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 ——> Registration update: We sold out of Early Bird Activities Passes. More passes will be available on April 11th, when Standard Registration begins. There are still Early Bird Workshops Passes available.

March 29, 2015

Yokohama windy day sketch trial

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!

March 26, 2015

Shot Clock

By Fred Lynch in Boston, Massachusetts




Each week at the same time, I report to my doctor's office and receive three allergy shots (ouch!). It seems I'm allergic to every tree, grass, and mold imaginable. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but not by much. For years I'll be getting these treatments with the goal of building up my immunities.

Following every treatment comes a required 20 minute stop back in the waiting room. This is to monitor any possible ill-reaction to the inoculations.

Not long ago, it occurred to me that sketching the fellow patients during that pause would make for an interesting and challenging weekly excercise. If you look closely, you'll notice one character was drawn twice, a couple of monthes apart. Someday, this series will be a huge study of how Americans wait.

USk News: Tuscany Workshop: Journey into Matter

26 March 2015

USk is pleased to announce a new workshop coming 24-28 June 2015!

The sixth edition of this Tuscan workshop is dedicated to matter. After so many panoramas, this time with our drawing and painting we are going to take a closer look at the materials themselves. 
The infernal landscape of fumarolesvapors, rocks and hot springs in Sasso Pisano Natural Park making up the landscape of the Cecina valley; the high "Balze" cliffs stamping their character on the rugged landscape to the west of Volterra, explored from below, so as to touch them; the artificial landscape of alabaster quarries, so tied to the city's history. 

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

March 25, 2015

Demolish Auckland

By Murray Dewhurst in New Zealand.

I'm not in support of destroying (what's left) of Auckland's built heritage at all. As you may know Christchurch got destroyed by an earthquake a few years back while Auckland is the complete opposite, it has been getting destroyed by developers for decades.

Strangely though, I really enjoy a bit of demolition! Contradictory I know, but I really got a kick out of doing these sketches. A bit like watching a car crash, the noise, dust and drama is extremely compelling to watch (and sketch).

Standing just outside the security fence I was able to get close to the action and this in turn encouraged me to attack the page with quick vigorous line work.

Not all my sketches worked out particularly well but I think the ones that did have a more authentic feeling than if I'd slavishly laboured over them.

Added bonus for demolition sketching; you only need
1 colour — Orange!

I could get used to living in Key West

By Marc Taro Holmes in Key West, FL

From my perspective, looking out my window at five foot snowbanks, the town of Key West is a marvel.

An impossibly distant fantasy land of tropical luxury. Probably that's how the people that live there feel as well. Walking around, I couldn't get over how the houses were overwhelmed by lush greenery. Even the smallest home had an amazing garden.

One of my favorite spots was the Audubon House. Like many regional museums named after famous people from history, it's not actually *his* house, and it wasn't even built when he visited Key West. But - it is much like a house where he *might* have stayed, and he did make diary entries about the unusual trees in the same block.

As you sit in the overgrown gardens, enjoying orchids and bromeliads hanging from swaying palms, you can imagine him passing through on his quest for the wildest, strangest Birds of America. This was probably the best day of the trip for me. Such a great place to spend the afternoon. Painting this amazing garden, and taking breaks to go look at the gallery of birds. Makes you think you could get used to the Key West Life.

Though, reading a bit about it, it sounds like Audubon himself did not have it easy. His life included: fleeing conscription under a false passport, surviving yellow fever, dodging privateers, managing the family mine (his father figured everyone needed lead for bullets), getting through the civil war intact, ending up in debtor's prison, sketching death-bed portraits for quick cash, fighting the scientific establishment to see his work published, travelling the world hand-selling subscriptions to his prints - actually selling animal pelts he shot himself to raise funds for printing. Whew. that's just the first half of his life.

The house features a small gallery with some excellent reproductions of Audubon's prints, and of course the usual drink coasters and puzzles made from his art. I had to be impressed thinking about his body of work from 1838 still steadily selling. Never mind his great achievement in naturalist art, that right there is impressive to a working artist such as myself.

I have to wonder what the year round experiences are in this town. It does seem precariously perched on a very low lying island, very far out in the ocean. Maybe living on a boat would be the answer? So you could be ready to bug out in hurricane season. I'd prefer to live on a pirate ship like the Jolly Rover. But, there also seems to be a fascinating niche culture of house boating. I am imagining scenes of fleets of these boxy floating homes desperately puttering ahead of an oncoming hurricane. Probably an overactive imagination there. But we'll see what climate change brings. Maybe these people are right!

I hope to get back to Key West again. We had a great time, and I'd love to make it an alternative to Montreal's winter.