tag line

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.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sir, What's That You're Drawing?

This is a nice story from our Urban Sketchers Dallas/Fort Worth outing on Saturday, posted on Facebook by the mother of the young man in the photo with me. When we're sketching, people are watching--we usually never know who or why.  But that's almost always a good thing.  (Story and photo by Tasha Emmons Young):
    "Yesterday, while strolling around downtown Plano, Reichen saw a man sketching on the street. We stopped. We chatted. He told Reichen he was once a boy who loved to draw and when he grew up, he discovered how to make a living drawing as an urban planner. The man drew with ink and told us later he would add watercolor to his work. This artist was so kind and so patient. He let Reichen watch, observe, and ask questions. Reichen was so inspired, he sketched as soon as he got home and tried a medium he never used before - watercolor. Reichen told me he hopes to be as kind and thoughtful to younger artists one day just as the man on the street was to him. Thank you, James Richards. It was very, very nice to meet you. You inspired my 10-year-old artist and we are grateful."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

DestinAsia Magazine Publishes "Hemingway's Cuba" Sketches

I am very happy  to see that DestinAsia, the "award-winning luxury travel and lifestyle magazine for those who love to travel in style in the Asia- Pacific region and beyond," published a feature on my "Hemingway's Cuba" travel and sketches in their most recent issue.  I had provided the materials by invitation a few months ago and wasn't sure of the publishing timetable, so I was happily surprised when it popped up on Patti's Google Alerts.

DestinAsia has published others from our Urban Sketchers family in the past for travel profiles, as well as for article illustrations.  It's great to see a high quality magazine with wide circulation show an interest in our work.

HERE'S THE LINK:  Sketchbook: On Hemingway's Trail in Cuba

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Welcome! Glad you're here!

Sketching on Chartres Street, New Orleans
Greetings all!  Thank you for taking the time to check out "James Richards Sketchbook 2.0!"  I'm really glad you're here.  This website is the still-evolving result of three months of questioning and reassessment of my direction as I embark on the "third third" of my career.

It started innocently enough.  After leaving corporate urban design practice and a tenured university faculty position to pursue a number of exciting, creative endeavors, I realized it was time to order new business cards.  Deciding what to put on those cards to describe what I do had me completely bamboozled.  Artist?  I've never been very comfortable with that.  Urban designer?  Not broad enough.  Author? Educator? Speaker?  Traveler? (A look at my calendar page confirms that I spend more time traveling than in any other activity.)

There was some truth to each label.  And yet each was more true as part of the aggregate rather than as a solitary descriptor.  My "work" touched on all these areas.  So what's the essence of the work?  What do I do?

It was then that I realized I was describing a process rather than a label--an ongoing process of discovery.  Discovering creative design solutions.  Discovering my distinct artistic style and language.  Discovering my voice as a writer.  Discovering the essence of the world's great places. Discovering my own talents.  Helping others discover theirs.

Thinking of my career as process of discovery freed me to look beyond arbitrary divisions between art, design and professionalism, and to claim them all as aspects of a full, creative life.  This feels good.  I'm going to roll with it for now.

When seeking, it's helpful and comforting to find signposts along the way.  I particularly enjoyed this quote by Glenn Murcutt, the brilliant Australian architect who was awarded AIA's Gold Medal in 2009, when asked why he considered drawing so important:

"We are taught that creativity is the most important thing in architecture.  Well, I don't believe that.  I think that the creative process leads to discovery, and discovery is the most important thing.  I'm suggesting that any work of architecture--as opposed to merchandise--has the potential to be discovered, and drawing is the key."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cool Interview + Full Workshop Handout

Many thanks to Urban Sketchers Communications Director Brenda Murray and writer Ann Schwartzwald for the very nice interview below, which appears in this month's Drawing Attention newsletter on the Urban Sketchers website.  A full color copy of my handout for the Manchester Symposium workshop "Capturing the Crowd" can be accessed through the link at the bottom.  Cheers!


James Richards, Capturing the Crowd

by Ann Schwartzwald

James Richards is an enormously creative artist, author, urban designer, traveler and teacher. He is also an energetic and generous contributor to our Urban Sketchers community.

James grew up in South Louisiana, and lived in and around Fort Worth Texas in the decades since graduating from college. James co-founded Urban Sketchers Texas in 2011, and recently facilitated morphing that chapter into 4 new ones: USk Houston, USk Austin, USk Lubbock, and USk Dallas/Fort Worth. He is now an administrator for USk Dallas/Fort Worth. James also lectures and teaches design, drawing and urban sketching workshops across the U.S. and abroad. The insights and expertise he so enthusiastically shares with others are based on years of experience. 

“I started sketching on location while studying landscape architecture and urban design in college. Travel sketching and my work developed my drawing skills. I joined Urban Sketchers in 2010.” 

James presented a very exciting workshop called “Capturing The Crowd” at the Urban Sketchers Manchester Symposium at the end of July. During this workshop, James taught basic premises and a methodology for drawing crowds of people in public spaces—plazas, streets and the like. 

“A great many sketchers are afraid of attempting to draw people at all,” James said. “I taught a highly accessible, step-by-step method that helps alleviate that anxiety. We learned to develop sketches of urban crowds with life, energy and a convincing sense of depth.” 

James focuses on the importance of connecting people and spaces. 

“Like most of us, I love people-watching. People in public spaces are like the actors on a stage, while the surrounding buildings, trees and other elements serve as the backdrop for all the human stories that are unfolding. At the end of the day, I’m less interested in sketching individuals than I am about capturing that drama, energy and exuberance I feel in great public plazas and streets. That’s impossible to do without including the people that bring the place alive. Over the years I’ve developed a method for doing this rather quickly, which adds to the energy of the sketch”. 

Meet James Richards HERE

Check out his workshop notes HERE

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On the Road: Iceland

Iceland has many moods and faces.  This is a quick sketch in my A4 Moleskine Watercolor Album of Siglufjordur, a scenic fishing village on one of the island's northernmost points.  This was our overnight stop after a five-hour drive from Reykjavik, traversing about half the island's circumference.  More to come...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

DRAW DAT! in New Orleans!

The American Society of Landscape Architects' (ASLA's) Annual Meeting afforded me the opportunity to reassemble my team of world class instructors (Richard Alomar, Chip Sullivan, Bob Chipman) and to lead 40 talented and road-worthy landscape architects on a sketching exploration through the Big Easy we dubbed DRAW DAT!  We were assisted by Cap Caplinger, a New Orleans native and venerable design practioner, who kept us on the discovery route and on the good side of the City's many storied spirits.  I did a number of quick, on-location sketches (top) that will later be developed into mixed media studio paintings (bottom).  We passed a good time, ya'll...
A quick field sketch in my accordion-style sketchbook of Chartres Street at Jackson Square, with Professor Longhair watching over the festivities.

Same view developed further in the studio, with ink, watercolor and colored pencils.  This one went to a silent auction.

Friday, October 28, 2016

ASLA President's Medal Received in New Orleans

 I was surprised, speechless (literally) and grateful to be awarded the President's Medal by the American Society of Landscape Architects and President Chad Danos at the Society's Annual Meeting in New Orleans.  The citation reads, in part:

"...presented to James Richards, FASLA in recognition of his dedicated service to the American Society of Landscape Architects.  As a dynamic volunteer, thought leader, and pioneer in re-introducing the importance of sketching to the profession, Jim has influenced Landscape Architecture in a profound way.  His roles...help engage and educate Landscape Architects in a way that provokes action and provides joy."

The point here, in my view, is that reestablishment of freehand sketching in the profession is being formally recognized as a vital way to see and value culture, to generate and refine ideas, and to envision a better world.  We have come a long way since my first presentations and articles in 2007.  But there are many more talks to be given, workshops to carry out, and lives to touch.  Long live the Freehand Renaissance!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Step by Step: My Manchester Workshop Demo

This is a step-by-step demonstration I prepared for my "Capturing the Crowd" workshop for the 7th International Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester, UK.  The idea was to include people in the near foreground, middle ground and background--all sharing a common eye--level line--to  to create a strong illusion of depth and to lend liveliness and energy to the scene.  For this technique, the City Hall building in the background is treated as a 2-dimensional stage set piece for the "actors" in the plaza.

Here's the scene on an overcast festival day.  My viewpoint was very similar, but from a little further back and left, which "flattened" the Albert Memorial (on the left) a little.
As usual, I begin with an eye-level line, and add foreground, middle ground and background figures for an immediate sense of depth.

Next, I start adding the "big shapes" without getting into detail--the Memorial, tree at right, more figures.

Here I 've added the City Hall building in the background, drawn in graphite (pencil) to allow it to recede into the background behind the Memorial (drawn in black ink).

Next come details, simplified as appropriate--more detail for foreground, less for middle ground, least for background.

Now adding darks for contrast and visual "punch."

Finally, color...sky first.

Next came a wash of Naples Yellow over the building and Memorial, flavored with Cad Red, French Ultramarine, and Alizaron Crimson.  Then, some bright colors were added on people and red banners for additional "sparkle."

Finished with darks, blacks in a few key spots.  I darkened the Memorial structure to pull it forward from the background building, and also darkened two of the foreground figures so they weren't so dominant in the picture.  Darks on the background building were left fairly light.

I hope you enjoyed this--it was part of a larger set of visuals and handouts that accompanied the workshop, and seemed to convey the key ideas effectively.  See you on the sidewalk--Jim.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Long layover in Los Angeles

Enroute to Vietnam, we extended our LAX layover to accomodate a couple of days in Santa Monica to shake the dust off and relax before the long flight overseas.  It was a very good idea...

Our "neighborhood" during our respite in Santa Monica.

The Georgian Hotel is a 1930s art deco masterpiece on Ocean Drive right across the street from Santa Monica Pier.  The Clark Gable Suite is highly recommended; breakfast and happy hour on the veranda were memorable. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Real Places: Morning market in Vietnam

Sketched on location last week in Hoi An, while having Vietnamese coffee at a sidewalk table...approximately 6:30am.  Wish I could add the sounds of voices, motorbikes and worried chickens, and the smell of the river and live seafood.  I miss Vietnam.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Kenya: A Transformative Experience

It has been a struggle, after returning from Africa, to find words to adequately describe the people, places, and experiences that Patti and I knew while in Kenya without resorting to long stories, and even then trying to capture the experience is elusive.  One word that keeps coming to me is transformational--that is, if you allow it, it changes you. After seeing it, you see the world through a different lens, in the same way that you see the world differently after some rite of passage.  I'd never set foot on the continent before, yet something about it felt like home, in the cities and in the wild places.  There was danger in Nairobi, to be sure, but we were consistently embraced and welcomed.  Dire poverty was juxtaposed with bright minds, dedication and eagerness to learn.  Sprawling new development was contrasted with ancient landscapes that were the common origin of all humans on the planet.

I'm profoundly grateful to architect and educator Gathogo Githatu of Jomo Kenyetta University in Nairobi, who invited me to provide a keynote speech, sketching workshop, and sketchwalk for the annual conference of the Africa Chapter of the International Federation of Landscape Architects in Nairobi.  It was a rare opportunity to meet kindred spirits, share common passions, and to grow in the process.  We followed our time in Nairobi with a week-long photo and sketch safari to Amboseli National Park (Kilimanjaro), Lake Naivasha, Lake Nukuru, and the Masai Mara. The following images offer just a glimpse of our experiences.  To get a more insights into the journey, prepare for those long stories.

JR sketch of street life in Peca Juja Township, during our sketchwalk with the group.

JR leading students, faculty and professional designers on their first on-location sketching outing.

Lots of local interest of my sketch (shown below).
A market stall in Peca Juja Township, just outside the gates of Jomo Kenyetta University.

Patti sharing the love with university students.

Sketchwalk participants outside the gates of Jomo Kenyetta University in Nairobi.

Slums across the ravine from our hotel in Nairobi.
Touring the tea country outside Nairobi, on the way to visit Gathogo's mother's home.

Narok, Kenya, a small town that serves as a stop on the highway between Nairobi and the great preserve Masai Mara.  I asked our driver to make a u-turn and go back up the hill in order to capture this view.

Elephants in the shadow of Kilimanjaro in Aboseli National Park. 
The great Rift Valley, which stretches the length of the the entire continent, served as the migration route out of Africa to the Middle East, Europe, Asian and beyond for the earliest humans. 
We were told we hadn't experienced a real African safari until our Land Cruiser had broken down.  Check that one off the list.  Here we are still 100 kilometers from our lodge at Masai Mara.
Our route took us from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park, to Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and finally the Masai Mara.
Wild flamingos in flight, spooked by our small boat, on Lake Naivasha.

Hippos congregating in Lake Naivasha.
Lone Cape Buffalo bull near Lake Nakuru.  We saw herds of hundreds of these buffalo, but the old bulls were frequently solo.

Kilimanjaro at sunset, Amboseli National Park.  For both Patti and I, Amboseli looms large in our memories.  I felt I was seeing this magnificent landscape through the eyes of ancient ancestors.  This was another instance where I asked our driver to backtrack to position me for this composition.  The sketch was done quickly standing through the roof of the Land Cruiser; watercolor added at our lodge later that night.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ghost Bridge of the Florida Keys

The Bahia Honda Rail Bridge was one of the highlights of our road trip through the Florida Keys.  See the story on the international Urban Sketchers blog:

The abandoned bridge sketched from Bahia Honda State Park, about midway between Miami and Key West.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Believe it or Not, It's Carnival Time!!

Right on the heels of the holidays, New Orleans' carnival season officially opened January 6, kicking off an unusually short 5-week season culminating in Mardi Gras on February 9.  Then, of course, the spring festival season begins, with favorites like French Quarter Festival (shown here), Voodoo Festival and Jazzfest keeping things hopping into early summer.  This almost non-stop revelry brings back memories of growing up in and around the Big Easy, and the scores of festivals Patti and I attended there since.

The pencil sketch below was drawn on-location at the kickoff of the French Quarter Festival Second Line Parade last spring.  Taking a lesson from legendary artist-reporter Franklin McMahon, I arrived early, and sketched in the city context before the action started, leaving enough blank space in the middle of the scene to add the revelers when they arrived.  As the parade approached, I quickly sketched a few quick figures and the placement of the signs.  Then, as colorful characters strutted past (like the man with the sash far left), I simply drew them into the crowd.  The sketch came together when I added darks in the foreground to separate people in the crowd and add some needed contrast. I did several pencil sketches that day, and added color was later in the studio.

Enjoy your parades and festivals wherever you are!

The French Quarter Festival Second Line Parade moving up Bourbon Street.

Buildings drawn before parade arrived, then paraders sketched in quickly as they passed.

Colors were added later, and tried to capture the festive spirit of the morning.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We all need a kick in the pants sometimes:

"William Blake is an example of total dedication to his art. You're just a sinner if you don't do it. If you are organized by the Divine to do it and you don't, then you're just a scumbag."
 -Kris Kristofferson