Urban Sketcher

Documenting urban life in Vancouver and beyond.

Navigation Menu

Sketching at the River Market in New Westminster, BC

Posted on Apr 30, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

New Westminster River Market

I organized a Meetup sketch outing here. I am glad I sat down and started drawing almost immediately, because people kept trundling in for about 30 minutes. So I was able to welcome them while drawing, and didn’t wait around doing nothing. Although there is nothing wrong with doing nothing. I should do nothing more often.

There were 9 of us in the end. All very nice sketchers. One of them even fetched me a coffee — thanks Cindy!

I am realizing how many people are new in town, or come here temporarily to work, study, or improve their English. There is definitely a social aspect to this urban sketching Meetup. I am hoping to find the right balance between chatting and drawing. Luckily, one can do both at the same time, even though it takes getting used to.

I really enjoyed the Skytrain ride there and back, especially back. It was sunny and sitting on the Skytrain, I seemed to float above all the greening, blossoming trees towards the mountains, having sort of a bird’s eye view, admittedly the view of a low-flying kind of bird, but it was a neat feeling to imagine being a bird.

Clearly I don’t ride the Skytrain very often, and not in rush hour. I know the poetic bird feelings wouldn’t come up so much if it was my regular commute.

Read More

International Village, Vancouver

Posted on Apr 28, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

At the Starbucks in the International Village Mall, Vancouver International Village Mall, Vancouver, BC

A meetup with other Vancouver urban sketchers in Chinatown turned out cold and rainy, so we went inside the International Village mall. We found a large table at the Starbucks, so I did one sketch there, and then went upstairs to draw the vertigo-inducing view from a higher floor down.

This mall lost a lot of tenants in the last few years. But there are signs of recovery.

I tried to speed up my sketching time, so these are not as detailed as I normally draw.

Read More

At “Bean Around the World” café on Main Street

Posted on Apr 25, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

At "Bean Around the World" coffee shop, Main Street, Vancouver, BC

My sketching visits to coffee shops continue. Off and on it’s still a bit too cold to draw outside.

I am using a different sketchbook sometimes now, still a Moleskine but not always the expensive watercolour sketchbook. I want to jot scenes down more quickly and I don’t always take the time to colour them in, so this plain paper sketchbook works well. The colour of the paper is quite yellow. But it’s cheaper — good for my post-Berlin budget.

I came here on the weekend because I heard that they have home-made croissants only then. But I must be a croissant snob: it just wasn’t very good. A bit flavourless, and not buttery and flaky enough. If I’m going to spend $2.75 on a pastry, it better be worth it. And croissants cost the same all over the city, so may as well go where they have the good ones. Good coffee though, and really a nice place to hang out, both inside and out. And I had a scone here the other day that was very good.

All this talk about croissants is really just procrastination. I have a load of work to do and need to get back to it.

Read More

Heritage Hall and my own history in the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

Heritage Hall, Main Street, Vancouver, BC

The weather improved and I went back to Main Street to do another sketch. I had wanted to draw Heritage Hall (the building with the tower and flag in the sketch) at our last outing, but it had rained and I sat inside a warm coffee shop instead. Built in 1915 and designed by A. Campbell Hope with the chief architect David Ewart, Heritage Hall was originally a post office. Now it’s a community and cultural resource centre, with the beautifully renovated main hall available as a rental for events. I have been there to at least a couple of events myself: once to attend a large birthday party, and another time for the annual general meeting of one of my clients. The upper floors house offices.

My Mt. Pleasant street banner design

My design-competition-winning street banners. I got an extra copy of them to display at my art college graduation from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. They hung along several blocks of the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver for about 8 years in the 1990s. I didn’t live there then, but it’s my hood now.

There also used to be a street car going up and down Main Street in the early 1900s.

Back when I was a graphic design student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, there was a banner design competition for the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood. My design won, along with the design of another student, my friend Carmen. I had incorporated an image of the old street car and a man running for it while hanging on to his hat. Carmen’s banners showed the Heritage Hall tower and a child looking up at it. All banners were screen-printed on metal and hung all over Main Street and the intersecting part of Kingsway, where they remained for at least 7 or 8 years. I started to wonder if they would ever come down.

My banners in a major piece of art

My banners ended up in a major piece of art — see full artwork below.

My banners even ended up in a major piece of art called “In the Street (The Cologne Series)” by one of my college instructors, Ian Wallace. I was able to visit this piece last year at the Vancouver Art Gallery when a major retrospective of Ian Wallace’s pioneering photographic art was on display. I don’t know why its subtitle is “The Cologne Series” but since I was born and grew up in Cologne, Germany, it seems right to me that it has my banner in it.

But I am sure Ian Wallace had no idea that one of his students designed the banners, not to mention my Cologne connection. My banners just happen to be in the photo he took, in the city where he lived. Part of his concept was to portray the banality of an urban street and the spontaneity of a snap shot even though his photos are completely staged. Just like the traffic light or the mass-produced Dodge dealership sign, my banners were part of this urban scene.

Please note that his artwork is about 3m x 2m which is about 10 ft by 7 ft. Standing in front of the original art, its large scale makes you feel as if you are part of the scene. This produces an impact which contrasts the banality of what is depicted.

In the Street (The Cologne Series)

Ian Wallace
In the Street (The Cologne Series), 1989
photolaminate, ink monoprint, acrylic on canvas
2 panels, 203 x 152.7 cm (each), 203 x 305.5 (overall)
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund, VAG 94.8.1 a-b
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Read More

Sketching on Main Street with my Meetup group

Posted on Apr 23, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

View onto Main Street, Vancouver, BC

My Vancouver Urban Sketchers Meetup group has grown to over 100 members in just 2 months! Yup, I started it on February 17. I had no idea there was such a huge pent-up demand for urban sketching/location drawing.

I am so glad I thought of Meetup.com as the perfect vehicle to a) get the word out that we exist and b) organize sketch outings. As the group organizer, it costs me $12 a month which I try to get back from the other members, but the great thing is that everything gets taken care of by the Meetup website. It finds and adds maps for my sketching locations, keeps track of members, lets people add photos and communicate with each other, sends out emails and reminders, and keeps track of attendance. It would be a nightmare to organize this group via direct email — I’d never have time for anything else!

I don’t do Facebook, I am really anti-Facebook in fact, but I do Flickr, Meetup, and this blog. Those comprise my online life, which is not insignificant. I do LinkedIn as well, but to be honest, that’s just boring, because it is not about art.

At this point, anything that is not about art and drawing, is quite secondary to me, and I try to minimize the time spent on it. That includes my graphic design work as well — my goal is to reduce the amount of it. Or maybe not the amount, but the time spent on it. I still need to make money so I can buy art supplies. And replenish my bank account after 3 months in Berlin. That’s going to take a bit of time, but it was well worth it.

So if you’re a potential design client, please have a big budget, and let’s turn the work around quickly. This is not intended to sound entitled or cheeky at all. Everyone always wants things done cheap, fast, and good, but it is not possible to have all three. So I offer fast and good. This way you get your project done pronto, and I can get back to my art more quickly.

Read More

Encounters with people while urban sketching

Posted on Apr 11, 2013 in Vancouver | 9 comments

East Van alley

There’s a great hilly alley west of Windsor Street between 13th and 14th Avenue. A homeless guy walked by with a shopping cart (he really was wearing a red top and blue pants), and an older person was going for a walk in the distance. I sat in the middle of the alley, had to move for a car once, that’s not too bad.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, people sometimes start chatting or offering me beers when they see me sketching outside. Most people, of course, ignore what we urban sketchers do and just walk on by, which is what I expect. My theory is that most of us urban sketchers are introverts who have to overcome a bit of shyness every time we draw in public. Luckily I find that it gets easier all the time. I am happy to let people look over my shoulder but I won’t address them until they start talking to me.

But sitting still in public while everyone else moves around you makes you look somehow non-threatening and approachable. So it’s not uncommon for a couple of people to start talking to me whenever I draw in public. This means I have had some interesting encounters with people over the years of my urban sketching practice. Here’s a summary of what goes down:

people who bring me a beer are awesome. Bring them on.

— some people want to critique my work or make suggestions as to what I should draw. I switch to politely-ignore-mode.

— there are people who are curious what I do for a living, whether I’m a professional artist, why I am sketching in this spot etc.

— when they find out I am a graphic designer, some people want to hire me to design their logo/brochure/website/coffee shop menu/lawn sign. This is not as welcome as you may think. I actually have a full slate of clients and am not looking for more work. And to be honest, it’s not my dream project to spiff up your business card.

— some people hire me to draw their house. I like doing that. I charge $150 plus GST and PST for one of my panoramas, and another $50 if you want me to add the perfect IKEA frame and custom-cut mat. Cheaper than a hockey game, and you get to brag for years, instead of just for as long as it takes to down a pitcher of beer.

— some people stop because their kid wants to look at what I’m doing. I welcome kids. Kids are right up there with the beer-bringers. Better yet, have your kid bring me a beer.

— sometimes I get asked if I can teach them/their kid. Then I recommend an art school that can teach them/their kid.

— some people tell me that they used to like to draw and now they don’t do it anymore but they would love to get back to it. For those people, I now carry an extra pen and paper so I can tell them “draw with me right now”.

— some people feel compelled to tell me their life stories, which usually turn out to be sad.

— someone tried to pick me up once. At this stage in my life, that is far more flattering than annoying.

— then there are the down and out people who just chat for a while to butter me up so they can eventually ask me for money. My heart goes out to them but my wallet stays safely tucked away. Depending on where I’m sketching, I may not even bring my wallet with me. I take my big-city precautions but I don’t like to restrict where I’m going to draw.

— some people are a bit suspicious as to why I am drawing their street or their house; probably because they’ve never encountered anyone drawing on the street.

— some people’s questions may even communicate veiled hostility. Those are the most unpleasant encounters; I start to tense up and that’s the opposite of how I want to feel when I’m sketching.

But yesterday, I had what was probably my funniest encounter yet, which made me write this post to begin with. I met Rory, a construction worker, who suddenly walked into my drawing, lifted up his shirt and suggested that I draw him into my sketch along with his abs. Well, he said “abs”. I said “belly” when he handed me his cell phone so I could talk to “this woman he was hitting on and tell her how great he was”. I appreciate people who make the effort to kid around, even if some jokes fall flat. At least they put themselves out there.

Read More

My blog was featured on miss604.com

Posted on Apr 10, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Kits Beach, Vancouver, drawn on iPad with "Paper" app

In this self-referential universe that is the interwebs, I am linking to a link that links back here. My profile as a blogger was featured on miss604.com last week. I had no idea I was part of the local blogger scene now, but apparently I am. Rebecca Bollwitt who runs this popular blog about what’s happening in Vancouver, found my blog and asked if she could interview me for hers. Of course, this little bit of attention is flattering.

Above is a sketch from late last summer. Drawn on location on my iPad with the Paper app. It was so bright at the beach that I couldn’t tell that the colour I was using for the sky was not blue, but mauve. When I realized the colour was off, I tried erasing it and replacing with blue, but I had to admit that the mauve was better, and reverted back to it. Next time, I’ll just get a monkey to make colour decisions for me, apparently I am not needed. I do not know this dude in the drawing, but he was nicely sitting still for me while reading a book.

Read More

Cherry blossom time in Vancouver

Posted on Apr 10, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

10th Avenue bike route, East Van

It was too rainy this morning to draw the cherry trees outside. So I am posting this sketch from three years ago.

I drew the view looking east along the 10th Avenue bike route from Windsor Street. 10th Avenue is important to cyclists, as it’s a huge bike route through Vancouver. I usually end up on it at least part of the time whenever I bike around the city. To do this sketch, I sat on a manhole cover in the middle of a convenient traffic circle. Some kind of trees, possibly cherry trees (I am no botanist), in full magenta bloom formed a pink canopy over the cyclists.

A local resident stopped to chat with me for a while. Traffic circles have been sociable places for me more than once. I’ve also been offered a beer more than once when home owners would see me drawing their houses.

If you see me draw in your street, please know that I won’t fight it if you insist on offering me a drink. Of course, be aware I might then also need your bathroom.

Read More

Easter weekend = family time

Posted on Apr 2, 2013 in Vancouver | 1 comment

My father, painted on iPad with Procreate     My sister, painted on iPad with Procreate

It was a gorgeous Easter weekend. Almost 20˚C, sunny, spectacular. Vancouver at its best. We had the house full of family, so it was busy, and when we went outside, we were pitch-and-putting, or walking along the ocean. I didn’t get to sit down to draw.

But at least I got around to drawing two of my family members. Painted on the iPad with Procreate, from life, not photos. It took about 40 minutes per painting. It was good practice. And the models were free.

Read More