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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.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's not a movie, it's Fort Worth!

Looks like a set from a Frank Capra film, but it's downtown Fort Worth, all alive with happy crowds, Christmas carolers, decorations,  Santa on Main Street and lots of open doors for gifts, dinner, music, chocolate, or a creamy gelato.  I made this sketch from a sidewalk table at Razoo's, while Patti and I shared some red beans and rice.  The red balls in the Cedar Elm trees have made their appearance in years past, and I'm disappointed that they're not on this block of Main Street this year.  I've added them here to try to shame the powers-that-be into bringing them back.  Are you listening, elves??

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Line on Machu Picchu

I'm dipping back in to my South America summer sketchbook, to post and share some images that haven't found their way here yet.  This one brings back powerful memories of arduous travel, breathtaking scenery, altitude sickness, lovely locals and a seemingly never-ending stream of pilgrims seeking out this stunning site in the remote Peruvian Andes.  The journey and the site itself were really a transformational experience; I recommend it for any serious traveler's bucket list.  We arrived at the site very early morning, and were led by our guide for about 4 hours to see and understand some of the hidden sights and mysteries of this incredible place.  After a quick lunch, my sketching buddy Brian Goad and I climbed back up the mountainside to this vantage point, and sketched the killer view while perched on cliffside boulders off the main trail.  A park ranger eventually came along and stood over us, watching for some time.  Finally I asked, "We're not supposed to be here, are we?"  He smiled and shook his head, but said nothing.  Brian and I took that as a tacit "okay" to continue our line sketches, which we completed in about half an hour.  I added watercolor later in the studio.

Monday, November 5, 2012

College GameDay!

I love great college campuses.  The artful arrangement of great architecture, sculpted open spaces and mature vegetation within a context of learning and tradition creates a very special sense of place.  Patti and I traveled to the Louisiana State campus for the LSU v. Alabama game this weekend, where ESPN College GameDay had set up for live broadcast on the campus's huge parade ground.  I moved to the rear of the field to get an overall vista of the action.  The venerable Law School building at far right acted as a nice counterpoint to all the temporary tents, canopies, and the ESPN tour bus (center).  Amazing energy and revelry for early on a Saturday morning!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Let's change the backdrop: a day at the Fair!

Wow, my new teaching position at the University of Texas at Arlington put a serious dent in my posting frequency!  The truth is I have quite a bit of fresh material, I've just been running around like my hair was on fire and haven't found time to post.  Well, that phase is done...this is the first of a many that will be coming your way in the coming days.  It was sketched this past Friday at the State Fair of Texas on a crisp October afternoon.  The Fair is quite a spectacle of colors, music, food (and livestock) smells, and energy!  And it really has changed very little from the first time I visited Fair Park, say, 45 years ago--it's like going back in time!  The day at the Fair did me a world of good, and I loved the chance to sketch a place that's not only picturesque, but full of happy memories.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Watching over Santo Domingo

This colossal sculpture of Fray Antonio Montesino, a priest and anti-slavery activist, stands over the harbor at Santo Domingo, looking out to the sea and calling out for justice.  Its scale is enormous, and it makes for a stunning sight.  As I was drawing, a young soldier came by to watch.  He obviously took great pride in the sculpture and tried very hard to share the priest's story with me, but my Spanish was not up to the task of understanding.  Finally, he wrote the name of Fray Antonio on the sketch so that, as he suggested, I could find the story on the internet.  A new friend, and a new story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

People in the Market

These quick studies of locals in the outdoor marketplace in Santo Domingo were an attempt to capture the people in almost constant motion.  Some sat or stood still long enough for a quick capture; others continued walking and I tried to record their posture and attitude as quickly as I could.  The last two are quick studies while waiting at the gate at the Miami Airport.  Thanks to Melanie Reim, who pushed me to toss my felt-tip and to make use of the free-flowing lines of a fountain pen.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Design Lessons from Past and Present

Parque Colon in Santo Domingo seems to have it all--an exemplary urban designer's case study!  It's a finely proportioned open space, ringed by fine buildings and anchored by a magnificent church.  Beautiful trees provide shade, color and a sense of scale.  The sculpture of Columbus and its pedestal function as art that doubles as seating for people watchers.   There's a selection of sidewalk cafes and benches at the edges for eating, drinking, seeing and being seen. The open areas, shaded areas and cafe tables offer plaza patrons varied experiences and the all-important aspect of choice. The one classic feature that seems to be missing is water in the form of a pool or fountain, though that doesn't seem to inhibit the park's use in the least.  It seemed full of both locals and tourists, even in the heat of the day.  I've seen contemporary plazas costing millions in cities all over the world that aren't nearly as loved or used.

I created this sketch quickly during the Sketchcrawl as a donation for the Urban Sketchers silent auction. I'm honored that it now lives with Shari Blaukopf!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life from a Sidewalk Table

More from Santo Domingo...the second exercise of the "Improvising Lines and Colors workshop with Inma and Orling afforded us a chance to look further afield for subjects, though by late morning the heat was already oppressive.  I employed my cunning urban sketching skills to find a lively street scene that I could capture while enjoying an ice cold Presidente cerveza at a shady sidewalk table (one has to stay hydrated while working outdoors).  When Inma and Orling found me drawing from a table littered with pens, watercolors and beer bottles, Inma said, "You...you understand LIFE!" That's a critique i will always treasure.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Using Thumbnails

More cool ideas from the Urban Sketchers symposium...Reportage artists Veronica Lawlor and Jonathan Schmidt encouraged us to walk the site, observe and generate a lot of small thumbnail sketches, about 2 in. by 3 in., to collect and test visual ideas.  It was really a lot of fun to stroll through the square and streets like a visual junk man, collecting interesting bits and scraps that might be developed into something even more interesting.  I'd used thumbnails regularly in concept sketching, but not in location sketching, and it's a marvelous way to quickly generate a number of visual ideas on the spot.  Here I have a collection of those thumbnails, and the more substantial sketch developed from one of them.

Here a  a number of quick thumbnails, sketched quickly on the spot, and a larger version of one that showed potential.

The idea that intrigued me in this street view was the contrast between the more "touristy" block in the foreground and the rougher, more gritty block beyond.  The view was first doodled as a thumbnail (upper right).  I liked the composition, so found a comfortable sitting spot and developed the larger sketch.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jumping In

The 36th International Sketchcrawl coincided with the final day of the Urban Sketching Symposium in Santo Domingo. I completed a pretty good-sized sketch of the main plaza, and was looking for other subjects when I saw a crowd gathering around some high-energy musicians playing hot reggae and Latin music.  I've never even attempted to sketch such a scene before, but my new friend and reportage illustrator Veronica Lawlor was fearlessly capturing the scene with her dip pen and ink bottle.  I was inspired, and so jumped in.  None of these guys would recognize themselves in this image, but maybe they'd recognize the energy of their performance.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back from Santo Domingo!

Just returned from the 3rd International Urban Sketching Symposium in the amazing Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, DR.  It was the first conference in a very long time in which I wasn't teaching or lecturing, which gave me the luxury of digging into the workshops and pushing WAY beyond my comfort zones. For example, take a look at the two sketches below.  The first was done before the symposium began, the second after inspired guidance by my instructors (and dear friends) Inma Serrano of Spain and Orling Dominguez of the Dominican Republic.  I think the results speak for themselves.  More to come...
Parque Colon "before."  20-minute sketch in the main plaza; drawn with a fine-line felt tip.  Watercolor added later.
Parque Colon "after." A 7 to 10-minute sketch drawn with Lamy Safari fountain pen.  A brush pen was used for the heavier lines.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back from South America!

 Our 3-week tour took us across southeastern Brazil and Peru to stunning landscapes and cultural sites, as well as to iconic works of landscape architecture by Roberto Burle-Marx, one of the true Renaissance men of the 20th century.  I'll be posting a number of sketches from the trip in the coming days, as I scramble to prepare for next week's Urban Sketching Symposium in Santo Domingo...
This, I'm told, is a Kombi van.  These mobile vendors were ubiquitous across southeastern Brazil.  I was  particularly taken with the happy coconut drinks on the top of this one.
Capturing the lively street life in Lima, Peru...this is the amazing municipal building, across the street from Kennedy Park, which seems to be a center of Lima's public life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

High Adventure

Our 3-week sketch/study trip in South America with my old friend Professor Max Conrad and many of the usual suspects begins Saturday.  Patti and I will fly to Belo Horizonte in Brazil, then make our way along the southeastern coast through Ocuro Preto, Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, Paratay, Ilhabela and Sao Paulo.  While in Sao Paulo we will stay with my old friend and fellow LSU landscape architect Sergio Santana.  Then off to Peru to experience Lima, an ecotourism lodge at the Reserva Amazonica, Machu Picchu and Cuzco before heading back to Texas. My goal is to produce between 40 and 50 watercolors during the trip.
We've visited 36 countries since 1999, but this is our first trip to South America. It's overdue, and we're really jazzed.  High adventure indeed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ducros House, Thibodeaux LA

This weekend found me road-tripping from Fort Worth to Houston to Thibodeaux, Louisiana and back.  I sketched this amazing Greek Revival house on the edge of Thibodeaux while my daughter attended a friend's wedding festivities there.  I later found out it's the Ducros plantation house, built between 1830 and 1850.  It's on the National Register and is currently undergoing restoration to see new life as a bed and breakfast.  I loved the fact that the road sign across from the house said, "Devil's Swamp Road;" sounds like something from a screenplay.  The sketch took about 20 minutes, standing on the roadside and using the trunk of my car as a drawing table.  I added the watercolor later while having lunch at Cane's Fried Chicken in town.  8 in. x 11in. in a Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Free at last...

This little vignette of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is the last illustration for my book; added at the last minute as I was preparing the final manuscript submittal package.  That went out via FedEx this afternoon...time for a nap!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Music for the Eyes

This series retraces my steps in sketching Paris's magnificent opera house, the Palais Garnier.  It's an irresistible subject, at once visually overwhelming yet with a design structure that conveys a harmonious whole.
As with many of my urban sketches, I begin by trying to make sure everything I want to draw will fit onto my page.  In this instance, I used people on the street to set an eye-level (horizon) line, then blocked out the height and width of the three main levels of the facade.  Drawing a few people at different sizes has already created an illusion of depth.

I draw in the rest of the basic geometry of the facade.  At this point the overall composition is fixed on the page, and I can have fun observing and sketching the ornate design structure and details.

I've had to carefully observe and understand the design structure (counting openings and columns and finding alignments of key elements, for example) while simplifying the ornate sculptures and other details.  My goal is to capture the almost musical rhythm of the facade's design, and how the people in the scene almost become a living part of that design structure.

I've carefully chosen where to place darks to reinforce the rhythms of the facade and to add visual punch to the sketch.  Adding darks to some of the people ties them in to the overall composition.

I've added very light colored pencil washes to complement but not overwhelm the linework.  The sky is purposefully drawn in a heightened, energetic style to tie it to the loose feel of the rest of the sketch.  Some bright colors on the crowd help convey the palpable urban energy of this place.  Note how the color fades at the edges of the sketch.  I have a feeling this building will call me back to draw it many time...next time in watercolor?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A watercolor adventure in Turkey

This watercolor sketch is from an original done on-the-spot near Uchisar, Turkey, which is in the visually stunning Cappadocia region.. I recreated the step-by-step process of creating the original as a demonstration for my upcoming book, Freehand Drawing and Discovery.

I started with a pencil line sketch on 140 lb cold pressed watercolor paper.  I thought the contour sketching method--drawing the overall outline first and treating the subject as "shapes" rather than "things"-- would work best in this case.

As the sketch progressed, I tried to capture the visual texture of the scene, rather than the literal details.

A wet-on-dry wash over the entire area to be painted. 

Some shade and a warm roof color, mixed from burnt sienna, cadmium red and a touch of french ultramarine.

Windows added, again trying to capture a visual impression rather than photographic realism.  Some olive green between buildings hints at vegetation and provides some much needed contrast.  This is a detail view, showing about one half of the sketch.

Monday, April 23, 2012


While creating illustrations for various elements and techniques in the book, I have to remind myself that the key element I want to capture is exuberance!  Composition, contrast, color choices, movement and even visible colored pencil strokes add up to convey a feeling of joyful vitality that I'd like the space to have.  At the end of the day, I want it to look like a place the viewer wants to go.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Longmont Colorado

I've been working with my Townscape compadres and Tim Baldwin of Steer Davies Gleave on a transit oriented development plan for Longmont, Colorado.  My role has been collaborating on the urban village concepts, generating freehand concept maps and sketches on site and in the studio.  It's a fast and efficient way to work.  Tim created this little video in which he cleverly uses my urban village concept maps in "pieces" to tell the story of how the project could evolve over time.  The video ends with a village center concept sketch I made from a Google Earth street view.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

And the winner is...

This is one of the dozen little ink-and-watercolor sketches I did yesterday as "thank you" gifts from the trial-and-error process posted below.  At the end of the day, I think it's less about the place than the energy I felt in the place. Because it's so small (5 inches by 5 inches), both linework and color had to be boiled down to just the essentials.  That's probably not a bad lesson for larger works as well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From the cutting room floor...

So, I needed to create a dozen small, 5 inch x 5 inch original watercolors as gifts for an upcoming event.  I decided to do some VERY rough layouts from my sketchbook images to find a sketch that might work well in such a small format.  The first test run was based a sketch I'd made of a temple in Cambodia in 2006.
It's a fun image, and the color adds a lot of energy, but looked a little flat to me.  Also, I wanted to use the red "chop" of my name that I bought in China in the corner, but as you can see it didn't work very well on rough watercolor paper.  So, I tried a pelican's eye view of the top of the bell tower at LSU, looking out to the Mississippi River and the horizon beyond:
Again, a fun image even in this rough version, but that one didn't do it for me either.  Next I tried using a sketch of Brandenburg Gate from a trip to Berlin in 2008.  Not that everyone needs a sketch of this icon, but I thought the strong composition and exaggerated perspective made for something more visually interesting than the first two:
This one showed potential!  I decided to use it as the basis for the dozen little watercolors.  Check back in tomorrow to see how the "finished" version turned out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sam I Am

Returning from Houston Sunday, I stopped to sketch the statue of Sam Houston on I-45 near Huntsville.  Like Dallas Cowboys Stadium and the hair of Texas debutantes, this thing is BIG.  David Adicke's sculpture is 67 feet tall and stark white against the dark green pines.  It's visible from a few miles away when approaching from the south, but I was struck by the closer view, revealing the contrast between the size of statue and the crowd of visitors around its base.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dad Loves His Work

Work continues on my first book for John Wiley and Sons, Freehand Drawing Renaissance.  It's been a transformational experience.  Most days I'm rising about 3:30am (without an alarm), writing and/or drawing till 8am, walk the dog around the museums, back to the book till mid afternoon, then race to catch up on email, Townscape project work, meetings, errands and whatever else may have fallen through the cracks.  If I'm lucky I'll have dinner with Patti, pass out on the couch about 8pm, and get up to repeat it all the next day.  I couldn't be happier.

Best guess is that the manuscript is at 60% at this writing.  All is due May 21.  Hang in there with me...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Five Copies for my Mother!

The cover is a detail from my sketch of a mosque in Istanbul.
Some of you may know that I taught a sketching workshop for design students in Istanbul last year.  I visited the city again three months later for the conference of the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools (ECLAS).  I had a grand time sketching the city, and made some wonderful friends.  So, I was excited and honored when this Turkish landscape architecture magazine requested an interview to discuss drawing, design and creativity.  I guess I got kind of wordy (imagine that), because they came back to ask for more sketches, and made the interview their cover story.  The full interview is in Turkish, so I don't know exactly how my answers translated, but happily sketches speak an international language.

If you get a chance to visit Turkey, I can't recommend it highly enough.  Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean coast come together in wonderfully exciting place...high adventure indeed!
On-location sketches from the Parthenon and Lisbon.

Location sketches from Estoril, Portugal, Uchisar, Turkey and Notre Dame in Paris.

A tuk-tuk in Bangkok, and the famous floating market in Rajburi, Thailand.