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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Few Spots Left for the 2.5-day U.K. Workshop!

There are a couple of spots left for our "Sketching Lively Townscapes" workshop, July 17-20, in Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK.  Yes, this is the week before the International Sketching Symposium in Amsterdam, where I'll be teaching 3-hour workshops.  This one is a full 2.5 days, covering my approach and techniques towards a less rigid, more accessible style of on location sketching.  It's a great warm-up for the symposium, and/or an in-depth dive into my working methods.  Our workshop in neighboring Oxford last summer was great fun; we're looking forward to returning to the UK.  Join us!

Location:  Ely, Cambridgeshire, U.K.
Dates: July 17-20, 2019.

July 17: Evening meet and greet
July 18: Full day instruction and drawing sessions
July 19: Full day instruction and drawing sessions
July 20:  Morning Sketchwalk
Workshop Fee: $240 USD per participant (includes entrance fee for Cathedral)

Four 3-hour workshop sessions
Three demonstrations on location
Informal guidance throughout the sessions from Jim
Detailed handouts of key techniques and examples

Workshop reservations/information: Patti Richards
E:  patti@townscape.com

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Life Drawing for Designers...

A few short years ago, I undertook a life drawing class for the first time, for a number of reasons. I wanted to improve my figure sketching skills, of course. But I'd been intrigued by the fact that many schools of architecture in the U.S. once required at least one life drawing course, and now very few did. By contrast, my architect friends from parts of Europe and South America had life drawing as a required part of their very early training. I'd spoken with a successful glass sculptor in New Orleans, who'd shown me his incredible sketchbooks, and told me that his creative search for form "all goes back to life drawing." And while interviewing my sculptor friend Carl Fougerousse on the topic of creative process, he told me, "Drawing the figure is at the core of it. One, it’s an incredibly complex problem. We know the human form so well intuitively that we can tell and see immediately when something’s not right proportionally, or in terms of structure, perspective, balance or anatomy. It has to have a certain truth about it that we immediately recognize."

And that, for me, has been the essence of it. Regardless of our creative focus, life drawing skills can help us create work that rooted in our own intuitive humanity, and so strikes us as believable and true, and that other human beings can relate to and empathize with. While this will strike my most of my artist friends as obvious, not many of us trained in schools of architecture and design, at least in the U.S., have had the opportunity to experience this first hand.

Earlier this week, I thumbed through those life drawing sketchbooks that I filled studying with the brilliant teacher Michael O'Keefe at his studio in Richardson, Texas. I was surprised at how these sketches moved me, and how the lessons I'd learned came flooding back. I thought some would be worthwhile sharing--smudges and all--and hope you enjoy them for what they are—evidence of that imperfect search for the truth of the moment.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Step-by-step perspective: Winter Park, Florida Streetscape

Hi all,
This step-by-step demo for last weekend's workshop for Urban Sketchers Orlando blends my passion for drawing on location with techniques I cooked up while working in urban design charrettes around the U.S.  It's an easy way to analyze and set up a quick framework for a detailed perspective sketch of an urban scene. In this case, I've created a very simple line diagram which documents the outline or edge of the building wall, sidewalk, car lanes and median.  In architectural drawing terms, it's called a "section line."  With the section line in place, I can add a human figure to scale, which allows me to locate the "eye level line" (sometimes called "horizon line," but that term is misleading in my view).  Next, I locate a vanishing point on the eye level line in a spot that roughly correlates to the view I'm seeing.  My favorite viewpoint for this kind of sketch is standing on the curb between the sidewalk and the street lane, which allows me to describe both very well in the sketch.  I hope you enjoy the series!

Here, the finished sketch is used to show how I visualized the "section line" (in orange) on location, showing the building walls, sidewalks, curbs, and car travel lanes.

Here, only the "section line" is shown, to which I've added a few scale figures and an "eye level line".  In my sketchbook, this is what the beginning of the sketch looked like, sans the labels.

 Here I've added those elements in the scene that occur along the section line (no foreground or background)--more people, the street light/traffic arm and cars, along with wayfinding signs and pots in the median.
Now I can use the vanishing point to extend perspective guidelines through each of the curb points (the intersection points of the sidewalk and car lane, car lane and median, etc., shown here with small circles), as well as to nail the correct angle of the building and window edges, and SHAZAM!!--we've got an amazing perspective roughed out!

 Here I've roughed in the outlines for the trees, which are very important in conveying the scale and character of this South Florida street scene.

And finally I've added tones--darkest in the foreground using ink, lighter as they recede into the background, using pencil.

Hope you found this helpful and fun.  Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

SOLD OUT! Join Us for our Tuscany Workshop May 8-18

This workshop combines 10 days of sketching instruction and on-location drawing with day trips to extraordinary Tuscan towns and landscapes, gourmet regional foods, wine tastings, optional cooking classes, and even a Puccini concert for a full cultural immersion experience!  The workshop is based in a beautiful 400-year-old villa with stunning panoramic views of the Serchio River valley, the historic city of Lucca's medieval towers and, on a clear day, the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond.  Jim will conduct group lessons and personal instruction to take your on-location sketching to the next level, while our sketching field trips offer unforgettable experiences in settings that one participant said, "feel like a dream."  

We're very excited to be returning to Casa Fiori and partnering with Follow Your Senses in Tuscany's Chef Karolina Lenart.  This is an experience not to be missed!  See the details here:


Portovenere is one of the beautiful towns visited during the Tuscany workshop.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The London Layover

One of our options for traveling to our workshop in Oxford was to fly to London, and catch a coach from there.  It had been a few years since visiting London, so Patti and I tacked a few days onto the itinerary to revisit a few of the city's many high points, from storied architecture to thriving people places to pubs full of football fans cheering England into the semi-finals of the World Cup.  Here are a few sketches from our walks through the city.  Almost all were drawn in a Moleskine A4 Watercolor Album with a combination of a PITT Artist Pen (F) with sepia ink for very fine lines, and a fude nib Sailor fountain pen with brown DeAtrimentis Archive ink for shadows and heavier accents.  I'll likely return to add watercolor to a few more in the coming days.  Thanks for checking in...

I'm irresistibly attracted to busy, almost chaotic street scenes anchored by iconic architecture, juxtaposing old with new.

The sculpture atop the dome at left compelled me to draw this scene.

Some of the double-page spreads were filled out with visual notes of whatever caught our interest.

Many details begged to be drawn as we walked through Old London.

I wanted to capture the Tower Bridge in context, with the pedestrian promenade and working boats on the river..

Piccadilly Circus, always crowded with those wishing to see and be seen.  This one had been on my "must draw" list for years.
Had to capture this one quickly, before the scene was gone!

I love how this one turned out, rapidly sketched standing up with the PITT fine line pen as a crowd watched.

Trafalgar Square is massive and not easy to capture; this viewpoint conveyed the energy I felt there.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Loose and Funky: Step-by-Step Watercolor Sketch from Costa Rica

Our Urban Sketchers "Capture the Energy" workshop in Costa Rica was a blast, and resulted in some really nice work by all involved.  On the last day, we participated in an open-invitation sketchcrawl at in downtown San Jose.  I tried to capture the stages of this watercolor sketch, despite shadows from the tree canopy that protected us from the hot sunlight (but not from the pigeons, who graced my drawing with pigeon poop fairly early in the process).  I hope, despite the less than optimum photography, that you're able to benefit from this series.  Cheers!

Here's the final as completed on site.
I created the base sketch with a Faber Castell PITT Artist Pen (sepia ink) for the foreground, and a pencil for the background to help achieve a sense of depth.  The first watercolor washes were for the sky, starting with a clear water wash, then adding wet-in-wet strokes of Naples Yellow, Cobalt Teal Blue and a touch of Cobalt Blue at the top (for a full description of my color palette choices, see the previous blog post).

Next, Naples Yellow on the background building facade (excuse the uneven lighting resulting from shooting under a shady tree canopy as the work progressed).

While still wet, I enlivened the facade by adding a little Mayan Orange, Ultramarine and a tiny tad of Carbazole Violet into the Naples Yellow.  I added some of the mix to the floor of the plaza as well...

Next, some Cobalt Teal Blue on the windows, with some shadows in the upper part of the window made from  mixing Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue.

The same Alizarin Crimson/Prussian Blue mix is used to add some shadows, giving the facade some definition...

...and to cast some dramatic shadows across the entire facade.

As part of my foreground frame, the tree canopy needed to be dark!  I started with Deep Sap Green, darkened with some Prussian Blue and Neutral Tint.

Here I'm using the tree trunk and ground shadows to complete the foreground frame.  The shadows on the ground are the same mix as those on the facade; some Burnt Umber was added to the mix for the tree trunk and branches.

Some final details added using my "confetti colors" on clothing, and a white gel pen for some lettering and sparkle.  For this photo I laid the sketchbook in full sun, so the colors are fairly accurate.

Papa loves his work...final marks as local sketchers and plaza patrons look on.  Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My Latest Watercolor Palette Choices

My watercolor palette went through a major overhaul about a year ago, with more lively colors that I continue to love using.  If you're out to "sketch the energy," these choices are hard to beat.  Frankly, most of the painting I do is accomplished with three--Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue and Alizarin Crimson, I don't think I could live without my beloved Cobalt Teal Blue and Mayan Orange.  The others do come in handy, so I'm posting them all  here.  

You'll note this selection is heavy on Daniel Smith colors; I find them much more vibrant than some previous choices, and I haven't had the issue of them being runny in the palette that some others have written about.  Some of my choices have been informed, with gratitude, by Paul Wang and Alvaro Castagnet.  I hope you find this helpful:

Daniel Smith: Cobalt Teal Blue, Ultramarine, Viridian, Deep Scarlet, Azo Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Deep Sap Green, Mayan Orange, Hansa Yellow Deep, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna Light, Neutral Tint and Carbazole Violet.

Winsor and Newton:  Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson.

I keep these in a metal travel "Paintbox" made in the UK by Robert Young; it's proven to be a top shelf, road-worthy piece! I also carry a very nice set of Escoda travel brushes in a nifty leather wallet.  This basic setup is ideal for my current ways of working.

That's all kids...keep dreaming...keep drawing!