I mentioned in my last post that I’d become intrigued with urban sketching. Until a few weeks ago I’d never heard of it. I was searching on Amazon for things that might help me tackle plein air painting in urban settings and ran across a book called The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes. I bought the Kindle version and read it cover to cover in just a few days. I subsequently also bought the paperback version because it’s one of those books I may want to use for more extensive study.
I learned that urban sketching is actually a worldwide movement of artists who go out and capture images of the world with sketches rather than a camera. Most use pencil, ink and watercolor, but some use other media. There’s a website, www.urbansketchers.org, where people post their work. Marc Taro Holmes also has a blog called citizensketcher.com.
Mr. Holmes is a Canadian from Montreal who seems to be one of the premier urban sketchers. His sketches are beautiful. He used a three-pass technique for doing his watercolors called tea, milk and honey. Tea represents the light washes done in the beginning. Milk is adding the details, and honey is adding the bold colors that really make it pop. Sounds simple, right? NOT! I tried to incorporate what I learned in my plein air paintings, and while the results were better than they would have otherwise been, I still have a long way to go.
Another aspect of Mr. Holmes’ technique that I struggled with is that he inks before he paints. On one level I like this idea. If you think about it, it’s kind of like creating a coloring book. In execution I found that I over inked in places and of course, watercolor doesn’t cover up ink. That said, I see that some urban sketches have a lot of ink showing through, so maybe I’m just over sensitive to it. Still, I like softness in some things that over inking doesn’t support.
One of the things I really struggle with in urban scenes is the people. Mr. Holmes talks about doing composite sketches of people in his book but its easier said than done. I went looking for more specific instruction on this and found a recently published book called Sketching People by Lynne Chapman, also an urban sketcher. While this is an excellent book, it is primarily about sketching faces and details. I really need the form and function side of things to capture the feeling of a cityscape. Detailed faces aren’t important.
I just started another book called People in Watercolour by Trevor Waugh. This one is also a Kindle book that is not available in paperback through Amazon. It may be out of print.
I’m still evaluating this one, but I’ve had some fun doing some simple exercises drawing silhouetted forms. It’s good practice. I want to see how well I can translate it into real world situations capturing real people, rather than imitating the sketches in the book. Here are a few from my early practice. I actually used brush markers to do this. I’m sure it will be much harder when I try it using watercolor.