Sidewalk Sketching in Milwaukee

28 June, 2017. I was in Milwaukee all of last week, in a professional development workshop at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD.) The workshop itself was well worth the long drive and I wound up really enjoying my stay in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. The opportunities for street sketching were literally everywhere – all I had to do was plunk myself down at a sidewalk café, order a glass of wine or beer, and then use my pen to observe life in progress, all around me.

I gravitate toward moments of thoughtfulness sometimes, and the gentleman at the top of this article caught my attention for that very reason. He seemed to me to be one of the world’s great listeners, focused entirely upon what his unpictured companion was saying.

Some people out on the street – passers by, that is – seem to avoid eye contact at all costs, while others flash you a quick smile. It’s just a quirky little facet of human nature that I’ve noticed. I would swear that I passed this same woman at least three times during the six days I was there, and each time she maintained a steadfast and unwavering gaze directly in front of her.

I chuckled to myself as I watched this young woman, clearly bored with the table conversation of the larger group around her, surreptitiously check and recheck her cell phone for something more interesting. Eventually she seemed to begin to read something lengthy – a book, I’m hoping!

Each morning around 5.30 I’d jump on my bike and ride the path that runs alongside the lake. It meanders through neighborhoods and parks and abuts various buildings. A few miles into my ride, I would pass the Northpoint, a burger and shake joint that looks like it’s been established at the current lakeshore location for a long time. One morning, well before the place was set to open, I noticed a large Yoga group using the site to exercise.

The lakeside path is quite wonderful and caters to a variety of early morning joggers, walkers, and cyclists. Some are commuting to work, others are getting in their exercise or morning constitutional. Many, like me, are simply enjoying the exhilaration of being outdoors for a grand morning.

The majority of my sketches were made after the workshop concluded each day. Around five, the streets would become active and sidewalk tables would begin to fill. Quick sketches of people were easy and models were ready to hand and in abundance.

I was impressed by the number of cyclists in evidence in my neighborhood. Riders were everywhere, bells were in use, and everyone was polite about the roads, sidewalks, and paths. It all seemed to fit together quite naturally.

(Everything was drawn with a Uni-Ball Micro Deluxe pen in a Canson 180 sketchbook. I don’t think I used a pencil to rough in anything all week long, and I’m overall pretty happy to have kept the observational drawings light and moderately fresh, without overworking things to death.)

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Sapped.

17 June, 2017. This past week was The Big BAM Ride, a long distance bicycle tour I’ve been looking forward to for the past couple of months. The route transects the state of Missouri, from the western border to the eastern, meandering through a variety of small towns and rural country along the way. I really thought I’d be stopping along the route to make more sketches, but things were so damned oppressively hot, the wind was so exhausting, and the hills wore on me more than I expected. Sketching took more energy than I had; I was nearly sapped!

These sketches lack my preferred spontaneity and simplicity. I’ll blame the heat and my swollen, dehydrated fingers, but the only place I wound up making sketches was in and around Lexington, Missouri. As such, these only represent a few meager furlongs of a ride spanning hundreds of miles.

(Sketches created using a Kuretake No. 40 brush pen and Omni-Ball Micro.)

Unfocused.

10 June, 2017. After teaching a three-day workshop with a singular subject focus last weekend, my sketching this week was sporadic and decidedly UN-focused. And a bit of randomness felt good after having stayed on target for the entirety of my workshop, as well as the Urban Sketchers International Day in the Life event that followed me.

Keeping things loose, trying diligently to represent only what is necessary, and making sure that there’s no question my images are drawn by hand – those are my goals.

Although these are two opposite pages in the sketchbook, and of two different subjects and locations, I like they way they seem to be a single composition.

(Top sketch: Kuretake No. 40 brush pen; middle sketch: Omni-Ball Deluxe roller ball pen; bottom sketch: LAMY Safari medium nib fountain pen loaded with Noodler’s Beaver color ink.)

Illustrating the Edible

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4 June, 2017. I had a great time leading this weekend’s Kansas City Art Institute graduate sketching workshop, “Illustrating the Edible.” Working with art teachers is always a powerfully positive experience, and this group was no exception. I have a pretty loyal following of workshop participants, and I usually know the majority of attendees. However, this weekend I had a group of art teachers who were nearly all new to me.

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The first stop on our three day workshop was at The Cellar Rat, where my group enthusiastically embraced sketching (and sampling!) during a wine tasting. Located in the Crossroads Arts District, the wine shop and the surrounding neighborhood was packed for our monthly First Fridays art walk. So, the opportunity for sketching subject matter was rich, no matter where each artist positioned his or herself. Our focus this weekend was on food: dining, socializing, preparation, shopping, and growing – and the wine tasting was an excellent way to kick things off. Drawing people who are in constant motion can be challenging, and sipping a glass of wine while attempting to do so might have helped to calm the nerves of those made nervous at stepping outside their comfort zone!

Our Friday evening visit to The Cellar Rat was intentionally leisurely and fun, providing those who wished to do so the freedom of an enjoyable romp through the Crossroads District. Saturday’s schedule was considerably busier, beginning at The Missing Ingredient. The Missing Ingredient is an subsidiary of the restaurant development company, Bread n Butter. Using hydroponics and specialized grow lights, they are local producers of greens, herbs, and even edible flowers for local restaurants.

I always find my mark making is pretty rigid and tight when I first start sketching, so to warm up I arrived at the warehouse a little early. Moving around the page very quickly, I roughed in the main shapes without any penciled construction lines. My goal was to loosen up and emphasize the key shapes…zero in on the important stuff, and restrain myself from adding unnecessary details.


Once my group arrived, we descended upon the place. Inside, and beyond the initial office area, there is a large open area which is filled with row after row of plants. Our hosts welcomed us to set up and sketch anywhere that was convenient. I was impressed with the sheer number of lettuces, not even to mention the variety of other greens on hand. The vertical grow spaces had just been harvested of edible flowers.

Our next location was an upscale restaurant named Stock Hill. Elegant and sophisticated, the interior architecture is both impressive and comfortable. Although we were supposed to be with Chef during our visit, some wires got crossed and we missed out on the opportunity to document the processes he goes through in preparing the kitchen and staff for the day. Instead, my sketchers focused in on the environment: lights, stairs, table settings, and so forth. I felt fortunate to have been able to capture a small kitchen prep scene earlier during breakfast before the workshop day schedule had begun.

Fate is a cruel mistress – even though we were touring various food venues of the city, I wound up inhaling a McDonald’s cheeseburger on my way to our next location of the day. Rushed as I was, I couldn’t resist adding small touches of color to my breakfast sketch while I chewed on my rubberized burger.

And while the event had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my workshop, I pulled over for three or four minutes to sketch a demonstration. The ladies in front, seeing me pull up and look, did me the favor of posing and shaking their sign and flag!




The final location for our day was the City Market, a place I’ve visited many times for both shopping and sketching. It’s a place where people of all types find themselves shoulder to shoulder in search of grown foods, a happy hunting ground for mimes and street musicians, where the air is rife with the aroma of meat grilling. In some respects, I expect it’s somewhat divine.

A Day in the Life of an Urban Sketcher

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2 June, 2017. Urban Sketchers turns 10 this November! We are celebrating this achievement with a series of events happening all over the world throughout 2017!

A Day in the Life of an Urban Sketcher celebrates the lives of sketchers around the world and how they share work online. This social media event will feature a different sketcher each month in an Instagram and Twitter takeover. The featured sketcher will show their world, one drawing, one tweet, and one Instagram post at a time. …And tomorrow, Saturday, June 3, find out just how little I know about Twitter when the USk social media follows me!


I’ll also be teaching a graduate level sketching workshop through the Kansas City Art Institute tonight through Sunday afternoon. “Illustrating the Edible” should be a fun and interesting way to tell the stories of our community through the various ways we experience food. From community farms to the City Market, from locally sourced restaurant fare to the City Union Mission, my students will be artist-storytellers, communicating the variety of ways that food connects us all. If you’re in Kansas City, look for us at The Cellar Rat this evening, Stock Hill tomorrow morning, the City Market tomorrow afternoon, and the City Union Mission on Sunday afternoon. I’ll share highlights of this weekend in a future blog post, and Saturday will be thoroughly documented on the Urban Sketchers Twitter and Instagram accounts. (Follow @urbansketchers on Instagram and Twitter and check out the hashtag #uskdayinthelife.)