What’s your Story?

I cannot believe that I have not posted a blog on here for nearly 3 weeks.  But I have a few excuses: firstly I have had a pretty hectic time with a few big commissions, including #citiesofhope and The Manchester Histories Festival.  Also, I have been writing blog posts as part of those commissions as well as posting on the Urban Sketchers blog on a weekly basis with my countdown to the Symposium sketches.  Am I forgiven yet?   The other thing that has been taking my time is that I have been running some Urban Sketching workshops, some for the Manchester Histories Festival and then this week I have had two days running two workshops at the Creative and Media Academy here in Manchester (MCMA).  It is this week’s workshops that I am going to talk about in this blog.



As has often been the case, I was contacted earlier in the year after I was noticed by the school on Twitter.  After several meetings (images above are those I created on my first visit!) where we discussed the opportunity to talk about and run an introductory urban sketching/reportage session with 12-13 year olds and 13-14 year olds, I was commissioned to  run a workshop entitled: ‘What’s Your Story’ with 60 pupils in each age group who had expressed an interest in pursuing art as one of their key subjects.  I set the session up around the idea of creating a visual diary, encouraging the pupils to use drawing to illustrate and tell stories about the places around them: their individual take on their daily school lives.

The day started with a short talk in the auditorium about urban sketching and reportage, together with examples of sketches, some simple techniques and my top 10 sketching tips.       See later.  Each pupil was given a simple A2 folded  sheet (handmade book) on which to create all sketches such that they could be unfolded at the end to show a more complete story.  An initial introduction to thumbnail sketches and some practice in the auditorium set the scene for the day.  I was fortunate to have 3 art tutors to assist in the running of the session and it enabled us to subsequently take the pupils to 3 separate locations: the sports hall, the roof garden and the courtyard/front of school.  At each location, pupils used a double page spread to create their drawings with guidance on layering, perspective and colour.  One of the 3 drawings had colour laid down first before linework and darks, additional colour and lettering were added later.




Here are my top 10 sketching tips I shared with the class:

  1. Composition is about achieving balance and harmony in a drawing. Think about it first and be clear about what you are going to draw; viewfinders make finding a good composition easier. Think about using small thumbnail sketches to identify the best composition. Remember the rule of thirds: don’t put the focal point right in the middle of the composition.
  1. To make a believable sketch, you will need the proportions to look realistic i.e. to Scale. The key to drawing the urban environment to scale is to look at the relationships between the elements. Perhaps add people to create a sense of scale. Pick a basic unit to measure against.
  1. Creation of the illusion of depth in the drawing is an important consideration. Perspective maybe a challenge at first but consider putting in elements closer to you: larger, with more detail and colour and also placing things further away: smaller, less detailed and lighter in colour.
  1. To create a sense of depth and volume in your sketches, contrast is important. I always talk about adding the darks and this creates that solidity in architecture as well as framing and defining areas
  1. Lines are the backbone of a drawing. You can’t draw everything with the same set of marks so vary the type of lines you make to add interest and richness to your work. Be confident with your lines.
  1. As you get to draw more and more, strive to be more creative and make sketches in ways that only you can make: make them your own, with your own voice and personality
  1. Colour can bring a sketch alive but isn’t always necessary. Keep it simple and don’t necessarily paint everything. Use colour to lead the eye through the drawing to the focal point/main point of interest. Once you have used a colour, think of ways of using it more than once, to unify the composition. Use a minimal colour scheme: perhaps opposite colours on the colour wheel. Test out what might work.
  1. People are an important element of a drawing. Remember that heads are all at the same position on the drawing, (the eye level) regardless of distance away, it is the overall size that changes. People add a sense of life and reality to a drawing. Keep people simple.
  1. Don’t forget to add entourage elements other than buildings or people like cars, street furniture, trees etc that help to add the mood to the sketch, but don’t feel you need to add everything. This will make it look cluttered.
  1. If you are going to use lettering, make it a part of the drawing and not an afterthought. Practice lettering, look for alternative fonts that you like and use a pencil and ruler to ensure it works before committing.

Overall, I think the pupils learnt a lot and enjoyed the session.  One thing I had forgotten though was the amount of concentration needed to draw for several hours at a time!  I don’t think the pupils were used to that at all!  In addition, they are not usually going out and about and drawing from life and this really does take some getting used to.  Finally, as I was reminded by many of the pupils-this isn’t easy!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.