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Looking back: My favourite Urban Sketches from 2023 (Part 1 of 2)
Some of my favourite urban sketches from this past year + a list of other urban sketchers with a substack newsletter
This last bit of the year always feels like one of those runaway trains from the cartoons where you have to hold on for dear life lest you would fall onto the tracks and get run over. To counter that feeling, I have been paging through my on location sketchbooks from 2023, reflecting on this past year. Thinking about all the places urban sketching took me and looking out for patterns of growth in my work. And what does my sketchbooks tell me? They tell me that it has been a good year on both accounts.
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As I went through the sketches trying to pick my favourite ones I noticed four categories or themes emerging:
Playing with collage
Experimenting with sketching on top of under-paintings
Intensifying the way I see and play with colour
In this newsletter I will look at the first two and in the second (which will come out mid December) I will look at the latter two.
But before I get to that I have this one favourite sketch which doesn’t fall into any of those categories:
Reasons I like this sketch:
The limited colour palette I ended up using.
I played around with new ways to use my posca pens and liked the results - the posca in one hand and a water brush in the other.
Good memories - drawing early in the morning with special sketching friends at a cafe that has great food and drinks.
Playing with collage
This was the first year that I dared to use collage when out urban sketching. I used to have very specific ideas about how collage was supposed to be done and what it looked like and none of them appealed to me. However, once I threw those ideas out the window and decided to figure out how I could use collage in my way to enhance my work, I was hooked.
I made this sketch during our last National Sketch Day of the year. It was the first time that I was in Assen (the Netherlands). What a delightful small city! Here I was sitting in a row outside the Drents Archief with a bunch of other sketchers, many who have become friends over the years. Two journalists from the local newspaper were peeking over our shoulders. I overheard one on his phone, “You should come here, there are so many sketchers sitting here!” Good memories. This sketch specifically challenged my compositional skills, trying to compose all the vertical lines to work out in a good way. I learnt a lot by reflecting on that.
Here’s some of the reasons why I have been enjoying collage so much this year:
I noticed how collage helped me to group buildings together and simplify the scene.
The possibilities of playing with pattern is endless.
And lastly, it helps me to build a cohesive, limited colour pallet for that specific sketch.
You can see some more of my on location collages in this post.
Experimenting with sketching on top of an underpainting
There was two things that lead to me experimenting with using under paintings in my urban sketches. The first thing was Jenny Adam’s Domestika course, Modern Urban Sketching Techniques with Mixed Media. This course introduced me to all the possibilities that comes with using this technique. The second was a failed sketch in my sketchbook. The subject, aka bird, flew away. I did not want to waste that page in my sketchbook, so I decided to cover it with acrylic gouache. And thus started my underpainting explorations.
This is probably my favourite under painting sketch of this year. I just love how the underpainting helped to communicate the weather. I did this drawing during two sessions on two different days. Both days happened to have the exact same weather, which you can probably see wasn’t too pleasant. This meant that I could on both days, easily get the same table at the cafe I was sitting at - all the other customers were sitting inside. The wind was blowing so hard that I needed four binder clips and a pencil case to hold my sketchbook down while I was sketching. And yes, it also started to rain at some point. It felt like I was taking part in some sort of extreme sport - Extreme Sketching! - and it was fun.
This sketch was also made during the National Sketch Day in Assen. While we were there, there was a Vincent van Gogh festival in the city and the whole city was decorated with murals, window displays and other art, that references and celebrates the time that Van Gogh spent painting in Drenthe. At one of the suggested sketching spots there was a huge sculpture of Van Gogh with his hat in his hand and an easel strapped to his back. I happened to have made a sunflower yellow underpainting a few weeks prior, so when I saw the statue, I knew that I had to somehow use it in homage to Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings. I used mainly my Inktense pencils for this sketch and I just love how they reacted to the yellow acrylic paint underneath once I started to spread the pigment around with my water brush.
(The exhibition of Van Gogh’s Drenthe period can still be seen at the Drents Museum until 7 January 2024.)
USKers with a substack newsletter
I am a big fan of the urban sketching community and they have meant so much to me over the years, so if you enjoy looking at and reading about urban sketching, here is a list of other urban sketchers that have a substack newsletter:
If you are an urban sketcher with a substack newsletter, and I don’t yet have you on this list, let me know in the comments so that I can add you.
Thank you for reading and thank you for looking. And if you are a subscriber, I feel honoured to have been granted a bit of space in your inbox. Thank you for having me. I have also decided to scale down all my instagram and facebook activity to rather put all of that effort in here. This space is just so much friendlier. And I also like that it isn’t dominated by an algorithm that has been fine tuned for maximum addiction (play Terminator soundtrack here). So if you enjoy this newsletter, help me to spread the word to your friends and family. Thank you to those who are already recommending me in your newsletters - I see you and appreciate it immensely. (I also think the ‘restack’ function of substack is pretty neat, where you can restack a quote from the newsletter that struck you.)
Until next time, may your pencils stay long and your markers never dry out.
Thanks for reading Sketch. Explore. Create!! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.