Factors to Consider for Urban Sketching

What do you think of when you hear the words “urban sketching?” You probably envision artists studying and drawing the shapes and colors of office buildings, busy streets and perhaps oblivious passersby on their way to important, countless appointments. What’s interesting to me is comparing the similarities and differences among urban sketchesacross this globe of a home.

For example, in Cincinnati, Ohio, an all-American, Midwestern city, there are buildings that reflect a history, if you look closely enough at the architecture. In Archisketcher: A Guide to Spotting & Sketching Urban Landscapes, Simone Ridyard points out that when you go into public to create sketches, it’s important to note these culturally significant aspects of the places you’re drawing. Scroll down to see more of whathas to say about urban sketching for artists.

Composition and Context
This vivid sketch (above) by Shari Blaukopf illustrates composition and an understanding of context beautifully. She has articulated the foreground, which features a bandstand, tree and people. Note, too, how the path draws us farther into the picture. While this may not have been intentional, this is an effective compositional “trick” that leads us to the middle distance. The backdrop of tall buildings in downtown Montreal then provides a city context behind the park in the foreground. By including a few people, Blaukopf has also given this sketch a clear sense of scale.

I’m always interested in how different sketchers treat borders. They may leave plenty of white space around a sketch, extend a drawing right to the edge of the page, or they may draw a freehand border, defining the edge of the sketched area.

I do all of these, sometimes predetermined and sometimes not. On some occasions I know exactly what I want to include; at other times I’m happy just to let the sketch extend out and meet the edge of the page. I quite like it when I miss the top of a tower–it demonstrates that I haven’t set the drawing up beforehand! Yet there are also times when, if I’ve missed out an important part of the composition, I regret not mapping out the basic blocks first. If you do create a border, you can also control the format of your sketch–landscape, portrait or even square.

A great tip that I picked up in a watercolor workshop a few years ago is to use masking tape around the edges of paintings, which is then removed when the artwork is finished. I now always use tape for my more formal paintings for clean, crisp edges. The crisp border works really well with looser, more abstract sketches as it imposes some order and calm.

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