One of my passions is sketching. I don’t like “drawing” or “painting” per se, as I would attribute each of these to a much more rigorous and structured endeavor; yet, sketching has become one of my favorite outdoor pastimes. There is nothing like spending a few moments creating a sketch of an actual place, with actual people and things to help us remember a time or a moment. As I look through past sketch books I can still remember very vivid details about the day and place the sketch was made. I can remember the smell of fresh cut grass or the feeling of a cool spring breeze as I look at my sketches. I don’t have that experience with photographs, no matter how many dramatic images I take – I really can’t remember the place after a month or two.
An interesting article by Natalie Wolchover was written in 2012 about the ability to draw. See it here (http://huff.to/1E7eRNG). Drawing has an interesting connection to how our brains work, according to the study. One of the critical factors demonstrated by people who can “draw” is the ability to triage information. People who draw actually see the world better than those who can’t – they can see things as they are rather than allowing their minds to override visual evidence (a scary thought, no?) The researchers state: “Drawing seems to involve focusing on both holistic proportional relationships as well as focus on detail isolated from the whole.” The greatest part of the article is the hope driven conclusion – that all the great mental attributes associated with the ability to draw can be learned over time. It seems the only requirement is repetition and practice to build the skill. Not that I needed any prodding, but this article encouraged me to spend more time enhancing my budding sketching skills.
One of my professors at the University of Idaho – Matthew Brehm – was a founding board member of an organization called Urban Sketchers. This is a global group of individuals who share their work with each other in the hopes to “show the world, one drawing at a time.” I decided to start a Las Vegas Urban Sketching group and quickly set up a series of sketch meetings with some friends. We are a growing group (and welcome your attendance!) that meets every month to sketch together at a location around the Las Vegas area. You can see some of our work here on our Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/1LeDo5w)
I was asked recently about the value of a sketch. While it is easy to say that a sketch captures a portion of our community and our lives; what can we say about the value that the sketch has to the community? If there are a myriad of “sketchable places” within a community, does that say great things about its architecture, its neighborhoods and even its people? The side of me that views sketching as a problem to be solved by teasing apart the light from dark and the solid from the void, says that all neighborhoods have a location worthy of a sketch. Still, I don’t know that people are racing to suburbia to sketch tract houses as quickly as they have been racing to Rome for centuries.
It is always an interesting conversation as we try to decide on where we would like our group to meet every month. We discuss the value of sketching in many locations around the region and why people would or would not want to sketch there. I think it is interesting to step back from that conversation and look for the deeper meaning behind those words. As an architect, I am always trying to create great places and spaces where lives are enriched and somehow the world is made a better place. That may sound like an over-simplified view of an architect’s daily task list; but there remains a vibrant truth to that statement. We seek to make great places as architects, but as a sketcher I often critique many places as having nothing great that is worthy of a sketch. It is an interesting creative dichotomy that, as an architect, I try to create community; but, as a sketcher, I seek to place myself in places where community is happening. Each practice has the ability to influence the other and through the work of sketching I become a glass through which my community is weighed, measured and ultimately put to paper.
Because of these two hats that I wear, I am quite interested by the value systems that each sketcher brings to our monthly meetings. These value systems are the forces that lead somebody to draw the couple having coffee while I, conversely, spend an hour drawing the empty tables and chairs in the corner. Each sketch different, both sketches valuable. Why do we gravitate to different scenes? Is it our internal perception of what is memorable that drives our selection or is it simple aesthetics and composition? A sketch can say a lot about the sketcher as much as it can say about the subject being sketched.
I recently stopped by the house that my mother worked her whole life to build and where she ultimately died. I captured a rainy winter day of a non-descript house that isn’t very different from the other homes on the block. I would never look at this house as a place with much redeeming architectural value or “presence” that would make it a remarkable place worth a spot in my sketchbook. Regardless, it is as special to me because of what it means as much as for what it is.
Ultimately, I think that is the true value of sketching is the logging of memories. Some memories are personal and some are communal but it is up to the sketcher to triage the information within our communities. What he or she captures, they capture because they see beauty, or meaning or depth or humor or any number of values that cry out to be remembered in ink and watercolor. As a sketcher I try to listen as I visit new places and old. I listen for the beauty that whispers from the buildings that surround us. I look for the uniqueness of a shadow or the vibrancy of a stone wall shining in the sun. Sketching not only allows me to capture my world, it allows me to make a statement about who I am and what I value. A sketchbook then becomes something much more visceral as it explains the way a person sees and how they describe value. My sketches are more than a place, or a series of lines, they are an on-going struggle to truly see the world and as I see it as it really is – to capture it in all its beauty and present my world, one drawing at a time.
There are great civic and religious structures in Salt Lake and the surrounding communities. I have wanted to capture as many as I can into my sketchbook. Each has a different story or a different character to reveal. Each of them are an important part of the community they serve.
I love to sit and sketch them and to study the way in which the light changes them throughout the days and seasons, they are very dynamic places!
Washington DC is one of my favorite places to visit. I have had the opportunity to visit with my service to the American Institute of Architects a number of times over the past few years. It is one of my favorite places to sketch. There are great buildings and great details at every turn. Too often, I find myself in Washington when it is too cold to spend extended periods of time out of doors and I am not able to sketch as often as I would like to do. Still, on those sun-filled spring days when the sun warms your back, there is not experience quite as great as sketching in Washington DC.
Here are a few sketches from the last few trips.
My wife and I took a trip with our good friends, Ryan and Susie Carson, to San Francisco in 2009. I brought my sketchbook along to hopefully capture some images of the city while I was in town. We did the standard tourists things and saw a good part of the city together. I would try to find a few minutes while we all sat on a bench or had a snack to sketch some portion of San Francisco. These images are the moments I was able to steal…
I travel to Salt Lake for work quite a lot for my work. When I travel I often fill the time between meetings by sketching in a 3″ x 5″ moleskin sketchbook that I keep in my travel bag. Since I grew up in the Salt Lake Area I know of a number of neighborhoods and buildings that I want to include in my sketchbook. I am never far from an opportunity to put 20 minutes of sketching down into my sketchbook before moving on to the next meeting. Sketching some of these buildings opens my mind and eyes to the neighborhoods and portions of the community that I knew so well as a youth, but never really saw. It also helps to clear my mind as I process through all the work issues floating around in my head. These issues somehow find resolution as my pen creates lines and shades.
Many of the residences were built with pioneer hands and labor as families fought to create a community high in the mountains of the Wasatch. They brought ideas from the homes they knew back east or in Europe and set them down among the aspens and scrub oak of Salt Lake. Some are passed down from generation to generation like heirlooms. Some are homes to new families that long for pioneer values to hopefully become instilled in their children through proximity to pioneer craftsmanship. I think they are beautiful.
Sometimes opportunities to sketch just happen. Sometimes we plan to sketch and the opportunity never presents itself. Some of these sketches were happy surprises in a time or place that I had no intention of finding time to do anything. It seems that when these opportunities arise, I am more prepared to truly draw what I see in front of me. It is strange how our eyes and hands do not always see or feel the same things…
We have had a few sketch crawls in Las Vegas now with our Urban Sketchers group. It is fun to see parts of the community in a different way. Normally, we zoom around Las Vegas in cars without ever stopping to notice the details and character that makes Las Vegas. Here are a couple images from our recent work.
I have had a number of great teachers and professors in my life. I have been quite lucky to be associated with passionate individuals who love to teach. I would like to talk about two of my favorite professors today; Bob Scott and Matthew Brehm. The former was the first professor to convince me that I could draw. Not that I couldn’t pull off a decent dog or race car drawing before I met Bob Scott, but he showed me I could create professional level drawings and renderings. He taught me tips and tricks to get my hands to depict what my eyes actually saw, he opened a whole new world of possibility to me. After one semester with Bob, I was able to produce the drawing below:
When I decided to attend the University of Idaho for my degree in Architecture, I did so because the education at Idaho was based in the “Art of Architecture” and I had a strong desire to acquire that skill-set for my career. Matt Brehm was a professor at the University of Idaho that helped me refine my sketching techniques and introduced me to watercolor, and some solid pencil and pen techniques. In one of Matt’s classes we spent a couple mornings a week actually walking around campus and sketching what we saw. We would then reassemble as a group and talk about our drawings. I was able to see what others had done successfully, hear tales of what was “tried but never worked” and heard some great feedback about my own work.
I have been able to keep in touch with Matt since I left school and was excited to hear about an organization that he was a part of: Urban Sketchers. This group apparently did exactly what we had done in our course at the University of Idaho by sketching on-site and then sharing ideas with one another. I had always carried a sketch book with me when I traveled the country or when I want to meetings; sadly, the only real time I spend sketching was when I was actually far from home and wasn’t pulled a million directions by the daily grind. I missed the association of like minded sketchers and artists. I missed the feedback and new ideas from others; but I didn’t yet know how to “scratch that itch.” Learning about Urban Sketchers was like a north star breaking through the clouds, I had a direction.
I was able to find a small but committed group of professionals that were interested in starting a Las Vegas Urban Sketcher group with me. We are still a fledgling group and we are hoping to gain more friends over the coming months, but we are committed to getting together to sketch our world. As part of this group’s mission, I will begin sharing my sketches here on my blog. I often regret not being able to write for my blog as often as I could, but by adding these sketches I am hoping to share another creative side of myself that you might not be acquainted with yet. Feel free to leave feedback of what you like or don’t like, or even to offer tips or tricks that you might know. I also invite you to come out and join us during one of our monthly “sketch crawls” around Las Vegas. You can follow the Las Vegas Urban Sketchers Facebook page by clicking HERE.