Events like food can take some digesting. The urban sketchers symposium in Manchester was exciting, tiring, disappointing, and inspirational. (More on this later).That was last week. Now I’m beginning to appreciate it in from a calmer, well-fed perspective.
I saw a lot of very beautiful sketchbooks, each page skilfully drawn, coloured and often annotated. Part of me wants my own sketchbooks to look so perfect and impressive, but then part of me reacts against that constraint. Sketchbooks of artists’ as opposed to ‘sketchers’ have a different purpose. They are not in themselves the ‘art’ but underpin it, sometimes detailed, sometimes minimal, and often messy, explorative.
What’s the point of my sketchbooks then? I enjoyed being challenged by Marina Grechanik who asked us ‘why are you drawing this?’ in her workshop.
Is there a story I want to tell? Something I want to point out? Or am I just drawing whatever is in front of me? Am I making a visual diary? Is each page part of a longer narrative or a self contained instant? Am I going to use the sketches in some way?
Does it have to have a point at all? Isn’t it about looking at the world from new perspectives, learning to see? Learning a new skill?
So far I can list the personal benefits of sketching. It’s absorbing, in the moment, challenging, and creative. It makes me look at my environment rather than glide through it inattentively. It can often be fun. It brings me into contact with a large and varied group of people and has been the starting point of some lovely friendships.
It provokes lots of thoughts connecting different aspects of my life – hence this blog. It challenges me to do more, in different ways, to develop and grow rather than recycle what I can already do and know – so life affirming!
But despite this impressive list, I do still come back to the ‘what’s the point?” question. The idea that urban sketching could make some contribution to the community still hovers around. I admire Len Grant’s sketches of food bank users in Manchester, for example, or Richard Johnson’s sketches and conversations with the homeless. The urban environment shapes so many lives. Looking at it critically, sketching it, can make visible the people and things that often get ignored.
I was disappointed not to be able to get to the ‘ Loitering with Intent” exhibition at the Public History Museum whilst in Manchester. Here are a group of people discovering the urban environment through walking together, noticing CCTV cameras, ‘no entry’ signs, the fences and obstructions that control movement in the city, demolition and construction. Finding the history as they walk and realising what has been lost and found as they go along. How fascinating to link urban sketching into this sort of project!