While Urban Sketchers started in 2007, sketching itself is as old as the hills. The Tuscan hills, that is.
Recently, when reading the new book Leonardo and the Last Supper, by Ross King, I was stuck by a passage that described a drawing that da Vinci made when he was just twenty one years old. The drawing is of the Arno Valley outside Florence, and it is speculated that he drew it as a study for a background to a painting that he was entrusted to do for the artist Verrochio, of whom he was a pupil.
King states, "The drawing is celebrated as the first landscape in Western art; the first time that someone regarded the features of the natural world, devoid of human presence, worthy of reproduction."
Leonardo was most certainly an artist who worked from observation over imagination. "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding," he once said. His anatomy drawings from dissected carcasses are well known.
Many urban sketchers will certainly relate to another passage from the book:
"Leonardo carefully dated his sketch: "The Day of Our Lady of Sorrows, 2 August 1473." On the reverse of the paper he wrote "Sono chotento" (I am happy).
He was the first of many happy sketchers to come.