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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, November 22, 2013


On Friday fellow landscape architect/Urban Sketcher Richard Alomar, Chip Sullivan, Bob Chipman and I led a sketchwalk through downtown Boston for attendees of the national meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). We had 35 participants and fantastic weather in one of the best sketching cities anywhere. The accordion-style sketchbooks were then hung as an exhibition in the Boston Convention Center. The event was a great success; we've already been invited to repeat it at next year's ASLA meeting in Denver.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wanna buy five copies for my mother!

My cover story, with an only slightly cleaned-up version of my on-the-spot sketch of the opening of Sundance Square Plaza, as it looks on the front page of Fort Worth Business Press.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Here We Come, Boston!

I'm headed to Boston, one of my absolute favorite cities early tomorrow to participate in the national conference of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) there.  Sketching fever has hit ASLA hard this year!  On Friday afternoon fellow landscape architect and urban sketcher Richard Alomar and I will lead 30 participants on a downtown sketchcrawl called Sketch Boston!; the participants' sketchbooks will be on display over the next few days at the Convention Center.  We'll be joined by artist/author/landscape architect Chip Sullivan and Bob Chipman (designer, digital sketching guru and contributor to my book).  Then Richard, Chipman and I will present a lecture and live digital sketching demonstration called Freehand Visions on Saturday, followed by a book signing in the convention Expo Hall.  Finally, I'm honored to be hosting a session on Sunday featuring three of the U.S.'s most prominent landscape architects--Laurie Olin, Warren Byrd and Michael Vergason--as they discuss the role of freehand sketching and drawing in their own creative processes.

The sketch above was done in Boston just a few days after the Barcelona USk Symposium, as Richard and I scouted locations for the sketchcrawl...wish us luck!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Opening of Sundance Square Plaza!

I attended the long-awaited opening of Sundance Square Plaza in downtown Fort Worth this morning.Kudos to the designer, landscape architect Michael Vergason.  It is a worthy and wonderful addition to the grand plazas of the world...a must see.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Learning from Sagar in Barcelona

A few months before the Barcelona symposium, I saw some amazing work by a Barcelona artist named Sagar Fornies.  He was handling light in a beautiful way, and when combined with his loose drawing style the overall effect seemed magical to me.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend his workshop at the symposium, and benefited a great deal from the teaching of both Sagar himself and his talented translator, our longtime Urban Sketchers friend Miguel Herranz.

Below is one of Sagar's drawings of L'Escola Industrial in Barcelona; it's the drawing that caught my attention before the Symposium and compelled me to seek him out.  Under Sagar's drawing is my on-location drawing of a university courtyard, produced over about 45 minutes during Sagar's workshop (I further darkened the foreground and added color to the roof later).  You'll note it's very different from my typical style.  I hope to be able to incorporate some of the lessons learned into my everyday work.  So here's to Sagar and Miguel...muchas gracias!

A drawing of L'Escola Industrial by Sagar (from his book, Barcelona: Redescobrint L'Elxample

My own location sketch of my view from the second floor balcony of a university courtyard produced during Sagar's workshop.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Return from Barcelona!

I've just returned from Barcelona, where I taught sketching workshops at the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium.  It was a fantastic experience; an uplifting event in a beautiful, life-affirming city.  150 participants were registered from 30 different countries; workshops were taught by instructors from across the globe.  In addition, scores of sketchers who weren't able to register for the sold-out event came to the city anyway to draw and to be a part of this "happening."

My workshop was called "Life Between Buildings: Capturing the Energy."  It dealt with drawing city life in the public realm...going beyond an "accurate rendering" to conveying the exuberance of urban life in the streets and plazas of great cities.  So, yes, I went to Barcelona to hang out in bustling plazas, draw, share my passion with like-minded sketchers from all over the world.  Seriously, does it get much better?

I'll be posting drawings and photos from Barcelona and the Symposium here over the coming days...come back, check out the latest posts, and leave your comments...Cheers!
This is my sketch of the famous Casa Mila by the architect Antonio Gaudi, who I call "the Jimi Hendrix of 20th centery architecture." I did the line drawing on our first afternoon in the city, and returned on our last morning to add color.

This line drawing of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia was done on our first afternoon in Barcelona, with several sketchers from France.  I added color later in the studio, trying to capture the uplifting exuberance of this amazing sight.

Working with workshop participants in Barcelona's bustling main plaza, the city's "outdoor living room."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Landscape Architecture Network reviews Jim's Book

I'm very pleased that writer Yuliya Georgieva has written a glowing review of Freehand Drawing and Discovery for the Landscape Architecture Network.  The book is being discovered by designers, artists, educators and many others with interests in design and creativity (one 5-star review on the book's Amazon page is by a computer software designer who draws parallels with his own creative process).  Enjoy the review at this link:

Book review: Freehand Drawing and Discovery

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Digital concept sketch demo

Hi all!  Sorry for the long hiatus; it's been a crazy few months! I'll spare you the details, because I want to kick off the summer posts with a demonstration series I've done live before audiences at a few conferences this Spring.  It's done on a Motion LE1600 pen-interactive computer using Sketchbook Pro software.  This is the methodology introduced to me by Robert Chipman, ASLA, and demonstrated in Ch. 8 of my book "Freehand Drawing and Discovery."  It's a VERY user-friendly setup that very closely mimics the use of pen (or pencil or marker, etc.) on paper.  I love it; it can become addictive once you start doodling with it.  The idea is to quickly sketch an urban design idea over a digital photo in order to generate feedback from a client, design team, or public meeting attendees.  I think it's a marvelous way to work.  Here's an example:

Here's a digital photo taken on the project site.  For this particular intersection, I want to create a sense of arrival into the shopping village, calm traffic speeds, provide better pedestrian crossings, and help build a sense of place.  The digital concept sketch will explore all these ideas very quickly.

First, I'll use the "eye dropper" tool to sample the color of the background sky, then use that color with a digital brush to "erase" the background trees (don't worry, I'll put them back later) and the overhead utilities, and to remove the arching traffic signal arm (my safety consultant tells me the lower signal is sufficient in this instance).

Now I've used the simple slider in the "layers" toolbox to reduce the base photo's opacity from 100% to 45%.  This digitally mimics the effect of laying tracing paper over a hard copy photograph, allowing you to more clearly see what you'll draw.

I've created a new layer to draw on, so that I can sketch and erase without affecting the base image.  Using the ballpoint pen tool, I start to doodle design ideas with a stylus right on the screen.  Here's an idea for a sculpture column to act as a  vertical landmark (what Walt Disney called "the wienie at the end of the street"--think of Cinderella's castle at the end of Disneyland's Main Street USA) to create attention and visual drama, drawing visitors into the space.
Here enhanced street crossings are created with special paving and intersection "bulb-outs," and canopy trees are added to heighten a sense of arrival.

People and some details are added, still using the ballpoint pen tool.

The digital airbrush tool is used to add some nice, transparent layers of color to the sketch.

Now I switch to the Pencil tool, and use colors very similar to my "analog" Prismacolor pencil collection.

Here I've used the ballpoint pen tool (for black lines) and the airbrush tool to add a foreground shadow in the street to enhance the illusion of depth.  The color of the shadow is a little too reddish, but you get the idea.  The opacity of the base photo is still set at 45%.

If I slide the opacity bar for the base photo layer to 0%, the photo disappears entirely, and you can see that I've actually done very little drawing to convey my ideas.

But when you slide the opacity bar to 75%, the base photo re-emerges, and the scene convincingly communicates the urban design ideas in their real context.  The fun freehand drawing style clearly conveys the difference between the designer's proposals and their real-life context, and does so in a loose, informal way that invites feedback and subsequent refinements, while capturing the exuberance of this exciting part of the creative process.

This is a fast, fun way to work that merges some of the best qualities of fast freehand concept sketching with the advantages of digital technology.  Hope you enjoyed it!  -Jim

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gabi Campanario reviews Jim's book!

Gabi Campanario, the award-winning journalist for the Seattle Times and founder of Urban Sketchers, posted a review of my book Freehand Drawing and Discovery in his blog.  It's a fun read, and includes the short promo video from the book's Amazon site.  I hope you enjoy it!  Here's the link:


Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Week in a Monastery

Many of you know that I spend the first or second week of every year in silent retreat at The Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in rural Kentucky. It's an amazing week every time I experience it; I always leave feeling grounded, with new perspective and insights.  This year marked my 12th retreat.  The monastery welcomed me back with snowfalls and temperatures in the 20s all week, so much of my sketching was done indoors. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into a way of life few people see, and which is virtually unchanged since the 11th century.
The entrance to the monastery passes through a beautiful cemetery, with graves dating to the mid-nineteenth century.
The monks' entry procession to celebrate the Eucharist.
A monk and a young novice as sketched from the balcony.

Retreatants dine in silence in front of large windows which look out onto the idyllic rolling countryside.

Temperatures in the retreat house often require dressing in layers.

Father Christian, the Retreat Master, reads during a discussion with retreatants.

I was a little self-concious about sketching during services, so I sat in the back of the balcony and captured these retreatants chanting the psalms as the monks chanted below.

Father Christian, Retreat Master
A view of the monastery church and the monk's cemetery, sketched during last year's retreat.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Book Has Arrived!

The book is finally available!  Thanks to all of you who sent me photos of your copy arriving in the mail.  Here's a link to the Amazon page; if you scroll down a bit you'll see a sample video compiled from the seven demonstration videos that accompany the book:
Freehand Drawing and Discovery