Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why and How of the Waterbrush

Tuesday Tips & Tricks:

Have Brush, Will Travel

There are countless little things to be thankful for every day. One of the little things for me is the waterbrush. I don’t know who invented the waterbrush or remember who introduce it to me, but I owe them a debt of gratitude! It is my go-to-brush whenever I’m traveling or sketching on location. In the studio, I use a variety of brushes, but out-and-about, it’s a waterbrush for me. There are quite a few brands out there. They all work in the much the same way, similar, though not exactly, to a fountain pen.

How to Use a Waterbrush 

The brush has three main parts:
1. The plastic barrel that contains the water reservoir.
2. The screw on ferrule connects the bristles to the water supply
3. The cap keeps the water from leaking.
Need more water to moisten the paint in the pans, to make the paint run, or to wet the paper to paint wet-on-wet? To increase the flow of water to the brush just squeeze the plastic barrel! It’s that simple. Want to change colors and clean your brush? Squeeze the barrel and wipe the brush on a tissue or paper towel. I use the cuff of an old white sock. I wear it on my wrist. With a little practice controlling the flow becomes second nature.

Filling the brush varies a little from brand to brand. Some you just unscrew the barrel and hold it under running water. Others use the suction principle. Squeeze the barrel, submerge the opening in a glass of water and release. Easier yet, hold the barrel under running water, squeeze and release. It’s surprising how much water the barrel holds and how long it lasts.

Benefits of the Waterbrush 

“Keep it simple” is one of my mantras and when you’re sketching on location you can’t beat the convenience of the waterbrush. I don't leave home without it. There's no need to carry around an extra water supply for clean water. The cap protects the bristles and fits on the end of the barrel to lessen the chance of losing it. Waterbrushes are available from art supply stores including Dick Blick, Cheap Joe’s, and Jerry’s Artarama.

Do you have an art supply that you’re really thankful for? Tell us about it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Zen Doodling vs. Urban Sketching? Discuss.

Tuesday Tips & Tricks by Wes Douglas

Has this ever happened to you? Someone who knows you well or someone who hears that you like to draw suddenly makes the connection to another seemingly dissimilar art form. Recently I had an acquaintance compare my urban sketches to Zen Doodling. My blink reaction, with only a surface awareness of this art form, is that it did not even compare to what I do with urban sketching...or so I thought.

But before I dismissed Zen Doodling as such a different alien art form from urban sketching, I needed to do a little research.

(Zentangle by Janet McLeod)

According to Karla Archer, in her Live The Life Fantastic blog, the term ‘Zentangle’ was coined by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. Roberts had noticed that the focus that Thomas had, while drawing, was similar to the meditative state he had learned as a monk – what is often referred to as “flow“. They then set out to develop a system allowing almost anyone to follow and use as a way to relax and express themselves creatively. The system follows certain steps which are established to allow freedom to create within the boundaries.

(Zen Doodle by Ann Marie Cheung)

Zendoodling has none of the specifics, regarding paper, size of the shape, color etc. You can draw a shape (letter, animal etc) that fills a large sheet of paper and fill it in with patterns or create designs on clothing, pottery, etc, and it can be meant to look like something. 
OK, now we're getting somewhere. So if I sketch out a building and spend the next 30 minutes adding tiny little bricks to its exterior or many many windows and, in the process I reach a relaxed state, could I be treading in the Zen waters of doodling?

Or let's consider that framing the building or house of my sketch is a number of trees and shrubs and I spend time meticulously drawing out tiny little leaves. Could this be bridging the perceived gap between zen doodling and urban sketching? I suppose it comes down to the desired outcome.

Does urban sketching help to relax you or do you feel pressure to do well?

Do you feel that having guidelines help you to produce better sketches or do you feel that they stifle your creativity?

Does drawing from observation excite you or would you rather sketch from your imagination and let the sketch appear organically?
I think there is a place for both since neither one needs to be the end all of anyone's art form. I think parts of the urban sketch can contain an element of Zen doodling but a purely Zen doodle posted on Urban Sketching may earn you some push back. Sketching can come from many influences and does not have to be exclusively defined by a label or requiring permission to apply its system. 

I'm not advocating that we all start posting Zen doodles on the Urban Sketching sites. Rather I am trying to understand that commonality that others see in different forms of sketching. If it makes you feel good, I say let it roll. If a debate must ensue, you may begin now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Who Reflections Show

So you like sketching on public transportation?

As some of you know, Ted Gordon hosted a great class at the 2015 Summer Seminar on Urban Sketching Undercover. He had great tips on how to sneak a sketch in public.

Ballpoint pen sketch from Red Line train

But what happens when you end up with a window seat on the bus or train and a neighbor who is blocking your view of everyone else?

If it also happens to be night or just dark, look out your window because you are in luck!

Wait – what?

Because CTA buses and trains have lights on the inside, the windows reflect what is around you. It isn't a perfect mirror, but it's a great way to get in a bus sketch. If your neighbor is blocking the view, this distortion can be especially helpful as it will often stretch the view to include more of the bus than you could comfortably see without it!

In the photos above you can see a  sample reflection from the bus window one evening. Notice that in these two photos there are at least three subjects for sketching without having to sketch the back of a bunch of heads! 

 This technique is also helpful when someone is starting to suspect that you might be sketching them, just look out the window for a bit and sketch them from there!
Sketch from bus Jan. 2015

 In this sketch the fellow started suspect that I was sketching him. By the time I finished he was a lot more than suspecting and had actually taken photos of me sketching him!

He was a great sport about it and we discussed the importance of the arts over a cup of coffee the next day (Meeting great people is an amazing benefit of Urban Sketching). But for some people that sounds terrifying. Even if it doesn't sound terrifying, there are times when you'd just prefer not to be noticed, right?

Well as you might be able to tell, this gentleman was sitting in the same spot as the fellow in the driver's hat from the photos above. If I had realized it at the time, I could have sketched him from his reflection instead and avoided the encounter. Neat, huh?

So what about if it's bright out? Well, as far as I can tell you're just out of luck if it's a sunny day. Do you know otherwise? If you have any tricks for gaining a sketch-able view by day, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Selling Your Sketches at an Art Show



November 21st - 12pm-5pm.  Reception to follow - 5pm-7pm

With less than two weeks until submissions are due for the Urban Sketchers Chicago Holiday Showcase, you, like me, are probably getting ready to submit your art into the Showcase as well as for selling prints in the Plein Air Art Fair.

Here is a checklist of items to keep in mind when prepping to sell your prints at an art show. (Disclaimer - This is basic list of the most important things to consider.  There are likely other factors to consider, however, these suggestions should give you a great starting point.)  If you have experience holding a table at art fairs or shows, or arts and crafts fairs, share your experience in the comments.  What worked for you?  What didn't?

Consider printing Giclee prints.  Giclee prints are high quality, archival, fade resistant art reproductions.  Keep in mind that the quality of your print (especially if enlarging) will largely depend on the quality of the scan.  Scan your original art at 300dpi. or higher.  Make any necessary adjustments to the scan file to ensure that your reproductions represent the original artwork as closely as possible.  Work with your printer to chose a paper that emulates the paper used in the original sketch, or that best compliments the sketch.  (Ex. If the original is a watercolor, consider printing on a textured paper that emulates the original watercolor paper.)

Factors to consider: branding, preservation/protection of your art, cost

Backing Board - Backing boards keep your art from bending or getting damaged.  I like to use 1/8" acid free foam core.  I purchase large sheets (32"x40") and cut them down to size.  Acid free products are more expensive than non acid free products, however, will give you the confidence to stand behind your product.  Over extended time, contact with non acid free materials (corregated cardboard, chip board, non acid free foam core etc...) can cause damage (fading, discoloration etc...) to your art. We do not know how long a customer may keep the art in the packaging, so, using acid free materials gives both you and the customer freedom to preserve the art.

Art Bag/Document Bag - Slip you art print and backing board into a clear, acid free bag.  Many bags come with a self-sealing sticker to close up the bag once the art is inside.  Once again, consider going with an acid free option to preserve integrity of your art.

Branding -  Add some personal touch to the packaged print.  If you have a business logo, consider adding small stickers to the back side of the packaging, to help distinguish your print from others. You may also have business cards.  Consider including a business card with each print.  How can your packaging compliment your art while maintaining consistency in your brand as an artist or sketcher?

How will you accept payment?

Credit/Debit - Consider getting a reader such as the Square reader.  Square readers (or similar systems) connect to your smartphone, and allow payments to be transferred directly to your bank account.  Keep in mind that fees will apply for each time a card is swiped, and consider factoring this into the price of your product.

Cash - If accepting cash payments, make sure to bring enough cash to give change to your customers. Consider setting the price of your prints at even dollar amounts, or in increments of $5 for ease of giving change.

Receipts - Don't forget to provide your customers with a receipt.  Payment readers like Square are able to email or text receipts.  However, for cash transactions, make sure to write up simple receipts, and keep a copy for you own records.

Display your pricing so it is easy for customers to read.  Whether it is with a sticker on the back of each print, with a small sign next to each print, or all listed in one place on a sheet of paper, make it easy for your customer to shop, without having to ask for the pricing of each different item.

Don't forget to factor Sales Tax into the cost of your prints.

How much "stuff" will you have, and will you have enough room for it all.  Consider doing a mock set up of all of the items you plan to bring with you.  Will you lay your prints flat?Displayed on an easel?  In a box/bin?

Aside from the art, what "extras" do you want to display?  This is a great opportunity to share an artist statement.  Print out half sheets with a paragraph or two, describing your art, your process and what inspires you and pass these out.

If you have business cards, this is perfect opportunity to pass them out.

Do you want to run any specials to encourage sales?  Buy two, get one free?  Buy one, get one half off?

Be ready to talk about your work.  Rather than sitting down or stepping away from your work, be ready to tell customers what it special about your work, and what excites you about it.  Is there a story behind a particular piece that brings some meaning to the piece?  Do you recommend a particular frame size or matting color to compliment the print?

Don't forget to have fun!  Remember to be true to yourself, and your art.  Be proud of your work, and remember that your work is unique!  Ask yourself how the way you are presenting your work reflects your personality, your art, and sketching style.

***-Art submissions due by Nov. 15th, 2015***
-Show hanging  - Nov. 19th - Dec. 12th, 2015
-Plein Air Art Fair - Nov. 21st, 12pm-5pm.  Reception to follow from 5pm-7pm.  Light refreshments will be served.

For more information about the event, see the full CALL FOR ART.

Questions?  Email andrew@andrewbanksillustration.com

Lastly, many many thanks to Blick Art Materials and Blick Art Materials of Lincoln Park for sponsoring this event and for their continued support of and generosity to Urban Sketchers Chicago!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Time for Details


In my urban sketching practice, there is one common theme to almost every drawing I make...

I didn't have enough time to put in all the details! 

Sound familiar? That unfinished feeling can steal the fulfillment of flipping back through your sketches and cause you to dwell on the anxiety of incompletion, instead of remembering the moment in time or the scene you chose to record.  Here's a couple of hacks I use to cheat time and use details sparingly in order to get a finished look, because let's be real, will we ever allow ourselves enough time to draw? I hope so, but in the meantime...

1.  Contours for the Complicated

Contours, or outlines, are a great hack for complicated things you don't have time to draw (i.e. leaves, trees, blades of grass, strands of hair etc). Suggest what is happening in one area by adding details. I find it effective to do this in the immediate area surrounding your focal point, and then hint at it as you work your way away from the subject.

In this drawing I knew it would take me all day to draw those trees so I worked in just a few details by the house, 
and with a quick contour, added a fully wooded dune in the background. Presto woods-o!

2.  Contours for Composition

Another tricky way to use contours, is to accentuate your composition.  Before you start to draw, ask yourself what (or who) is most important. Build in detail from the inside out.  In this setting there were 3 women drinking coffee and computing... I was really limited on time, and I could tell the farthest woman was already packing up. I chose to focus on the central character whose face I could study the closest, and used contours to capture the other characters.

The contours of the other women become a frame, and force our eyes right to the focal point.

Are you an urban sketcher over achiever?  I definitely was in this drawing and was far from finishing,
I decided a quick contoured skyline is so much nicer than a floating building.

3.  When all else fails... sign your name and turn the page.

When this couple got up and left mid-sketch, and then a waiter moved all the chairs, and then someone sat right in front of me... I figured this sketch was doomed.  Perspective is my enemy, and faking four chairs and table legs was simply not happening.  I tried the contour trick but even then, some lines and a big blank spot under the table left that bitter unfinished taste in my mouth. It was time to move on. I blocked out some boxes big enough to "finish" the drawing, and used what was left on my palette to date, initial and plug Panera. Try it! And then tell everyone it was intentional ;)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How Urban Sketching and Plein Air Painting Compare and Contrast


How are the Urban Sketchers and Plein Air Painting movements related?

As an artist with a hand in both and with our upcoming combined show, the Urban Sketchers Chicago Holiday Showcase, with Featured Guests, Plein Air Painters of Chicago 11/21-12/13/2015, let’s examine similarities and differences.

Technology had something to do with the formation of both. Plein Air means "in the open air" or simply, “outdoors.” The technological advance of paint in tubes allowed artists in the mid 1800s to explore nature and capture the effects of sunlight in the moment. Urban Sketchers is about drawing on location, in a supportive, global community. The internet was key to its formation and is integral to the global sharing aspect.

Plein Air: Elephant Vigil at Showmen's Rest, A Plein Air painting in a limited palette of Richeson casein
Both groups create images on location, in the moment.
With some exceptions, the size of our drawings and paintings tend to be small, for reasons of both portability and time.
We travel with our materials. Watermedia (watercolor, gouache, and casein) and digital tools are used in either. Of all of these, watercolor is the most popular crossover medium in my experience.
We’re both interested in capturing the Truth of a place and time, exploring the world around us.

Fountain of the Muses, Rio De Janeiro, in Winsor & Newton watercolor
There are exceptions to all of these items, however, in general, the differences tend to be about time and materials. Plein Air Painting tends to take much more time per image and is painted with paint or pastels. Urban Sketches can be created in much less time and may use any material.

Urban Sketches tend to be even smaller than a typical plein air painting. When you consider that an Urban Sketch might be drawn on a pocket-sized sketchbook while waiting in line, as opposed to being created on an easel set up for several hours, you can understand why.

Urban Sketches, without question, can also be drawn indoors. Cafes, museums, and concert venues are all typical Urban Sketchers venues. Exceptions prove how similar these efforts are. In both Plein Air Painting and Urban Sketchers, the world is our studio.

Based in its journalistic roots, Urban Sketchers aims to tell the story of our surroundings. Urban Sketches are far more likely to contain text within the work than in a Plein Air painting.
The story of a Plein Air painting can be much less literally narrative. For instance, the story could be about what the sunlight is doing during your painting or how intensely blue that boat is.

Plein Air is almost always done on an easel. Urban Sketching sometimes is, but often isn’t, for mobility and quickness.

While Plein Air paintings are made with paint or pastels, Urban Sketchers draw with any kind of media and wildly individual styles. Plein Air styles, while they can be quite varied, aren’t as divergent as the Urban Sketchers styles can be, in my opinion.

Urban Sketchers tends to be more casual, mobile, and quick. Urban Sketchers’ subjects are more likely to have a person or an action as the subject. In contrast, plein air paintings often take much more time to complete and are more likely to contain natural environmental or architectural subjects.

Plein Air painters are more likely to edit an environment for aesthetic purposes. A tree might move or wires might be omitted without feeling that the truth of the place had been compromised in plein air.

Lindberg Park, painted in Winsor & Newton watercolor on location. Are these Plein Air or Urban Sketches? Yes!

In conclusion, I think that some of the differences are superficial, while others are very strong. Which you are doing at a given time may have more to do with your equipment and intention than anything else. There are definitely times when the lines are blurred. To be clear, I don't make a value judgement between the two and there's no reason you can't do each in the same day.
For artists that like to experiment, I encourage you to try both!

You can see more of my work, Urban Sketches and Plein Air Paintings here:

What do you think? In what other ways are Urban Sketchers and Plein Air Painting similar or different?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ten Reasons to Draw and More


Tuesday Tips & Tricks:

Everything Old is New Again

Did you know that until the late 1920s - early 1930s drawing was part of the regular school curriculum? While not one of the 3 Rs, it was considered an important tool for developing concepts, sharpening thought, and sharing ideas. What happened? One of the major factors was the development of photography made drawing seem like an unnecessary skill. In more recent years, computer advancements in the visual communication field made drawing appear to be unimportant even unnecessary but things are changing. Whether it’s called drawing, sketching, or doodling, today, we’re rediscovering the benefits of drawing. If you're an experienced artist looking to reboot or a newbie looking for kindred spirits, this is for you.

Why Draw?

  1. Improves eye-hand coordination
  2. Improves memory
  3. Improves communication skills
  4. Relieves stress (Have you seen all the coloring books for grown-ups that are in the stores?)
  5. Increases creativity
  6. Increases observational skills
  7. Increases attention to detail
  8. Increases positive emotions (Why do you think restaurants give crayons an paper to children?)
  9. The more you draw the better your drawing skill
  10. It's fun
And this is just a partial list!

Drawing relieves stress, preserves a memory, and conveys ideas.

Draw More

We know the benefits of drawing; it only makes sense to draw more. Want to draw more but need a nudge? It’s funny that two of the causes for drawing less are big helps to start drawing more – the computer and the internet. There’s an internet group out there made just for you and your sketching needs. FaceBook offers an almost endless list of groups that unite like-minded sketchers for encouragement, inspiration, to share information and sketches. There are drawing quests issued on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to challenge you to draw more. Post your work, add the proper # and join in the fun. 

Here’s a small sampling of groups to get you started. Don't hesitate to explore others, too. Be sure to read the groups’ guidelines and join those that are a good fit for you.

On location sketching:

Sketchbook work:


The challenges vary and crop up seasonally. Search these hashtags for ideas:
  • #inktober
  • #everydayinmay

Enjoy and share sketching online communities – Sketchbook Work, Urban Sketching, #EDM2015

Working for years as a graphic designer, I reached a point when I felt handcuffed by the computer and missed the creative boost of sketching by hand. That's when I discovered Urban Sketchers and Everyday Matters. They were the beginning. There was no turning back! I found I didn't need  an excuse to draw, I had reasons to draw. How about you, why do you draw? Do you have a favorite group?