Sketching on live TV: WGN Morning News

September 12, 2017 | 9 Comments

One of the highlights of my time in Chicago was sketching on the set of WGN Morning News in the lead up to the Urban Sketchers symposium. Wow! I never thought I would be sketching on live TV.

It was an enormous honour to be asked to represent Urban Sketchers in this way and it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime sketching experience. As well as sharing with you the video of our segments (we got a lot more air time than anyone expected) I want to talk about my thought processes at the time. It was a challenging sketching occasion and a real case of improvising, taking risks and thinking on the spot.

But at the same time it was one of the most fun sketching opportunities I have ever had. A big part of that was due to my fellow USKer Wes Douglas, who is an active part of the local Chicago group. As part of the prep for our segment I spent a morning with Wes, not only going through what we had to say etc but also just getting to know him, flipping through our sketchbooks and just hanging out. I knew we would only have a few moments on air and would have to make sure we said all the important details about Urban Sketchers and the symposium. But it was also important to build a bit of sketching rapport so that we could subconsciously encourage each other while we were sketching on set. It was also great that our styles were so different. Thanks Wes for being such a fantastic TV-sketching buddy!

I also want to thank Toni and the PR Team who did an incredible job getting two segments for USK on local television. Wow! So amazing to get two TV gigs. Urban Sketcher President Amber Sausen and Hong Kong USker Alvin Wong were on ABC7 the day after.

I suppose you want to watch the footage now! So here it is.
Note: If you can’t see the embedded video click here.

So what was it like to sketch on live TV?

Getting in the mood for sketching on camera

Due to all my online course filming, I am pretty ok with sketching on camera, but it being live TV added a little pressure! I know from experience that I feel more confident when I’m having fun, so it was important for me to get my creative juices pumping (and my hand moving) before I walked in the TV station front door. So I got there early and stood on the sidewalk to sketch the exterior of the building. It really hit the spot for me!

Nerves vs Having fun

Surprisingly I wasn’t that nervous about the fact that I was on TV. Part of this is because my specialty as an architect was designing TV stations, so I was checking out a lot of details (looking at the light grid, surprised that the studio doors were open etc ). It was also super interesting to watch the news behind the scenes, the movement of cameras, teleprompters, setting up sets etc. It was all very fascinating and stimulating – so much going on all the time and so much to observe.

Also a highlight in being in the studio for well over an hour was experiencing all the banter that happens off camera, and we were sometimes included in that! I didn’t feel as if I was on live TV, I just felt part of this amazing environment. So it wasn’t nerves as much, it was more the adrenaline of having to perform (produce good sketches) in a situation that was not super easy for me.

Out of my comfort zone

The bigger deal was the subject matter – being expected to sketch the anchors (TV presenters). Even though I have been working a lot of my sketching of people, and to a certain extent have reached a point where I am comfortable to have a go, I have realised that this is only in certain situations – people on the train or in a cafe when they are fairly close and not moving that much. In a TV studio, the anchors were a long way away, and the cameraman were constantly moving. Argh! super challenging!

Sketching Too Fast
The other huge issue was timing. I naturally work fast which was good for a situation like this as I had something to show really quickly. But it turned out to be a big logistical challenge as I had no idea of the timeframe we had to sketch in – we didn’t know when they would cross over to us or how long we would be on the set. We ended up sketching for over an hour and they crossed to us three times. In hindsight this lack of knowledge of timing was very hard for me as it is something that is a critcal variable when I sketch. My speed meant that I was ready to move on to the next sketch too early! So this is what I did:

First Sketch

I started drawing the whole set, but got moved by the cameraman mid-sketch which interrupted my flow. As a result I lost my focus and just wanted to move on to something else.

Trying my little book

But what to do next? I pulled out my little sketchbook dedicated to drawing people, but that didn’t feel right. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping, and as a result my lines were a little shaky and this totally affected my ability to draw people straight in ink.

It just wasn’t happening for me, but I kept trying. This is my collection of sketches – of course they look a lot better now, after the fact!


My brain was in overdrive… what should I do?

Thankfully I had a loose sheet from my sketchbook, so I pulled that out and then had the thought of sketching the anchors in paint only. This proved to be the best solution for me as it gave me some flexibility. If I put down a wrong stroke, I could immediately lift it with my finger – who cares about messy fingers on live TV, hey?

Due to a technical issue with one of the interviews that morning they crossed back to us unexpectedly! I was happy to have something interesting to show them and a chance for a bit of a laugh. This way of working – drawing in watercolour – had a bonus novelty factor as well. The resultant sketch was suitably vague but certainly captures the essence of the WGN Morning News teams.

Once again I have to say how much fun it was just to be inside the set, it was just incredible. Whilst I am not sure if I will ever get another chance to do anything like this, if I do, I want to make sure that my sketching skills have improved so I can feel more comfortable from a sketching point of view. So this experience has been a huge motivation to me to continue developing my skills, especially in my weaker areas.

It was super inspiring to see how Wes approached it all, and how he was able to sketch in his usual crisp style in this exciting environment!

This is what Urban Sketching is all about
In many ways this experience sums up for me what is it like to be out Urban Sketching. I could easily have ended up tying myself in knots worrying about what people will think of me (and how silly I look and worrying about other people judging my work) but instead I tried to get caught up in observing where I was, becoming part of my environment and enjoying the moment.

When it comes to urban sketching, I am often outside my comfort zone – sketching complex scenes which are constantly changing – so therefore I keep having to improvise. And regardless of how satisfied I am with the end result, I had a lot of fun and have a great story to tell. Isn’t that why we are addicted to Urban Sketching?

Thanks again to everyone who was involved in making this event happen – to Wes, my TV sketching buddy, and also to NaShanta, who works at WGN for piecing together all the segments.



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