Urban Sketcher

Documenting urban life in Vancouver and beyond.

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A trip to Greece

Posted on Jun 19, 2013 in Athens | 0 comments

A trip to Greece

I am travelling with three non-sketchers. So I was concerned about getting enough time to draw. Inspired by Dave’s new mini drawings, I divided my page up into small boxes. This way I can do a tiny thumbnail sketch in just a few minutes, on a bus, while waiting for food, in a line-up, or at a museum, without making my travel companions wait.

How do you prepare to visit the birthplace of western civilization? In my case, you fall behind on other things like work, so you do nothing for the trip. You just buy the corresponding Lonely Planet app the night before you fly. Problem is, you still have to read it. It will not download itself, The-Matrix-style, into your brain.

So maybe our smartphone generation has regressed since the ancient Greeks. But I still like technology. At the same time, my imagination is already with all those colorful gods I loved reading about as a teenager. My favourite goddess was Pallas Athena, a strong woman, not a girly-girl, and a patron of the arts.

Poseidon was pretty cool too, how he would pop up out of the ocean with his spear and sea creatures wrapped around his head, dressed in sea foam green.

I want to find those gods in Greece. Imagination is real too.

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A song out of the blue

Posted on Jun 14, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments


The song “Mykonos” by Fleet Foxes has inserted itself into my brain for a while now. I like the music and the cut-paper graphics, and that it is a dark and mysterious story, not a bright beach scene.

This week I bought a new sketching pen in a colour that I am calling “Aegean Blue”. I will find out whether it is.

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The Vancouver burlesque scene

Posted on Jun 12, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

Dr. Sketchy April 2013 — VaVa Vunderbust

My favourite drawing from Dr. Sketchy in April 2013 — the beautiful and bodacious VaVa Vunderbust performed to an 80s theme. A fellow sketcher and I agreed that it was great, except for the overload of pop music. Ah, life drawing: if you think about it, it’s really a generous gift by these models to pose for you and allow you to draw their whole body.

I discovered the Vancouver burlesque scene in 2004 when I was on the board of my local chapter of the Graphic Designers of Canada. I had a decent budget to book some entertainment for our chapter’s Christmas party that I was organizing. Clowns or magicians were suggested to me but didn’t seem edgy enough for a bunch of urban, black-clad, introverted graphic designers with cool eyewear. Burlesque dancing somehow appeared on my radar, and I started reviewing local acts online, then ended up booking Sweet Soul Burlesque. Three women with yummy names like Cara Milk, Miss Cherry on Top and Crystal Precious showed up and danced for us, and gave a free tassel-twirling lesson to anyone who asked (allright, here it is: 1. have breasts; 2. wear tassels on them; 3. stand on your tiptoes; 4. raise your arms up high; 5. bounce up and down; and 6. most importantly, look surprised.)

A bit off-topic but fun: On the day that I had to review the venue and make a quick decision on the dancers, I happened to have a high school senior in my office to job-shadow me. I dragged this young man along to the Alibi Room to look at the venue and menu, and made him put in his two cents on the dancers’ videos I was reviewing. He got a skewed, but surely favourable impression of what goes on in a design studio.

After that, Jeff and I started going to burlesque shows once in a while. We’ve also seen two burlesque shows in Las Vegas, and while they were well-produced, and the women perfectly and uniformly sized, these more commercial shows are walking a fine line of primarily catering to men while trying to entertain women as well. In general, those slickly produced shows are lacking soul and don’t take any creative risks. In contrast, Vancouver burlesque dancers are usually women of all shapes and sizes, doing it primarily for themselves, and for a diverse crowd, because it’s a creative outlet for them. At its best it can be a form of performance art. They often make their own costumes and write their own choreography, all on low budgets. They are sexy, but with soul and sass.

In 2010, a flickr friend, Marc Taro, posted intriguing drawings of costumed models in creative poses. It helped that Marc is an excellent artist. He was living in San Francisco at the time, and I lamented in a flickr comment that we didn’t have any model drawing like this in Vancouver. But Marc wrote “yes, you do!” and introduced me to Dr. Sketchy. It’s amusing that someone from San Francisco had to tell me what goes on in my own city.

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Van East at its Van Eastest with my Meetup group

Posted on Jun 10, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

On Victoria Drive, Vancouver

On Victoria Drive at Ferndale Ave.

The latest Vancouver Urban Sketchers meetup was held in the depths of East Vancouver, a place where the City doesn’t spend too much money on pruning and lawncare or pedestrian traffic light buttons.

I abandoned my usual format and dug out a very old set of oil pastels, probably left over from my art college days, when pixels were pea-size. That was fun. The yellow house is either on fire or in shadows. But it looks more like a painting than a sketch, even though this one took me less time than my usual panoramas. I already want to go back soon to draw some industrial scenery.

After sketching for about 75 minutes we went to Parallel 49th Brewing Company, tasted the beer and showed each other our sketches. That took at least another 75 minutes. It was nice of the staff to let us do our thing. Several new people had participated, did great drawings, and seemed to have a good time.

It looks like other sketchers are willing to jump in and set up meetings occasionally, or when I can’t. I am sharing my sketching dictatorship with Don and Dave, but really, anyone can borrow my iron fist.

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Creating urban etchings for a limited edition book of Christopher Levenson’s poetry

Posted on Jun 5, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

In the New Leaf Editions printmaking shop on Granville Island

First impressions of the New Leaf Editions printmaking studio on Granville Island: Peter Braune, the owner, collects frogs. In all shapes, sizes, and functions. They are everywhere around the studio. There is a frog doormat, frog mugs, frog staplers, frog tape dispensers, and of course, frog etchings.

A friend of mine, Oonagh Berry, walked into New Leaf Editions, a printmaking studio on Granville Island about 18 months ago to ask what they were doing in there. On the way home she had an idea. It took her another year or more to collect the materials she needed, but she returned with her husband’s, Christopher Levenson’s poems about Vancouver and a portfolio of my urban drawings, and suggested that they print a limited edition book of them.

They liked the idea! Not something I would have taken for granted. We then had a meeting there in early May to discuss the project. The printmaker, Peter Braune, suggested that I do the drawings as etchings — as in, that medieval technique of scratching lines onto copper plates. Also known by the lovely word Kupferstich in German. I will also design the book cover and interior.

So now I am kitted out with 24 beautiful poems about Vancouver, the scenery evoking thoughts and emotions, all very relatable, many of them crackling with humour and fresh perspectives. Chris and Oonagh moved to Vancouver from Ottawa six years ago, and being a poet, Chris soon wrote down his impressions of the city. My contribution is to produce about 12 etchings of urban scenes to go alongside the poems.

With some apprehension, since I’d never done etching before, and a lot of excitement I went into New Leaf Editions on May 15 to get started. I don’t even know why I am so moved by this opportunity to work in a real printmaking studio, but I get emotional whenever I think or talk about it. It feels like a dream come true that I didn’t even know I had.

I get to spend one day a week there for the next couple of months, away from my home-based office, unchained from my computer, and among humans. OK, I am exaggerating, my home office is a pleasant and quiet place. But at New Leaf, I am learning new things which is a huge thrill. I am being taught by Peter as well as Lesley, his assistant and an accomplished artist, and Jasmine, Peter’s new all-around idea/marketing/business/artist employee. Great people, and devoted to their craft. Artists come and go at the studio all the time, many of them are based on Granville Island.

New Leaf “Creative Solutions” is really the new name of this studio, and they do more than just printmaking: they provide technical services related to printmaking tools and repair, they create beautiful objects such as exterior or interior architectural elements, or etching into the body of a guitar.

I will describe the etching process and document my progress at New Leaf Editions in more detail in future posts.

Below a funny tidbit I found about etching. Mostly it reminded me of how much I like James Thurber’s humour, e.g. Fables for our Time.

Etchings euphemism (from Wikipedia)

The phrase “Want to come up and see my etchings?” is a romantic euphemism in which a person entices someone to come back to their place with an offer to look at something artistic — with ulterior motives.

This was referenced in a 1929 James Thurber cartoon where a man tells a woman in a building lobby: “You wait here and I’ll bring the etchings down.”

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Two of my sketchbooks are included in a display at Oak Bay Library, Victoria

Posted on Jun 4, 2013 in Victoria | 1 comment

A fellow urban sketcher from Victoria, BC, Matthew Cencich, organized a sketchbook display at the Oak Bay Library in Victoria, BC. He asked six other sketchers, including me, from all over the world to send him books: Kumi Matsukawa (Kanagawa, Japan), Luis Ruiz (Málaga, Spain), James Hobbs (London, England), Virginia Hein (Los Angeles, USA), Gabriel Campanario (Seattle, USA; he is the founder of the Urban Sketchers organization), Matthew himself, (Victoria, Canada), and me, (Vancouver, Canada).

Entrance to the Oak Bay Library with urban sketchbooks display

Matthew Cencich organized this urban sketchbook display at the Oak Bay Library, in Victoria, BC.

Two of my sketchbooks on display at the Oak Bay Library

Two of my sketchbooks. To see other people’s sketchbooks closer up, click on one of these photos to see more on my flickr.

Matthew said in an email: “It’s really is something special to see a small grouping of high quality sketchbooks together like this. And my short time spent putting the display together over a few hours resulted in 3 or 4 extended conversations with people who really liked the exhibit. Many, many people stop to look at it. The librarian said that many people have been asking about the display and commenting on their interest in it. She said that it has already created ‘quite a buzz’. A couple people said that they have a sketching group and are always looking for new members. So I would say in spite of its modesty it is quite a ‘success’, or at least very worthwhile.”

He also blogged about it here. Matthew did a great job organizing this exhibit, setting it up with the library, and mounting and labelling the sketchbooks. Thank you, Matthew! I bet this will inspire similar exhibits around the world.

The sketchbooks will be on display until the end of June. Too bad I can’t make it over there during that time.

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Dr. Sketchy Vancouver — “A Date with the Devil”

Posted on Jun 3, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Dr. Sketchy — Cora Purrl in A Date with The Devil #2

Cora Purrl in “A Date with The Devil”.

I went to a Dr. Sketchy Vancouver burlesque drawing session with three members of my Meetup group: Marie-Pierre, Dino, and Manish.

Cora Purrl was the model for the night’s theme, “A Date with the Devil”.

I even won a penis-shaped pen for this drawing, a prize which you wouldn’t think could get any better. But then Dino won a book, which was just a tad more awesome.

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