Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Tuesday Tips and Tricks

Flon Flon et Musette, Lincoln Square, Chicago

In the last few weeks I had three separate conversations with three different artists making suggestions how to price artwork. I wrote to them separately in private messages and emails essentially the same set of suggestions. Perhaps if I share these suggestions here, they will be useful for someone. 

Pricing artwork has always been a mind boggling subject. And like politics or religion it seems to be a sticky and uncomfortable topic to discuss. But someone has to talk about it, so we will here. 

There are many different ways to price artwork. I will talk about one of them - the one I use - pricing by size.

First I want to share with you 10 Commandments of Art Pricing by one of my favorite art writers, late Robert Genn:

Thou shalt start out cheap. 
Thou shalt publish thy prices. 
Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little. 
Thou shalt not lower thy prices. 
Thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe. 
Thou shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size. 
Thou shalt not easily discount thy prices. 
Thou shalt lay control on thy agents and dealers. 
Thou shalt deal with those who will honour thee. 
Thou shalt end up expensive.

When I first read Robert’s Commandments I knew that I found my pricing system. I started then and continue to this day to price by square inch. This system takes amorphous and emotional things like “This was complex”, or “I struggled with this one”, or “My sister really likes it”, or my favorite “I don’t need prices, I am not at that stage yet” out of consideration. If we are selling work, it it a good idea to be objective and consistent. This is business.

But can we get a little more specific? Let’s see the numbers! How much per square inch? A little research is in order. Find work by others that is similar to yours in quality and style. Browse art selling websites like eBay, Etsy, online galleries. Perhaps you will find a drawing 5”x8” priced at $35. Or  another one 7”x7” for $80. Try these prices for your art piece, do they seem to fit?

When you find an approximate suitable price that works for you, you can figure out your price per square inch. For 5”x8” $35 sketch, price per square inch is $.88. Take this number and calculate prices for your other drawings of various sizes. You will come up with a little table that may look somewhat like this:

6”x6”  - $31.68
5”x8”  - $35
8”x11”  - $77.44
12”x12”  - $126.72

How does it look? Too low? Too high? Adjust the price per square inch so it feels comfortable. Then round your prices to drop funny cents. Now you have your price list, it will look something like this:

Jane Sketcher’s Price List 2015:
6”x6” - $32
5”x8” - $35
8”x11” - $77
12”x12” - $127

Now, if you find yourself in a situation when a music band you sketched on a sketchcrawl wants to buy your sketch to put on their album, you are not going to be caught off guard, unprepared and coming up with apologies, like I did. Instead you can sound professional and say: “Oh thank you for your interest! Let me email you my price list.”

Flon Flon et Musette, Tunes from Last June. Artwork by Alex Zonis

Oh, and please note that this price list is good for 2015. In the beginning of 2016 you may consider increasing your price per square inch by 10%. Happy pricing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Seeing Six Shades of Gray

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

Navy Pier, Chicago

It's been such a gray winter in Chicago that I’ve been seeing the urban landscape not in terms of color but as patterns and shapes created by light and shadow. As a sketcher it's made me more sensitive to value. Value, a.k.a. tone, is defined as the lightness or darkness of a color in relation to a scale from white to gray to black.

Many photographers and artists use a value scale to check the accuracy of their vision. The scales can be as involved as twelve shades of gray to as simple as three tones, a dark, a midtone and a light. You can buy a value scale at any art supply store or download one from the internet. I prefer a six toned scale and think there’s much to be gained by making your own scale. It develops your sight for awareness and perception of tone.

Making a Value Scale

  1. Draw six (or as many as you choose) blocks about one inch wide.
  2. Leave the first one blank/white. Shade the last one as dark as possible.
  3. Fill in the remaining boxes to show the gradation from the darkest dark to pure white. For this scale I used a 2B pencil since that is what I often use when I sketch.

Using a Value Scale

Cut the scale out and take it along on your sketch outings. Hold it up to your subject and check the accuracy your perception of the tones you see. (Hint: Squint to help simplify the values .)

Try seeing your subject in terms of value shapes rather than named parts or colors. Both these squares are painted with blue taken right from the tube but do they fall on the value scale? Which blue is the tone you may need?
              Holbein Verditer Blue             Schmincke  Prussian Blue

Which of these center gray squares is darker?

How we see the value of a color is effected by values around it. Using a value scale can help clarify what is actually in front of us. The center grays are exactly the same. 

The Value of Values

  1. When a painting seems lifeless or dull, or just a little off, it’s frequently because the values aren’t correct. 
  2. Rendering values will add dimension and light to your work.
  3. Color can be a personal choice but the lightness or darkness of that color must be on the mark. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tackle your Toolbox

Ever put the wrong color on your sketch? Realize you didn’t bring along any water-resistant pens? Forget which pen skips on watercolor paper? Stare at a completely blank sketchbook afraid of making the first sketch? Or maybe you hoard art supplies and can't remember which palette has your favorite yellow? (Oh, maybe that's just me.)

Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks is my favorite way to help prevent some of those bumps in happy sketching. It’s especially fun because it involves using your tools!
Sketch & originals of my current palettes and tools
That’s right this is about sketching your tools.

 My solution to help prevent all these problems? Sketch my tools in each sketchbook.

Tools on paper over back cover of S&B Zeta Sketchbook
Depending on the book’s purpose, I like to chart out my tools in the front or back of the notebook.  With my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook, fear of a huge stack of nice blank paper kept it that way for nearly a month. Finally I decided to sketch my palette on the back of the front cover to help me get over my fear. It worked and I’m happily filling it with paintings! However, in the smaller watercolor sketchbooks I carry for Urban Sketching, I prefer to make a chart or drawing in the back. When I’m out sketching I find it easier to reference a chart in the back than in the front. In my Zeta series Stillman & Birn sketchbook, the endpapers are so close to the rest of the pages that I sketch my tools there. Those of you who received sketchbooks at last year's seminar should check the end papers in your sketchbooks--unlike other sketchbooks I've used, these are high quality and can often hold watercolor!

How to get started? Well, you can always just jump in and get started making up your own method. For those of you who less inclined to experimenting, there are great examples by other Urban Sketchers, like Liz Steel with USK Australia, who sketch their tools often. Here are some ideas to get you started and examples from my sketchbooks:
Here I only draw one pen & pencil to represent multiple variations

  • Draw one pen to represent multiple pens of the same type in different widths. Draw a line from each pen coming from the tip or under the pen and label its size.
  • Draw your pens and make a line coming out the tip of each. After all have dried, take a wet brush or q-tip and run it over the lines so you can see (and refresh your memory about) how each pen handles water.
  • Draw only your top three favorite pens. Sure your favorite may change in a month or so, but this will help you see which types of pens you like best over time.

Watercolor Pencils:
  • Draw a watercolor pencil and a swatch from each color under it. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
  • Make swatches of your pencils inside a rectangle or square to keep your pencils together. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
This was my first watercolor chart in the back of a pocket Moleskine

  • Draw the palette you want to take on your next sketch outing and fill in each pan with the appropriate color. Leave the     colors flat to see how they’ll look on the paper or practice shading to show the texture of the paint.
  • Draw all of your palettes to help you remember which ones have certain colors without having to test them all again.
  • Paint a stroke of each color on the page where it would appear in your palette. This quick method is still a great reference in the field. 

What about you, how do keep track of your tools? Are there tools not mentioned here that you bring along to sketch with?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Snow? Into the Field!

Narwhal facsimile (on watercolor moleskine)
Itching to sketch during this snow pile-up but hoping for something more dynamic and...well, warmer than the snow?

I was on Monday, so I trekked downtown to the Field Museum of Natural History. If you've never sketched at the Field Museum, take my advice and don't wait for the meetup at the end of the month!

female ruby-throated hummingbird (on Stillman & Birn Zeta)

Whether you prefer sketching people, animals, objects, or architecture, the Field has amazing exhibits to suit a sketcher's fancy.

On this visit I explored part of the "Ancient Americas" exhibit -- stunning artifacts and a life-size replica of a pueblo interior. But to be frank, I barely got beyond the "World of Birds" exhibit. Between bird-song playing all around and vibrant birds in replicas of their habitats, I was proud to not spend my entire visit in front of a single display case!

 For those who feel self-conscious about sketching alone in public, the Field is a great "sketch alone" location. The other guests are so involved with the exhibits that unlike subjects on the CTA, hardly anyone realizes someone is sketching!

woman reading by water buffalo exhibit (painted in watercolor molsekine)
The Field is also among the most artist-friendly museums in the city. Pencil, pen, watercolor, and nearly any other media are welcome (excluding acrylics and oils). Many exhibits have strategically placed seats, but if you don't want to risk not finding one near that perfect scene, artists are welcome to bring their own chairs. (I brought my folding chair, but ended up taking advantage of provided seating and an excuse to practice sketching while standing.)

Still need a reason to go sketch at the Field? Basic admission is free to Illinois residents the entire month of February!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Warming up to sketch? Here are some benefits


Anybody who has spent time amongst first responders such as firemen, paramedics, military personnel and athletes of all levels (and Chicago winters for that matter) will know that practice, drills and a proper warm up are an essential part of being ready at a moment's notice when duty calls. Practice keeps the team in shape and alert for whatever comes their way. It also lets the team leaders work out the details on how the team will communicate and perform with each other so there is clarity and simplicity across the group. Another part of the practice and drills are in becoming familiar with all kinds of probable scenarios the team may face in real life-or-death situations so that they do not panic under pressure.

Am I suggesting that sketching requires warm up and practice to prepare for life-or-death situations? Not unless you are faced with the eleventh hour of turning in your final project for master's thesis or a big client presentation. What I am suggesting is that there may be some value in warming up your hands and brain before you attempt your sketch. 

Here are some of the main benefits to warming up. What are some of your warm-ups?


  • getting yourself in the right frame of mind
  • learn to search for a scene that resonates with you
  • look for a story to tell and create a sketch that tells that story


  • loosen up your wrist and arm
  • increase your range of motion
  • quick studies that help synch up the hand and eye coordination
  • play around with basic shapes and scale


  • practice making mistakes on purpose
  • try out new ideas without fear of messing anything up
  • test out your drawing tools, make sure they are in working order and find out how they will behave on certain papers

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Urban Sketching Inspiration and Social Media

Tuesday Tips and Tricks 

Where do you find artistic inspiration?  How do you pick the perfect sketchbook, pen, watercolor palette, or travel sketch kit?   Looking for books on Urban Sketching?  (Yes, there are books on urban sketching.  In fact, many of them, filled with incredible sketches from all around the world).  How do you connect with the global sketching community?  Whether you are a veteran sketcher or completely new to urban sketching, this post will introduce you to all of the different ways that USk Chicago uses social media, outside of the Facebook group.  USk Chicago has a blog, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest account.  Each account is used in a slightly different way to help you develop your skills, provide you with resources, and connect you to our local and global sketching communities.

As an artist and urban sketcher myself, I have found social media extremely beneficial to my artistic growth.  I use social media on a daily basis.  I encourage you to read below for a brief introduction to the accounts, a brief summary about what each account is used for, how to use each account, and how your participation with them can help create “buzz” for our Chicago community and for this summer’s Sketch Seminar.

BLOG (http://urbansketchers-chicago.blogspot.com/)
If you are reading this, you've found our blog.  This blog is managed and regularly updated by several contributors from our group.  If you are new to the group, this is the perfect place to learn about Urban Sketchers, find contact information, learn how to participate with our Chicago chapter and read several of our ongoing series of posts.

Here are several of the ongoing post series:

-TTT (Tuesday Tips and Tricks) – This is the newest addition to our blog.  Each Tuesday we post a new tip related to sketching.
-Sketchcrawls – After each sketch meet, we post pictures and a short re-cap from the event.
-Miscellaneous announcements/ updates / information

TWITTER (https://twitter.com/usk_chicago)
Follow @USk_Chicago

Twitter is a short form blog where users make posts called "tweets".  Tweets are 140 characters or less.  Users can be followed by other users, and can follow other user's tweets.  When someone you follow posts a tweet, it will show up in your news feed and vice versa.

What it's used for:
  • announcements (new blog posts, sketch events, sketch seminar updates etc...)
  • following other people, groups or organizations (individual urban sketchers, other urban sketchers groups, artists communities)
  • post text or photos ("tweet")
  • sharing other's posts ("re-tweet")

How it's used:
  • tweet from mobile device 
  • tweet from computer
Examples of Tweets
  • "Heading out to sketch with @USk_Chicago today"
  • "A sketch from today's @USk_Chicago sketch meet"
  • "Found this @USk_Chicago blog post helpful"
A re-tweet shares another user's tweet with your followers.  For example, USk Chicago could re-tweet one of your tweets like the ones above.  If you have a personal sketch blog and we follow you on twitter, once you announce a new blog post, USk Chicago can re-tweet your tweet announcement.

Hash tag (#)
Hash tags make your post searchable and will create buzz and increase readership for you and USk Chicago.
  • When a hash tag is placed in front of a word, that word is sent to a virtual pool of search terms that can be viewed by anyone searching for that word.
  • For example, #urbansketchers.  Other urban sketchers around the world use this hash tag when they tweet.
  • When you search #urbansketchers you will find thousands of other tweets related to urban sketching.
INSTAGRAM (https://instagram.com/uskchicago)

Instagram is another type of short form blog dedicated to posting and viewing photographs and short video clips.  Unlike Facebook where you can make folders to organize images, an instagram account hold all of your photos in one location.  You can be followed by other uses, and you can search for people to follow.  Several USk Chicago members have already started using Instagram and share their sketches here.  

How it's used
  • Download Instagram App on your smart phone
  • Instagram your urban sketches or pictures from sketch meets 
  • Hash tag your posts with #USKCHICAGO (and other sketching related tags) in the caption.
  • Mention USk Chicago in your post with @USKCHICAGO.  This notifies USk Chicago that you made a post related to USk Chicago.

PINTEREST (http://www.pinterest.com/USkChicago/)
Follow "USkChicago"Pinterest is essentially an electronic bulletin board.  USk Chicago's Pinterest account is filled with different sections (called "boards") where several of our administrators regularly pin and re-pin everything urban sketching related.  For example, USk Chicago has a board called "Books We Like." Here we pin books related to urban sketching and art techniques.  Another popular board is the "Sketching Tools" board.  Here we post all sorts of ideas of different pens, paints, paper.  The highlight of this board is all of the creative sketch travel kits that people create.  There are tons and tons of ideas to help you research and investigate all of the different "sketching tools" there are to chose from.  Some of the other boards we pin to are "Urban Sketchers Global," "Urban Sketchers Chicago," "Tuesday Tips and Tricks," "Hints and How to's, and "On the Road Sketching."  

it's used
  • download the Pinterest App on your smart phone or use on the computer.
  • Follow Urban Sketchers Chicago's boards.  Every time USk Chicago adds a new pin to one of their boards, it will also show up in your news feed.  
  • If you like the pin, you can re-pin it to one or your own boards.  
  • Create a board with you own urban sketchers.  Let us know that you have an account so we can begin to follow you and re-pin your sketches.
  • Pinterest rewards activity.  Images, repins, likes and comments affect where images appear and the amount of exposure they get.  Images with a title are more likely to be repinned.  More followers=more power.
What to pin (just a few ideas to get you started)
  • Your sketches
  • Other's sketches
  • Tutorials
  • Books you like
  • Your sketching kit
If you are completely new to our community and to these social media accounts, I hope you find this post helpful.  Please comment below or email us with any questions you have at urbansketcherschicago@gmail.com.  We will be more than happy to answer questions or help you get set up.

Andrew Banks

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Color - Part 2

Tuesday Tips and Tricks

This TTT post is a continuation of the Color discussion we have started last year. This is Part 2. Here's  Color - Part 1 post, if you want a refresher.

Let's talk about color schemes. If you leaf through your sketchbook, you will likely note the similarity of colors on your various sketches. We tend to find something that works for us, satisfies our aesthetics to some degree, and we then run with it.

How can we expand our vision on colors, get out of out boundaries of habit? Regardless of the media we use - paint, markers, color pencils - we can use the logical relationships of colors on the color wheel to control and expand our palette. This is where basic color schemes are helpful.

Color schemes are based on color similarities or differences, and usually feature a dominant color. Color schemes based on similarity are monochromatic (one color in different values) or analogues (colors that are neighbors on the color wheel). Color schemes based on difference are composed of complementary or triadic relationships, they are opposites or triangles on the wheel. An exception is a pure color contrasted with a neutral – white, gray or black.

I will give an example sketch for each of the 8 color schemes here.

Note how much variety of middle tones Don uses in this sketch. This variety give the image richness even though it is monochromatic.

This is my sketch, I use an analogous color scheme from dark red-brown through orange to yellow. This set of colors creates harmony. One speck of green punctuates this harmony, but we will discuss this in the next chapter.

Complementary color schemes usually have an added benefit of simplifying the image, like here a fairly complex market scene appears calm and relaxed.

Many have seen this amazing yellow plane at Architectural Artifacts at our sketch crawl. What makes this sketch successful is its pure Triadic color scheme executed in primary colors. Yes, I made the brick wall more red and designs on the rug more blue to make the triad more obvious.

An interesting variety results when we can split a complement into two colors. The image become richer and more complex.

Notice how yellow, yellow-orange and orange are balanced out by blue-violet shadows and recesses give the eye a resting point.

In my color class I find that this color scheme - double complementary tetradic - seems the most puzzling for students. That's until they realize that this is just two pairs of complements that are adjacent or next to each other on the color wheel. Like here:  yellow and violet is one pair, and yellow-orange and blue-violet is the second pair. That's all there is to it, complicated name non-withstanding.

See how the main colors of this sketch red-orange, yellow, blue-green and violet are positioned on a color wheel. They form a rectangle, this makes it a tetradic color scheme. Tetradic is a well balanced scheme, and this quality can be used in composition.

I invite you to practice color schemes to get familiar with them. Draw a sketch with each one of them. If it is an Urban Sketch, share it with us on our Facebook group. If not, just use it as an opportunity to practice.

Our next color topic will be Contrasts! See you then!