Sunday, 19 October 2014

Finding the time to sketch

It’s often an excuse we give ourselves... never having the time to sketch. The group meetings get us together and give us an incentive to draw. But what about in the meantime?

Personally I get a bit jittery if I haven’t sketched for a while. If a weekend has gone by without at least one page in the sketchbook completed then I feel somehow unfulfilled. Yes, I have to admit that over the last 18 months I have become a little obsessed about urban sketching, maybe even a little addicted. It does that to you.

But finding the time is always the challenge and yet, looking back at my sketchbook over the past week, I realise that I’ve managed to get something down on paper most days.

I’ve taken to splitting a page lengthways and then, if I only have 10 minutes, I start to draw something from the left and seeing how far I get. The next time, I draw from where I left off. Over a week or so the page builds up to be an interesting visual diary of where I’ve been. In this case, mostly train stations and park benches... and waiting for my son to appear from rugby changing rooms!
The quick sketches build up to make a 'visual diary'
Sketching doesn’t always have to be in our sketchbooks either. The idea of having to sit for an hour or two to complete a full page sketch in our favourite book can be daunting and gives us another excuse for not drawing.

I have a smaller book, only 5x6 inches, in which I scribble on the bus, while watching television, or as a warm up to a ‘proper’ sketch. I don’t often show this one to anyone and was a bit taken aback the other month when I did and someone said they liked this one better than my watercolour Moleskine!

So, as some sort of catharsis, here are a couple of (edited!) pages from my small book.

A smaller book for those 'scribbles' and experiments
But there’s more to finding the time than literally finding the time and, looking back at The Creative License, I see that Danny Gregory agrees. He writes: ‘Is time your problem? Or fear?  I find that people have the write to me and tell me they don’t have the time to draw. Weird. In the time they write the note, they could have done a drawing or two.’

So, there it is. We can all find a scrap of time, a ballpoint and the back of an envelope, but maybe what holds us back most of all is the fear of making an inadequate drawing. Maybe I should have done a couple of drawings rather than writing this blog post; and maybe you should have done one rather than reading it!

How do you find the time to draw? Or what stops you from putting drawing pen to paper?
Post some comments here or on the Manchester Urban Sketchers Facebook page.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Manchester Urban Sketchers goes to Liverpool for 44th World Wide Sketchcrawl

After a week of work and some procrastination that preceded getting down to actually doing some planning for my badger books, I got so distracted that I nearly forgot that Manchester Urban Sketchers were going to Liverpool this weekend for a bit of sketching. I knew the Mondrian  and His Studios exhibition was still on at The Tate so it got me quite excited about doing some doodling at the docks. The weather up here in the north has been surreal for the past few days, with the usual 'it's hot but pass me the oxygen mask' feeling being completely absent, to everybody's relief. No doubt the rain will start swiftly moving in and soon we will be back in our July scarves and gloves. Nevertheless, this summer has to be enjoyed while it's here, and that's exactly what I did today.
To start off, the docks are a vast collection of sketching subjects and being apprehensive about my fear of contraptions and vessels, I set off with a clear understanding that this would not be a walk in the park. Instead, it would be constantly challenging due to the people constantly passing by, stopping to watch me sketch and oh, the worst, asking me about what I was doing. Don't even get me started with the 'oh, how lovely, my eldest son has just finished his work for one of his art projects in high school, he also loves watercolours but I haven't got the time for that' line because I may start hyperventilating and become aggressive. To my absolute delight, the only substantial disturbance I had to survive today was a group of French students who genuinely liked what they saw in my sketchbook and politely asked to take a photo, asked me the axiome-like 'do you like Paris?' question and swiftly cleared the scene.
Trying to squeeze the Museum of Liverpool, the Liver Building, a dazzle ship and a ton of chains and fencing on a small landscape Moleskine sketchbook was not only ambitious but also dangerous to my tendency to lose control. What really caught my eye in this one however, was the dazzle ship, seen on the right hand side. This one is actually a new addition to Liverpool's docks. The First World War vessel has undergone the stripe treatment not too long ago in an attempt to recreate the concept of the 'dazzle ship'. The idea, born in 1917, was used as a strategy of distraction by the British merchants against German U-boats in WW1 and ultimately, served as a method of causing confusion for the opponent. Some of the original dazzle ship designs are even more incredible than the one at the docks, but all in all, I find this very example quite cute and weird. 
As I said, today,much more than any other time, I felt that I had to be led by colour because as soon as I let go of the Sailor pen, the lines would just build and build, until I would completely overdo the entire scene. Therefore, I lay a few washes of gray, red, yellow, blue and red and let the lines take control afterwards. I must say, this is an approach I take when I get spiral eyes from too much detail and it hasn't let me down yet, nevertheless, today I feel like I could've taken it a bit more lightly.
Strangely, the most enjoyable bit of this sketch was the repetitiveness of the colourful triangles. I know, I'm sad.

As much as it's thought that I spit these drawings out like a laser jet printer, today I moved at  a snail's pace, took 10 minutes to have my nomad-style flask soup on the bench with Lucie, a fellow sketcher, and before I knew it, bang goes 2 pm and we moved over to the Museum of Liverpool. This is were I got completely charmed by my new discovery: LAMBANANAS.

This is a row of Lambananas outside the museum of Liverpool. I just think they look like sheep that have had a sniff of hallucinogenic materials. Photo credit: TripAdvisor.

I found a brief but interesting history of what and where the Lambananas came from here, so I'll spare you the babbling I would otherwise go into trying to explain it myself. The Lambananas are in short, an epic fusion of the present and future, science and art, a banana and a sheep. The last bit is just my two cents...I  obviously had to soon get over my fascination and start sketching but the sheer geometry of this place was quite sharp and cold. I suppose I always prefer places with more variation in perspective and architectural detail so good job the aforementioned sculptures were there to infuse the experience with a bit of fun.
For a building that was finalised in 2011, there is something very 'sixties' about it. LAMBANANA ON THE LEFT!(I'm not shouting)
Time flew once again and by 15:30 we were all back to the Tate to showcase the work we'd all done. An official photo should be up on the Manchester Urban Sketchers page soon, so that will be a testament to the number of people who turned up today and hopefully, had a very good time. I took a couple of pictures of all the work that's been laid out on the floor, but such a general image would not do justice to the quality of work produced today.

To everybody's amusement and my obvious excitement, Mike, a fellow sketcher and must say, most organised art supplies owner I've ever met(his bag is a precisely organised art shop I could never aspire to) pulled out a miniature Lambanana fridge magnet out of his bag. I now own the Lambanana and I shall paint it soon!

Need I explain? I said I'm sad.

Once the day was done, we got some chocolate ice cream to reward ourselves, successfully got in the car and more successfully managed to find the M62 back to Manchester. That's enough to warrant another ice cream. Thank you!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Sketch Your World

For my dad it was always cigars before he gave them up. Then stem gingers became the default present for birthdays and Christmases. Happily for me – since I started drawing last year – the latest sketching book comes my way on these occasions. I just have to drop a hint as to which one and my partner and children are happy to oblige. Problem solved.

James Hobbs’ Sketch Your World was on my wish list for my latest birthday and, some months later, it still has prime spot on my bedside table. I am still unearthing nuggets of creative wisdom.

Like our very own Simone and Caroline, James is a correspondent on the Urban Sketching main site where he’s described as a freelance journalist and artist. He’s a former editor of Artists & Illustrators Magazine and has been shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize.

I’ve admired his work for some time. One evening some months ago I even took my Sharpie marker and tried unsuccessfully to emulate his distinctive style. Not even close, but that’s how you learn, right?

James’ book works on so many levels: there’s basic stuff about pens and sketchbooks, as well as profiles from a range of contributors all with words of wisdom and encouragement. James writes about everything from learning to look, to how to make your own sketchbook; there’s chapters on architecture and reportage, people and nature.

As you might expect from someone who combines ‘new’ technology with his hand-drawn sketches, there’s a section on digital tools. ‘Drawing’ on the phone or tablet is not for me just yet. So much of my professional time is in front of a screen I really don’t want to spend precious leisure time doing the same. Besides, I’m enjoying the very basics of making marks on paper. Maybe it’s a bit like the Kindle versus the smell-and-the-feel of-a-real-book debate.

Increasingly relevant to me is when James talks about time. ‘How long have you got?’ he asks. And it’s so true. I think a lot of people use a lack of time as their excuse for not drawing. And yet it is easy enough to find five or ten minutes even on the busiest of days. I have a couple of books on the go: a small one for the ‘quickie’ on the bus or train and a larger version for the more considered attempt. Actually I’ve lately taken to dividing a page in the larger book into smaller squares which does the trick too.

One of the contributors, university lecturer, Steve Wilkin talks about keeping up with his drawing by sketching his fellow train passengers on his daily commute: “In all the years I’ve been doing it, nobody has ever come over and asked me to stop,” he says. That’s good to know. His portraits are wonderful and Steve offers encouragement and advises us all to just keep doing it... we will improve. That’s good to know, too!

This book hits the spot again and again for me. It inspires you to keep going, keep looking, try new techniques and it sets you off investigating established sketchers. Better than stem gingers any day.

Sketch Your World by James Hobbs

View on Amazon here and buy online here.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Urban Sketchers Manchester draw at Chorlton's Big Green Happening

Urban Sketchers Manchester were invited to sketch at the 'Big Green Happening' festival in Manchester yesterday. It was at St Clement's church, which is in Chorlton - a leafy cosmopolitan south Manchester suburb, and the event was about promoting sustainability and a greener way of life. Lots of really interesting eco-businness in attendance including quirky craft stalls, delicatessens, vegan food, craft beer, organic wines, bicycle repairs and ethical fashion…and as the website says the event was promoting...'campaigners, makers, doers, growers, educators and builders'. It was a really friendly family orientated nice on a lovely spring afternoon which was perfect urban sketching weather! 

Here's my drawing from the afternoon (too much talking...much of it about urban sketching rather than drawing in my case!) and also a photograph of us with our finished drawings in the sunshine.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Welcome to Urban Sketchers Manchester

Welcome to our Urban Sketchers Manchester blog. Here you will find information about us and our events, the next of which is at Chorlton's Big Green Happening at St Clement's Church, Edge Lane, Chorlton on Saturday 26th April. Meet us outside the church at 2pm. All welcome, no experience necessary, just bring drawing materials. We'll be refining the blog over the next few weeks so please bear with us until we're completely up and running. In the meantime if you wish to contact us please email

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sketching the BBC Philharmonic.

Caroline had allowed her collage/drawing of Ordsall Hall to be used by the BBC Philharmonic for a poster and flyer of their upcoming local events, and so in return she has permission to spend a couple of days drawing the BBC  Philharmonic Orchestra in rehearsal, at their home in Media City, Salford. I'm her plus one.
For those who haven't attended a performance, the studio is a tall, cavernous white space, large enough to hold  60+ musicians comfortably, with a bank of seating for a small audience. The orchestra are in rehearsal, so the atmosphere and clothing is informal, although there is a tangible sense of  their professionalism and concentration in the air. The conductor, a flamboyant Italian, is an old friend of the orchestra and popular with the musicians. There are fascinating hierarchies at work. Rehearsals begin with short passages, instructions to sub groups flying in a mixture of English and musical Italian.
To begin with we draw from the seating, self consciously nervous of dropping pencils or making loud noises with our paper, but welcoming smiles from the musicians put us at ease. In a break, a kindly violinist, who we've met before, takes us for a tea in the band room, and on a lightning trip in the lift to the top of the building. We look down on the new Coronation Street set, now visible across the Ship Canal. Despite my fear of heights, this would be a great place to sketch from!
Time passes too quickly, and the first day's efforts don't feel like anything special. There is such a clutter of chairs, coats, music stands and instruments that it feels difficult to focus.
On the second day we're aware of the public queuing for recordings of the Jeremy Kyle show in an adjoining studio- from the sublime to the ridiculous! Working on larger paper helps, with the confidence to add some colour, and I move down nearer the double bass players for a different perspective, the power of the music is overwhelming. Yesterday Strauss, today Tchaikovsky.
The musicians make kind comments about our work, and recognise each other in our sketches. I feel that a week or more would be needed to get to grips with such a wonderful subject, and we hope to return at some point.

Alastair Price.