Tuesday, May 19, 2015

People Who Need (Watercolor) People

Tuesday Tips and Tricks:



Often in urban sketching we focus on the architecture or landmarks we encounter to tell the story of our surroundings. There are times though, when we add people to the scene, even when they’re not the focus. They add an element that can make it easier for the viewer to connect with our visual story. People give scale, energy, life, and an invitation into the scene. When you need or want an extra spark in your landscape or cityscape including people can be the trick you need. In this post I give you tips for using watercolor to add figures to your work.  


Carrots and Rectangles

There are many approaches for quickly adding figures to watercolors. I use a combination of two different methods – carrots and rectangles. Both ways employ similar mind sets.

  • Think simple.
  • Think shape 
  • Think gesture

The Carrot:


     1. Start with simple carrot shape            2. Add a head                     3. Add a little gesture  
                                                                                                                    and shadow
The result from just four strokes, a simple basic figure!


Repeat the process and add a little embellishment. 




Now try playing with just slight changes to the gesture and size of the carrot shapes. Add more, create a crowd or a parade!





The Rectangle:


1. Paint a rectangle    2. Add two strokes for legs    3. Two strokes for arms   4. One for a   
                                                                                                                              head
Tah Dah! A person!

Urban Sketching


 Saturday Morning at the Green City Market, Chicago


Using these simple methods as a starting point you can add the attitude, personality, the
 character of a place, through it's people.

Character Builders:

  • Paint a group of carrots and rectangles together.
  • Let a few overlap and let the paint mingle.
  • What happens when the head stroke touches the shoulder line? When it doesn’t?
  • Experiment, add line to emphasize or embellish some of the shapes.
  • Try adding just a little detail.


As always, have fun!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Would you exercise and sketch at the same time?

Tuesday Tips & Tricks

Many moons ago, I had heard a lot about how you should do little exercises while you are stuck in commuter traffic–whether it be on a bus, train, airline or especially in your car with stop-and-go traffic. So it made me think, with all of the hours I spend sitting in a chair or at my desk urban sketching ideas or observations, should I be exercising while I sketched?
I decided to do a little research on some simple exercises.
Calisthenics” are a form of exercise consisting of a variety of exercises, often rhythmical movements, generally without the use of equipment or apparatus. They are intended to increase body strength, body fitness and flexibility with movements such as bending, jumping, swinging, twisting or kicking, using only your body weight for resistance.
When performed vigorously and with variety, calisthenics can benefit both muscular and cardiovascular fitness in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and coordination.

Likewise, over at Smashing Magazine, author Laura Busche highlights the benefits of traditional sketching:
Extends memory: “The better you become at translating imagery from your mind to paper, the more visual resources you will have to draw on and the easier it will be to retrieve them in the future.”
Aids concentration: “Sketching stimulates us to a comfortable level — enough to keep us awake, concentrated and engaged… Some believe that we reach deeper levels of concentration and develop richer concepts when our own hands are the hardware.”
Allows for flexibility: “Because of our brain’s limited processing capacity, externalizing our ideas on paper makes it easier to restructure them, transforming the initial structure into a new one.”
Cool, there seems to be a common thread here that I wanted to explore further. I want to be remembered as the first Urban Sketcher who creates a series of simple exercises that can be done during sketching, especially at a two-day event such as the upcoming 2015 Urban Sketchers Chicago Sketch Seminar #uskchicago2015.
Here are a few of the exercises that I have developed (with a little help from my personal trainer). Give these a try and let me know what worked and didn’t work for you.
Disclaimer: I am not remotely qualified as a physical trainer or therapist. Please consult your physician to determine if a regular exercise regiment is recommended or will even help your sketching technique. If you find that your sketches have significantly gotten worse, please discontinue any exercise until you consult your physician.

Note: Don’t forget to pause for a drink of water as needed.



Sit Up Sketching: Grab your sketchbook and pen, lie down flat on your back with your knees bent, and do a normal sit up towards your knees. When you reach the upright position, place your sketchbook and pen on your knees and draw a few lines of what is in front of you while you hold this position. Then allow your torso to slowly fall back towards the horizontal position and repeat 10 times or until your sketch has been completed. 

Sketch Push-ups: With your body in a horizontal position, push yourself up so that your body remains rigid with your arms fully supporting your torso and lower your body with both arms at alternating intervals, holding your body in the up position for 1 minute and lowering for 5 seconds. Sketching is best accomplished while you are in the upper position. Repeat until your sketch is complete.

Sketch Planking: With your body in a horizontal position, push yourself up so that your body remains rigid with your arms fully supporting your torso. Your sketchbook and pen should be directly under your drawing arm. You may have to shift your weight over to your supporting arm while you sketch with your free arm. Sketch quickly while you shift your attention from your subject matter to your sketchbook. By the time your supporting arm starts to fatigue, you should be wrapping up your sketch.
Approximate sketch time: 10 minutes.

Lunge Sketching: Stand in view of the object you wish to sketch and take a big step forward and bend your knees as shown. Place your sketchbook on your lap and begin sketching the subject in front of you for as long as your legs will support you (perhaps 30 seconds will be sufficient). When you start to feel fatigue set into your legs, stand up and rest for 10 minutes while you sketch. Then repeat the lunge again for 30 more seconds. Repeat until your sketch is complete.
Alternative Wall Sit Sketching: Stand in front of a brick wall, half wall, fence or fire hydrant with your sketchbook and pen in hand. Bend over slightly into a sitting position until your knees are at a 90º angle. Place your sketchbook on your lap and begin sketching the subject in front of you for as long as your legs will support you (perhaps 30 seconds will be sufficient). When you start to feel fatigue set into your legs, stand up and rest for 2 minutes. You may choose to sketch while standing up during this rest. Then repeat the wall sit again for 30 more seconds. Repeat until your sketch is complete.

Bench-Step Sketching: This exercise is a derivative of the box step and step platform exercises. In this version, approach an empty half wall or bench (preferably without someone already sitting on it) and either step upon or hop onto the bench. Select an object to sketch, raise your arm cradling the sketchbook and begin sketching. Jump down safely off of the bench and back up at regular 5-minute intervals. Not recommended if you have bad knees, back or ankle issues.
Lower Impact Sketch Exercise Ideas:
Sketchabout: With your sketchbook supported by your arm positioned at a 90º angle, place your pen over your sketchbook and begin walking and sketching simultaneously. This is the same activity that people will perform while walking and texting on their phone except that you will be exercising your observation and drawing muscles.
Peddle Sketch: With your sketchbook supported by your arm positioned at a 90º angle, place your pen over your sketchbook and begin biking and sketching simultaneously. This will require great balance and multi-tasking as you focus on your ever-changing subject matter, the motion of moving your legs in a cyclical fashion, torso movements to maintain balance to steer the bike “hands free” and build your observation skills. Perhaps practice this in an empty parking lot while cycling before co-habitating with other vehicles.