During lockdown, the urbansketchers movement conducted a series of instagram interviews with some of its most well known members around the world. The result was a series of chats and challenges set by interviewees, that kept urbansketchers busy during lockdown, kept them connected and interpreted  2020 through many different eyes. We wanted to find out if any of our members are urbansketchers. Sue Lees sent us the following piece on her experience.

Urban Sketching – my personal experience

I first became aware of the Urban Sketching movement when I came across this deeply inspirational book in a Cass art shop (but it is available online):   The Art of Urban Sketching: Drawing On Location Around The World by Gabriel Campanario .  It contains a varied collection of zappy sketches done on USK sketchcrawls around the world.

It all looked such fun that I googled urban sketchers and found various websites, including the London urban sketchers.  The urban sketcher organisation is (more or less) all voluntary, so groups can start up and collapse if a key person leaves the area.  The London urban sketchers are well organised and the sketch dates and locations are arranged for each year in advance.   Their website is here.

Going along to a sketchcrawl is free, and no advance registration is needed.  I have now been to several a year for the last few years.   The London USK organise one sketchcrawl a month, at weekends, and sometimes there are mid-week events added in, it depends if a key urban sketcher (known as a “correspondent”) wants to host an extra session.  People assemble at the meeting point (generally at 11am), listen to the host for a few minutes, go and sketch, and there will be a lunchtime “throwdown” when all participants put their sketchbook down on the ground together and look at what everybody else has done.  Artwork is passed round and enjoyed by everybody.  Some people produce amazing work, usually drawings.   Usually a group photo is taken.  More sketching after lunch, and another throwdown at 4pm.   Artists are encouraged to post their work on the London USK facebook page.

The London sketchcrawls are very well attended, I would estimate that they get about 100 attendees.   People are friendly, as most people are complete strangers, but you do have to be prepared to do your sketching on your own, or  go with a friend.  If you are late at an outdoor venue, (as I have been) no sketchers may be visible as they will have dispersed and it can be a bit lonely.   Fortunately I have a friend who goes very regularly and is very gregarious. You can meet enthusiasts from all over the world who incorporate a sketchcrawl into their holiday programme.

The outdoor locations in London can be very noisy and it is incredibly tiring trying to do art against a background of traffic and moving people.  A stool is essential, as at least you can sit down where you can find a view.   The more you go the easier it gets.  It breaks my heart that this year’s sketch programme has been suspended due to the virus.

In many ways, indoor venues are  easier.   The sketchers are more or less in one place,  so are more findable, and the noise/cold/rain problems are eliminated.   I had a lovely day in the Wallace Collection shortly before the lockdown.   Going urban sketching is completely different from studio work, and can reinvigorate your work and give you new ideas,  it is well worth giving it a go and adding new experiences to your artistic journey.

This year in view of the coronavirus shutdown urban sketchers London are organising  “virtual” sketchcrawls, whereby a link to google street tours produce a photostream (this may not be the correct word) of the chosen location.   People tune in on the right day (theoretically), do a sketch, and post it on the facebook page.   (It is also perfectly acceptable to join in on foreign virtual sketchcrawls!)  I had not focussed on this opportunity before writing these notes on my adventures with the London USK, but I am going to keep an eye out and try to do some sketching from the computer screen for some of the summer virtual events. One of the weak points of the urban sketching movement is a multiplicity of websites, facebook pages, and email messages,  and I have found it quite difficult to sift out the instructions for events from the flow of everybody’s posted sketches.

Quite how I will be getting on sketching from google’s streetviews is anybody’s guess, as I will be well out of my comfort zone, but it certainly beats clearing out the attic as a lockdown activity.

Finally, I attach a few images from actual days out with the urban sketchers.

Sue Lees

Isabel Frias de la Uz sent us this sketch of Venice she completed as part of an Urbansketchers Cambridge Virtual sketch crawl

Isabel Frias de la Uz – virtual sketch of Venice

Find out more

  • The urbansketchers talks and challenges can be found on instagram on their IGTV channel
  • Cambridge Urbansketchers can be found on Facebook and on their blog
  • Bedford Urbansketchers can be found on Facebook
  • Norwich Urbansketchers can be found on Facebook
  • Bury Sketchers are not an official chapter, but are an active sketching group. Find them here
  • London Urbansketchers can be found on Facebook