the contrast of things in the distance of a picture in order to suggest space. If we stand on a tall hill, we can notice that things in the distance are affected by the atmosphere between us. We are very familiar with the fact that objects lose details to our eyes, the further they are away. But also, if we were to hold up a piece of black or white paper, we'd see that far away things are reduced to a middle value, or darkness. Color, too, is affected by the atmosphere, casting a blue tint.

Recently, I came across two drawings created side-by-side in the late 1800's, by the terrific on-site artists, John Warwick Smith and Francis Towne. They were both British artists living and drawing in Italy.

Francis Towne

John Warwick Smith
Comparing drawings such as these is so interesting because it reminds us that making art is making choices. These two artists drew together, but made different choices. Even though they shared similar views, art materials and drawing styles, there are still clear distinctions between the works. For example, clearly, Smith was more interested in the foreground element of historic ruins - something that Towne overlooks completely.

More to the point, Smith uses "atmospheric perspective" in his picture as a device to to help focus his interest on the foreground ruins and contrast them with the distant town. The town is literally pale in comparison. Francis Towne, on the other hand, considers everything before him equally. There are only subtle differences between foreground and background, and that's because he has made the choice to talk about everything as a whole. He sees everything as equally important in his drawing.

So, which drawing is correct?
They're both correct.
The most important perspective is the artist's perspective - which is the point of the drawing itself. All the choices of an artist follow that.

May 21, 2015

Here's the church and here's the steeple

Marcia Milner-Brage, Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA

Our local newspaper, the Cedar Falls/Waterloo Courier, recently asked their readers: “What makes your neighborhood special? Be specific. Speak details”. Good question! When I draw where I live, I’m showing the specifics of my hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Sometimes the specifics are quite mundane and ordinary (as Virginia Hein spoke in her most recent post). Sometimes the specifics are quite special.

There are twelve churches within a three-quarter mile radius from my house. That’s special!

I drew this on a recent Spring day at the end of April, finally warm enough to draw outdoors. And still bug-free enough to not be tormented. Standing on newly green grass, the steeple of New Redeemer Lutheran Church could be seen through the barely budding trees. Oh, and those glorious shadows of early Spring! 

See photos of the backstory and rough sketches of this drawing-in-the-making HERE, on the regional Urban Sketchers Midwest Blog.

2 Steeples in Winter

Two more of the twelve churches in my neighborhood. This was from several winters ago, drawn from my upstairs bedroom window. The steeple of First United Methodist Church is on the left, and St Patrick’s Catholic Church is on the right. Across the street from each other, they make quite a defining pair. In summer, I cannot see either through the density of leafy, tall trees. But, I can hear the carillon of First United through all seasons. That’s special, too!

Hello, tweeps, would you be our Twitter account manager?

May 21, 2015

Volunteer opportunity: Social media editor (Urban Sketchers Twitter account)
Are you hooked on Twitter? We are looking for a brilliant wordsmith who can engage urban sketchers with useful and inspiring daily tweets. The ideal candidate for this volunteer job is plugged into the global urban sketching community, can name sketchers by their Twitter handles and uses good judgement when crafting messages and retweeting. This is a great opportunity for a journalism or marketing student to get some valuable experience and coaching from a supportive Communications Team. If you are interested, contact Urban Sketchers Communications Director Brenda Murray at

More than 7,000 followers need you!

Urban Sketchers is an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location drawing. Our mission is to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of on-location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.

May 20, 2015

More from New York

Suhita Shirodkar in New York

I do love sketching the big iconic buildings and touristy spots in New York (posted here). But there's so much more than just that to catch the eye. However often I visit, I'm surprised by what Ive've never seen and done before.

I’ve never visited Roosevelt Island. Until this time. Here is the Queensboro Bridge, sketched from the island, looking across towards Manhattan. We rode that red cable car into Manhattan. It was quite a ride.

One of my favorite things to do as I walk around the city is look up. ( you don't get to see much more than blue sky if you look up where I live in San Jose). The skyline anywhere in the city is endlessly fascinating.

And it often holds little surprises. Like this building where you can see the faint remnants of a painted advertisement, from the days when the elevated line ran by it.

Or you might spot a fabulous synagogue wedged between two nondescript buildings in the city.

I was fascinated by the dark underbelly of the subway line on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens.

And then there's green-awninged corner stores.

And bagel shops with a long queue of customers in the morning. If you're a local and have a recommendation for where I can find a great bialy the next time I'm in the city, let me know.

Can't miss sketching the hot dog and pretzel vendor ( with a soft serve icecream truck in the background as a bonus).

Or the musician in Central Park.

Have I mentioned before how much I love the city? More sketches from the city here on flickr.

Feira da Ladra

The feira da ladra market in Lisbon transforms a place with some historical monumentality in an improvisational space and wonderful chaos.

Optimist Sailing in Kinsale, Co. Cork: My Kids are Alone on the Ocean!

by Róisín Curé in Kinsale, Co. Cork

It's strange and somewhat uncomfortable to think about your ten-year-old child alone in the middle of the ocean, especially if you're a mother inclined to think the worst. So maybe the fact that two of my children sail Optimist dinghies in the rough water off the west coast of Ireland is as good for me as it is for them. I don't worry about the thirteen-year-old - he is a well-built fella and has been sailing for years, but I did when he started. Now, I dismiss bad thoughts of endless deep, dark, cold water underneath my little darlings (aaaarggh!) and think of the fact that they are being turned into confident and independent young people.

I used to send my husband and son off on their own on their sailing trips. Now that the youngest sails too, I join them. The first such trip was in Baltimore, Co. Cork in February, and the weekend just gone was the second, the Munsters Optimist Championships in Kinsale, Co. Cork.

I came fully prepared to sketch, knowing that I would have lots of free time. My first sketch was done as the sailors prepared to launch on the first morning.

The scale is a bit wonky, but no matter. A little blonde girl saw what I was doing. She's a very lively, bubbly little thing. "That's my Dad! You've drawn my Dad!" she kept saying, telling anyone she could. I love that aspect about live sketching - the simple joy you give to whomever has been captured in the sketch. I teased the two men (who are friends of mine) about the fact that they were easy to draw because they don't move much.

As the youngsters launched, I drew them on the slip. Now we're talking seriously wonky scale, but I'm not proud! Well, I am, but I think it is good for one's character to try to be less so.

That teeny-weeny Optimist on the right in the foreground? I could say that it was a special small one for a little elf who wanted to join in but the truth is much less interesting. I just got it heartily wrong. The same goes for the two men walking up the slip in their waders - they needed to be further back to be the right size.
Never mind - onwards and upwards. The sun came out and I drew the beautiful Kinsale Sailing Club clubhouse, a very impressive spot altogether. I knew I would have lots of time for the upper part of the sketch, so I spent a while on that. So long, in fact, that my eyes went all blurry. I carefully left the bottom part blank so that I could put the boats in when they returned.

They came back just as I was deciding that urban sketching is too hard on the eyes, leaving me no choice but to get back to my little folding stool and draw like a maniac. The first thing a returning sailor does is take down the sail, so I had to be fast - also, any Optimists that parked (or whatever they do) in the foreground would obscure the clubhouse I'd just drawn. The little blonde girl in the foreground is the one whose daddy I drew earlier.
You can see lots of folk enjoying drinks and chats on the balcony. When I'd finished my sketch I joined them for a pint up there which was lovely but far too short-lived - no sooner had I sat down than it was time to gather the kids and go and find something to eat (Kinsale is known for its gastronomy, so we did eat very well).

Next day, my daughter told me she and her friend (the little blonde one, again) had found the perfect spot for me to draw, just at the top of the steps.

That's looking almost exactly in the opposite direction as my previous sketch. The man in the foreground, Brian, very kindly gave my husband a bottle of water to take out on the rib, as he would be out in the bay for many hours, and I had mislaid the one he'd bought somewhere. As a way of saying "thank you" I put him into the sketch. I hope he likes it.
Kinsale is a very fancy town - as well as the superlative restaurants (with some pretty superlative prices to match) the town is full of yachting types. You can see some of the yachts moored in Kinsale Yacht Club at the top left.

Kinsale town is very beautiful, full of exquisite buildings painting in vivid colours. I had to choose a subject for my last sketch of the weekend, and I did consider drawing one of the adorable colourful houses of the town itself - but even though they are really very beautiful, I was uninspired - not sure why, but it's hard to fathom these things. I had passed the entrance to the yacht club the evening we arrived and thought it would make a lovely drawing, and chose to spend my last sketching hours drawing it. I sat on the side of the street opposite it and people were very friendly as they passed.

The kids returned and we prepared to leave. They had done very well in their races. My son had been doing better than he had ever done, but the sea was very rough and he capsized, losing his position. But he was sanguine - he nearly always is anyway - and both kids were very happy on the journey home.
"There were loads of people going in and out of the gate," I said to my husband as we drove past the entrance to the Yacht Club on the way home. "I have no idea why - there's nothing there but boats." "They are staying on the boats," he said, "sleeping there and so on."
"Sounds amazing," I said.

Maybe I'll find out one day: maybe my children will become so enamoured of sailing that by hook or by crook they'll buy a swanky yacht someday. And I'll sit on the deck and draw. I won't have to dwell on the deep, dark, cold water underneath, because in this particular pipe-dream it will be turquoise, warm and sparkly...

More on my website here.

May 19, 2015

Sketching on an Ordinary Day...

These days I like to sketch all kinds of things, wherever I am, but my favorite kind of sketching has to be the ordinary, everyday moments--like stealing a leisurely weekday lunch to draw an "ordinary" neighborhood scene.  But that's the thing--I don't think any scene is ordinary!  The beauty of the familiar, the ordinary--is that it's never really the same.  The light, the weather, and of course the people bring infinite variety to the scene.  So...this is an ordinary view on a cloudy day in May, at the Highland Cafe in Los Angeles...

Jerusalem Sketchbook

Guest post by Sunil Shinde

I spent a week and a half in April with my 13-year-old daughter in Jerusalem and Jordan. Lip smacking fresh food, culture dating back to biblical times and beyond, variety of landscape that covered everything from desert to beaches: For first timers in the Middle East, the trip provided us with a great cross section of what to expect from this region.

I used to be an avid photographer, but gave away my camera to pick up the brush. Of all the reasons that made the change necessary, none forced it more than a simple fact: The camera kept coming between me and my surroundings more than I like. Since this was the second vacation I have undertaken with a Stillman and Birn instead of an SD Card, I was much better prepared.

The preparation helped me have more fun than I ever had on a cultural trip.

The Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the beautiful Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem is a country the size of a county with all the problems of a continent. This is most apparent at the Western Wall, the holiest site for Judaism within a whistling distance of the Dome of the Rock, the second holiest site for Muslims.

The Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount

I managed to gain free access to the Temple Mount only on my third try. And even then I had to stand and sketch as the Uzi-totting, camouflage clad commando would not let me, a non-Muslim, sit down with a book open.

The Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount

The atmosphere was tense the first two times we visited the Muslim sacred place. Pilgrims in religious frenzy chanted “Allah hu-Akhbar” repeatedly. There was some pushing and scuffles. Rhea was nervous. But surrounded by the most elite commandoes of the IDF, I have never felt more safe.

Rhea browsing an antique shop in the Muslim Quarter

Though most of our other favorite spots were in the Muslim Quarter where the kebabs were fantastic and the antiques plentiful.

A salesman attending to his shop in the Christian Quarter

Our favorite restaurant outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher

Every day in the old city of Jerusalem, we retired to a hole-in-the-wall eatery kitty-corner with the Church of Holy Sepulcher to gorge on crunchy falafel, soft pita and fresh Arabic salad.

Church of the Redeemer, my favorite sketching spot not too far from our favorite restaurant

Muristan, Muslim Quarters

The Monastery of Flagellation on the Via Delarosa

Artifacts in the Israel Museum

Façade of the Holy Church of Sepulcher

I filled an entire sketch book in our four days in Jerusalem. And here I was worried that I would not have enough to sketch in the entire trip.

Sunil lives in Seattle with his 13-year-old daughter. When he is not traveling, he manages a technology business focused on new-age customer experiences. You can view more of his sketches here on his blog.