Urban Sketching – A Global Community

“We show the world, one drawing at a time!”

by Sarah Kilcoyne

Let’s set the scene – it’s a rainy day in Berlin, you’re scurrying down the street, coat collar pulled high up over your chin, the wind biting your ears. You notice a dark, bulky shape at the side of the footpath ahead. ‘Probably some old furniture or something’, you think, and pick up your pace. As you approach, the shape starts to take on more definition – there’s an umbrella, and what appears to be a person crouched underneath. ‘What is this guy doing?’ you think aloud, getting closer now, preparing to take a peek.

That’s when you notice the colour – a set of watercolour paints, parked on the ground next to the figure. There’s a brush darting in and out of the watery pockets, splashing pigment on the pavement, momentarily bleaching the surrounding puddles before being diluted into oblivion by the steady downpour. It’s someone painting! You’re right in front of him now, close enough to see the entire assortment – raincoat-bedecked artist, sketchbook, brushes, jar, pencils and paints, all huddled cosily beneath their nylon shelter. The artist’s page is bathed in shades of deep blue, dashes of purple, flecks of bright yellow and – the same bright red as your very own raincoat. As you continue to pass him by, you notice the artist immediately abandon the red figure on his page, and turn his attention elsewhere.

The mark has been made, the figure has been captured. You have been captured, in paint, just a fleeting moment in time, forever immortalised on that artist’s canvas. 

‘Görlitzer Bahnhof’ by Omar Jaramillo | © omarjaramillo

‘Urban sketching’ is a term that you may have become familiar with. Since the mid 2000’s, the practice of urban sketching has exploded around the world. Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, so is the phenomena of urban sketching flourishing with it.

But what is urban sketching?

When I initially hear the term, this image springs to mind –  the artist sitting by the roadside, sketchbook in his lap, furiously painting the world go by. This isn’t too far off the mark – but, according to the guidelines of the ‘USk’ (the official Urban Sketchers group), there are quite specific protocols that one must adhere to, in order to call him/herself an urban sketcher.

In order to completely comprehend the concept of urban sketching, let’s examine what these words actually refer to, in the eyes of the USk.

As soon as the word ‘urban’ is mentioned, I naturally picture a cityscape. I assume that that can only mean sketching in the city, the people, the streets, etc. But, the USk actually consider ‘urban’ as being the environment in which a person lives, or is temporarily situated (on holidays). In other words, you don’t have to live in a city to be an urban sketcher! The ‘sketching’ element is something that really defines the ethos behind urban sketching – we’re not just talking about the simple act of drawing something, any object. In this context, ‘sketching’ refers to drawing purely from observation, and nothing that you have intentionally posed or arranged. In other words, documenting the real world as you find it, in that moment.

‘Perequê Beach – Guarujá – São Paulo – Brazil’ by Carlos Avelino| © carlosavelino

The USk or ‘Urban Sketchers’ are a global non-profit volunteer group, dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location drawing, or ‘urban sketching’, as we have just defined.

Their mission is to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of urban sketching – promoting its practice, and connecting people from around the world who draw on location, both where they live and travel. Their aim is to ‘show the world, one drawing at a time’.

‘中和莒光路’ by陳湘湘‎ | ©陳湘湘‎

One of the best things about the Urban Sketchers group however, is the sense of community that they advocate. The tagline ‘meet, sketch and share’ has become a staple edict of the group. As an urban sketcher, of any skill level, you are encouraged to share your work with the USk community. Their ideal goal is for local sketchers to meet together, paint together, and share their work with one another. No judgement passed, no hierarchy.

If you’re interested in joining the urban sketching family, it couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is join the online community, in one way or another. You can sign up to the international Urban Sketchers Facebook group or Flickr page, or even better, find your local group on Facebook. Even though the USk originated in Seattle, you can find a local chapter of Urban Sketchers almost anywhere in the world now – and if there isn’t one in your area, you can even set one up yourself! To find out how to do that, check out the USk website here.

Students sketching, ESDIP Summer Illustration Course 2016 | © esdipberlin

We here at ESDIP Berlin are lucky enough to have on our faculty board the acclaimed Urban Sketcher Omar Jaramillo. Omar is the founder and manager of the Urban Sketchers Germany chapter, and an avid urban painter. Omar is a great example of how urban sketching can be taken to the next level. While many people love to sketch and paint on location for fun, as a hobby, Omar has made a successful career out of the practice of urban sketching.  

Originally from Ecuador, Omar originally started his career in architecture, studying between Ecuador and Germany. His work as a landscape architect caused him to spend long periods in Italy, the Emirates and Oman. It was during these travels that his love for urban sketching really began. He started to keep track of his travels not through photographs, but through drawing and painting. Omar has continued to document his extensive world travels in this manner, and to this day has collected a vast amount of travel-sketchbooks, some which I have had the privilege to explore. It was in 2009, that he became a full correspondent member of the Urban Sketchers.

Samples from Omar’s travel sketchbooks © omarjaramillo

These days, Omar divides his time between sketching, teaching and travelling. As part of the Illustration Intensive Course here at ESDIP this coming March, Omar will be teaching an urban sketching module. He will be passing on his watercolour painting techniques, pen and ink expertise, and will take the students on urban sketching excursions. If you’re interested in joining this course, then you can read more about it here, or go straight to the application form here.




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