Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Urban Sketchers Are About Telling Stories Through Their Sketches
by Wes Douglas, Urban Sketchers Chicago

I will be part of a three-person team of sketch correspondents at the 
8th International Symposium in Chicago (July 26-30, 2017) who will cover as many events (workshops, demonstrations, lectures and social gatherings) as possible, armed with only our sketchbooks, eyes and ears to record each day's activities. 

Each day we will attempt to divide and conquer by sketch-recording furiously the flavor of 36 workshops, dozens of artist demonstrations and lectures at the Symposium and by night composing, scanning sketches and blogging highlights from the day—reporting on our impressions of what we hear, observe and experience for those who were not able to attend the Symposium or could only be in one activity at a time.

As an Urban Sketcher, I am often asked if this group is just a bunch of artists getting together to draw. While it is true that we are a social group that enjoys sketching together, one of the most critical components of selecting a scene to sketch on location is whether the scene will make a great story to tell. The sketch serves as our prompt to relive the experience.

I am a big proponent of the example and here is a recent post from fellow urban sketcher  Donald Owen Colley that caught my eye because of the great story and help from the impressive visualization:

Century Pens, Chicago
Ed Hamilton, owner/proprietor
Story and sketch by Donald Owen Colley

I walked into Ed Hamilton's boutique pen shop, Century Pens located in the Loop by the [Chicago] Board of Trade, just over eight years ago, and have developed a wonderful friendship with Ed – a Prince among men – who has owned Century Pens for eleven years. 

Trained as an architect and hailing from the fair state of Indiana, Ed and I have spent many hours talking about pens, ink, penmanship, architecture, Chic
ago's history, politics, and tales of our wild youth. I got the fountain pen bug just before I met Ed, who recognized a potential addict the minute I walked in the store with a sketchbook in my hand and an assortment of pens peering over my vest pocket. 

Ed was every bit the enabler and fanned the flames of desire for this draughtsman whose fountain pen collection (I'm sure) passed the $11,000 mark several months ago. I recall talking to one of Ed's regulars whose collection was over 650 fountain pens. 

Century Pens has been the premier fine writing pen store in Chicago and one of my absolute favorites nationwide. Chicago lost Gilbertson Clybourne a couple years back and I fret Ed's age and the prospect that he may hang up the spurs one day. 

Today, I spent most of the day sitting in Ed's store, drawing, sharing take-out lunch, and shooting the bull with Eddie and Charlie. Online is in so many of it's convenient ways a poor substitute for the face to face, hands on, of the brick and mortar experience. Cheers Eddie. Drawn in a Tomoe River Paper sketchbook with Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens and a Pelikan M215 fountain pen with Platinum Carbon Ink.

For more on Urban Sketchers Chicago: 

For more sketch stories from Donald Owen Colley: 

Century Pens, Chicago:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Urban Sketchers Chicago Onboard with #MetraManners

Some people text or read, daydream, some meet with friends, while others eat or nap on the 
train. There is, however, a group of artists who sketch a wide range of passengers on various 
Metra routes. They represent a local group known as Urban Sketchers Chicago (USk Chicago) and they are part of a global community of artists that enjoy drawing on location in cities, towns, and villages 
in which they live, work, or have visited. Examples include but are not limited to cafes, street 
scenes, buildings, houses, shops, landscaping, people, domestic animals, transportation 
centers (i.e. airports, train stations and buses) as well as what you see while you are traveling.

Illustration: Brian Wright                              Illustration: Wes Douglas

Sketching people on public transportation is a favorite subject of these artists 
because they are always different and interesting. In our own way, Urban Sketchers 
are quietly doing our part to elevate the current Metra Rail “Ride Nice” campaign
#metramanners. Who knows? Maybe the more smiles we can create with our 
sketches the less riders will be throwing digital jabs at one another about 
inappropriate behavior.

Urban Sketchers do not sketch from memory or photographs but by direct 
observation in person. This becomes particularly challenging because people 
on trains move around a lot. But it is also rewarding when those being sketched 
discover how their likeness is elevated to a fresh new perspective by these artists. 

Wes Douglas remembered hearing one lucky passenger exclaim, “When someone 
snaps your photo on the train, it’s a little creepy. But when someone sketches you it 
is a relief.” These artists capture many different positions, colorful clothing and the 
expressions of commuters on paper. 

Our urban sketchers are located all over the Chicagoland area and depend on public transportation for traveling between work and home as well as gatherings with fellow 
urban sketchers. And since a large portion of their day is spent on commuting, urban 
sketchers make the most of it by knocking out a few sketches to pass the time.

To learn more about Urban Sketchers Chicago and where they will be sketching next 
go to:

To learn more about Metra Rail’s Ride Nice campaign:         

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Glen Theater Project

This is the Glen Theater in a suburban village of Chicago known as Glen Ellyn.  The Glen Art Theatre first opened its doors in the early 1920's and quickly became a staple of downtown Glen Ellyn. After passing through several hands the 1,000 seat theatre was acquired by its current owners in the early 1980's. The new owners seeing into the future of today's megaplexs had the theatre divided in half and then in half again into the four 200 seat auditoriums it currently has.
In its over 80 years of operation the Glen Art Theatre has had its share of moments in the sun. One of which occurred when the 1986 film Lucas starring Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen, & Kerri Green was filmed on location in Glen Ellyn. The theatre was featured in the film when the main characters went to the movies and some of the employees were even used as extras. The films midwest premier was even shown at the theatre with all of Glen Ellyn showing up in their finest for the occasion.

It seems like every year some lucky girl gets invited to the prom or some other school dance from the marquee of the Glen Art Theatre. One couple even had some wedding photos taken under the marquee. 

And today the Glen Art Theatre continues its grand tradition by regularly drawing customers from all over Chicagoland to see some of the finest films from all over the world.

I have been trying to sketch this iconic theater for over a year. The first two attempts had some positive energy but I just wasn't as happy about it as I have been on other sketches.
This is my first attempt where I tried to include the apartments above the theater. This first version did not have the upper levels darkened in until I shared this sketch with my sketch group and received some good feedback. By darkening the upper levels, it put the emphasis on the entrance and, therefore, gave the sensation that this was illuminated for evening movie showings. Some of the other feedback was to leave the marquee blank since any movie titles that I put in there would influence the viewer and permanently solidify this sketch to a certain time period.

This second version cut out some of the upper levels in order to keep the focus on the entrance. I still think it needs to have the addition of people to give scale and a much needed human element.

In this third version, I got away from the earlier sketches altogether and approached this building from a different point of view. By backing away, I was able to get more of the architecture that attracted me in the first place. There is less emphasis on the entrance, of course, but I am more happy with the composition.

Sketched with a Uniball Vision Micro gel pen on a 7" x 10" sketchbook from Green Design Works. ©2016 Wesley E Douglas. 

History reference source:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

February 2016: Chairs

A collection of the different and more interesting chairs that have come into my life--
Wes Douglas

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

10 Principles of Good Design

Every designer likes making their own top 10 list of design rules, but the more I learned about influential designers from the past, I can safely say that Dieter Rams wrote the best 10 rules for design. 

Here's his "10 Principles of Good Design:"

  1. Good Design Is Innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful : A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good Design Is Aesthetic : The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive : Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Good Design Is Honest : It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
  7. Good Design Is Long-lasting : It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail : Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly : Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible : Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Urban Sketching Helps Graphic Recording

What is Graphic Recording?

Graphic recording is the skill of listening, synthesizing and transforming the spoken word into a visual language in real-time. They are rich, visual notes created from a blending of handwriting, drawings, hand-rendered display type, shapes, and visual elements to help capture the essence of a speech, presentation or performance. The goal is to take a complex narrative and break it down to its essential elements and create a memorable, easy-to-understand low-tech summary on paper large or small.

Other labels commonly referred to this art form: visual thinking, visual notes, graphic notes, sketch notes, graphic scribe, and creative meeting notes.

Basic requirements of graphic recording:
- It helps if you can listen carefully while sketching 30 seconds behind
- It helps if you can write legibly
- It helps if you focus only on key points that are interesting to you
  (as opposed to trying to write everything that is said-- you are not a stenographer)
- Whenever possible, replace words with pictures
- Utilize icons, metaphors, and visual puns when you can
- Drawing quickly and from memory is a must. 
  Practice drawing random, everyday objects will help build up your visual vocabulary

And this is how urban sketching come into play:
Urban sketching: careful observation  
Graphic recording: careful listening and drawing from memory

Urban sketching: loose sketching  
Graphic recording: loose writing/drawing

Urban sketching: you don't have to draw everything you see
Graphic recording: you don't have to write down everything you hear

Urban sketching: everyday objects sketched from observation  
Graphic recording: everyday objects, shapes and forms from memory

Urban sketching: break down scene to most important element  
Graphic recording: break down summary to most important points/visuals

Urban sketching: sketch real time on location
Graphic recording: listening real time and draw with 30 second delay

Shape-triangles: arrows, pentagon, bow tie, Forward or Rewind, wedge
USK equivalents: rooftops, tents, umbrellas, milk carton, caps on building, caps on banisters, yield sign, caution sign, school crossing sign, porch roof, bike frame, navigational/directional signs, FedEx tubes, windows, railroad crossing

Shape-circles: balls, domes, ellipse, ovals, lightbulb, tear drop, clouds
USK equivalents: wheels, coins, manhole cover, tokens, street lights, wrong way sign, donuts, bagels, cupcakes, pizza, plates, porthole window, the sun/moon, coasters, capital building, arches

Shape-squares: rectangle, bars, square dot pattern, grid
USK equivalents: buildings, homes, windows, doors, tile, bricks, flooring, vases, pillars, caution sign (diamond shape), buses, trains, cargo ships, bridges

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How To Get The Most Value Out Of Joining Urban Sketchers Chicago

1. Sketch something from your day. It could be from home, school, your work, during one of your breaks, or while you are traveling. Take a good clear photo of your sketch and share it on USK Chicago's Facebook page. If you have reservations about posting your work on the Internet, do this simple step and rest assured your work will protected: Somewhere on your sketch, embed your name and the date you sketched it onto your sketch before you snap your photo. This way, your name will always be attached to your sketch.

2. When you post one of your sketches. Tell us a little something about it like the size, what drawing tools you use and the kind of sketchbook/paper you chose.

3. Even better, ask a specific question to the community about your sketch. For example, I once posted a sketch of a stairway railing and I asked the group if my perspective was off or not. The amount of helpful and constructive feedback was very useful and gave me the positive kind of information I could use to effectively fix my sketch.

4. If you see another artist's sketch that you admire, don't hit the "LIKE" button. Instead, write a thoughtful comment about a specific area you think works really well in the sketch. To the artist who posted the sketch, this tells them a whole lot more than "LIKE."

5. You can also ask another artist about what kinds of techniques they used to achieve their sketch or how they approach a sketch. 
My experience is that artists in this group love to talk about art skills and learn a few new things from each other as well. Plus, the very nature of a Facebook group is t be social and conversations go a long way to strengthening the bond with other artists. The very fact that we are a social media group who actually meet face to face on a regular basis is what makes this group so special and unique.

6. Come out and join the group at one of our monthly Urban Sketchers Sketch Crawls. We call our events "Let's Sketch Chicago" and we meet in person at a designated location and time announced at the beginning of the month on Facebook. It is typically on the third weekend of the month and we alternate Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate more of everyone's schedules.

7. Volunteer for group activities. Our biggest event every summer is our USk Chicago Sketch Seminar. There are lots and lots of ways to help ranging from organizing and planning the event, spreading the word to local media, schools, art institutions, sponsors and to the larger population of artists who might want to attend. If you have a special skill that you would be interested to share in a workshop setting with other urban sketchers and painters, please think about becoming one of our workshop instructors. Ask me for more details. I can tell you from experience how incredibly fulfilling it is to affect people's lives with a new skill and knowledge.