Have you ever heard of “urban sketching”? Essentially, it is the art of freehand drawing on location at cities where a sketcher lives and/or travels to. I only became aware of it when I stumbled across the book The Art of Urban Sketching (2012) authored by journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario. In addition to blogging and drawing for the Seattle Times, Campanario founded Urban Sketchers, an online community and non-profit organization that fosters the art of on-site drawing. As a planner and someone who drew a lot as a youth, I find the book fascinating and am happy to have it in my collection.
The Art of Urban Sketching contains over 600 beautiful, contemporary illustrations. This is one of the most visually stunning books I have come across; even some volumes on urban design are not as attractive as it is. With sketches and observations from over 50 cities in more than 30 countries, the book offers unique perspectives on urban life from different cultures and artistic styles, as well as insights into various drawing mediums and techniques. In addition, the book includes profiles of the urban sketchers and extended captions where these artists share their stories, sketching tips, and the tools used for each illustration. For a preview of the sketches, please visit the book’s page on Amazon.com. Also, I recommend checking out Urban Sketchers’ Flickr page.
Around the World
I love the book’s focus on cities around the world. When I first got The Art of Urban Sketching, I naturally turned to the pages about cities I am familiar with, including my native Hong Kong and my current home Los Angeles. Artist Paul Wang’s sketches of the Star Ferry Terminal and view of skyscrapers from the Peak are brilliant and bring back memories from my childhood days in Hong Kong. I also appreciate the fine work of Shiho Nakaza, Virgina Hein, and Stephane Kardos who illustrated L.A. scenes I am familiar with such as food trucks and Griffith Observatory. I enjoyed seeing sketches of cities I have been to, including New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Victoria. I also feel the urge to visit other cities like London, Paris, Seoul, and Singapore as a result of the wonderful illustrations. Campanario encourages travelers to use a pencil to capture vacation memories rather than a camera and believes that “sketching makes for a richer travel experience”. In an interview with USA Today, he lists the following ten cities as his favorite places for sketching: Seattle, New York, San Antonio, Montreal, Norfolk (Virginia), London, Venice, Barcelona, Istanbul, and Hong Kong. For more information, please check out this article.
The book does not just showcase the work of established urban sketchers. Campanario also intends it to be inspirational and instructional to show how one can participate in urban sketching. The entire first section of the book explains how one can become an urban sketcher, including discussions on tools, styles, and techniques. One of my favorite quotes is:
“No extravagant tools or formal artistic training is needed to draw on location. Let your hand interpret what your eyes see, as you explore your city, making marks on paper.”
Urban sketching is definitely not as easy as it sounds. Looking at the sketches in the book and reading the tips shared by the artists, it is obvious that a great deal of practice and patience is required. It has been many years since I last drew, but I am encouraged by Campanario. I hope to finally make use of the sketching kit I bought a year ago to draw again because I see sketching as another way to record what I see and improve my observational skills as a planner.
I would highly recommend The Art of Urban Sketching to anyone interested in cities, sketching, and/or traveling the world. For me, it is a wonderful resource to have because of my occupation as a planner, love for cities, and desire to travel more and sketch again. Finally, for those who are inspired to become an urban sketcher, please note that the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium is coming up July 11 to 13. To be held in Barcelona, the symposium is a three-day workshop at which artists from around the world meet to draw and learn together in the city. Field sketching sessions, lectures, panels, exhibits, and artists demonstrations will be included in the workshop.
The Art of Urban Sketching book cover from http://www.theartofurbansketching.com/
Sketch kit by author