Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 10 Favorite Urban Sketching Locations

Tuesday Tips & Tricks

I am often asked how I choose my locations for urban sketching. My answer is probably very similar to yours so I will share my criteria (which I adhere to very loosely).

First there are the physical elements for the perfect scene:
Textures, contrast, color, composition, pattern, movement, rhythm, etc. found in organic or man-made settings such as landscapes, architecture, nature and ensemble of people or animals. These components help construct the site selection and ultimately the sketch composition.

Then I look for a collection of those components which create an emotional attraction that provides a great story to tell when people look at my sketchbook. I like to say “we all have a sketch to tell,” which means that our purpose as artists is to use our visual language to interpret a scene and retell it through our sketches. I once read a great quote from Urban Sketcher Deby Caspari who wrote “To draw something is to own it. You take an image filtered through you and you have an intense experience of the subject that can’t be taken away.”

With millions of images coming into our brains every second, this must be why one scene stands out more than the others and prompts us to sit for 10, 20, or even 60 minutes to capture what our cameras could do in a couple of snaps, right?

Here then, based on repeat visits from Urban Sketchers Chicago, are some Top Sketch Locations in Chicago.

Architectural Artifacts
Three stories of saved and collected details, furniture, lighting, mantles, and other you-name-it oddities reclaimed from old buildings and residences in and around Chicago. We have consistently had our best turnouts for our Sketch Crawl whenever we have hosted one here at Architectural Artifacts and there is plenty of space to get lost in.

The Field Museum in Chicago

The Field Museum is another one of those sketcher's dream locations. Starting with architecture that dates back to Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, this museum is packed with exhibits and collections of creatures past and present. Lots of fascinating dioramas, textures, and architectural details so that you never run short of things to sketch. And on designated days, Illinois residents get in free with a valid Illinois identification. On our first trip to The Field Museum, we were treated to a back labs tour by Urban Sketcher Rebe Banasiak and the drawers of specimens being prepared for future exhibits.

Lincoln Park            
Lincoln Park Zoo   
The USk Chicago groups has settled into this area on several locations because of the expansive area it covers and the variety of subject matter. There is lots of nature, flowers at the Conservatory, animals at the free public zoo, the rivers of people who pass through this area on bikes, or running and pedestrian traffic, and some of the most interesting neighborhood buildings. Within walking distance to the lake shore and beaches, this Lincoln Park area is a big favorite of USk Chicago. On our last Chicago Architectural Open House in October, three of the buildings on display were located within the Lincoln Park area.

Other areas USk Chicago is fond of visiting for sketching:

Chinatown/Ping Tom Park                       

Chicago Water Taxi
Riding and sketching on the Water Taxi, all day, on the weekend for just $10.        

The glorious home base for our Chicago Sketch Seminar in 2014 and 2015  

Washington Square Park:         

Newberry Library:     

Chicago Cultural Center

Millenium Park/Pritzker Pavilion:

Maggie Daly Park:      

And finally, if you are not a big fan of coming into the big city for your urban sketching inspiration, look around your own neighborhood. Old buildings, places where people gather (coffee shops, taverns, public transportation), beautiful parks and statues, and even the ugly things such as back alleys, junk piles, gas meters, water towers, and rusted out cars. The uglier the scene, the better the sketch. When you start looking, the whole world of urban sketching comes to life for you.  

What are some of your favorite sketch locationsWhen you finish your sketches, please share them with us.

Wes Douglas

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Did you take pictures at the Chicago Sketch Seminar?  The USk Chicago Planning team is writing a series of blog posts recapping our Sketch Seminar weekend.  We want to see the Seminar from your perspective, thank our sponsors for their contributions, and show them the amazing work that each of you created.

Please send pictures of:

  • you using sponsorship art materials or prizes
  • sketches made with the sponsorship materials or prizes
  • instructors demonstrating with sponsorship materials
Email your pictures to with the subject line "Seminar Photos".  Tell us which products you used and what your impressions of them are.  If your photo(s) are used, you will be given credit.

Keep an eye out for blog posts coming in the the next month!

USk Chicago Planning Team

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Chicago Sketch Seminar Map is up on the Seminar website

Thank you again to our sponsors: Blick Art Materials, Cafe Babareeba, DeAtrimentis DieTintenmanufaktur, Faber Castell, General Pencil, Hahnemuehle USA, Monkey Pencil Screen Printing, Nock Co., Palette & Chisel, Sakura of America, Stillman & Birn, Winsor & Newton, uskchicago2015, USkChicago.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How I started sketching in public

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

I discovered Urban Sketching in 2009. This whole idea blew my mind! I subscribed to Urban Sketchers blog, friended Pete Scully, Rob Carey, Gabi Campanario. Then I bought a sketchbook. I wanted to sketch this city and its people and its happenings. I wanted to sit in cafes and draw, go to museums and work in my sketchbook. I wanted to be a part of that, but I was afraid. 

If you ask me now what I was afraid of, it would be hard for me to formulate exactly. I suppose I was afraid of being judged. I was afraid that people would look at my drawings while I sit there in public and recognize me for a fake that I am. I was a afraid of failure, my drawings never came out like what I meant them to be, instead of beautiful proportions and delicate value gradations, my results looked grotesque and wonky. Plus, I never went to art school and thought that it would be immediately obvious to anyone who looks at my scribbles. Aaaaa-nd, when I was in the middle school, my father did all my art homework because I was too busy with my math and history. You see - I had many reasons. I can probably remember a few more if I concentrate.

So I would go to the Art Institute, my sketchbook in my bag, and walk gallery after gallery trying to summon my courage to sit down and draw something. And then I would go home with my sketchbook having never left my bag. Weeks passed, then months.

That one Tuesday I was in the Art Institute again and heard uncharacteristic noise coming from the main Impressionist gallery. I went there to see what’s going in. There were kids there, 2nd graders, having their art class in the museum. About 40 kids, very loosely chaperoned by their art teachers, were sitting on benches, lying on the floor and copying Monet and Renoir and Degas and Cezanne onto sheets of paper. They were laughing, squealing, pushing each other and having enormous fun. When they saw that I was interested in their drawings, they gathered around me and started showing me their masterpieces. The drawings were what you would expect of a 2nd grader equipped with a #2 pencil and a sheet of printer paper. The fun that filled the gallery was over the top. They were so happy and proud of their work! And I was almost crying from envy. I too wanted to be part of that. How come they are not afraid, I thought. How come they are having so much fun, and I am about to leave the Art Institute with my sketchbook still unopened in my bag. Enough!

I walked to the right of the main Impressionist gallery, sat on a bench and got my sketchbook out of my bag.

Gaston Lachaise - Woman (Elevation) - Bronze - 1927. Art Institute of Chicago 

Nobody laughed. Actually nobody paid any attention. In a few days I came back and drew again. No-one cared.

Randolph Rogers - Nydia, The Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii - Marble - 1858. Art Institute of Chicago

I went to a local coffee shop and sketched a view from the window. A man looked over my shoulder and said, “You are so brave to draw in public like that, I don’t have the guts.” I thought, “If only you knew!”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mixing Peachy Flesh Tones

Portrait by Charles Reid
Last year shortly before the first Sketch Seminar, I first came across the beautiful watercolor portraits by Charles Reid. If you haven't seen his portraits before do yourself a favor and go remedy that at once!
Photos provided by "Watercolour Fanatic"

Until that point I'd been using a water soluble crayon in something like a peach tone for my sketches. There is is just something about the way Reid's colors melt into one another that made me feel like I had to try his method.

After a little digging in search engine results I came upon a video clip where he shares his color recipe. You can watch it here.
washes of this recipe in various intensities

Reid's basic recipe:
2 parts cadimum red
1 part cadimum yellow
dot cerulean blue (worked out)

Now I haven't been working with watercolors very long so there are some colors that just baffle me! Yes, that is to say that I don't own cerulean blue. Instead I subbed my cheap phthalo blue. I think it worked well – when I remembered to work out the pigment before adding it to the mix!

Photo taken from Gurney's Blog Post
I really enjoy using this mix of colors in combination with this guide for color points I found on James Gurney's blog. (Another artist worth investigating!) Of course there is a way to use this guide that looks suspiciously like a clown, but with moderation and enough water things tend to level out. Below is a study I did with Reid's color mix and Gurney's hints.

Even though I still over work my paint relatively often I greatly prefer this method for peachy tones to my crayon. Why? Well, with a dash of yellow ochre or raw sienna can really shake up the tone. Mixing these tones instead of using a pre-made color brick is also great because it gives a gradient between colors that really shows off the benefits of watercolors.

What about you, do you prefer premixed colors or mixing your own? Why? Do you have a favorite peachy recipe? How about other skin tones?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Requirement for a Successful Art Workshop Experience

Tuesday Tips and Tricks:

Sketchbook Skool Klass with Jonathan Twingley.

It’s that time of year when art workshops and seminars abound. We’re less than a month away from the USk-Chicago Sketch Seminar 2015! There are some great things planned and we’re putting the finishing touches on the details to help you to get the most out of your workshop experience. 

How about you? Are you getting ready for a workshop? Whether it’s an online class, a local workshop, one that involves travel or even if you’re working you way through a self-study book there are certain things that will help you get the most out the experience. Over the years I’ve given workshops and taken many classes both on-site and online.  I’ve found my mindset is the most important factor in what I take away from the class.

  • SET A GOAL – Why am I taking this class? What do I hope to learn?

  • KEEP AN OPEN MIND – Pay attention and follow directions. It’s easy to fall into the attitudes of “that isn’t the way I do it” or “that isn’t the way so-and-so does it” but leave those notions behind at least for the duration of the workshop.

  • THINK PROCESS NOT PRODUCT  (I know, I say that all the time) –  It takes practice to learn new techniques and methods.

  • ASK QUESTIONS – Your instructor wants you get the most out of your time in the class.

Last week, Wes gave us excellent advice about what to bring and what to wear. Remember, whether your a novice or a working pro, there is another thing you need for a successful workshop experience, that’s a positive and open workshop-state-of-mind.

The opening sketch of this post is an assignment from a Sketchbook Skool Klass with Jonathan Twingley. The goal was to draw not think.  At the end of a week we cut up the sketches made a mixed media collage to surprising results! 

What's your "must have" for a successful workshop experience?

Richard E. Scott
David Becker 
Veronica Lawlor
Sketchbook Skool

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dressed for Sketch-cess


With only a few weeks left before the Chicago Sketch Seminar, no doubt you are starting to think about what to bring, how to pack and what to wear. Fear not because, thankfully, urban sketching is nothing like going on vacation or climbing Mount Everest. All you really need is something to draw on and something to draw with...a pencil and a sketchbook. Done. Beyond that it is a personal preference for your style of sketching and whatever your workshop instructor has suggested for you bring.

If you scan through the past Tuesday Tips & Tricks, you will see a vast collection of techniques and how-tos that mention recommended brands of art supplies. And as long as you trust the Chicago Sketch Seminar Sponsors*, you just can't go wrong. But unless you want to drag a rolling suitcase around with you all day, decide how you plan to sketch that day and simplify your supplies to fit in your shoulder bag or backpack.

So how about that third question: "what to wear?" Perhaps you have heard the phrase “travel light?” This is very good advice when you will be walking the streets of Chicago with a few too many art supplies. And yet with Chicago weather you never really know what to expect so you have to plan for contingencies. Here then is my survivor’s guide to urban sketching in Chicago.

> wear something to protect your head
> wear something to protect your eyes from the sun
> wear something to protect your skin from the sun and possibly insects
> wear something because we are a casual group, just not THAT casual

The diagram below shows the anatomy of the properly outfitted Urban Sketcher:

A collection of Urban Sketchers’ Popular Seats, Stools and Chairs:

*Chicago Sketch Seminar Sponsors:
USk Chicago is grateful for the generosity and support of its Seminar Sponsors. Our sponsors are supporting the Seminar through financial and product donations. Donations will go towards supplies and materials for workshops, product samples for goody bags for each registrant, materials to be tested in the Supply Speed Dating Activity, as well as some incredible raffle prizes to be raffled at our Gallery Reception on Sunday evening.  Make sure to visit their websites and connect with them on social media to see how other sketchers are using their products:

Blick Art Materials  #blickartmaterials
·       Twitter            @Blick_Art
·       Instagram      @blickartmaterials
·       Facebook     “Blick Art Materials”

·       Twitter            #DeAtramentis
·       Instagram      #DeAtramentis
·       Facebook     “Atramentis”

·       Twitter            @FaberCastell @Faber-Castell USA
·       YouTube      FaberCastellUSA
·       Facebook     “FaberCastellUSA”
·       Pinterest       “Faber Castell USA”
·       #fabercastellusa
General Pencil
·       Twitter            @GeneralPencil
·       Instagram      @General Pencil
·       Facebook     “General Pencil Company”
·       #GeneralPencil
#GeneralsPencils #GeneralsCharcoal

·       Twitter            @Hahnemuehle_USA
·       Instagram      @Hahnemuehle
·       Facebook     “Hahnemuhle USA”, “Hahnemuhle”
·       Pinterest       “Hahnemuehle”
·       #Hahnemühle

Jet Pens
·       Twitter            @JetPens
·       Instagram      @JetPens
·       Facebook     “”                   
·       #JetPens

Nock Co.
·       Twitter            @NockCo
·       Instagram      @NockCo
·       Facebook     “Nock Co.”
·       #Nockshots                  #Nockc

Sakura of America
·       Instagram      @SakuraofAmerica
·       Facebook     “Sakura Color Products of America”
·       #Sakura

Stillman and Birn
·       Twitter            @StillmanandBirn
·       Instagram      @StillmanandBirn
·       Facebook     “Stillman & Birn”
·       Pinterest       “Stillman & Birn”
·       #Stillmanandbirn 

Winsor & Newton
·       Twitter            @winsorandnewton
·       Instagram      @winsornewton @winsornewton_usa
·       Facebook     “Winsor & Newton” #winsornewton
·       #winsornewton

·       #winsorandnewton