Over the last couple of Wednesday evenings (2 x 2 hours) I ran a demonstration and workshop on Urban Sketching at Salford Art Club, held in Salford Museum and Art Gallery. I am also a member of this art club so for some reason (I think it always is when you know people!) it was a little bit more nerve wracking than usual. However, members made me feel very at ease and we had a couple of great sessions. Fortunately, on the first session earlier in July, the weather was great, enabling me to demonstrate my colour-first technique outside and also set the group off with some thumbnail sketching practice around the outside of the gallery as a way of capturing snapshot views of the place before settling on an overall view. Unfortunately we had to run the second session inside the gallery but with plenty to sketch (and an example to hand of how this compares with the outside situation), this wasn’t too much of an imposition! The main focus of both sessions was capturing the essence of the place using relatively quick techniques and creating depth in the drawing (without necessarily focusing on perspective only). Members seemed to really enjoy the sessions and engage with the approach of drawing from life. For me, with an interest in reportage illustration as well as urban sketching, this is the focus of all of my work.
The demonstration and workshop was based around some top tips for urban sketching. I also run workshops about urban sketching and drawing from life so the tips are my starter for 10 if you like! Composition, proportion and measurement and creating a depth in the drawing were the main talking points as I demonstrated my Colour-First approach. I used an A3 board with the paint palette clipped to the side but this isn’t the easiest of sizes to hold in this way (My usual urban sketches are about A4 size unless I am working to commission). However, I wanted to show how I organise myself when creating this type of sketch.
The process as shown above is as follows:
- Set up and stand directly in front of your subject matter with everything you need to hand. You need to be able to directly look easily at the subject as you are not going to measure anything at this stage.
- Place the colour loosely just taking note of overall shapes, allow colours to bleed together (don’t work together with the brush), use a limited palette 3-4 colours at most.
- Working from big shapes to detail, use a fountain pen or fine liner to draw the subject of interest. Note you need to make sure the paint is fairly dry otherwise the ink will bleed. However, this can give a nice effect as long as its managed! For the background, you need to have a finer line weight (sometimes I use a watercolour pencil rather than a pen to achieve the ‘distance’ effect).
- Add darks (taking care to highlight shadows, separate planes etc, taking care to ensure the foreground is treated accordingly (heavier line weight).
The discussion about creating depth in a drawing focused on identifying Foreground, Middleground and Background and ensuring that each of these is readable through the way they are presented in the drawing. Darker more detailed elements in the foreground (perhaps using red or a brighter advancing colour to bring them forward), the main focus of interest in the middle ground and less detailed, and finer line weight and paler elements in the background (perhaps using more receding colours like blues).
(With Thanks to Tony Easom of Salford Art Club for all the group photos from the evening sessions)
Materials used focused on discussions about the fountain pens I use (Lamy Safari with extra fine nib (main line work); Carbon Platinum pen (for finer lines) and Kuretake Brush pen (for the darks and foreground). Watercolours are a mix of Windsor and Newton and Daniel Smith tube paints decanted into pans.
After the demonstration (and a well deserved break for everyone-although I have to admit to talking about sketchbooks and sharing some of my work during the break!) I briefly outlined the idea of quick thumbnails (15 minutes or less for each image) as a way of capturing a place in multiple images (you divide a sheet or page into e.g. quarters for this). This is useful as a way of identifying a preferred composition so that you can then move onto a more detailed sketch of one of the views. It is also useful when you are visiting a place and perhaps want to create more of an overview of a place than one scene will do. These can then be selectively coloured or worked up if required. The thumbnails below were done around the outside of the gallery prior to the session as a way of showing the approach. The group then had a practice at creating thumbnails before finishing the first session.
Colour-first inside the Gallery
On the second week we weren’t as lucky with the weather but no matter! There was plenty to keep everyone busy and we chose a spot in-between galleries with some wonderful layering! Here’s my demo. piece (colour first) as an aide memoire, before the group got started on their own colour-first pieces.
As you can see from the images below, everyone really got stuck into giving colour first a go, even though it takes a while to really get your head around the process, especially with respect to abstract colour.
With thanks to everyone who came along to this two week demonstration and workshop and I do hope members will carry on sketching and capturing the world around them from life. There really is nothing better! I received some great feedback too and I’m already looking forward to more demonstrations and workshops I have booked in the coming months. Watch this space for updates and results!