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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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Inspirations: Meet Bon Hui Uy


During last week's USkTalks interview with the larger-than-life Rob Sketcherman, I mentioned some designers and artists whose Hong Kong sketches and paintings had inspired me to travel and sketch, and to visit Hong Kong in particular.  No one inspired me more in that regard than architectural designer, artist and illustrator Bon Hui Uy.

I became aware of Bon Hui's work by luck in 1983 or so, finding his first published collection of drawings in an architectural bookstore in Dallas. That book, Architectural Drawings and Leisure Sketches, was like no other collection I'd seen. Along with the follow-up book, Drawings--Architecture and Leisure, they combined architectural design, illustration, on-the-spot sketching and pure art, all in Bon-Hui's startlingly fresh, engaging style. It was truly a breath of fresh air for me. In no small way, it gave me permission to push my line-driven style further, and to bring some of the loose character of my more casual on-location sketches to my professional design drawings.  

After purchasing his third book, Architectural Drawings and Leisure Works, I lost track of Bon Hui for a while, until last week, when the announcement of my new Skillshare class and my mention of him in the USkTalks interview prompted a string of correspondences. I'm delighted to catch up with this sketching hero of mine, and to introduce him to those of you who haven't had the pleasure.  Enjoy these images, and check out www.bonhui.com.










Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Inspiration for "Serial Vision" Challenge: Meet Gordon Cullen

This is a page from Gordon Cullen's The Concise Townscape, with eye-level sketches illustrating the "sequence of revelations" represented by arrows in the plan graphic at right.


It's been exciting to see how our global sketching community has responded to the "Serial Vision" challenge I tossed out at the end of our "USkTalks" interview one week ago.  Coming up with an idea for on-location drawing while we're quarantined inside is a bit of a challenge in itself. So I went back to my landscape architecture education for inspiration. The idea was to create a series of simple drawings, in storyboard fashion, to depict a sequence of views the sketcher would see in going about a daily routine or ritual while being isolated at home.

Like any idea, it didn't appear to me from nowhere. I was profoundly influenced in university by the work of British urban designer and author Gordon Cullen, whose seminal book "Townscape," first published in 1961, influenced a generation (or two) of architects, urban designers and illustrators with its deceptively simple ideas, wonderful writing and Cullen's signature drawing style.  Cullen coined the term "serial vision" to describe his wonderful sequences of spare drawings that depicted how one would experience an environment while moving through it at a steady pace (see example at top). Drawn quickly and simply, the panels could be used to describe the experience of walking through a town, driving a roadway, or any other experiential sequence of views, real or imaginary. Each drawing gives a hint of the next. I've used the technique to document experiences from imagining a walk through a yet-to-be-built college campus to capturing the experience in real time of floating down the Mekong River in Vietnam.

Cullen's book is still available as The Concise Townscape. My intent here is simply to introduce Cullen to those in our sketching community who haven't crossed his path, and to highlight this "serial vision" idea as one that has great potential to tell stories in the cities where we live and travel. And yes, my urban design firm was named "Townscape Inc." in tribute to Cullen, who serves as patron saint.

My drawings depicting a sequence of views moving through an imaginary college campus. It was prepared to introduce a "serial vision" assignment to my graduate students back in my professor days.

My panels capturing views along tributaries of the Mekong River as we boated to a village upstream.


Thursday, April 16, 2020


Hi everyone!  I sincerely hope this finds you well, and finding creative ways to take advantage of the quarantine time we now find on our hands. To fill some of that void here at home, I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a new online sketching class for Skillshare.  I’m happy and excited to let you know that this brand new class, “Travel Sketching Essentials: A Great Sketch in 5 Steps,” went live last night.  
This class was a lot of fun to create, and is packed with information. It's designed to take a complex travel sketching subject and dramatically simplify the process of creating a fresh, lively sketch in ink and watercolor washes. For this class, I decided there would be no skipping steps, no fast forwards--you are free to do that as you wish, or to hang with me in the studio for every line and brushstroke of creating this painting. I had a blast, and I think you will too.

I'll cover my latest tools and materials, how I simplify a scene, how to use thumbnail sketches to find a great composition, and my 5-step process for building a sketch of any urban scene.
This is part of a series of classes I'm creating for all skill levels, veterans to beginners. It's intended to demystify sketching, making it less intimidating, more accessible and more fun.
You can see the class introduction video (about a minute and a half) with this link. If you are ready to jump in and you're not a Skillshare member, you can sign up for two free months right there.
You are all part of our extended family, and you're in our thoughts. Siesta Key remains heartbreakingly beautiful, if eerily quiet. Patti and I and family are healthy and coping well with staying around the house and studio. Be well, be safe, and we hope to see you soon.
Warmest regards, 
Jim

Monday, February 24, 2020

Jim's Drawing Resurfaces in National Geographic Film

This powerful film is only 8 minutes long.  Bamberger's narration using Jim's drawing is at 4:20.

This is one of the most inspiring short films you'll see, telling the story of rebirth of Texas Hill Country wasteland into verdant grasslands and springs. I worked with and was inspired by Texas rancher and renowned conservationist David Bamberger in the early 1990s, working as a landscape architect and land planning consultant for JJR/inc. The team included non-profit education innovator Julia Jarrell, my JJR partner Dale Sass, and architecture critic David Dillon. By that time many of Bamberger's ideas had already transformed his 5,500-acre Selah ranch into a model for land conservation. At 4:20 of this short film, David uses one of the many drawings I created during our extended conversations to illustrate his foundational idea for using environmental processes to bring the land back to life. When I was shown this film in 2020, I hadn't seen that drawing in 25 years. I'm beyond delighted that it continues to inform and inspire.

Here's the link:

Selah: Stone to Water. A National Geographic Film



Bamberger explains how his childhood experiences and values shaped the philosophies that led to the restoration of Selah.

Screen shot of Bamberger using Jim's drawing--now used as an interpretive exhibit at the ranch--to explain how his conservation strategies work with environmental processes to bring the land back to life.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Sketchbook Makes the Highlight Reel!


My sketchbook and I made the "highlights reel" from the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess, Arkansas a few weeks ago.  I'm still in awe of what a special, moving weekend it was.  See my October 21 post for a full report.  In the meantime, enjoy the video, produced by Arkansas State University.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Wear Jim's Sketches from Around the World

  This on-location sketch captures one of my favorite spots in Tuscany, and now it’s jumped from my sketchbook onto some great wearables and collectibles.  Studio 56 is carrying a great collection of t-shirts, high quality prints, zipper pouches, coffee mugs and more with some of my favorite sketches, as well as those from some of my wildly talented travel artist friends.  The holidays are coming up!  Follow the link to start exploring...

https://studio56boutique.com/collections/james-richards

Monday, October 21, 2019

Art and Soul: The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival

My painting of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, commissioned by Rosanne Cash and her siblings for Dr. Ruth Hawkins.



Dyess, Arkansas.
It was, indeed, a glorious weekend, part academic symposium, part concert festival, part therapy group, part church service, part family reunion.  And somehow, through a circle of relationships Patti and I have been lucky enough to connect with over several years, it was an opportunity to share a gift in a deeply meaningful way.


A few months ago, I received an email from Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, asking if I’d consider a commission to create a painting of her father Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas—a New Deal resettlement colony where her dad was raised. 

Dr. Ruth Hawkins
The house and surrounding land had recently been restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and now served as a tribute to the family’s musical legacy and a living heritage laboratory, largely through the long and persistent efforts of Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Director of the Heritage Sites Program at Arkansas State University.   Ruth is also a special friend of ours,  a Hemingway scholar and author who Patti and I had traveled to Cuba with in 2014. The painting was to be a secret retirement gift for Ruth from Rosanne Cash and her siblings, and would be presented to her at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess in the fall.

A few weeks later, the painting was completed and sent to Rosanne’s manager, and Patti and I were invited to attend the presentation at the festival as special guests. At the festival, accompanied by friends and serious music fans Keith and Leta Jones of Little Rock, we heard fascinating and sometimes deeply moving presentations by cultural researchers, artists and filmmakers, all while keeping a very low profile so as not to ruin Ruth’s surprise.  Early on day one, I met Rosanne Cash face-to-face for the first time:


RC, looking incredulous: "I thought you were a kid!"
JR: "Excuse me?"
RC: "From your emails--I thought you were a kid!"
JR: "Rosanne, we're the same age."
RC: "Yes, I can see that..."
Patti: "Oh no, Rosanne, you look much better."






The 5-hour concert on Saturday, headlining Rosanne and Marty Stuart, was the climax of the festival, held in the cotton field next to the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.  The mood was more like a family reunion than a festival concert--we all felt a deep sense of connection to the place and to each other.  After words and presentations by state and university dignitaries, Rosanne stood alone at the mic and called Ruth to the stage.  


Completely surprised, Ruth was momentarily speechless amid the applause as Rosanne praised her many years work in making the Boyhood Home and the Festival what they are today.  Then Rosanne called me to the stage to present Dr. Hawkins with the painting as the Cash family’s token of gratitude to her—another surprise.  It was a very beautiful, very emotional moment that I’ll never forget as Ruth took in the love from her friends and the crowd. 
JR, Dr. Ruth Carter and Rosanne Cash.

The ensuing 5 hours of joyful music, which included performances by multiple generations of the Cash family, sent hearts and spirits soaring.  For the final song, all the extended Cash family joined Rosanne and Marty Stuart on stage.  Aunt Joanne Cash Yates, Johnny’s sister, sang the opening line and verse of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” then the ensemble joined in.  I’ve never witnessed a more perfect tribute to family, legacy, connection to the land and common roots.

You can see a video of Rosanne's presentation of the painting here.

My deepest thanks to Rosanne Cash, Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Dr. Adam Long, Paula Miles and to Patti. Let’s do it again...



My on-location sketch of Rosanne Cash and her band on stage in a former cotton field, with her father's boyhood home at right.