Getting Ready for Urban Sketching

Demo of non-dominant hand

For many people, the big hurdle to overcome about drawing or sketching is the “inner critic”. This loud, unpleasant inner voice discounts ability and scorns attempts at creativity: “I can’t draw”; “I have no artistic talents at all”; “I have trouble drawing stick-people”. Sometimes that voice is the echo of a teacher or trusted adult who criticized long ago and the wounded inner child cannot escape the recurring soundtrack. One of my goals in the two recent workshops which I ran in the last two weeks as part of my Artist-in-Residence program is to provide strategies to contain that critical voice. It is surprising that even well-established and apparently successful professional artist also wrestle with self-doubt. I picture a large black raven – like the one in Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem.
Here is one of the exercises from the workshop. What you need to do is take your pen. Not a pencil because I am looking for the boldness of marks that cannot be erased. Take your pen and first, draw marks on the paper – half-circles, squiggles, diagonal lines. Draw big and bold and enjoy the sensation of the pen and ink across the page. Drawing is an experience. Enjoy the moment.
The next exercise is similar but perhaps requires a little more of a spirit of adventure. Put your pen in your non-dominant hand. If you are right-handed, you will draw with your left hand. If left-handed, draw with your right. Put pen to paper and use your eye. I suggest drawing your other hand. It is as if your eye is directly connected to the point of the pen. As your eye travels along the edge of your hand, the pen will follow and mimic the path of vision. The mark on paper follows the line of your eye along the outline of your hand. Try not to take the pen off the page. Try to keep your eye fixed on what you are drawing and not on the paper. Try not to look until you are finished. What you will see, when you look, is a quirky and fun drawing. It is not an exact replica but it captures the spirit: wonky, surprising and probably distorted. Drawing with your non-dominant hand offers a certain freedom. Try it. Enjoy!

StoryFusion: Urban Sketching & Storytelling



When I was first told that my proposal was successful and that I had been selected as the 2014 Artist in Residence for the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, I figured that I must be dreaming. At our first planning meeting, Sophie McCann, Arts Coordinator for CCA, said to me: “I am here to back you up and help your vision come to life”. That is a pretty exciting place to start!!!

Storytelling and Urban Sketching are two of my favourite passions. And, now I am planning a year of fusing the two!
The Fusion is a fusion of story-traditions: first, the traditional, oral tradition of the spoken story; and, secondly, the newly developing tradition of Urban Sketching. Storytelling is a tradition which predates the written word: long before ancient cultures recorded their sacred stories, the traditions of many of the world’s great and ancient religions were preserved in story. Myth, legend and family history have been shared, for centuries, by story. Modern derivatives of story, from printed word, novels, poetry, and also film and electronic recordings are rooted in the oral tradition. Storytelling is thriving in Canada and locally, with national story-telling organizations and conferences and a local, Waterloo-Region-based storytelling guild. Urban Sketching is both a noun and a verb. The term describes a recent global community of professional, amateur and beginning artists who gather and share sketches created in streets, markets and at gatherings to celebrate the urban culture around the globe. The term also describes the delightful practice of sketching and drawing urban scenes. There is an international movement with an electronic presence on the web, Facebook and by Flickr. There is a Waterloo organization dedicated to urban sketching: KW Urban Sketchers.
We are still planning the events for StoryFusion. There will be storytelling concerts with art shows and workshops for people to explore storytelling and learn about urban sketching. Watch for “pop-up” sketching events when I will arrange a sporting or cultural event in Cambridge and plan a sketching excursion to capture the moment.
I have opened a new heading on my art portfolio page to feature some of my recent sketches and paintings.

Experimenting with New Ways

an experiment with ink and stone paper

an experiment with ink and stone paper

I was listening to/ watching (again)  Brene Brown on UTube talking about gratitude, love and vulnerability.  Brown talks about the courage of being able to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

I think that art is, once again, a great metaphor for life – especially when it comes to vulnerability.  Once an artist attains a certain level of technical proficiency, there is a routine to the technique.  The medium (acrylics, oil, water colour, pen and ink on paper, canvas, board or clay) becomes comfortable and predictable.   The style, use of line and use of colour are well-established.  And most seductive of all, the audience for the artist’s work has a certain expectation.  The audience are the people who appreciate and provide feedback to the artist and that could be patrons and customers who buy art or perhaps family, friends, peers, instructors or coaches who offer feedback and encouragement.   There are risks to trying something new: it costs money; it feels awkward; the experiments are often so disappointing.

I believe that the creativity arises out of the rawness of experimentation, risk and the courage to push the edges.  There is freshness and liveliness in the raw experimentation that disappears once the technique becomes a formula.  The difference between an excellent artisan and a true artist is at the edge of the comfort zone.  The artist feels this edge as the painting , drawing, sculpture evolves.  A moment comes and may never be recognized; this is the moment of choice.  The artist can make a leap of courage.  The spirit of that courageous leap is an echo that lives and breathes and gives zest and magic to the finised piece of art.

A person who experiments with technique at the very beginning of learning something new is unleashing the artist within – the finished piece may not have been built with the skill of an artisan and maybe what is created does not shine with the polish of what we conventionally call art.  Yet, it is in that struggle at the edge where art is born.

We all have those moments, whether we call ourselves artists or not.  And we all make that choice – to stay at the edge or to return to the comfort of the familiar.

In art, the downside risk is about wasting time or money and having a finished piece that was more about learning than becoming something beautiful.  In life, there are greater and deeper risks.  In life, part of the art is to maintain a reasonable level of safety while flirting and dancing as near to the edge as courage and common sense allow.  This is vulnerability.

This sketch is a pen and ink and water colour drawing of my neighbour’s garden – an experiment with coloured ink on a new kind of paper, called repap.  Repap, by Ogami, is made of stone – recycled calcium carbonate and non-toxic resins.  The paper is smooth yet soft and water proof.  The ink slides but does not permeate.  I bought the notepad at Phidon in Galt and it was so that I could sketch in the rain.  The lovely responsiveness of the ink on the new paper was a delightful surprise and the result of a successful experiment.  And so, I am sharing with you a moment of gratitude and joy.


Main Street Bridge in April

I started in March and now, I can accurately call this a habit:  I sketch every day.  I have been impressed with the impact that this habit has upon my artistic confidence, skill and composition.  Mostly, I have been successful in maintaining the standard of the Urban Sketchers – sketches are from what I see rather than photographs.  Sometimes my sketch-a-day project has been loosely interpreted as “average of a sketch a day” because there are days when I do a few sketches one day, post one and then, when the following day is a sketching-drought, post one from the previous day.

One of the important elements of living happily ever after is deciding how to apply self-created rules.  I try to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the rules and to practice self-care and forgiveness.  The goal of the sketch-a-day project is to keep me sketching regularly, both to maintain and improve my artistic skills and because sketching is a way for me to meditate, escape and self-soothe.  Therefore, by allowing a  little slack to double or triple up one day and then a day of grace on the next day I am bending my rule but still meeting my goals.

On the days of fine weather, I have become a “street sketcher” within the city centre of old Galt. In the month of April,  I put together a Moleskin Japanese accordion style sketchbook that started at Main Street, along Water and back to the area where I live.  I have started another sketchbook that is following some different streets in my hometown.  People stop and chat: sometimes telling me the history of the buildings that I am sketching; challenging me to sketch “all the way to Hespeler” (the northern end of Cambridge); or telling me about their own interest in buildings, art, photography.  I am enjoying my regular excursions to explore my city – both the buildings and the people!

A Mother’s Day Prayer

My window box and planter face south and today, it looks like spring!

My window box and planter face south and today, it looks like spring!

On this day

In celebration of love,

On a day to honour mothers,

Let us pray.


We pray for mothers who become grandmothers and great-grandmothers-

For knitting, sewing and shopping for baby clothes;

Cuddling and playing and then sending tired and cranky children home with their parents.

We pray with gratitude for grandmothers who bake cookies, cheer at

Grandchildren’s sports events, concerts and school plays and wear corsages at the grandchild’s wedding.

And we pray for grandmothers and aunts who assume the role of primary caregiver

To mother a child orphaned or abandoned and needing family and love.

We pray for mothers who ache in an empty house,

Missing grown and independent children away at school, travelling,

Working or in residence in a home of their own.

And we pray for mothers whose adult children have returned home

After job loss, marital problems, a health crisis.

We pray for mothers who welcome home the prodigal and for mothers

Whose adult children are not ready or not willing to launch away from home into a home of their own.

We pray for mothers who have lost a child-

Before birth, in childbirth, as an infant, child, youth or adult.

We pray for mothers everywhere whose child has left this world out of season.

We pray for comfort, good memories and for celebration of the child’s life before the abrupt interruption.

We pray for mothers who care for other people’s children – those who love many

And those who adopt or foster one, two or a few.

We pray for women who yearned but never gave birth

And for those who chose other ways to love and create in less-traditional nurturing roles.

We pray for those who gave love as a mother would to those blessed by that love.


We pray for fathers, sons and daughters who love the mothers in their lives-

Loved as they are – human and not perfect.

April Sketch-A-Day Challenge

Panels 2,3 & 4 of 24

Panels 2,3 & 4 of 24

April Fool’s Day and the biggest prank was by Mother Nature as I began the morning by scraping ice and snow off my windshield!!!  It was a very cold day to be outside sketching!  I had three good reasons to brave the weather: (1) this is the first day of my April sketch-a-day and I wanted to begin with an outdoors sketch; (2) today is the last day of my Easter holiday and sketching is my favourite way to spend holidays: and (3) I have started a new sketching project and the momentum carrying me forward is much stronger than a bit of frosty weather.  But, I only took off one of my winter gloves!

The project is a panorama view of downtown Galt in a 24-page accordion-folded sketchbook – Moleskin calls it a “Japanese sketchbook”.  My plan is to zigzag up and down the street of Galt with a continuous sketch.  I started a similar project several years ago (in a much smaller sketchbook) and I know from experience that it is better not to let the seasons change faster than the drawings progress.

One of my commitments as I begin this blog about my April sketch-a-day project was to select the “best” of my sketches from March.  I did not plan my criteria for selecting the sketch-a-day from March.  I have reviewed the 31 sketches – should I look at the comments and “likes” on Facebook or simply pick my own favourite?  Should I put greater weight for detail or colour?  Whatever the criteria (voting, technical proficiency or my personal preference), this sketch ranks very high on any calibration.  One day of sketching in the 24 panel-accordion-folded sketchbook .  I plan to continue the sketchbook throughout April.  Here’s hoping for 20 days of relatively fair weather!

Sketch-A-Day Challenge

Today I prepared the cover page for a new sketch book and decided to include a self-portrait with my contact information.

Today I prepared the cover page for a new sketch book and decided to include a self-portrait with my contact information.

I usually do at least one sketch a day, but often the sketch is a little cartoon in my journal, representing one of the events of the day.  For the month of March, I made the challenge more public –posting an album in Facebook.  It is not completely public as it is not on the open Art page but on a page reserved only for my “friends”.

I was successful in sketching more frequently.  I have posted 29 sketches and it is the 29th of March.  Some of the sketches are fun and a couple are detailed.  Most of the sketches were very quick and often the subject was selected with a minimum of searching:  two of the three window views in my condo; several self-portraits; new shoes and a new purse; and three giant popped kernels of popcorn.

Sketching is like every other skill – the more that I practice, the more easily and confidently I can sketch.  When I am on vacation, especially if I have travelled, I average about three sketches per day and the sketches after the third day are much more spontaneous and easily drawn.

I really should not need to post a sketch to create an incentive but, there were many days when it was the commitment to post that pulled me into a pen-in-hand position.  As March draws to a close, I have decided to raise the bar.   For the month of April, I will follow my sketch-a-day progress in my blog.  I am not so fearless as to believe that I will be able to both sketch and blog each day; however, I will post my April sketch-a-day album on my art page of Facebook (the one that is bookmarked from this web-site).  From time to time – hopefully once or twice each week – I will blog about the sketch-a-day project and post the favourite sketches from my April album.  Prior to the end of March, I will pick my favourite sketch a day for that month – another blog in the next two days!

Sketching is good for my art and skill development but it is also an activity which gives me incredible joy and satisfaction.  Nothing is easier to organize and few events are more likely to raise my happiness score on any given day than a chance to sketch.  Time with family and friends and work satisfaction all improve the happiness quotient but a sketch-a-day is a fairly simple way to warm my heart and keep a smile upon my face.

Looking for Spring

Easter is early this year and spring seems to be late in southwestern Ontario.  It snowed yesterday but in my mind, I am really ready for spring.  Pushing the season a little beyond the weather, I planted daffodils, yellow tulips and pansies in my patio planter and my wicker window box.  I was warned at the garden center: tonight my tender flowers are covered with plastic.

My window box and planter face south and today, it looks like spring!

My window box and planter face south and today, it looks like spring!

Last week, I saw my first robin.  To me, the sighting of a robin is still as full of anticipation and wonder as when I was a little girl.  I rarely am the first of my friends to spot a robin during the changing of the seasons: inevitably, I hear about robin sightings, just a few, before I find a robin.  Forewarned and on the look-out for my red-breasted feathered friend, I am nevertheless delightfully surprised when I glance over to the tawny, flattened lawn, and there, hopping cheerily, and hungrily…. a robin.

I have been hearing the honking, have seen the v-formation and watched the long-necked landing of Canada Geese.  A few weeks ago, I saw a flock of Artic Swans overhead.  Winter is ending and migration patterns signal the coming of spring.

My flowers tonight are all snugly wrapped for frost and I will smile fully and joyfully tomorrow morning when I uncover them.  I am all ready for spring.  All that needs to happen is for the weather to warm up!!!



Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

Cambridge Symphony OrchestraThe best surprise is one that is completely unexpected and offers a beautiful and memorable experience.  I had that kind of surprise on Saturday when my friend, Heather, invited me to the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra ( at Central Presbyterian Church in Galt.  The concert was called Romantic Masters.  The church had very few empty seats in the pews; good thing I came really early as I was able to find seats in the second row – the best seats in the house for sketching!!!!

The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra was founded in 2004 By Ann Green and “a team of musicians and non-musicians” (quoting the web-site).  It is a community orchestra – the mission statement talks about sharing the beauty of music and collaboration.  I was happy to see the range of ages of the musicians – some are very young and others have been blessed with life experience.  The tradition of young and talented artists learning from experienced masters comes from medieval times but I think is getting to be rare these days.  Perhaps the learning is mutual!  It is lovely to see the range of ages!

On Saturday, Valerie Tryon was the pianist.  Really, the music put me in mind of a serenade full of love!

I came to draw and with our amazing second row seats, we can see all of the details of the musical instruments and the concentration on the faces of the musicians.  We are close enough to feel them breathe!  And watch fingers flying on the strings and see the page turning!

This orchestra offers information events for the community to learn about symphony music.  The performance was “pay what you can”, rather than a set fee.  This is an opportunity for anyone to experience symphony music !   How incredibly generous and confidant of the orchestra!  It seems to me that these musicians are just overflowing with love and passion for music – the collaboration resounds with joy and celebration.  Here is a large group of people playing music – doing what they love and sharing the sound with the community!  It just can’t get any better than that!