As previously mentioned on this blog, I’ve recently decided to ‘up my game’ when it comes to everyday sketching.
I have no problem sketching non-stop when I’m travelling, or when I go out for a dedicated sketching outing, but I’ve often struggled to find adequate time to focus on sketching during my day to day life. My normal everyday urban sketching (pre-lockdown) consisted mainly of cafe sketching or quick line drawings from carparks.
I’ve always focused on creating a narrative of my life and so whatever I managed to achieve was fine. Although, to be honest, I’ve longed to create ‘better’ everyday sketches.
Since our lockdown restrictions eased (in mid-May) I’ve been taking more time to sketch in my local area and I’ve also started using bigger books with watercolour paper which I normally only use when travelling. As a result, I’ve had a number of insights which are making it easier for me to sketch. And in addition, there have been some great questions inside the SketchingNow Watercolour On Location classroom about ‘story’ which have helped me pull together these ideas even further.
So this is what I’ve been thinking about lately…
Dedicated Sketching Outings
By this term I’m referring to occasions when I go out with the main purpose to sketch. I might explore a new part of Sydney, revisit a favourite sketching spot or simply go to an area where I know there will be a very sketchable scene.
I would normally dedicate a number of hours for these types of outings and sometimes the whole day. When I travel, I’m basically on a long dedicated sketching outing that can last for days, weeks or even months!
Sometimes a dedicated sketching outing is with a friend, or it’s part of a local sketchmeet, but it can also be solo. When I’m out solo I’m more focused on my work and when I’m with friends there is always a danger that we will spend more time catching up than sketching! But it’s always special when we have some art conversation and pick up ideas from each other’s work.
Because these are outings for the specific purpose of sketching, inspiration comes easily. I often see many things which I would like to sketch and so the big decision is which scene and/or story is the most interesting and then where can I sit or stand to sketch it. I normally have a subject and a story before I start sketching.
For these outings I usually have my full sketching kit with me, my support board, stool/seat etc.and I’m hoping for a ‘good’ sketch.
I use this term to refer to the sketching I do when I’m going about my normal routines. It’s all about making the most of small opportunities and fitting sketching into the in-between moments. I often don’t have a lot of time and I’m normally thinking about my work or other chores as much as I’m thinking about sketching. There is always a pull to get back to my desk!
I’ve always struggled to find the time for sketching sessions in my daily life but in the last year or so I’ve lowered the expectations of my work (ie. not trying to producing a ‘good’ sketch) and have managed to fill sketchbooks quite easily.
The subjects which I love to sketch the most are complex buildings, interesting public spaces (squares, piazzas etc) and street scenes. I love being surrounded by the buzz of a busy city. I also like landscapes with dramatic rocks (think Scotland or Port Macquarie beaches!) and cityscapes. These don’t exist in my suburb so I rarely get a ‘I must stop and sketch this‘ type of feeling.
In addition, it’s much easier to be stirred to sketch when seeing something new – rather than the same places over and over again. Some of you might live in beautiful and inspiring locations, but I know that a lot of you do not. So if all we see is ‘ordinary or boring’ suburbia it’s hard to get excited about sketching it, isn’t it?
Another really interesting thing about everyday sketching for me is that I feel more reluctant to sit down on the streets in a conspicuous position when I’m in my local area. This is really strange as when I’m travelling I’m frequently making a spectacle of myself sitting in crazy spots. So I know that I’m totally fine with being a very visible urban sketcher! Maybe it’s because I’m more likely to be spotted by someone I know? Or it might be because it will be considered weird to be sketching ordinary suburbia as opposed to a picturesque or interesting part of town.
I love engaging with people while I’m sketching so I have always found this reluctance to urban sketch in my local area a little odd. However, I have found that since the lockdown restrictions have eased I’ve been so keen to sketch on location that this no longer is preventing me from sitting down.
I have also noticed in the last few months that my first consideration when I’m everyday sketching is to find a place to sit. This is partly due to finding a comfortable, non-obvious spot (I normally don’t have a stool/seat with me) but now finding a safe location with adequate social distancing is an additional requirement. I can no longer stop anywhere I want to sketch, I have to find a place out of the way.
So the big realisation I’ve had is:
During sketching outings, story and inspiration comes first but when sketching everyday, choosing a spot to sit comes first and story/ inspiration comes second!
Why Everyday Sketching is often harder
It’s this fact of story and inspiration coming second that makes everyday sketching harder for me. The freedom to start is often not there (I’m often asking myself ‘do I really have time to sketch?’) and it’s much harder to be inspired by the things which I see every day or which I have sketched numerous times before. So I think the battle is won by simply forcing myself to sit down and get my sketchbook out!
The good news is that the realisation of these challenges has made me more committed to regular everyday urban sketching.
My new routine has been to get a takeaway coffee and then sit and drink it in a spot that I want to sketch from. While sipping my coffee, I’m looking around and searching for a story and then I’m keen to start sketching. On busy days I’m going back to one of a few comfortable spots and looking for new ways to sketch the same subject. If I have more time, I’m exploring further afield.
The result is that I’m getting used to sketching the same scenes over and over again! Some days the inspiration is not there, but the discipline of repetition is really helping me to think about new things to try. This challenge is such a good thing for my art – the more I sketch the same subject the easiest it gets!
Note: I’m sketching a lot of different versions of the big Spanish Mission building on Lindfield Ave and the nearby St Albans church. I’m really thankful for these two buildings which I can so easily sketch from quiet benches in the lovely Sydney winter sun.
There are more concepts on this topic that I’d love to share with you, but I think I’ll leave them for another article!
Finally, I want to end with quote which is often in my head – and even more so lately:
Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision – it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. The world is waiting for people with vision – it is not interested in mere pictures.
We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace. It is so much greater to make much out of little than to make little out of much – better to make a big thing out of a little subject than to make a little thing out of a big one.
– Charles Hawthorne
Isn’t that just so inspiring?
I know there are some urban sketchers who never lack motivation, but I know that a lot of us find it hard to be inspired to sketch at home. So I hope these few thoughts help and that, if you are able to do so safely, you can get out sketching your local area more.
I would love to hear your thoughts/experiences on this topic in the comment section below.