Tuesday, September 21, 2010

10 Do-It-Yourself SketchCrawl Plans

Recently I committed to increasing my hours at work to a full time schedule, specifically so I can afford to attend the 2011 Urban Sketchers Symposium in Portugal. It's a positive move for me, but I'm concerned about having less time for sketching. My recent blog post How to Keep Making Art While Working a Full-Time Office Job includes some ideas for structuring art into daily or weekly life. Since writing that, I've been continuing to think about the important role our SketchCrawls play in my plan to stay creative. I always know that even if my sketching drags to a halt, only so much time can pass before I get a kick in the pants! I love our SketchCrawls and am very grateful to have such an active, committed, friendly group to meet up with.

So what if someone can't attend SketchCrawls, or just wants to leverage the idea of structured drawing to increase their urban sketching?

Here are some ideas for structuring urban sketching into daily or weekly life, whether as SketchCrawls, with an artist friend, or as a solo venture. Many of these ideas are about completing a concrete set of drawings, since this kind of structure has often proved effective for getting me out the door. Several are specifically geared towards working stiffs like myself.
  1. Make a date with one other artist (or friend with a quiet, solo project to work on) to meet up with for coffee each week. There should be a default time & place, so that if you both drop the ball, the plan stays in place - but you could pick other locations some weeks in order to get new views. Even just one meeting a week, even if the drawing is always of your latte - it would be enough to keep your sketchbook active. Take only your sketchbook and pens/pencils.

  2. Spend your 10 minutes' morning break sketching - near your building, objects at your desk, coworkers smoking.

  3. Draw your commute. With even as little as 10 extra minutes, pause each day to capture a scene that you pass while getting to work in the morning. Maybe this is just house to car and car to office; maybe it would be better enabled by parking a little farther from work. Some of us are lucky and can actually walk to work - I have about 30 blocks to draw!

  4. Draw your local commuter train line - during whatever chunks of time you have free, go to the train station and find something to sketch. Spend a little time there, making note of any additional scenes you might want to sketch in the future. Get on the train to the next station. Each day that you have time to sketch, you could do another segment of the trip until the entire line was effectively mapped with sketches, and you'd know your city better.

  5. Tour your city's small museums - one museum per outting. Portland has all sorts of strange little places tucked away. Check out Hidden Portland! I'm assuming most major cities have a lot of gems like this if you look for them, though they might not always be so well documented.

  6. Check for self-guided tours intended for tourists, and adapt them as sketch tours. This way, you'll get the inside scoop on some local attractions while having interesting locations to draw and the ability to set your own pace. Here are some Portland self-guided walking tours organized around cultural presence.

  7. Create a mini guide to your own city, perhaps arranged to satisfy your own visitors, or as a journal entry or blog post. Go draw everything that goes into the guide, put those images together with text and maps, and put them together into one printable poster or brochure.

  8. Fill a fishbowl (or any other bowl) with scraps of paper, each listing a place you would like to draw - buildings, neighborhoods, parks, intersections, scenic vistas, museums, cemeteries, gardens, etc. Have a weekly date to pull an item out of the fishbowl - and just go. The fun of chance will add some excitement to the trip.

  9. (Courtesy of urban sketcher Pascale) Attend a series of lectures with your sketchbook in hand. These could be readings at your local bookstore, regular musical events at your local pub, or something industry-specific to your career so that you kill two birds with one stone.

  10. Create a sketched collection of something you care about: all your local gardens, the view from all your local cafes, each building in your neighborhood that's on the Historic Registry, each of your city's churches with a little info about their history...
If you have more ideas, I'd love to see them!


  1. These are great ideas. In fact, immediately after reading it, I sketched my desk. ( A better use of time than cleaning it, I think.)
    I have a few ideas to add:
    Always have a sketchbook handy for when you're waiting-- for appointments, a bus, a meal, or a spouse/friend who runs on a different clock. (As someone who hated to wait, this has probably kept my marriage together:)
    When you're going to a concert, a movie, or some other event, arrive a few minutes early to get in a sketch.
    Only order a coffee drink out if you're going to draw. ( I admit, I don't have the discipline to do this often, but I'd like to, thereby saving money and drawing more).
    Thanks for your good ideas.

  2. These are all excellent ideas!

    I'll add one I read about in 'The Creative License'. Subdivide a page into a series of panels and do quick little drawings in it over the course of the day/week/month. Here's one I did.

    If you really wanted to go hardcore you could set a timer (like on an iPhone/Pod) to go off at regular intervals, drawing one of these every time it went off.

    I've tried this a couple times (without the timer) and found that it makes the mundane drawing days a bit more interesting by giving some focus to them.

  3. Vicky, yay, I'm so glad you went straight to drawing! You're really on fire these days. Those are good basic practices too, that I totally left off the list.

    Colin - you have clearly explored this area well :-) I *love* the divided page idea - the structure builds in both a size limitation which helps keep the commitment workable, would increase awareness of composition choices, makes the full set a thing to strive for, and you've got a fun piece of art when it's done. I'm definitely going to keep this one in mind.

  4. This is all so organized and disciplined... It makes me want to strive to put them into action (example- Vicky). Thanks to all for the inspiration.

  5. If I haven't drawn all day and it is near dinner, pull out paper and draw your national news anchor on TV. They sit pretty still and just look at you and talk! I feel better for having done something.

  6. Really excellent post, Alanna! I think I need to print this out and hang it on my wall!

  7. To add to these wonderful ideas: I never go anywhere without my sketchbook, and if you really want to sketch, don't have a book or other distraction handy. I use every free moment that I can muster to sketch or paint. And I like what Carrie says - I draw Jeopardy contestants - a challenge because they are on camera only when they are answering questions.

  8. Excellent ideas,really! I just bookmarked this post! :)

    Another one:
    I recently made a commitment to not leave a café without leaving behind a sketched-on paper napkin. A friend of mine writes poems on his. No need to say those napkins always are big winners with the staff... ;D

  9. Geminica--thanks for the inspiration. I am definitely going to use some of these ideas!!

  10. Hi Raena, Kalina wrote this post, not me! It is fantastic. I printed it out to keep as a reference.

  11. This is a great list kalina, very inspiring. Thanks for posting it!