Urban Sketching Ideas: 6 Tips for Going on a Personal Sketch Crawl

Uncategorized Dec 23, 2020

Photo caption: The local Christmas Market is an excellent place for your sketchbook and pencils! Image by Dar1930 from Pixabay.

It’s no secret that the winter time causes many people to get the blues. This is partly due to the cold weather and partly due to how early it gets dark outside. Both of these factors make most people not want to get out and about.

This kind of thing is a real drag for most people, but particularly for those who love urban sketching. In the latter case, it sometimes takes some ingenuity and a little inspiration to make space for some wintertime urban sketching. 

That’s where the personal sketch crawl comes in. This activity combines some of your favorite activities to create an afternoon or evening of fun.

Urban Sketching Definition: What Is a Personal Sketch Crawl?

Most people are familiar with local art crawls in their town. These events usually take place at the beginning of the month. They encourage art lovers to go around to the various local museums and galleries, taking in the art and the ambiance. 

The sketch crawl is a variation on this. These events are organized by urban sketching groups in a given city. They get people together to sketch the art on display during the monthly art crawl. This adds a social element to the activity, as well as providing art fans with the opportunity to see some art.

A personal sketch crawl is a variation on the above urban sketching activity. In this case, a single artist (or a small group) takes it upon themselves to take their sketchbooks out and to create their own tour. 

By themselves or together with their small group, they sketch the pieces of public art around their city. For example, here in Athens, there are dozens of large bulldogs statues - known as dawgs - that are pieces of public art. They’re located around the city. A walk that includes sketching these items gets you familiar with some of the city’s public art and gives you some motivation to get out and walk when it’s chilly.

Why Ardent Urban Sketchers Should Do a Personal Sketch Crawl?

While we love the social aspect of urban sketching, we also understand that it’s not always possible to meet as a group. Schedules, family challenges and even illness can get in the way.

Doing your own personal sketch crawl gives you a chance to get out, to see some art and above all, to draw on location, even if you can’t do it as a part of a large group. 

It also allows you to keep up with current art trends and to get to know what your favorite places look like when it’s a bit frosty out. It's like doing some travel sketching, but in your own backyard. If anything, becoming an urban sketcher in your own city forces you to look at the world around you in a new way.

Finally, it allows you to build up your skill sets. Not only does this give you practice drawing from life, it also allows you to develop problem-solving skills as you try to navigate the different conditions you find yourself in. 

That isn’t to say that you should take extra risks.That isn’t the purpose of this exercise. Rather, doing an activity like this encourages you to learn to draw faster if anything.

Preparing for Your Personal Sketch Crawl

To have a successful sketch crawl, it’s good to create your own itinerary, just as a sketch crawl events organizer would do. This helps to keep you focused on your urban sketching adventure.

Below, you’ll see a list of items you’ll want to have on hand and things you’ll want to take into consideration.

Here they are:

  1. Find places to draw if the weather is too terrible. While it’s good to draw outside, it may not be possible. Therefore, you may want to consider locations that allow you to draw in your car or that are open to the public - a coffee house for example. 

In the latter case, you may be able to see a street sculpture from the shop’s window. You may also find that the shop itself has art for sale that would make a good drawing. Certainly, the cozy atmosphere of the shop would make a fun sketch, too.

If you wind up drawing in your car, you have the option of turning the engine on and off to keep yourself warm. Just be sure to kill the headlights and shut the door tightly if you do get out of the car. You don’t want to come back to a dead battery due to an electrical drain.

  1. Heavy-duty boots are in order if you’re going to trudge through the snow. You not only want boots that are insulated enough to protect your toes from the frost, but also comfortable enough to walk in if you plan on doing an extended personal sketch walk. Good traction is a must.
  2. Hand coverings, like gloves and mittens, that you can layer are also helpful. If you wear gloves under your mittens, you’ll be able to keep your hands warm between sketches, but have the flexibility to take off some layers (mittens, in this case) if you need to. 

On a related note, your ears will be miserable if you don’t cover them, so take a hat, a scarf and some earmuffs to keep yourself toasty. In general, dress for the weather. 

  1. Make sure that you pack urban sketching art supplies that work well in winter. Colored pencils and traditional graphite pencils are safe bets. Painting may be out of the question, depending on how cold it is, because the temperature could cause your materials to freeze.

You'll want to have a bound sketchbook, too. It'd be a shame to do an awesome travel sketch that captures a scene perfectly and have it fall out of your notebook, which might happen if you draw on a loose piece of paper.

  1. Take along a city guide book if you want to find all of the best public art pieces to sketch. Travel guides are a good bet for this. They’re often the best way to find some of the more obscure pieces of outdoor art in the city. A travel guide will also turn you on to other great things to draw, like the local Christmas Market.
  2. Bring a flashlight just in case. While there will probably be plenty of winter lights to make the crisp air glow, it’s always a good idea to have an extra light on hand. Bringing a small flashlight or downloading a flashlight app for your phone allows you to see in the dark and even to continue drawing in your car after the sun sets.

Video caption: If you want to learn more about creating art on the go, be sure to watch our video on travel/ urban sketching. 

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