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Announcing a new event! #OneWeek100People2017: Monday March 6th – Friday March 10th

February 21, 2017

The results are in!: You can read the rest of this series of posts HERE <

Do you want to get better at drawing portraits? Or people in action?

Every aspiring artist has heard the advice, ‘Carry a small sketchbook at all times!’. We’re all told ‘Practice drawing every day!’. This is of course great advice.

But sometimes we need a little extra motivation.

I’ve always enjoyed giving myself a playful challenge. A short- term tangible goal.

It has to be something that’s achievable – but also a bit of a stretch. We need to commit to giving a little extra effort! Plus – we need to give ourselves permission to clear our busy schedules and make time for art.


Taking inspiration from the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this year, from March 6th to 10th, urban sketchers Marc Taro Holmes (Montreal, CA) and Liz Steel (Sydney, AUS) invite the world to join in with #OneWeek100People2017.

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The simple goal is: Draw 100 people in one week.

You can do it any way you want. Pencil drawings, or pen and ink, maybe watercolor sketches. Whatever it is that you’d like to practice most.

We’re committing to draw about 20 people a day. We’ll be posting our work every day for the week of March 6-10. If you want to join in, use the hashtag #OneWeek100People2017 and everyone can find your work too!

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We just want everyone to see what it feels like to follow through on that advice ‘practice every day’. It’s a big commitment. But it’s possible to do without completely disrupting your life. Or at least – you can choose how disruptive you want it to be :)

The goal is PRACTICE. Not perfection. So maybe it’s only 20 minutes of work each day if you’re doing one minute gesture drawings. Or maybe a few of them are 5 to 10 minute studies, and you have to find a way to catch up later in the week.

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The first time I did this 2015, I just decided – for one week, I’ll be ten minutes late for everything. I would skip my train and sketch people waiting on the platform. Or go to the movies and get a few drawings of the people in line, and keep sketching at dinner after. Whatever it takes to draw 100 people in five days.

Here’s some suggestions:

  • Use the hashtag #OneWeek100People2017 and we can keep each other on track. (Hashtags like #OneWeek100People2017 aren’t just for Twitter anymore! They’ll work on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram,Tumblr, Google+, almost anywhere you post your art normally, there will be a way to use a hashtag. It’s the easiest way, nobody has to change where they usually post :)
  • Plan to swap out any ‘scheduled free time’ for drawing. Tivo your shows, skip the gym, don’t start up that video gaming night – just for one week.
  • Be prepared! Work up a list of crowded places to draw people – visit a park, the public library, go shopping, or to a sporting event.
  • Maybe search out public performances (live music at a pub, a lecture, or a reading); somewhere you have people on stage. It’s easier to stare at a performer.
  • Go drawing in groups. If it looks like you’re a club or a class, people give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • If you don’t want to do it live-on-location, cue up a you tube play-list, sign up for Flickr, or download the iOS app SKTCHY.
  • Give yourself permission to succeed. Don’t overthink the results – just draw! I promise you’ll see results at the end of the week. No matter how fast you sketch, over a whole week, at least ONE will be amazing :)

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This just in: I will be teaching at the USK International Symposium in Chicago! July 26-29, 2017

February 8, 2017


Just got the news – Excited to say I’ll be teaching this year at the 2017 International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago! #USkChicago2017. (Register here!)

This will be the first public painting event this year (that I know of right now), and the only in-person workshop I expect to give in 2017. Though I am lining up at least one other demonstration event as we speak.


Chicago will be a whole new challenge for me. Talk about putting the Urban in Urban Sketching :) I feel the need to go practice my glass buildings.

We did see some of that last year in Singapore – but I for one dodged drawing the skyscrapers. I think it was easier to get out of the canyons of the city and into a tropical garden, or in front of a temple/mosque :) This year we’ll be in the Loop district – so I’m expecting a bustling metropolis as far as the eye can see.

I’ll be a kid from a small town, heading to the big city. Can you point me to the nearest cute little church yard please?


So – bear with me for an update this spring, saying exactly what I’ll be teaching. I need to document some step-by-step demonstrations before/while I write the course.

But I do know it’ll be built on the idea of ‘direct watercolor‘. That is: watercolor silhouettes with minimal-to-no drawing underneath. Something suitable for the very high skill level of USk workshop attendees – and matching the high speed, ultra-portable kind of watercolor sketching I end up doing when I’m out with other Correspondents.

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Can’t wait to see everyone there! I think it’s going to be the biggest USK symposium ever!


Push Processing

February 7, 2017


I was out doing some life drawing the other day.

I often say I learned everything I know about drawing from the model. Back in college it was the only observational drawing in the curriculum. So it’s still where I go when I want to test a color, or try out a technique.


I’m still working on this approach using shapes, rather than (relying on) line. This one (above) is probably the only good one from this session. The drawing is made of three shapes. From left to right: The light side edges are drawn with the background tone, then there is a gap of reserved white, and the shadow side edge closes the light-shape with a fused midtone. I don’t count the darks laid on top such as hair, under hand, knee and thigh. It’s just three shapes – with accent touches :)  So, that is a goal of mine. To be able to do anything with three shapes.

I’ve done so much drawing over the years, I can’t seem to break myself from using line. I’m not even sure that I would want to :)  But it’s a thing that’s always in the back of my mind these days. Banishing ‘artificially’ drawn contours might be the skill that unlocks the next level of painting.


Still, most of these are more like 50/50 line and tone.

I suppose – if I keep working on the white page, there’s no choice except using a line to create an edge. So the answer next time will be: do them all with a background tone! I dunno why that’s so hard for my brain :) But the truth is, when faced with a 5 or 10 minute drawing, you fall back on instinct. You draw by reflex. There’s not much time for conscious thought.


Right about now, someone will be asking me about the color.

Hah! Well, it’s just my normal favorites for dark-haired Caucasians: Perlyne Maroon for the base of the skin, Buff Titanium for pastelization (not a real word) and Raw Umber Violet / Bloodstone Genuine / DS Moonglow for darks – BUT – then I’ve been playing around in Photoshop.

I like to mess about with curves adjustment layers, just to see what it might look like had I painted it differently. Every so often you come up with something by accident, that you might want to do on purpose another time.

This sort of digital color grading is how I learned to paint stronger, darker watercolors over the last few years.

Back in the day, my watercolors were always too pale and too primary. I used too much water, and too pure color – cadmiums, and blues like Ultramarine or Cerulean. So – I would adjust the scan in Photoshop and see that if I’d pushed the values deeper, darker and more desaturated, I liked them so much more. Over time, I learned to match what I liked in the digital corrections, in real life by changing my palette and using more pigment.

I don’t mean to say anything deep here – just showing how I’m always doing the same sort of things, but also – always experimenting in small ways. Stretching a tiny bit each time. Gradually creeping towards better paintings.


Sketching Museum Montages with Taxidermy Animals

January 30, 2017

Blog readers will know, I’m a huge fan of sketching from taxidermy animals. It’s better than the zoo :) After all, they hold perfectly still for you.


This year, I had two opportunities to squeeze in a mini-workshop on the topic of Montage Drawings. Once in Manchester, as we hid out from a rainy day in the Manchester Museum, and again in Myrtle Beach, doing montages in the sculpture galleries at Brookgreen Gardens.

I’m finding the Montage – that is, making a composition out of multiple figures or objects – to be more and more interesting these days. It’s a way to keep doing the still-life drawing that I enjoy, but to end up with a more exciting composition built out of what might otherwise be ‘boring’ academic portraits of objects.


This drawing was kind of a breakthrough towards this approach. Just something I did for fun one day.

For whatever reason, I didn’t turn the page as I’d normally do, and this overlap just happened.

I wasn’t planning for the effect, but on the other hand I had brought a few large sheets rather than a more typical stack of small boards – so subconsciously I was prepared for it.

They’re not ‘good’ drawings I suppose. They’re hard to understand. But for whatever reason I’m enjoying ‘complexifying’.

I have this idea that I should be overlapping forms, playing with scale, proportion, and rhythm. Even while doing the usual portraits of individual creatures. I’ve been touching on this kind of of montage at life drawing lately.

Can you see how the figures of the birds have a rhythm and movement across the page?

As we go left to right from owl, to eagle, to owl, to crow – the placement of the heads is in a subconscious ‘bobbing’ rhythm. The lesser birds, serve as contrasting notes. Little arrows pointing in different directions, to bounce the eye around the overall mass. At the same time, the figures rotate – from the frontal snowy owl to the profile of the crow.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is the stuff I like in these weird drawings. None of it was intentional. It just began to happen as I was sketching.


To me, a key thing is the use of ‘gaze’ in the composition. That is – where the subjects are looking.

Students will often find it hard to organize a montage. I tell them it can be as simple as making sure everyone is looking in the same direction.

The viewer will always want to move in the same direction as the subject’s gaze.

Here we have two groups. A smaller cluster of birds that look left, but the larger group looks stage-right.

They tie together by having the dove’s wings clearly pointing you towards the wolf’s head. This makes a fun composition with a push-and-pull that I feel keeps you out of the messy bits in the center – where the overlap of forms isn’t all that well handled.

It’s also fun how most of these critters are so attentive to something off-screen. But a few of the less prominent ones make eye contact with the viewer.

Again, I don’t know if anyone else sees these ideas in the drawings. But it was a lot of fun to play these mind-games while composing with creatures.

And – there’s a hilarious sense of risk – something like playing Jenga.

Every time I overlap an animal on top of the pile, I get more and more nervous I will ruin the composition. I have to push myself to keep adding until the page is full :)

Check out this step-by-step progression as an example of how I hang smaller figures off of the main character. (Click for slideshow).

I wish I had been braver with the colored sketches today. I feel they lack the complexity of the line drawings I’d done earlier. But this is how I learn. Poking at things, pushing out in various directions a little bit at a time.

It takes a while for me to realize what’s working. Next time I head to the museum, I’ll be ready to push this further!


Announcing: celebrates 10 years with a new long format art program

January 21, 2017

This from USK head office : “In 2017 Urban Sketchers celebrates its 10 year anniversary and we want to commemorate by introducing the first year long USk program ever! We invite all sketchers around the world to attend 10 on-location classes with USk official instructors in a city near you to learn or improve the core value of Urban Sketching: sketch the world, one drawing at a time“.

Right now the program is being offered in various self-selected locations. I’m not personally one of the instructors,  but I know many of them from the annual symposium – and can say the program looks excellent so far.

It’s worth noting- you can take a whole year of courses, or you can pick and choose individual days. So it’s perfect for travelers. Choose your holiday destinations to mach up with a USK 10×10 workshop!

Find out more over here on’s page for 10×10 classes.

Testing out Google Tilt Brush: Sketching in Virtual Reality

January 20, 2017

Here’s a bit of fun for you! Enjoy a minute and a half of sketching in virtual reality :)

I did this down at Centre Phi, here in Montreal. You can find out more about this high-tech art space on their website here.


Just back from the SKTCHY livestream :)

January 19, 2017


Ok! Here’s the culmination of my week practicing portraits on the SKCHY app. We’ve just wrapped the live stream. If you’re a facebook user, you can watch the archive over on their page.

Thanks to Megi Shubalidze for the inspiration, and to everyone who tuned in and kept the show going with questions!