Sunday, May 8, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Ted Gordon

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually.  Now that our chapter has reached nearly 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation.  These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.

Interview by Andrew Banks
Spotlight on Ted Gordon: 3D Character Animator, Urban Sketcher, Plein Air Painter

Hi Ted, thanks so much for taking the time to talk and to tell our group a little bit about yourself!

How did you first hear about the Urban Sketchers community and what made you decide to join Urban Sketching Chicago?

My friend Ginny, a member of my early-morning sketching & plein air group, recommended USK Chicago to me. She was correct, it was right up my alley!

Did you sketch before finding USk Chicago?  If so, when did you start sketching?

Yes, as a kid, I was very interested in drawing, comic books, science fiction & fantasy illustration, computers - all that stuff predicted my future career. Life Drawing was my favorite part of art school - where I could see my skills increasing dramatically. Sketching outside of sessions keeps me in practice. My favorite artists have done a lot of sketching ‘in the wild’. I’ve been following their example.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an animator?  Does urban sketching ever have an impact on your day job?  If so, how?

I have been working as a 3D Character Animator in the games industry since 1999. I use a combination of animation skills and specialized software, including 3DS Max, Maya, and Motionbuilder, to create the motion for people, monsters, animals, and robots for video games.

I believe an artist’s career is as much about what is done outside of work hours to become a better artist as it is about what is done in the studio. I like to draw on the bus, I have a weekly plein air group, I do life drawing & life sculpture, and I like to go out and explore areas with my camera. Most recently, I explored Chinatown before people filled the sidewalks for the day. I work on portrait & house portrait commissions during my lunch hour and I make my plein air paintings available for sale on my site.

I highly respect the Disney Animators that established my industry’s Principles and actively practiced life drawing and plein air painting as part of their job. They are my role models. That, and my love for drawing, painting, & animation, motivate me. Building my skills of observation, through practice like Urban Sketching, makes me a better animator & artist.

You are also a member of the Plein Air Painters of Chicago group and many of your urban sketches can also be considered plein air paintings.  There is real neat crossover between our two groups, and we’ve personally talked about this before.  In your experience, what distinguishes urban sketching from plein air painting, and, having been a member of both groups, are there any specific skills or lessons you have learned from one group that can apply to the other?

I’ve written a Tuesday Tips and Tricks blog entry about this, so it is easy to answer. :) In my opinion, the differences boil down to three things: Time, Narrative, and Style. While both are created on-location, and in a single session, an Urban Sketch can be created in minutes, while a plein air piece could take all day to complete. Urban Sketching, with its journalistic roots, is often more literally narrative - even including text in the images. Finally, Urban Sketching can be more experimental with style. To the contrarian reader, I’d have you point me to a plein air painting with a cartoon-style character in it! :)

Both groups are about direct observation, drawing and painting on-location. I find them more similar than different. I suspect that my own work will organically combine elements of each the more I do of both!

Is there a specific subject matter you are particularly drawn to or inspired to sketch?

I like to do portrait & house portrait commissions. When I’m out and about, I am attracted to figures and architecture ‘in the wild’ too.

What inspires me tends to be the unusual, the well-lit & appealing. It’s that moment on a train, when I see an intriguing character. It’s when I spot a tree, exploding full of color from back-lit light. It’s when I find rusty old controls on a conservatory pipe. Those moments, I think, “Oh yeah, that’s getting drawn!”

What is your favorite medium to sketch with?

I’ve been carrying a fountain pen, a ballpoint & watercolors. For precision and speed, I prefer ballpoint. For even faster, but looser, I prefer the fountain pen. If I have more time, I like to add watercolor washes.

Are there any Urban Sketchers who inspire your own work?

I’m a big Don Colley fan. He shows what a life of regular practice can do. His videos, sketching in ink were so exciting to find. I love the variety of work that USK Chicago and the international group share. Everyone has inspirational work in them.

You will also be an instructor at this year’s Chicago Sketch Seminar for the second year in a row.  What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Seminar?

I’m looking forward to seeing all the new sketches my students will make, the new location, and the other instructors’ classes!

Do you have any websites, blogs or social media accounts where people can see more of your work?

I sure do!

You can follow me here:

Please contact me through to inquire about commissioning original portraits & house portraits.

You may order prints of my work at:

You can find examples of my animation here: Also, visit a Dave&Busters, movie theater, or amusement park near you and play Jurassic Park Arcade! I loved animating those dinosaurs!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Your Wait Is Over: Registration Begins Sunday May 1st, Starting at Noon Central Standard Time

(Chicago, IL) The third annual Chicago Sketch Seminar will open for online registration
on May 1st, 2016 at 12pm CST.  

Visit to register and for all event information including pricing information.  Membership to Urban Sketchers Chicago not required.  All are welcome!

Urban Sketchers is offering an exciting seminar on July 9th & 10th, 2016 to help everyone from absolute beginners to experienced artists develop the sketchbook habit, try new things, and practice sketching in public. Workshops will be taught in the sidewalks and parks of Chicago, giving ample opportunities for artist enthusiasts to practice sketching in the motion of Chicago. We hope you’ll join us!

View the complete list of workshops here:

Hosting the Chicago Sketch Seminar will be The American Academy of Art, 
332 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60604

Details and registration information are available 
on the following links:

Video highlights:       

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spotlight Sunday – Susan Hanley

Interview by Wes Douglas, USk Chicago

For our Spotlight Sunday featured artist, we are talking with Susan Hanley, an artist who joined Urban Sketchers Chicago just about a year ago. It was at the 2015 Chicago Sketch Seminar where I first met her and just now discovered that it was where she first joined our group. Since then, Susan has been prolific with her posting of sketches, not only in the USk Chicago Facebook group, but also on Instagram (@snh2030)

It would seem that Urban Sketching has helped rekindle Susan's passion for sketching and painting and her confidence is soaring. She was one of the artists who participated in the Blicks Lincoln Park Art Show last year. 

Here is what else I learned about Susan and some of the sketches she is sharing with us today.

WD: Hi Susan. Thanks for chatting with me here today. My first question is: Can you tell us how you learned about urban sketching and what convinced you to join Urban Sketchers Chicago?
I learned about Urban Sketching from my son Tom who is a member. He was a student at the American Academy of Art and saw a presentation. I reached out to Andrew [Banks] and joined the group, but never attended any of the events. I actually felt a little intimidated to join in on the events and wasn't sure what to expect. When the announcement of the Seminar came out I decided that was my time to join in. It was a perfect way for me to learn more about the group and urban sketching. It's an extremely encouraging and welcoming group of people and the Seminar quelled any nerves I had about participating in future events. In fact, I haven't missed any since!

WD: Well I hope you are not intimidated now. It's always fun to see what you will sketch next. Why do you sketch? And how does it help you?
I sketch for several reasons; wanting to capture a scene, work out an idea or stress relief.  The main reason, however, is that it completely engages a different side of my brain, a side that doesn’t get a ton of exercise on a day-to-day basis. The collaboration of eye to brain to hand is always fresh and interesting. Put different materials into the mix and there are never any two experiences that are exactly alike. In other words, never boring.

Sketching is always challenging for me and presents little problems that I have to solve. I love the aspect of the unexpected. I have an image in my head of what the finished sketch will look like and it inevitably takes a different trail. One truth I’ve found is that I’m happy with the end result when I let it take on a life of it’s own and follow the detours. When I force a picture to stay on track and to look like what I had imagined is exactly how it winds up looking… forced.

Sketching also helps me fully engage with the environment I’m in. I remember the sounds, the smells, the overheard conversations that are
all absorbed while sitting and sketching.

WD: What is your favorite sketching tool?
This is a very tough question. I start every sketch lately with a mechanical pencil. My recent favorite is an Alvin Draftmatic. That paired with a kneaded eraser gets general proportions and composition.

WD: Yes, I can see how much you feature that pencil in your posts. Those mechanical pencils are especially good when you don't want the lines to flair out on you. Where is your favorite place to sketch?
The good old coffee shop is my favorite spot to sketch. There’s coffee, someplace out of the way to sit and tons of people on their cell phones not noticing me sketching them.  Next favorite is doctor’s waiting rooms. Not that I enjoy waiting for doctors, but the sketching is a perfect distraction and a way of feeling productive while at the hands of someone else’s schedule.

WD: I agree Susan. Sometimes when I see that other people are having a bad day, it puts me in a better mood. So I see you sent me a few wonderful sketches. What was the inspiration for the sketches you selected?
The sketches I selected are special because not only am I happy with the end results, they capture a moment in time and by sketching them the memories are even more vivid than if I’d taken a photo or just committed them to memory.

WD: I was so excited to check out the sketches you sent. Why are these scenes special to you?

“Shakespeare Garden” is special to me because it’s a spot I’ve been sketching since I was in high school growing up in Evanston. Except for some trees growing much taller and blocking part of the scene, it’s mostly unchanged. It was a warm summer day and I can transport back to the sounds of the cicadas and the heat of the sun just by looking at this sketch.

“Comet Café” is a favorite diner in Milwaukee. From the booths you can observe the people seated at the counter unobserved. I love all of the textures and details of the interior and the people tend to linger a while making it easier to finish their gestures.

“Newberry Library” is the result of the Urban Sketch Seminar on the Velasquez Palette. This was my first experience with a limited watercolor palette and it was a picture that really felt like it had a mind of it’s own, but in the end I really appreciate all of the things that 3 pigments and some water achieved.

Wildwood Water Tower” is a scene I drive by often. I love the structure of older water towers. They remind me of modern day ruins. The day was gray and stark, but the sketch isn’t bleak and that reflects how it felt. For me it captures a feeling of spring about to return.

WD: What do you do when you are not sketching? Does your day job incorporate your sketching skills?

My day job doesn’t incorporate any sketching skills. However, I feel like the problem solving that you develop in sketching does help me. I can pull back, see a bigger picture and decide what I want to focus on. All skills you hone in sketching.

WD: We are so glad to have artists like you, Susan, in our group because you have found an active group of friends who have helped you to rekindle your love for sketching and painting. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your time and your sketches with us.

Spotlight Sunday is series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually. Now that our chapter has reached 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches. All sketches are 
©2016 Susan Hanley. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

We are a legion!

Yesterday, on April 18th, USk Chicago welcomed its 501st member to the group!  April is also a month to celebrate our chapter's 4 year anniversary.  USk Chicago started as a very small group on April 29, 2012.  On that day, 4 years ago, we looked like this:

USk Chicago inaugural meeting 4-29-2012

And here we are now:

USk Chicago in the Field Museum 2-20-2016

Thank you to everyone who has joined our group, sketched with us at monthly sketch events and has helped make Urban Sketchers Chicago a fantastic, amazing, super talented and caring community!

Let's see the world, one drawing at a time - together!


Interested in becoming a member of USk Chicago?
1) Go to USk Chicago's Facebook Group
2) Request to join the group
3) A USk Chicago administrator will send you a Facebook message.  Please keep an eye out for this and respond within 7 days.  USk Chicago administrators greet all new requests, to answer any questions about our group.  Our chapter is a regional chapter, accepting membership from those who live in Illinois, SE Wisconsin, NW Indiana, and SW Michigan.

Find USk Chicago on social media:
Twitter: @USk_Chicago
Instagram: @USkChicago
Pinterest: Urban Sketchers Chicago
2016 Seminar:

Tag your posts with #USkChicago and help us continue to share our group with our community!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spotlight Sunday – Amy Larsen

Spotlight Sunday is series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually. Now that our chapter has reached nearly 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.

Midwest Buddhist Temple - Amy Larsen

Meet Amy Larsen!
Interviewed by Barbara Weeks

Amy Larsen

Barbara Weeks: Hi, Amy. You’ve been a member of
Urban Sketchers for a long time! I remember sketching with you in 2012 at the Buddhist Temple. It’s more than time for the spotlight to shine on you! Tell us a little about yourself.

Amy Larsen: I’m a freelance graphic artist, mom and grandma. I’ve always loved animals, nature and art. My interest in drawing and painting started as a young girl and stuck with me through the years. I have studied watercolor painting at Dillman’s where my teachers include the very talented artists David Taylor, Rose Edin and Ken Hosmer, and various classes at The School of the Art Institute.

BW: What prompted you to join USk Chicago?

AL: I discovered Urban Sketchers online before there was a Chicago group. So as soon as I saw the group forming I joined up. I sometimes search online for sketches and sketchbooks, because I love looking at them, which led me to the Moleskine sketching groups, and then to Urban Sketchers.

BW: I think there are as many different reasons to sketch as there are sketchers. Why do you sketch?

AL: Three things come to mind. I enjoy time spent losing myself in the activity. The challenge of depicting a scene. And the beauty of light and shadow on form.

BW: Do you have a favorite subject? Why?

AL: I’ve been enjoying painting botanicals lately. Flowers and plants have the qualities I like; beautiful colors, graceful forms and the effects of light and shadow.

BW: Do you have a favorite sketching medium? What do you like about it?

AL: I have always loved watercolor. I love it for its simplicity and luminosity. But I love markers and pastel and oil paints too! I think it can be beneficial to switch it up sometimes.

BW: I agree, it's beneficial and fun. I sketch to get away from the computer, but your work on the iPad is making me rethink that idea and try a new medium! What do you like most about sketching on the iPad? Are there drawbacks? (HA, no pun intended.)

At Architectural Artifacts – iPad sketch

AL: Well, I love being able to bring any medium and every color on my sketching trip in one slim package. The new apple pencils pressure sensitivity has made drawing on the iPad much more fun. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all it can do. It’s just a matter of one’s own creativity. Drawbacks? I wouldn’t want to drop it!

BW: If you could sketch anywhere in the world where would that be?

AL: No specific place. Traveling anywhere with other artists would be a dream come true. River cruise down the Rhine anyone? Someday I will.

BW: That river cruise is on my list, too. When you’re not sketching what do you enjoy doing?

AL: Fooling around with the iPad! Scrolling through my Facebook feed. Snuggling with my dogs. Watching movies. Listening to music. Taking pictures around the area. Cooking. Gardening.

Wrigley Building Courtyard

BW:  A Renaissance Woman! We know you’re on FaceBook, do you have other social media accounts where we can view your work? (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc.)?

AL: Yes, I’m here:

BW: Thanks, Amy, for sharing your sketches and thoughts with all of us!