Katie Clare won our Urban Sketching Competition in July with ‘Little Venice, London’, a charming sketch executed joyfully in pen and wash. Katie is a natural urban sketcher, who creates work full of the jaunty rhythms and energy that bustles through city life. Her commitment to drawing ensures that there are always drawing materials in her handbag and around the house so whenever a subject emerges, she is ready to pounce. Her enthusiasm is a real inspiration!
Lisa: You make urban sketching look mildly addictive! What is the great attraction do you think?
Kate: Urban sketching is definitely addictive. It is a mix of exploring and sketching. I like buildings and the built environment; I am a surveyor by profession. Once you start to pay attention to our buildings and spaces, and the people occupying them, there is so much to notice. The more you look, the more you see.
Sketching out in public is a fun challenge, giving a buzz and a sense of achievement as it forces me out of my comfort zone. I contend with the weather, the noise of the traffic and the comments of onlookers. It is varied and unpredictable: a mini adventure. I like the adrenaline boost as it pushes me to draw better, with focus.
The other great aspect of urban sketching is that, no matter how the drawing turns out, it is a record of my day. Making a sketch stops the day being forgotten. A sketch reflects my mood and the weather in a more meaningful way than a photo. Even a quick, wonky drawing brings back the memory of the outing. I add a date and a few notes; together the sketches form an illustrated journal. I share the completed sketches online as part of the global Urban Sketchers group.
If you haven’t tried sketching in public, I definitely recommend that you give it a go. Start off with a small sketchbook, sitting somewhere where you won’t be overlooked, until your confidence builds. Expect to find it hard to concentrate for the first few outings. Persevere through the initial discomfort: it soon becomes utterly rewarding! You can join up with like-minded sketchers through the Urban Sketchers organisation; they organise sketch crawls and workshops, and are a wonderfully welcoming crowd.
Lisa: Pen and wash technique appears to be your approach of choice. What do you like about working in this way?
Kate: I like the fresh, light qualities I can achieve with pen and wash. The pen can record the details beautifully: the architectural details in particular are a treat to do. Then a loose wash of colour brings it to life. The kit required is easy to carry; a small kit always lives in my handbag.
Pen and wash is quick and direct. You have to commit to it and get on with it: you can’t erase the pen, you can’t fiddle too much with the colour. The technique does not enjoy being overworked. It forces me to think what I want the drawing to say and then sketch it, with minimum fuss. If the drawing goes wonky, I don’t worry. If I wanted it to be accurate I could take a photo.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite brand of pen/watercolours that you like to work with?
Kate: Currently I like using a Platinum Carbon pen, which has a very fine nib, and Steadtler fineliners, but I enjoy trying different brands. Sometimes I add in a grey Pentel Colour Brush Pen. I use Daniel Smith and Schmincke watercolours, with a few Winsor and Newton.
Lisa: How do you stop yourself from spending too long on a subject?
Kate: I consciously watch for the point when I start fiddling with the details or muddying the colour, then it is time to stop. I’m always happy to move on, go for a stroll and see what else there is to draw. Investigating new areas for potential subjects is part of the enjoyment.
Lisa: Do you find it difficult to find the time to draw? What would be your advice to anyone who says they never have enough time to draw for their own pleasure?
Kate: Well, I don’t really find it difficult to find the time to draw, as I am happy with quick sketches built into daily life. I have sketching equipment in multiple places: in my handbag, on the table, by the sofa…I draw on the train, draw in the coffee shop, I draw my dinner. Drawing doesn’t have to be a lengthy mega production on a piece of expensive paper, it can be a five minute sketch on a cheap pad with a biro.
Scheduling longer blocks of drawing time takes some effort and ingenuity. I plan drawing outings and put them in the diary and I build drawing time into other activities. I also recommend explaining to your family and friends how important your drawing time is, so that they are prepared to occupy themselves for a while as you draw.
If I am failing to make the time to draw, it is usually time to boost my enthusiasm: creativity needs feeding. I find the internet is a rich source of inspiration. I am part of the online community of Sketchbook Skool, who have introduced to the most amazing selection of artists and tutors from around the world. Joining in with their classes and community discussions always gets me back on track.
Lisa: Do you have any tips for how to select colours sensitively?
Kate: Pause to think about a broad theme for the colours before you start. You don’t have to slavishly replicate the colours you see. You can adjust them in your picture to help convey the atmosphere and tell the story. Focus on what it is you want to say in the picture, then select a limited palette of colours to reflect this.
Remember the power of leaving white space in the composition. This can be tricky, as it is easy to get carried away and paint everything. It requires restraint! I try to work out the white areas first. Also consider greys and muted browns, as they are a valuable foil to the brighter colours. I like to mix my own greys, normally with Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.
Lisa: What are the ingredients of a good subject to draw?
Kate: Good question! How about a historically interesting building, with architectural details and colour, atmospheric lighting and some people in the foreground. I like it when the figures in the sketch turn it into a mini story, such as the lady with the beautiful hat and the elegant shoes in the courtyard of the Royal Academy…who was she waiting for…?
However, it is best to be open minded when choosing subjects to draw, and just see what sparks your enthusiasm. Look beyond the subjects that are conventionally considered attractive. I enjoy recording the changes in the urban landscape, so building sites make interesting pictures. Pay attention to smaller subjects as well: I liked the graphic quality of my breakfast placemat in a hotel, so I drew it.
Lisa: If you could have drawn any drawing in the world ever, which would it be and why?
Kate: Well, I wonder if I might choose a picture book instead: Richard Scarry’s “What do People Do all Day?” This was the favourite book of my childhood, with richly detailed pictures of people being busy. I’m sure it influenced the type of drawings that I like to make today.
Lisa: When you set off for a session of urban sketching, what’s in your kit bag?
Kate: I have two kits. One lives in my handbag and comes with me everywhere:
2 Pocket Palettes, made by Expeditionary Art, filled with watercolours
NeoCritz pencil case with fineliners, pencil, Platinum Carbon Pen, Lamy Joy, Pelikan M200, Pentel grey brush pen, Faber Castell grey brush pen
Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (13 x 21cm)
For longer urban sketching sessions I take the A4 Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, together with:
Schmincke watercolour box (Inside base removed so extra pans can be added, held in with blue tack.)
Rosemary and Co sable blend dagger brush
Escoda watercolour travel brushes
Small toiletry bottles for water
Derwent watercolour pencils
Bulldog clip, paper towel
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Kate: I’m working on including more people in my sketches. They can be so tricky. They move around, fidget, get up and leave. However, it is worth persevering with as they can bring an urban sketch to life. It is also a wonderful way of recording outings with family and friends. I found great support on the internet for improving my people drawing. Roz Stendahl’s superb online class of “Drawing Live Subjects in Public” has been a life changer. It encouraged daily drawing practice in a structured manner, leading up to me becoming comfortable in including figures.
I am also concentrating on a series of urban sketches of Essex, my much maligned home county. Poor Essex has such bad press; it gives me great satisfaction to highlight its many beauties.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Kate: For the most up to date information on my work find me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katieclare50/
Header Image: Saffron Walden Library, Essex, April 2017 by Katie Clare, Pen and Wash, drawn in the artist’s Moleskine watercolour sketchbook,13 x 21cm