Urban Sketching – Pencil Power

Sketching is a timeless tradition – architects, artists, urbanists and casual observers have been drawing for as long as we’ve been observing, recording and designing our environment. It has been the designer’s favoured means of hashing out and exploring ideas throughout history. Unfettered by the rise of photography, tablets and other mediums; ink and graphite remains an essential tool for expressing ideas on-the-fly.

The convenience of Photoshop and time efficient CAD packages means that contemporary sketching is often a ‘nice to have’ addition – that final touch which can bring a presentation to life – whereas the most responsive solutions can come from understanding the project through perspective, scale, form and massing from the outset.

To inspire and refresh our use of this elementary art form, Planit recently welcomed Simone Ridyard – artist, architect, designer, lecturer and the founder of Manchester’s Urban Sketchers group.

Simone’s presentation took us through her work with the Urban Sketchers group, including Manchester’s role in hosting the recent International Urban Sketchers symposium. Looking at work produced by symposium guests from around the world, she highlighted how sketchers use a variety of tools (including whittled twigs dipped in ink!) to capture urban grain, street life, and architectural character. In doing so they distilled what we value in our cities into simple, elegant drawings and rapidly composed watercolours. The idea, Simone explained, is not necessarily to produce a perfect finished product, but reveal a working understanding of that particular moment and capture the essence of place.

We started sketching in the studio with an ‘entourage’ exercise, using a fictional urban template of building masses to develop perspective, scales, vanishing points and human form. We then headed out into Altrincham to try our new techniques on-site.

Most of us opted for sites around the town centre, sketching areas that have recently been enhanced through the practice’s recent public realm improvement works – Goose Green, Shaw’s Road and the Markethouse. The new pavements, furniture and street life combined to form ideal pictorial scenes that enabled us to try out the ideas discussed in Simone’s workshop. As the clouds swirled and rain started to blend with ink, we decided that was probably enough serendipitous watercolours, which were by then bleeding across our pages.

Reconvening back in the studio we compared drawings and learnt about each other’s drawing techniques, coming away from the workshop more attuned with the process of exploring ideas with speed and simplicity. The task now is to keep that pencil sharp and on-hand; to continue to observe and design on paper.

Simone is a lecturer at the Manchester School of Art, an architect and artist specialising in Urban Sketching. She founded Urban Sketchers Manchester and has become an international proponent of the urban sketchers movement, which held their 7th annual symposium in Manchester this year. Simone runs drawing workshops across Europe and in recent months has taught at Tate Liverpool, The Herbert Reade Gallery Coventry and on location in Amsterdam. She has published her work, ’Northern Lights’ and ’The Manchester Sketchbook’. www.simoneridyard.co.uk

Work produced at the International Urban Sketchers Symposium can be viewed at www.urbansketchers.org

You may also be interested in hearing Landscape Architect Laurie Olin talk about the power of the pencil.

Written by Jotaro Tokunaga, Landscape Architect