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USK Chicago Workshop: PDF and Video: The Broken Silhouette

July 6, 2017

I’ve just gotten together a little demo for my workshop at the 2017 USK Symposium in Chicago.

The goal for this workshop is Direct Sketching – that is, drawing with brush and watercolor, directly to the page, without any under drawing.

I get asked all the time how I get such fresh, spontaneous sketches. And I have to say, avoiding perfectionism is a constant challenge.

I think it’s natural to worry how things turn out.

Are they going to be any good? But of course, we decided for ourselves what good is.

To me, a drawing needs to be full of energy, and show the handwriting of the artist. Without that feeling, what’s the point? If we eradicate all the mistakes, we might as well take a photo. Besides I don’t feel there are any mistakes – only the subconscious editing the scene. A ‘talented’ artist is just good at ignoring what they find boring :)

And besides – the more I try to make a great painting, the worse they turn out. But when I’m just painting for fun – I get things that frankly seem impossible, looking back at them. How did I ever paint that? And in the rain no less?

At the end of the day, the best teacher is personal experience. Of course, we can get you off on the right foot – (like, get you the right tools). But ultimately, you need to experience it for yourself.

So, to that end, I have have a three simple exercises planned for Chicago. I hope we can paint very quickly, and make a LOT of small sketches. To maximize our chances to learn from each other.


First up, is this project – simply sketching small drawings of isolated objects – working with the brush, right onto dry white paper. I hope we can do five of these in quick succession, in 30 minutes. (The repeat and do a crit).

After that, we’ll flip our way of interpreting, and sketch negative space versions of objects – by painting the background around the subject, then filling in the shadow shapes.

This can be a very satisfying way to paint. The subjects just pop off the page! It feels great when one of these turns out. Though I admit, Direct Painting is a high-risk activity. I’m happy if I get one in three. So we’ll try to do three rapid drawings in a half hour.

I want people to feel for themselves what it’s like to draw with wet paint. If you go too slowly you won’t experience the natural blending of wet-into-wet – combined with the sharp-edged drawing of wet-on-dry.

And, if you never push yourself for speed – you’ll never be able to make larger paintings on location. Time is you’re biggest challenge when working in the field.

We’ll take this further and make some simplified street views – by making silhouettes of a city block, or down-the-street view. And then hopefully at the end we’ll have time for a big masterpiece. Maybe we’ll try out painting a section of the Chicago skyline in watercolor silhouettes.

Of course it’s much easier to SHOW than TELL –  so here’s a video demonstration.

Also, a downloadable PDF of notes about the workshop.

If you can’t make it to Chicago, feel free to print copies and share the exercise with your sketching group at home. Or anybody with art classes, or local workshops, – this is OK to freely distribute, just don’t charge for it, and send some credit back my way :)

Have fun! and/or See you in Chicago!





21 Comments leave one →
  1. Chantal Vincent permalink
    July 6, 2017 5:13 PM

    Thanks for sharing your workshop handout Marc. You are always so generous with your ideas and teaching and the variety of examples you’ve provided here is fantastic. Love the concept of viewing everything as a joined silhouetted. All the best for Chicago, I wish I could attend but cannot. So will be trying to get a sense of it all from Sydney.

  2. Kirk permalink
    July 6, 2017 5:53 PM

    Great post. Thanks for the PDFs!

  3. July 6, 2017 5:54 PM

    Hi Marc,

    I just wanted to drop you a line and thank thank you ever so much for your generosity with your knowledge, skill and talent.

    Both your video and pdf are very helpful, I’m unable to get to Chigago, so thanks again.

    Kindly, Tania Arthur

  4. July 6, 2017 6:13 PM

    Beautiful I like your art work.

  5. Rita Cleary permalink
    July 6, 2017 6:26 PM

    Thanks so much. MARC! I will vicariously be there and will follow these steps.

  6. July 6, 2017 7:10 PM

    Thanks Marc, although not doing your workshop, I will practice these tonight and feel as though i have done an extra for Chicago, hope to see you there, thanks for the guide

  7. July 6, 2017 7:18 PM

    gosh Marc, again and again you teach me so much and I appreciate the generous spirit in which you share your hard won knowledge. I do so wish I could be at the symposium but it is alas beyond me at this time. I feel at least somewhat connected via you and Liz Steel sharing tips and your experiences. Have the best of times and I always look forward to what ever you share and inevitably learn something!!

  8. July 6, 2017 8:57 PM

    So cool…everything. Thanks.

  9. Carla Giller permalink
    July 7, 2017 1:43 AM

    I LOVE this post, Marc. I love the looseness & freedom that this kind of sketching conveys. I too have your books & have taken your Craftsy classes. I will be at the Symposium this month, but unfortunately could not get into your workshop. So I love having this PDF & seeing your video. Being that this will be my first Symposium I’m starting to get a bit nervous about my supplies. Do most people bring loose watercolor paper in addition to watercolor sketchbooks? Also, what size sketchbooks are usually the best for an event like this? I am so impressed by how generous you (and Liz) are with your ideas & knowledge. Thank you so much for that. I appreciate it tremendously.

    • July 7, 2017 9:32 AM

      Thanks Carla, for the good words :). As for bringing cut paper – I recommend the idea of also bringing multiple backing boards so you can tape out a stack of sheets. Think of it as a very thick sketchbook with very few pages :)

  10. Gabi permalink
    July 7, 2017 5:04 AM

    Thank you so much for your generous sharing. Your drawings are amazing! I so love the spontaneity of the paintings – especially the motorcycles. Thank you once again.

  11. July 7, 2017 5:05 AM

    I write because its the only thing that i know best. You write and can do something with your hands ,very impressive.

  12. Christy Croix permalink
    July 7, 2017 5:50 AM

    You are always so generous with your talent! I am so excited to be taking a class with you in Chicago! Even if I’m nervous about this direct painting. 😆 Thank you!

  13. Ivana permalink
    July 7, 2017 12:54 PM

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your knowledge and experience. So generous of you for those who can’t get to the symposium. I’m sure it will be a great success.

  14. daveyone1 permalink
    July 7, 2017 1:41 PM

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

  15. Jenny permalink
    July 7, 2017 5:56 PM

    Marc, this is exactly the kind of practice I need, looking for shapes and painting directly. Sometimes I get too caught up in lines and contour and getting something perfect. This style has LIFE!

  16. Tania Lebedeff permalink
    July 7, 2017 8:51 PM

    Thanks Mark

    you’re really inspiring!

    hope you have fun in chicago

    see you in one of our USK meetings in Montréal!


  17. July 11, 2017 9:42 AM

    I’m obsessed with this technique, however too afraid to try it and ruin paper :P Maybe I’ll try monochromatic to start like you did in your Craftsy class with the brushpen to get used to seeing the silhouette first.


  1. Report from the Urban Sketchers Symposium, Chicago 2017 | Citizen Sketcher
  2. Chicago: The Daily Sketches | Citizen Sketcher

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