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July 25, 2014

Direct to Watercolor Part 1 of 4 : First Breakthrough

At the moment I’m out of town visiting the old stomping grounds in Alberta. The next four posts are going to be about a recent three week watercolor sketching project.


The other day I had an abrupt breakthrough. I feel like I’ve changed the way I draw ‘overnight’.

Not truly overnight of course. I know in reality it’s been a very gradual change, two steps forward, one 
back, taking about five years. But it still feels like a light bulb suddenly went on.


These sketches are something I almost never do. Drawing directly with the brush, with no preparation.
Simply starting with a silhouette in watercolor, and working into the simple shape.  You can clearly see the 'big shape' of the unfinished neighboring building in this second sketch.

If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ll know I’m all about my under drawing. So this is sort of a big thing for me! I have always felt (and still do) that a painting never gets better than the drawing it’s based on. If the drawing isn't strong, adding value and tone isn't going to save it. Quite the contrary – it’s the silk purse and sow’s ear all over again.

Looking at these older sketches from the 2011 USK symposium in Lisbon, I think you can clearly see my love of drawing, and the way I’m using it as a scaffold for the paint.

When I teach, I’m always telling people, ‘Spend as much time on the drawing, as you do on the painting’.
The drawing is the planning phase. Where you establish correct proportions, and plan the big blocks of color. The painting itself is the reward. The brushwork can be light and lively, because there’s no more thinking required.

But somehow today, after (about) five years of drawing followed by ‘coloring in’, I've reached a point where I’m willing to draw directly with the brush.

My breakthrough sketches might not seem like a significant improvement. They might even look like a step backwards at the moment. But, in the next three posts I’ll show what I did from here.

July 24, 2014

Beach logs kill

Of all the places on my Pacific Northwest itinerary I think Kalaloch was the one I was the most curious about. On the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula, it seemed so remote and wild, so unlike anything I had ever seen. A few nights before arriving there a friend sent me a link to the webcam from the Kalaloch Lodge (cloudy and rainy all the time!) with a view that is something like my sketch below. (Keep in mind that if you have a look at the webcam when it’s nighttime in Washington State, the view will be dark.)

From 40 feet above, the distant beach and the weather-beaten driftwood logs created an interesting and somewhat benign view to sketch but it was only later when I took a walk near the shoreline that I truly understood the meaning of the slogan “Beach Logs Kill” that is boldly printed on all the souvenirs in the gift shop. I’ve never been to a wilder place where you truly feel the power of open ocean, wind, waves and… the logs that come tumbling out of those waves. They’re piled up on the sand like toothpicks, except they’re two feet across and 20 or 30 feet long. My stay there wasn’t long, in fact only one night, but it was enough to know that will go back there one day to paint that wild scene again.

Kerala vist

Recently visited the state of kerala in india..was facinated by the roof geometry and chinese fishing nets at cochin..I have tried to sketch the impressions of the place..As always the colour patches were done beforehand without any place in mind.!!..

July 23, 2014

Flickr Weekly Theme July 14 - July 20 So Ugly It's Beautiful

Izzy said, "And why not paint the ugly things and try to make them at least interesting? The beautiful things have their admirers already.When we sketch, the image passes through the human eye through the heart to the hand. And love is added along the way; if we didn't see something to love about it, we wouldn't be sketching it."
 Leen Van Bogart said, “In the western world the idea of beauty finds its roots in Greek mythology and is associated with order, control, symmetry (kosmos) as opposed to disorder and absence of control (chaos). If we translate this idea to sketching you could say a sketch is ugly when we lose control of at least one of our sketching tools ( hands, arms, sight, concentration, too much flow of ink, etc).”
 The happy mistake can turn into a amazing sketch! It makes a great discussion and an interesting dilemma in picking works to present here on the USK Blog. Should I select the sketches so ugly they are beautiful, which often I think should be the very definition of a sketch! Or should I select the ugly subjects that have been internalized and made to be beautiful?
Billbtw nicely expressed my confusion, “What do we mean when we say ugly is beautiful? Ugly place, beautiful sketch? Or place that's so ugly it's beautiful?” Here are a few of both!

iss1zzy, Costa Rica

                              leenvanbogaert, Luxemburg

                               billbtw, United Kingdom

 Their is still time to participate in this weeks theme July 21 - July 27 Outdoor Animals

John Santos Sextet at Sonoma-Cutrer Winery

The John Santos Sextet at Sonoma Cutrer Winery from Bill Russell on Vimeo.

Bill Russell, a San Francisco Bay Area urban sketcher and illustrator, created this animated digital drawing using the ProCreate app on his iPad while enjoying the John Santos Sextet at Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, Windsor, California on July 19, 2014. You can see more of Russell's reportage illustration at and learn more about John Santos music at

Would you like to contribute a sketching video? Email your submission to

Step-by-Step Drawing Example : Davis House Dot Plot


The other day I showed you a quick example of what I’m calling ‘Dot Plots’. I really need a better name for this. Maybe somebody who isn't such an autodidact can tell me what it's called? I came up with this on my own, but there is probably an official name for this trick.

Anyway -  I was out sketching the other day, and got another good example. Here's the step-by-step shots:


This is the first pass of the Dot Plot.

What I have here are a set of small dots and dashes that describe for me the roof line of my subject, and where the ground line falls. The two major perspective angles I need to know in order to fill in the ‘face’ of the building.

It’s just a matter of putting in a small mark wherever there is a corner or intersection. The peak of each cupola, the width of each column of windows. You can stop whenever you have enough measurements to see the silhouette. Once you've got the ‘box’, you can just pile the details inside.



Ta da! See how the building appears, simply by connecting the dots? This is what they mean when they say ‘work larger to smaller’.

It might be easier for beginners to do this in pencil. You can poke in a few of these tiny markers, and if a quick sight measuring check says they’re wrong you only have to erase a few dots, not a whole drawing. When I'm doing it like this in ink, if I mis-place one, I just ignore it, and put another in the right place. At the end of the drawing, you don't notice any stray marks.

I talk a fair bit about sight measuring in my upcoming book on sketching. (Sorry, sorry, relentless promotion. Baby needs a new pair of shoes). But, even while doing so, I try to give you the techniques to escape measuring as quickly as possible.

My philosophy is, learn to make measuring instinctive. It really should not become labor. That sucks all the fun out it. I don’t think anyone enjoys the measuring part of sketch. We’re in it for the excitement of the rapid scribble! The lightning fast impression. The measuring is only so we’re not disappointed later, coming home with an out of proportion sketch, or a drawing that's crammed into the corner of our page.


Personally, I’m aiming for the best of both worlds. A way to get just enough accuracy to keep my left brain happy, but to go fast enough to keep my right brain engaged.



14June01_On Location

By the way, this is Davis House. It’s in is in a great location on De La Montaigne where you can sketch five small buildings surrounding a cute little park. A real oasis for sketchers. If you’re ever in Montreal, and find yourself near McGill, you might like this spot. (MAP).

July 22, 2014

Sketching Georgetown 2, Penang

Sketching GeorgeTown 2
I am bringing you updates of our recent Sketching Georgetown event held in Penang from 5-7 July. This is the 2nd time USK Penang has organised the sketching event and what an overwhelming response this year. They were expecting only 120 participants but the number swelled to nearly 200 when registration opened. We had sketchers from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia and UK. This event also coincides with the annual Georgetown festival. We came together to sketch and celebrate this famous UNESCO town.
Sketching GeorgeTown 2 Morning light @ Lebuh Herriot Workshop E - Sketching Hawker Food Sketching Georgetown 2 (Sketching Hawker Food Workshop)
I had the privilege to teach a food sketching workshop during the 3 day event. Together with Whee Teck, we taught 20 participants about watercolour properties and how to do paint testing. We finished off by showing how to create interesting textures that can be quickly used for sketching delicious local food. There were 8 other workshops conducted by fellow Asian sketchers which took place during the 3 day event.
Sketching Georgetown 2, Penang Sketching Georgetown 2, Penang Armenian Street Old shophouses @ Lebuh Tye Sin
The atmosphere throughout the 3 days was electric. We did not want to stop sketching. I had a blast and so glad to part of this big sketching family. Thank you KK and Khoo from USK Penang for being such good host and organisers.

July 21, 2014

Nudist Colony or Butterfly Garden?

Zoro Garden, a sunken stone grotto garden that was designed as a nudist colony during the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition. It is now a butterfly garden containing both the larvae and nectar plants needed for the complete life cycle of butterflies.

The Zoro Garden is located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California and was the meeting place of a weekday sketch group I attend every month.

Spring travel log

This spring we completed our old plan - travel to Mediterranean via Paris and spend there at least couple of days.

So I succeeded to fulfill my old dream to sketch Paris roofs. This is one of them. From hotel window.

A little history in Detroit

Not too long ago, I was on a whirlwind project in Detroit. I had the pleasure of staying in The Inn on Ferry- a series of renovated and re-imagined historic houses. I had just enough time to make a fleeting impression of the charming outsides. They whispered stories yet untold in that ever-evolving city.

July 20, 2014

Sketcher-in-residence in Civita di Bagnoregio

By Stephanie Bower

It's been about three weeks since I arrived in Italy from Seattle, and I am now settling into the tiny, ancient hill town of Civita di Bagnoregio, a short distance north of Rome. The Italians refer to Civita as il paese che muore ("the town that is dying"), as the soil erosion around the town of only eight permanent residents has left it isolated and virtually in the clouds.

The Civita Institute (, a non-profit based in Seattle, helps to support the town and sends people here with study fellowships each year. I'm in Civita for two months with the Astra Zarina Fellowship, to teach a sketching workshop and create a much-needed illustrated architectural walking guide to the town, before heading to the USk Symposium in Brazil.

Thousands of visitors show up in Civita each year, walk from one end to the town in only a few minutes, and have no idea that they are walking an ancient 2,500-year-old Etruscan road, enjoying an espresso in a Roman forum, or meandering through tiny medieval streets. No cars here, as access is across a narrow, steep bridge, and until recently, donkeys were the primary transport. Walking the town, one is transported back to medieval Italy, and the views out to the landscape are nothing short of breathtaking.

I'll be making a few guest posts to this blog in the coming weeks, taking photos of my sketches with my camera... I hope you will follow my adventure!


Stephanie Bower is a correspondent of Urban Sketchers Seattle. See more of her work on her website, blog and flickr.

Splash in the Fountain in Downtown Los Angeles

The Los Angeles group met at Grand Park for 44th Worldwide Sketchcrawl. This park features a fountain that shoots up water at random intervals. Many people were dressed in casual, colorful clothes, and kids in swimsuits were playing in the water on this lovely summer day. It's probably easier to let the kids play in the water here if you live far from the beach!

I had to leave early, so I only had about an hour total to chat with other artists and sketch - so here is my result. This sketch started as watercolor study of two ladies in dresses in the foreground, and I decided to added more elements whenever I saw something that interests me - kids sitting in the water, parents taking photos, a boy with a hooded towel with a green dinosaur design, bright pink chairs - the scale is off as a result, but I enjoyed splashing colors around on the page. White spots are made with correction fluid pen.

Shiho Nakaza "Los Angeles" summer "Grand Park" sketching sketchcrawl watercolor pen people park kids

A Farewell to Barns

covell blvd barn, davis CA
Davis, CA: And then it was gone forever. Anybody who has lived in Davis will probably know this familiar sight, an old barn, in a great state of disrepair, standing lonely in a field just off the northern edge of Covell Boulevard. For years we drove by it, and ever since my son was old enough to talk he was telling me I need to sketch that barn, have you sketched that barn, you gotta sketch that barn. It's near where I live, it's iconic, and yet I, well, never found the time. Always some complaint about it being too sunny, not enough shade, not really on my way anywhere, all the usual excuses. Then one overcast Sunday morning in March I decided to cycle the five minutes from my house in north Davis and sit opposite for forty-five minutes out of of my day with a sketchbook. It isn't much to ask. It's a sad building, but heroic in its own way.  Sure, it's falling apart and looks in no fit state for any real use, but it has that thing you cannot buy, character. Amid all the development, this barn waved a fist at the sky and said yeah, take one step closer and I'm gonna, well, you get idea. There's a brand new housing development being built next door, the Cannery, and this part of Davis is about to get a whole lot busier. Four months on from drawing this, we drove by today, and there was no barn. It was gone, forever. Well, said my son, it's a good job you sketched it. Just in time. He's not wrong. Goodbye, old barn.
by Pete Scully

sketches related with Ferry disaster

yellow ribbon, Cheonggyecheon, 38 x 26.5 cm

38 x 26.5 cm

Ferry Sewol was sunken on last April 16. 100th day is coming on July 24th. Death toll is 294 among 476 passengers including 325 students of Danwon high school for school trip; missing persons are 10 for now and 172 persons were saved. Families of victims ask a special bill to probe the cause demonstrating in front of Blue house and national assembly. Even the alive 38 students kept walking during two days from their school to the national assembly requesting not to forget their friends and to know why their friends had died by the adults' greed for money and failure in saving system of government. 
People cherished the victims in heart hanging yellow ribbons in streets. At the entrance of Cheonggyecheon stream near Gwanghwamun not far from the Blue house I sketched two pieces a month later on May 19th. 

Among the victims there was a girl student, Park Ye-seul. It was known that she wished to be a designer and had kept drawing since kid. Seochon gallery opened her little exhibit under the title of "Dream of Ye-seul" from July 4th to no-time-limit. Last Friday I went to see her works and sketched two as following. So many students filled small gallery. People visited endlessly leaving signatures on the signing book for the passing of the bill. A young volunteer in the gallery asked me to promote all about the disaster to people giving me yellow ribbon badge. I put it on my shirt at once. 

Girl students were writing letters to her for long. 

Her shoe designs came to real by the shoe maker. 

We all hoped her dream come true with all these wishes shining on window.