If you don’t know about this fantastic group already, then you should do yourself a favour and Google “urban sketchers”. They are an amazing group of artists who document their lives through urban sketching, aka amazing artistic renditions completed plein air of the world around them. (Man, that definition definitely does not do them any justice!). I’ve followed them (i.e. stalked/cyber lurked) since they started circa 2007. I haven’t had the guts to actually go out there and do it myself since its inception, which in hindsight is a regret of mine because I was living in London at the time, away from my own hometown. Fast forward to the present day, and I’ve taken upon myself (not that I don’t have enough on my plate already) to endeavour in my own personal development, and read a few books written by some urban sketchers.
I should state on the outset that prior to the career path that I’m currently on, when high school finished many decades ago (!!), I had my heart set out on becoming a visual artist. I never took that road, but I have dabbled in art classes, read many drawing/painting books, and practiced when I could along the years to keep my skills up. When I read these books I was going in with a fair amount of knowledge and skills, but this was a great exercise nonetheless. I borrowed all the books from the local council library.
This is a text heavy book so it wasn’t a quick read for me. I read through most of the books in a day and took notes as I went. This book, I read in sections and very slowly. In saying that though, it was highly informative and I learned a lot more about concept drawing than urban sketching to be honest. The author encourages a fast-paced method to capturing the world around, which isn’t such a bad technique to use, but I can see how this can be off-putting, especially for a relatively new sketcher, who might be a bit apprehensive about even placing a single line when faced with a blank page. Still, this book gave me some new techniques that I can use and ways to build and maintain my skill levels. The overall message I got from it was basically to relax. Rating: great for moderate to advanced urban sketchers.
Urban sketching: A complete guide by Thomas Thorspecken
I must admit I have been a fan of this urban sketcher for quite some time, so I had very high hopes and expectations for this book. He delivered in some aspects, especially in his knowledge of theory – his explanations are the most accessible out of the books I’ve read. In terms of instructional quality, he gave suggestions on how to build up your skills, but there weren’t enough explicit demonstrations on the techniques he explained. I think that if you had some level of skill already, this would have been a good next step to taking your urban sketching skills to the next level. Rating: Good for beginner level urban sketchers.
The urban sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes
This would’ve been a book that I would have gladly lapped up from the beginning of my urban sketching journey. The author goes from basic pencil to ink/pen to watercolour techniques, with each chapter building on from the previous skills. I really enjoyed the layout and organisation of this book – from the organisation of the chapters (as mentioned before), to the actual layout of each of the pages. There was enough written text to stay informative and the illustrations were a good balance to this. What I didn’t enjoy was the number of grammatical and formatting plunders towards the end of the book. It didn’t take away from what the author wanted to convey, but it was distracting for me. (Yes, I AM one of those picky people when it comes to grammar. I wouldn’t be a speech-language pathologist if I wasn’t!). Apart from that, I loved the three pass technique he suggested and have been putting that to good use since reading this book. Rating: Great for beginner level urban sketchers.
Urban watercolor sketching by Felix Scheinberger
By far my favourite out of the books. It was informative but didn’t inundate me with information. I really like the tips on the corners of the pages, and the practical ideas. I’ve been a frustrated watercolour ‘user’ for a good four years and this book really dampened my anxiety and gave me the confidence to go out there! Absolutely fearless! Rating: Great for beginning to advanced urban sketchers.
So that wraps up my mini-review of these books. You’ll definitely see me out there getting my urban sketching on =)