You already know, of course, that I don’t do urban sketching. I can’t draw buildings, and I’d be much too intimidated to go out with any of our regional sketching groups. We have some very talented artists in the area.
I love seeing what these urban sketchers do. I marvel over the drawings they share in their Facebook groups. Yet urban sketching is not for me. I know this.
Recently I’ve been taking part in a free online workshop called Sketchbook Revival. You’ll be hearing more about this in upcoming posts. I haven’t gotten off to a very good start, however. Although the program is designed to inspire us, and give us a sense of freedom in our approach to art, I’ve struggled. The experience actually put me onto an emotional roller-coaster — one which was plunging downhill fast.
So when I tuned in this morning to check out the next video in the workshop program, I shook my head. I’m using a personal journal I made — another workshop project — and I’ve been making notes. Mostly derogatory, hateful notes about my artwork. Yeah, I know. That’s not a good thing to do, but I’m calling it art therapy.
What did I write when I saw that we’d be doing urban sketching?
“Oh, boy. This should be awful. Watercolor. Urban sketching. Could it get any worse?”
Yes, those are the exact words I wrote. But being in a perverse mindset, being on an almost vengeful crusade to sabotage myself where art is concerned, I decided to follow along and see what I could do. After all, it couldn’t be any worse than the results I had the previous day (an acrylic painting I tore into pieces and tossed into the scrap bin) or the results from the day before that (a collage elephant that looks more like an overgrown puppy) or the hideous result from the session preceding that one (an old shoe that you really don’t want to see.)
Nope. It couldn’t get any worse, so I played along with renowned urban sketcher Shari Blaukopf as she demonstrated how she goes about creating little vignettes with ink and watercolor washes.
I actually liked my little ink drawing — a doorway she had photographed somewhere in Italy. I liked it so much I scanned it. Surely I would ruin it completely once I attempted to use watercolors.
But, no! I still liked my little vignette even after the addition of watercolor. I used my small gansai set. It’s always close at hand, so it’s become my “go-to” when I’m doing any quick watercolor project.
This was actually quite fun, and I was very pleased with it. Shari Blaukopf went on to do much more — deepening shadows, adding more finishing touches to the greenery — but one thing I have learned about my own personal approach to art is that I need to stop while I like what I’ve done.
The reason I so often ruin things in art is because I keep trying to fix little things or find ways to make something better. I chose not to do that today. I’d rather have a somewhat unfinished piece of art that I enjoy looking at than a finished work fit only for the trashcan.
So, my shadows aren’t deep, dark and mysterious. I lost some of my lights as my watercolor bled here and there. Even my attempts at playful splatters (a technique Blaukopf uses to suggest the presence of unseen things) were a bit careless. I still like this vignette.
I’m glad I pushed myself a little and gave this a try. It was so much fun that I’d like to do it again. I think I did pick up some helpful tips from the session.
- Don’t worry about doing an entire urban scene. A little vignette can be fun and charming.
- Start from the center and draw outward instead of trying to fit the image into a pre-determined space.
- Focus on the interesting things and don’t worry about capturing every little detail.
- Note where the lights will be and save them. Add in the shadows at the last.
Armed with this new knowledge — and my personal sketchbook — will I venture out in public now to sketch our historic square? Will I happily create vignettes of our town’s old architecture?
Nope. No way. But I will take a few reference photos to keep here on my computer, and on other mornings, I’ll grab my ink pen — I used a simple ball-point for today’s sketching — and my gansai, and I just might try my own version of urban sketching without ever leaving home.